The role of the police in the resolution of political disputes was again called to question yesterday as the crisis in the House of Assembly of Akwa Ibom State worsened with five members, whose seat had been declared vacant, gaining access to the assembly complex reportedly with the aid of the police in an alleged attempt to begin a removal proceeding against Governor Udom Emmanuel.
The seats of the five lawmakers, Mr. Nse Ntuen (Essien Udim State Constituency); Mr. Otobong Ndem (Mkpat Enin State Constituency); Mr. Victor Udofia (Ikono State Constituency); Mr. Gabriel Toby (Etim Ekpo/Ika State Constituency) and Mr. Idongesit Ituen, were recently declared vacant by the Speaker, Mr. Onofiok Luke, after they defected from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).
Since then, there had been tension as the five members, with the aid of security agencies, particularly the police, had tried to gain control of the assembly. Yesterday, they eventually made it to the chambers and attempted to hold proceedings.
The other members, led by Luke, who would later be joined by Emmanuel, soon stormed the assembly premises and overwhelmed the opposing legislators.
After regaining control of the assembly complex, the governor and the speaker severely criticised the police for their role in the crisis, saying the security agency had become partisan.
Their position received boost from the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, who called on President Muhammadu Buhari to rein in the police, which he said had become “embarrassingly partisan.”
He said in an interview with THISDAY, “We are confronted with a situation in which a police force funded with public tax has become so partisan that it now sees itself as an arm of the ruling party. This is unfortunate and the president must rise above partisanship to deal with this ugly development.”
Ironically, the APC National Chairman, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, was not impressed by the conduct of the police as he told journalists yesterday that the agency’s conduct during yesterday’s pandemonium at the assembly complex was partisan on the side of the PDP.
He accused the police of aiding the state governor to dislodge the five APC members from the complex instead of enforcing their right to seat and carry out their intention.
The Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, has had to make frequent changes to the headship of the police command in the state since the crisis started. First to be appointed in its wake was Bassey Abang, who was quickly replaced by the incumbent, Musa Kimo.
Yesterday’s pandemonium began with forcible entry into the assembly by the five APC lawmakers to commence removal proceedings against the state governor. They were, however, resisted by other members and the governor.
In the ensuing commotion, security operatives deployed in the assembly, journalists, staff of the assembly and visitors, were forced to run for their lives as live bullets were freely released from different corner of the assembly complex. The governor and the speaker were shielded to a safe corner as the newly posted police chief, Kimo, arrived the assembly complex about 10.11a.m to the embrace of gunshots and the rowdy session.
Some persons sustained various degree of injuries as the Hilux car that reportedly belonged to the factional Speaker, Ntuen, was burnt as his driver attempted to escape from the premises, while another vehicle was burnt on the road leading to the complex. Trouble started as early as 8a.m when the police reportedly escorted the five APC lawmakers to the state assembly chamber for sitting, using alleged fake mace.
During their plenary, the sacked lawmakers were said to have summoned the state Commissioner for Works, Mr. Akparawa Inyang, and also commenced removal proceeding against the state governor. As the APC lawmakers were waiting outside the chamber after rising from the sitting, the governor’s convoy drove in with the PDP lawmakers and immediately, there was a free-for-all as thugs broke into the assembly and descended on the APC lawmakers. Some of the APC lawmakers had to scale the perimeter fence of the assembly to safety, with others escaping from being lynched.
Emmanuel, who addressed a world press conference at the Governor’s Lodge shortly on returning from the assembly complex, blamed the police for being partial. He lamented that the state was under siege with the connivance of the police.
He said, “Let the whole world know that Nigerians fought and gave their lives in this country to enjoy democracy we currently have today. But in Akwa Ibom State, due to the ambition of selfish people that this state had given opportunity to become what they never dreamt they would become when other people gave them opportunity. Some of them were commissioner for six years and governor for eight years, making 14 years.
“But today, that democracy is being threatened in Akwa Ibom State and I want the whole world to know and to hear me. We have seen total breakdown of law and order today by the Nigerian Police.
“The same police that I am using the resources of the state to make sure that we maintain peace and order in this state. This state had been the most peaceful in this country.
“We maintain all the oil installations so that we could get money out of here and send to Abuja for the police force to be maintained. Is the same police force that today supervised by the commissioner who came in against the court of law.
“What did the Speaker do? The speaker was maintaining law and order. The court ordered the Speaker that those who had defected, their seats should be declared vacant. This is not the first time in line with the rule of law.
“But since last night, when we heard about this, we called the Commissioner of Police and told him we have heard that you want to escort those sacked three members against the rule of law.
“And this morning, even when they were drumming the so-called Warsaw, we have seen a trace of it today. Some people were arrested with fake uniforms. They came with 18 AK 47 rifles. They have been arrested but unfortunately as I am speaking right now, these same person through the orders of the Commissioner of Police, were asking that those people should be let go.
“This was the same Warsaw that was pronounced and that we had reported to the Inspector General of Police; we had reported to the presidency, all the security agencies and nobody took steps to address it.
“So they are leaving Akwa Ibom people to defend themselves. We have called on all the powers-that-be; we call on the international community, this is a war that has been declared. I have never heard when Nigerian Police is partisanship. This is the first time that the entire police structure is belonging to a particular political structure.”
CUPP Accuses Presidency, Akpabio, IGP of Plot to Destabilise Akwa Ibom
In a reaction to the incident, the opposition group, Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), accused the presidency, IG of police, APC National Chairman, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, and former governor of the state, Senator Godswill Akpabio, of being behind the crisis. Its spokesperson, Mr. Ikenga Ugochinyere, said the opposition parties received with shock “the news of another display of impunity and legislative rascality by five suspended members of the Akwa Ibom State Assembly,” who he said, “are apparently being sponsored by Senator Godswill Akpabio, APC government and other Anti-Democratic forces desperate to remove the state governor Emmanuel Udom.”
According to him, “We are more worried that these five lawmakers and their pay masters could unleash this mayhem on the State Assembly for the second time in less than two weeks without any arrest by the police and other relevant security agents in the state.”
“We heard on good authority that these hoodlums imported by these sponsored five lawmakers, forced their way into the legislative house at the early hours of today with the aid of policemen drafted by the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Mr. Ibrahim Idris, the National chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Adams Oshiomhole to destabilize the state Assembly.”
He stated further, that the five suspended State Assembly members with the support of the police forced their way into the chambers to first sack the speaker, elect a new one, and thereafter constitute a committee to commence removal proceedings against the state governor.
He added that the conspiracy will never work and that the opposition parties condemn in strong terms this attempted abuse on our democracy by a few misguided elements in the state and their pay masters.