The Blame Game Continues

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 Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Ojo Maduekwe write that the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress are trying to hold each other responsible for the broadening crisis in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly

After the initial invasion of the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly on November 19 by thugs belonging to the youth wing of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, and backed by officers of the Nigeria Police, the APC again invaded the state assembly on November 27.

The thugs were allegedly led by the five former members of the House, who are members of the opposition APC in the state, namely; Nse Ntuen, representing Essien Udim; Idongesit Ituen, representing Itu; Gabriel Toby, representing Etim Ekpo-Ika; Victor Udofia, representing Ikono and Otobong Ndem, representing Mkpat Enin.

The first invasion of the house was said to have been led by Ituen, who had gone to the courts to stop the house from declaring his seat vacant but instead got ruled against. The second invasion was alleged to have been sponsored by Ituen and his four defecting colleagues. But the APC has a different narrative. According to its National Vice Chairman, South-south, Chief Hilliard Eta, the party frowned at the brutalisation of APC lawmakers and the interference of Governor Udom Emmanuel in the affairs of the state assembly. He said, the party’s position, especially at the zonal level was it would not sit idle and allow the impunity of the PDP to derail the democratic structure in the state. Eta further said the governor should approach the courts if he felt strongly about certain happenings in the assembly and reiterated that the party will do everything within its powers to protect the citizens of the state.

The APC chieftain warned that the party will not stand aloof to watch the intimidation and harassment of APC members and citizens of communities in the state by those who are bent on remaining in the office at all cost using the power at their disposal as the governor of the state.

Following the second invasion, thousands of Akwa Ibom women were said to have marched out in the state capital of Uyo to demand the immediate sack of the state police commissioner, Musa Kimo, who was only recently deployed to the state in the heat of the first invasion.

The women, led by the Commissioner for Women Affairs in Akwa Ibom state, Dr. Glory Edet; the PDP women leader in the state, Mrs. Mmeme Akpabio, and a former Minister of Lands and Housing, Dr. Akon Eyakenyi, stormed the assembly complex at 9am to express their solidarity with the governor over what they described as “intimidation by the federal government.”

According to Edet, “For the sake of peace, we want the removal of the Commissioner of Police, Musa Kimo. We have always had peace, and we want that peace to continue. We cannot have a police force that will abet the level of illegality that we have witnessed in the House of Assembly. Introducing anything other than peace in Akwa Ibom is alien to our people. When there is crisis anywhere and women step in, there is always peace. This is why we have stepped in.”

Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke, while addressing the women, urged them to pray for peace and not be afraid but to always rise to defend the country’s hard won democracy. He described the invasion as the most scandalous desecration of the state legislature yet.

The state governor, Udom Emmanuel, and Luke have repeatedly accused the police as abetting the two-time invasion of the House of Assembly by the ousted members and thugs allegedly hired by them.

The national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, and the police commissioner, have tried to downplay both invasions. While Oshiomhole tried to paint the embattled former members as victims, accusing the PDP of “misusing the police” to undermine APC members democratic rights, Kimo said the police officers aiding the five former lawmakers are security aides attached to the embattled lawmakers.

Speaking on the Akwa Ibom invasion, Oshiomhole said the police sided with the PDP in the state. “We have law and order. If a governor wants extra legal assistance with the police, the Commissioner is not meant to oblige but that is what has happened in Akwa Ibom,” he said.

Kimo on his part said, “It is totally false. Mind you all the House members have police men attached to them, this is not peculiar to Akwa Ibom state. For now we have no right to prevent ‘A’ or ‘B’ from accessing the House. That can only be done by the court of competent jurisdiction. I did not send any policeman to the assembly. Do you know that, if we did not deploy police to stay, not far from the assembly, possibly by now the structure might not have been there.”

But, in an exclusive interview with THISDAY, the house chairman on information and member representing Ibiono Ibom state constituency, Rt. Hon. Ime Okon said, “I would have thought that the invasion was a normal police arrangement but the reaction of the APC both at the national and state level have shown that there’s credit to this allegation. I read that the national chairman of the APC was supporting what his members who had been ousted from the house by the operation of the law, and telling stories as if he was in the premises when the thing happened.

“Again I was also surprised that the state chairman of the APC was even congratulating the three members who sat on that day to purportedly bring out an imposter claiming to be the speaker.”

On the day of the second invasion, the 21 members of the state House of Assembly, sat and passed a 7-point resolution, chief amongst them being the immediate arrest and prosecution of those responsible for the break-in into the chambers of the legislature and desecrating same.

The lawmakers also banned their former colleagues from going near the premises of the assembly; passed a vote of confidence on the leadership of Luke for his leadership qualities; asked Kimo and other security agencies to protect the institution of the house and its members. They also asked for the immediate redeployment of Kimo for aiding and abetting the criminal activities of the five sacked lawmakers and for supplying them with over 50 policemen to break into the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly.

There are allegations that the invasion of the house by the APC members is sponsored by Senator Godswill Akpabio and targeted at Luke, who is considered as one of the strong backbones of the state governor. The insinuation linking Akpabio to the crisis in the AKHA may have found some substance since Hon. Nse Ntuen, the member representing the former governor’s Essien Udim constituency was propped up as the ‘factional’ speaker. Of the five APC legislators, three-Ntuen, Tobby and Udofia-are from Ikot Ekpene Senatorial district, represented by Senator Godswill Akpabio. However, a High Court sitting in Uyo has ordered Ntuen to stop parading himself as the Speaker of the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly until the motion filed by the counsel to Speaker Onofiok Luke, is determined.

Akwa Ibom State Chairman of the APC, Hon. Ini Okopido unwittingly confirmed the fears of those who alleged that the crisis in the state house of assembly was contrived to enable the APC secure control of the state through the backdoor. Okopido had issued a statement saying that law and order may have broken down irretrievably in Akwa Ibom State. He said, “Should the governor fail to address this problem, we call on the President to declare a State of Emergency in Akwa Ibom state and subsequently remove Udom Emmanuel from Office. Udom Emmanuel has flouted the law and breached the principle of separation of powers by invading the House of Assembly with murderous gang of thugs.”

The APC and its lawmakers, apparently, did not anticipate the backlash it got. They were banking on assumed precedence in other states and at the National Assembly. Okopido was emphatic on this.  He stated, “In many Houses of Assembly across the federation, and indeed in both the Senate and House of Representatives, there have been many cross defections across party lines in the last several months. It is only in Akwa Ibom House of Assembly that the Speaker, goaded and pressured by the governor, has been intolerant and immature enough to declare seats vacant.” He further argued that Luke. Last year, the only APC member in the house of assembly elected on the platform of the APC, Hon. Asukwo Archibong, defected to the PDP. Mr Onofiok Luke did not declare his seat vacant. The Governor was happy about it. As a party, we handled the loss of the only lawmaker with calmness and fortitude.”

‘Policemen Helped Former Members into the House to Carry Out the Comedy We Witnessed’

The Deputy House Leader of the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly, chairman on information and member representing Ibiono Ibom state constituency, Rt. Hon. Ime Okon, says the police overreached its powers in closing the assembly complex

What do you make of the invasion of the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly, and the senate’s intervention during the invasion?

We thank the senate for behaving as true democrats, guarding democracy, which was hard earned. We know that the legislature is the symbol of democracy which has to be protected. So we thank them for the resolution they took to guard the legislature in Akwa Ibom state.

We were surprised however that the police could come to seal the assembly premises without recourse to even the speaker. None of us knew why they came. For the two days they were there they didn’t tell us anything. We thank God they’ve now left, and, we believe it’s in compliance with the resolution of the senate.

Critics of the invasion say the police overreached its powers. Others say it fell within their duty to maintain peace. what’s your opinion?

In terms of crisis, yes, the police can come in to maintain the peace, but, in this case there was no crisis that had to bring in the police to the house of assembly premises. Because, the event that happened on Monday November 19 was a normal one, such that we are even worried that some members of the police aided our former members to come into the house to carry out the comedy that we saw which they claim was a sitting of three members. It is that complicity that bothers us. Because, as to what happened, I think it was a normal event in the house.

If the police came because they wanted to forestall further crisis, then they should have had recourse to the speaker of the house. In any case, most times it should have even been at the invitation of the leadership of the house, but it wasn’t the speaker that invited them, they came on their own. And since they came on their own, then they ought to have discussed with the speaker. Assuming the members had any issues, that did not affect the members of staff of the assembly; but everybody, including the staff were barred from going inside the premises.

So to a certain extent they overreached their powers. But, they have the intrinsic power to take any action to forestall crisis. But in this case there was no crisis in the house in the magnitude that brought them to seal up the assembly premises without recourse to the leadership of the house.

What do you make of the allegation that the APC wants to instigate crisis in the state to gain an upper hand in next year’s elections?

I would have thought that the invasion was a normal police arrangement but the reaction of the APC both at the national and state level have shown that there’s credit to this allegation. I read that the national chairman of the APC was supporting what his members who had been ousted from the house by the operation of the law, and telling stories as if he were in the premises when the thing happened.

Again I was also surprised that the state chairman of the APC was even congratulating the three members who sat on that day to purportedly bring out an imposter claiming to be the speaker.

I believe that we are all democrats and beyond party lines we should take steps and be serious in guarding this democracy that was hard earned. So, they should not support that sort of illegality where you have a situation that three members would go in without a sergeant at arms or clerk and force themselves into the hallowed chambers of the house.

How true is the allegation that in the coming days more lawmakers will defect to the All Progressives Congress in the state?

As far I’m concerned, I know that the 21 of us who are members of the PDP and are currently members of the house of assembly are intact. There is no indication that any of us is leaving. I would be surprised at the situation that someone would now leave a winning team and majority to join the minority who are not even members of the house as we talk. So it is not true.

What do you make of the allegation that Senator Godswill Akpabio, hoping to deliver the state to the APC, is poaching PDP members?

Akwa Ibom is a PDP state, predominantly, and there is no fear of the APC taking over the state. In a situation like this, there may be overtures made by certain persons to some members to come over. I won’t be surprised at that, but at the moment, nobody out of the 21 members have indicated interest to join the APC.

In retrospect do you think the expulsion of the members was the right thing to do, and is there precedence for the house action?

What happened was an operation of the law. The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, Section 109 gives us the reasons where someone could lose his membership. The part that talks of defection says that if you do, it means you’ve lost your membership, except in a situation where there’s a division in your party or there is a merger. And in this case you know there has been no merger or faction in the PDP. Whatever problems we had has since been sorted out. That same constitution even goes further to say that the speaker has a duty to enforce that section of the constitution.

But in this case it was even a situation where a member who had defected was the one who went to court to get an order to restrain the speaker from declaring his seat vacant, because he knew that by his defection, he ought to have lost his position. Now, when he went to court, he failed in court and rather the court made an order that the speaker was restrained henceforth from recognising him as a member of the house.

What happened on Monday, November 19, was formalising a decision that had already been taken. So I think it was a question of law and the constitution being the supreme law of the land, the speaker was right. Especially when it was now the defecting member who went to court. You cannot now pick and choose. In any case, if for any reason that member whose seat has been declared vacant believes strongly that his right has been trampled upon, as a lawmaker that you were, you don’t take the laws into your hands. There must be rule of law. If you think your right has been trampled upon, then go to court.

There are allegations that the house is doing the bidding of the state governor. How independent of the governor is the house?

There is a close working relationship between the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly and the governor for the interest of our people. Not that we don’t have differences. The mere fact that we don’t exchange fisticuffs does not mean we don’t have problems. But, because PDP is the majority in the house of assembly, and the state government is PDP, where we have issues and differences, we sit, talk and agree.

We’ve had course to disagree. For instance, we were told that the position of the governors in the 36 states of the country was that they did not support financial autonomy for the state houses of assembly. But you will recall that the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly voted for financial autonomy. So if we are under the control of the governor, why did we not listen to the story that the governor was against financial autonomy for the state legislature? But we voted against it.

We have issues but we’re not rascals. You don’t expect the kind of scene that we saw on the 19th and carried out by members of the APC to happen between us and the governor simply because we disagree.

‘Emmanuel Instigated This Crisis by Pressuring the Speaker to Declare APC Legislators Seat Vacant’

Hon. Ini Okopido, Akwa Ibom State Chairman of the All Progressives Congress lays the charge for the crisis at the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly at the feet of Governor Udom Emmanuel and Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke

*We express absolute confidence in the new Commissioner of Police who arrived the State only a few days ago on his new posting. We ask him to perform his duties creditably well no matter the inducement and intimidation from Udom Emmanuel.

* It is only the Inspector General of Police that can deploy the Commissioner of Police, and so the call by Udom Emmanuel for the transfer of the new CP is a misplaced flippancy and abuse of office and privilege

* Since Udom Emmanuel instigated this crisis by pressuring Mr Onofiok Luke to declare the seats of the APC legislators vacant, both of them should solve the problems. Calling on the President to intervene in the crisis they created is childish and amateurish.

*Senator Godswill Akpabio has no hand in this crisis; and so the governor’s resort to heaping insults and abuse on him is amounts to creating distraction. Since Senator Akpabio left the PDP in August, our governor has been so psychologically deflated that he blames the distinguished senator for all his afflictions, including his family problems.

QUICK FACTS:

*Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly has 26 legislators representing the 26 state constituencies. The state has 31 local government areas

*As at  November 19 before plenary PDP had 21members while APC had four members. Hon. Idongesit Ituen representing Itu, who had defected the APC lost his seat on November 14 through judgment of the Federal High Court, Uyo

*It was Ituen who approached the court ostensibly to preempt losing his seat, but the judgment turned against him

*The Speaker and the House simply enforced the judgment of the court not only against Ituen, but the other APC legislators since they were in a similar situation. At end of plenary on November 29, the four other seats of those who had earlier defected were declared vacant leaving PDP with 21seats and APC 0

* The house invoked Sections 109(1)g and 109(2) to declare the seats vacant

*Of the five APC legislators, three-Ntuen, Tobby and Udofia-are from Ikot Ekpene Senatorial district, represented by Senator Godswill Akpabio. Ndem is from the same Ikot Abasi federal constituency as APC governorship candidate, Mr. Nsima Ekere. Ituen is from Uyo senatorial district.

*A High Court sitting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state on Wednesday ordered Hon. Nse Ntuen to stop parading himself as the Speaker of the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly until the motion filed by the counsel to Speaker Onofiok Luke, is determined

*The APC legislators had previously held a ‘session’ in which Luke was removed as Speaker and Ntuen installed in his place

*On November 27, Governor Emmanuel stormed the House of Assembly accompanied by a large crowd of some policemen, officials of the DSS, commissioners and other government officials. The five APC lawmakers were forcibly removed from the premises of the assembly. One of them, Ntuen allegedly sustained in the course of the ensuing melee

*During the 4th Assembly, five  seats were also declared vacant by the then Speaker Rt. Hon. Sam Ikon. Those who were affected took the decision in good faith

*Last year, the only APC member in the our house of assembly elected on the platform of the party, Hon. Asukwo Archibong, representing Urue Offong Oruko  defected to the PDP. His seat was not declared vacant

* The 6th assembly terminates on June 8, 2019