Of Meddlesome Policemen, Recalcitrant Legislators

The Inspector General of Police (IG) Ibrahim Idris

Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Ojo Maduekwe write that the recent infraction at the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly has again raised questions on the impartiality of the Nigeria Police

Accusing fingers have been pointed at the Nigeria Police for the recent invasion of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly (AKHA) by thugs said to be members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state. The Police has been accused of bias and being selective in its enforcement of the law.

The November 19 invasion of the assembly, was allegedly backed by some police officials, and endorsed by the state and national leadership of the APC. Sources said the thugs are members of the youth wing of the state APC.

Several accounts of the incident as gathered by THISDAY investigation support the claim that the invasion was sponsored, with the aim of creating an impression that Governor Udom Emmanuel, and his ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) party were unpopular and not in charge.

The story began with some erstwhile members of the house defecting to the APC. In a bid to preempt the house leadership and the rest of their colleagues in the PDP, one of them, Idongesit Ituen, who surprisingly was the last of five of the members to defect, went to court to stop the house from declaring his seat vacant but instead the court ruled otherwise.

Few days before the day of the invasion, the Clerk of the House had sent out a notification of the event for the day to all the members, including the five defectors. Suspecting that the house was going to comply with the court order and declare his seat vacant, Ituen was said to have organised thugs from the state APC to prevent his colleagues from sitting.

The thugs tried to break into the assembly complex but were prevented by security officials at the assembly gate. Undeterred, some in company of Ituen made their way into the complex.

Inside, they tried to force their way into the floor of the House where the majority lawmakers from the PDP were deliberating. Ituen himself was alleged to have damaged the glass door before they were successfully repelled by security officials manning the floor of the house.

The national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, has tried to paint a different picture of what happened by playing the victim. According to him, members of his party were being intimidated in PDP-controlled states-an accusation that critics have laughed away as absurd.

Oshiomhole accused the PDP of “misusing the police” to undermine APC members democratic rights, citing the Akwa Ibom invasion as example, and claiming that then Commissioner of Police, Bassey Abang, colluded with the state governor to force APC members out of the state assembly.

Sources in the state said Oshiomhole was distorting facts. According to them, it was the APC members that were “misusing” the police, not the PDP. They said the house was only executing the court order that declared Ituen’s seat vacant, and that the only crime committed by the former Police Commissioner, Mr. Abang, whose redeployment was instigated by the APC, was because he did not allow APC thugs take over the assembly.

For a national chairman that purports to operate within “law and order”, his critics are of the opinion that rather than play the victim by falsely accusing Mr. Abang of bias, he should ask his party members, such as Ituen, to seek redress from the same court that he first ran to.

Critics believe that Oshiomhole’s attempt to portray members of his party as the victim in the Akwa Ibom invasion falls flat in the face of a similar incident experienced by the legislative arm in Benue state.

The Police had sealed the Benue state House of Assembly complex in the state capital of Makurdi and provided protection for 8 out of a 30-member Assembly to sit and serve an impeachment notice to Governor Samuel Ortom.

In the recent Akwa Ibom invasion, after the house had sat, the five erstwhile members invaded the house to illegally convene and elect one of them as the new speaker, an action which neither the state nor national leadership of the APC has refused to condemn.

There are allegations that the APC wants to instigate violence in Akwa Ibom to pave the way for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to postpone the 2019 governorship, state and national assembly elections, so as to give the PDP the “Ekiti and Osun treatment”.

Proponents of this allegation say that in a situation where the APC in Akwa Ibom succeeds in instigating crisis in the state, and INEC – based on a “security report” to be provided by a partisan police – decides to postpone all elections in the state for a later date, the plan would be to flood in the police to intimidate voters and ensure victory for the APC.

Speaking with THISDAY, Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke said the APC knows that they’re unpopular in the state and have nothing to campaign on, and so that was why they were resorting to violence. “I have said it before, if they think they’re popular, they should go to the people of Akwa Ibom and campaign for their votes.”

On the defection by Ituen and his APC co-travellers, Luke told THISDAY that the house was only obeying court order. “For a long time we were not bothered about their defection. They were the ones that went to court and then the court gave judgment against one of them. We issued a statement from the house that we were going to abide by that judgment.”

Observers of the politics of Akwa Ibom said the crisis that erupted last week in the state House of Assembly can be linked back to the immediate past governor of the state, now Senator Godswill Akpabio.

It is alleged that Akpabio that one of the conditions given to him by the party was that he must deliver Akwa Ibom to the APC. Because the pressure on him to deliver is much, Akpabio is said to be pulling every stunt to ensure he doesn’t disappoint.

Although some police officials stationed at the Akwa Ibom House of Assembly upheld the law during the invasion of the complex by the alleged APC thugs, developments that have followed, such as the quick removal of Mr. Abang suggests that in the weeks leading to the 2019 elections, the APC would try to corrupt the police in the state to do its bidding.

(BOX) ‘They Lost Their Seats by Operation of Law’

Rt.Hon Ime Okon, Chairman House Committee on Information, AKHA speaks on the circumstance that led to the recent declaration of some seats in the assembly as vacant

What was the composition of the AKHA (along partisan lines) as at Monday, November 19?

As at 19th November before plenary PDP had 21members while APC had 4 since one of them the member for Itu then had earlier lost his seat on 14/11 through judgment of the Federal High Court, Uyo. But at the end of plenary on the 29th the 4 seats of those who had earlier defected were declared vacant leaving PDP with 21seats and APC 0.

Give us a background to the recent declaration of constituencies seat vacant in the AKHA

Five members who won election to the AKHA on the platform of PDP defected to APC at different times between September and November. All of them severally to out action in the Federal High Court to restrain the Speaker from declaring their seats vacant. On 14/11 the FHC Uyo delivered judgment against one of them Idongesit Ituen who represented Itu State Constituency ordering the Speaker to declare his seat vacant. The Speaker was served with the court order and he accordingly executed the order of court on the 15th by directing the Clerk to issue a notice of compliance to all relevant quarters including the DPO of the Assembly. On the 19th at plenary the Speaker formally announced that he had executed the court order as it had to do with Idongesit Ituen. Thereafter the house invoked Sections 109(1)g and 109(2) to declare the other four seats vacant.

Is this the first instance of declaring a seat vacant in the AKHA? How were similar situations managed in the past?

During the 4th Assembly 5 seats were also declared vacant by the then Speaker Rt Hon Sam Ikon and heavens did not fall. Those who were affected took the decision in good faith.

When will the life of the current AKHA terminate?

The 6th assembly terminates on 8th June.

How practicable is it for the INEC to conduct elections to fill those seats, given the short period remaining on the legislative calendar?

It is for INEC to answer if they can conduct by elections within the remaining six months.

Are you exploring other options for peace and understanding with these colleagues?

Our former colleagues are still our friends. They lost their seats by operation of law. We are still relating with them.

Thanks for giving us the opportunity to explain. Please do not hesitate to reach me to further clarify any grey areas.

Kindly note that two of those whose seats were declared vacant, Hon. Nse Ntuen and Rt. Hon Gabriel Toby actually defected to APC on 8th August 2018 more than three months before their seats were declared vacant.