Why Akwa Ibom Fracas Should Have Your Full Attention

The feeling is that a clash of egos is birthing an unwanted crisis in the usually peaceful Akwa Ibom state.

Over the past week, the south-south state’s House of Assembly has been on edge. Five of its members, all of the APC, purported to suspend 11 of their colleagues of the PDP. They also desolved all standing committees of the House. The end game? To impeach Udom Emmanuel, the state governor.

Fingers are being pointed at former governor, Godswill Akpabio. Since his move to the APC from PDP in August, he has hit the ground running on a mission to ‘deliver’ the state for his new party. He was instrumental in Emmanuel’s rise and election in 2015 and probably supposes that the ‘structure’ in the state remains his to control. It’s the latest installment of godfather-governor vs godson-successor duels now becoming common.

On Wednesday, Governor Emmanuel had to show he was up for the fight. He made himself present at the House of Assembly chambers where the five had congregated to finish their mission. They would not succeed with the plot to impeach him. Gunshots were involved in the efforts to disperse the quintet but the intrigue goes deep.

Backstory

The five controversial members had announced their defection from the PDP to the APC. Following the rejection by Federal High Court (Uyo Division) of a plea by one of them, Nse Ntuen, to stop the state Assembly’s Speaker from declaring his seat vacant, the Speaker, Onofiok Luke, did precisely that to him and the other four. Consequently, they became automatically suspended from the House, barred from participating in plenary or other activities. Surely you imagine how it escalated from there?

Were The Five Members Rightfully Suspended?

Under what conditions a legislator’s seat can be declared vacant remains contentious and unclear. There is a unanimous 2015 Supreme Court decision which politicians use according to how it favours their circumstance. In that case, the Court ordered the lawmaker representing Akure South/North Federal Constituency of Ondo State, Ifedayo Abegunde, to vacate his seat. He had defected from the Labour Party (LP) to the now defunct ACN.

The Court’s decision hinged on whether there was a “division” in Abegunde’s party (LP) at the time of defection. This caveat has provided the loophole for political manipulation ever since, featuring prominently when Senate President Saraki and many others left the APC in July. In the present scenario at Akwa Ibom, one may cursorily say the PDP is in not in a state of division. As such, the defection of the five members would necessitate the vacation of their seats.

High Stakes

Governor Emmanuel has accused his predecessor of trying to impose anarchy on the state. Apkabio has thrown his weight behind the APC’s candidate, the former NDDC boss Nsima Ekere. The furore could be more a message of intent to unsettle Emmanuel ahead of the kick-off of campaigns this weekend than an actual desire for impeachment. Either way, Emmanuel has known better than to give his enemies the presumption of kindness. Akwa Ibom receives one of the highest allocations among the 36 states; this is a battle for who controls the largesse for another four years.

At What Costs?

State Houses of Assembly have a notorious rap sheet. More chairs are thrown and dresses thorn than at the federal level. Whenever it happens, it often involves a blatantly ridiculous attempt to unseat a governor, often by a minority of renegade parliamentarians. It is a trend that makes a mockery of the dignity of the legislature, requiring the intervention of law enforcement agencies in some occasions. In this episode, the Police has become implicated in the plot according to Governor Emmanuel who alleges fishiness by the state’s new Commissioner of Police, Musa Kimo, in abetting the gang of five.

These shows of folly come and go, and we tend to move on. But Nigeria’s institutions are progressively worse for them if they continue to occur.

Motivation to Choose Wisely

For citizens, this should provide motivation to be more conscious about voting decisions in the coming elections. Even House of Assembly elections matter; when not playing roles like Constitution amendments or routine tasks of passing budgets, a state Assembly should still be thorough, independent of Executive pressure and serve to check it.

State Assemblies should not be rubber stamps for executive will, neither should it be a vehicle for chaos and political brigandage.

Akwa Ibom presents strong evidence to consciously consider character and competence above political capital, in the choices we make for our representatives to all levels of legislature. At both houses in Abuja but also for the one in our states.

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