On Tuesday, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly played host to Governor Emmanuel Udom amidst the theatre of the absurd that played out in that hallowed chamber. It was the anti-climax of days of political rascality occasione.
The state legislature, with its ostensible mirth, had plunged itself into crisis when on November 19, the Speaker, Hon. Onofiok Luke, declared the seats of five members of the House, who recently decamped from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state to the APC vacant. Following some chains of reactions, the assembly complex came under the heavy presence of security operatives presumably to prevent the breakdown of law and order. However, issues have been raised about the neutrality of the police and other law enforcement agencies in the crisis.
As criticisms trailed the action of the operatives, rumour swirled round the town that the recalcitrant group of five, who had earlier impeached the Speaker and expelled 11 other of their colleagues, was plotting to impeach the governor. Defying the doctrine of separation of power, Udom swiftly stormed the House of Assembly with full complement of his retinue of aides and security details to dislodge the dissent group and restore order in the legislature. And he had a field day! Amidst sporadic gunfire by the security personnel who accompanied him, the lawmakers took to their heels. Those who unluckily fell into the hands of security operatives among the Nse Ntuen faction were said to be allegedly manhandled, while several others were severely wounded. Thereafter, there were reports that the governor met with the embattled Speaker in a closed-door before he made his way back to the Government House.
The lawmakers, emboldened by the executive intervention, took back control of the House and continued with the legislative business of the day. The Speaker, justifying the action of the governor and his meddlesomeness said: “The governor is the chief security officer of the Akwa Ibom State, so, when there is a security threat, the governor has to physically supervise what’s going on there.
“The governor being the chief security officer of Akwa Ibom State has an obligation to be there. The people of Akwa Ibom have shown solidarity as seen in what happened today. We will continue to stand with our governor.”
The state Commissioner for Information, Charles, also defending the governor, insisted that “it is the duty of the governor as the chief security officer of the state to oversee what is going on in any part of the state.”
Political observers are, however, quick to link the state assembly crisis to the battle of wit between Udom and his erstwhile political godfather, Senator Godswill Akpabio, who is now a member of the APC. Since the former governor dumped the PDP and joined forces with the APC, there has been intense power struggle for the control of the state. In one of his recent public outburst, Akpabio was quoted to have allegedly declared an imminent takeover of Akwa Ibom in the coming elections by the APC, liking the looming defeat of the PDP to the way Adolf Hitler overran Poland.
There is, therefore, a sense in which the raging crisis in the state legislature is seen as the beginning of the epic battle of the titans.
But the PDP, in a quick reaction, said the plan of the APC was to cause mayhem and make the state ungovernable, urging well-meaning Nigerians to rise in unison to condemn the action of the lawmakers and their sponsors.
The party’s spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement said: “The whole idea behind the recent onslaught by the Senator Godswill Akpabio’s sponsored sacked members of the state assembly is to cause mayhem, generate tension with a view to making the state ungovernable.
“The former members of the State House of Assembly are back to the Assembly complex this morning with heavily armed police and thugs. We call on all Nigerians to rise in condemnation of this heinous crime.”
Today, there is still raging debate over the implication of the executive meddlesomeness in the affairs of the legislature as an independent arm of government. While some analysts say the action of the governor was expedient to nip the crisis in the bud, others argue that it has eroded the independence of the legislature.
Either way, the assembly is already a house divided against itself. It, therefore, follows that a faction of the lawmakers, who was at the mercy of the governor, would forever remain grateful to him for his benevolence. And by the same token, the governor himself can as well capitalize on the division to undermine the integrity of the legislature.
Gabriel Udom Emmanuel was born on July 11, 1966 into the family of Ette, Teacher Gabriel Emmanuel Nkenang, a native of Awa Iman in Onna Local Government, Akwa Ibom State. Udom, who holds a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from the University of Lagos in 1988, is a Chartered Accountant trained with PriceWaterHouseCoopers. He later served as an Executive Director of Zenith Bank Plc.
In July 2013, he was appointed Secretary to the State Government of Akwa Ibom State. In 2015, he contested for the governorship seat on the platform of the PDP and won. He is again in the race for re-election in 2019.