There was pandemonium in the political terrain in the state on Friday May 29, 2020 as two council chairmen were suspended by the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly.
The suspended chairmen are: Lady Emem Ibanga of Nsit Atai LGA and Elder Imoh Okon of Uyo LGA. While announcing their suspension in a hurriedly convened emergency sitting last Friday, the Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Aniekan Bassey said the affected chairmen were removed indefinitely for alleged gross misconduct and administrative inefficiency.
The suspension of Mr Imoh Okon, chairman of Uyo and his Nsit Atai counterpart, Emem Ibanga followed a resolution of the House read by the Speaker, Aniekan Bassey, after the consideration of a report by the chairman of its committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Public Petitions, Victor Ekwere, and that of Local Government and Chieftaincy, Mark Esset.
The House mandated their Vice Chairmen, Mr Idorenyin Effiong Inyang, and Ukai Udeme Emmanuel respectively, to immediately take over the duties of the suspended chairmen.
The speaker explained that the resolution was based on the provisions of Section 81 (1) of the Local Government Administration Law (2017) as amended, which says “Where the peaceful functioning of the Local Government or its Council is hindered by protracted crisis, the House of Assembly may, by a resolution passed by a simple majority of all its members, impose such restrictive measures in the Local Government Area or its Council as the House of Assembly may deem fit”.
There are political powers behind the suspensions of the duo. Though they have both denied their involvement in the ordeal of the chairmen, the duo of Rt. Hon. Mark Esset, member representing Nsit State Constituency in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly and Hon. Monday Eyo Okon a.k.a Murray, Chairman, Local Government Service Commission have been roundly accused of either orchestrating or aiding the removal of their political foes.
For proper background on the political turmoil, Mark Esset and the suspended Nsit Atai Chairman, are political arch-enemies at the local government level. Murray and Imoh Okon do not belong to the same political camp in Uyo and they do not pretend to be political allies.
The aforementioned have been having full-fledged political war at the local government level.
In Nsit Atai, Esset is said to be uncomfortable with the effrontery of the lady chairman. Both have been battling since 2017 to dislodge each other politically. During the PDP House of Assembly Primary in 2018, it has been reported that the duo got into a disagreement, a heated argument ensued in the process and the lady in the heat of the exchange slapped the diminutive Elder Mark Esset who himself is a former council boss. Such is their political relationship. You can christen the relationship “cat and mouse” if you wish.
Mark is said to be angered by the fact that Ms Ibanga has too much political clout for a woman, and that she is using her closeness with the First Lady of the State, Dr. Martha Emmanuel to try to overlord them in Nsit Atai.
During the last PDP Ward and LG Congresses in the state, Emem Ibanga is reported to have had the upper hand as most of her candidates sailed through. Apart from the First Lady of the State, she is said to enjoy massive support from the outgoing State PDP Chairman, Obong Paul Ekpo, and the incoming State PDP Chairman, Hon. Udo Ekpenyong who is said to be her “Uncle”. Udo Ekpenyong is currently an influential commissioner in the state exco, serving as Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs.
On the other hand, Imoh Okon and Murray are sworn political enemies in Uyo. Imoh Okon is in the political divide headed by the acclaimed Champion of Uyo Politics, Hon. Enobong Uwah a.k.a Hammer. Imoh Okon, alongside Hammer never supported the second term aspiration of Murray for the Uyo House of Assembly seat. Murray is reported to have had over 80 percent of the delegates for the PDP House Assembly primary. But that was not to be as the State Chairman of the Party, Obong Paul Ekpo is said to have aided the ‘Hammer’ faction to defeat Murray in the primary. Mind you, Murray is a former loyalist of Hammer. Enobong Uwah, a former Commissioner under Governor Godswill Akpabio and an ex-House of assembly aspirant is now Chairman of Uyo Capital City Development Authority. He is reckoned to have produced many political office holders in the area over the years.
But after falling out with his former ‘Master’, Murray is bent on breaking the spoon that hitherto fed his political career. He has gone totally out to dismantle Hammer’s political stronghold.
Reports have it that he is having a tacit support from some forces within system. To help him fight ‘Hammer’ and reduce his influence in Uyo, the system appointed Murray to head a ‘first class juicy’ board. He is now the Chairman of the Local Government Service Commission, replacing another Uyo son, Sir. Val Attah who was sacked by the governor.
Murray has been enjoying the support of some councilors in Uyo. The Vice Chairman who is now the Ag. Chairman, Ukai Udeme Emmanuel is a member of Murray’s camp. Murray, himself a former Vice Chairman has seen his camp swell as each day passes. The likes of Nse Joshua who fell out with his former boss, Hammer is now with Murray. Joshua is an aspirant for the Uyo council Chairmanship seat. Former Transition Chairman, Mfon Ben who is from the same (Ikono) clan with Imoh Okon is also with Murray. Murray’s camp is further thickened by the presence of Federal Rep, Rt. Hon. Mike Enyong, Commissioner for Information, Sir Charles Udoh and former assemblyman who is a serving board member, Hon. Ekere Afia.
Reports have it that Murray and his camp had the upper hand during the last PDP ward and LG congresses in Uyo. They produced the chapter chairman of the party.
Murray is said to have been longing to have his pound of flesh against Imoh Okon for aligning with Enobong Uwah to frustrate his second term ambition. The suspension of the Council boss is said to have given him some form of satisfaction.
Schemings have been on for some time to neutralize the political powers and influence of the suspended Local Government Chairmen. According to information at the disposal of TheMail Newspaper, after losing out in the speakership tussle in June last year, Mark Esset specifically requested to be made Chairman of the Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs.
According to pundits who are in the know, one of his major objectives for requesting to be made head of the committee was for a time like this. From the outset, he allegedly intended to use his office as the chair of the oversight committee to bring his archenemy to her knees.
On the other hand, Murray is said to be an ‘Unofficial Member’ of the 7th assembly. He knows most of the decisions of the speaker before they are discussed at the executive sessions or plenaries. This is because he is a member of the cabal in the house of assembly headed by ‘Obong Ino’ Nse Essien a.k.a Indomitable. This cabal also has Mark Esset, Uduak Odudoh and the Speaker Aniekan Bassey as the eggheads. Though the cabal has some other members, the aforementioned are the leaders. Murray still maintains close friendship with those mentioned above despite not being in the Assembly, hence he either attends the cabal meetings where key decisions are taken before executive sessions or is usually briefed after such meetings.
Information at the disposal of TheMail has it that the schemings to get Imoh Okon and Emem Ibanga off their seats heightened last week.
Mark Esset in particular is said to have undertaken the task of lobbying his colleagues to get his chairman, Emem Ibanga suspended.
TheMail learnt on good authority that it was only Emem Ibanga that was marked for suspension during the Thursday 28th May, 2020 plenary session of the house. Imoh Okon’s suspension was not in the picture.
During the executive session of the day, when it was announced that the suspension of Emem Ibanga would be listed in the order paper of the day, the Deputy Speaker, Rt. Hon Felicia Bassey who is a close ally of the embattled chairman took excuse that she needed to get back to her house as ulcer was disturbing her. This, according to findings was to enable her to get across to Emem Ibanga to inform her of the plot against her. The Deputy speaker only returned when the plenary was going on, and went straight to the speaker and handed over her phone to him. Obviously, the Governor’s wife, Mrs. Martha Emmanuel and the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy, Hon. Udo Ekpenyong were on the line and wanted to talk with the Speaker to pressure him to stand down on the planned suspension of the chairmen.
The speaker took the phone from his deputy, stepped aside and answered the call. When the speaker returned, he suspended the planned removal of the Emem Ibanga. This decision by the speaker irked many members of the house who got angry with the Deputy Speaker for breeching house rules. Her Deputy Speakership position was threatened. She was to be impeached when the house reconvenes. Lobbying for her position had intensified. Those who jostled for her position include former Deputy Speaker, Effiong Bassey and member Representing Urueoffong/Oruko State Constituency, Rt. Hon. Asukwo Edet Archibong a.k.a Poison.
Plenary was adjourned to June 4, 2020. But those who wanted the heads of Emem Ibanga and Imoh Okon were not ready to be defeated. They didn’t rest. After briefing the governor (most likely with a one-sided story) on why the duo should be suspended, they finally got the governor’s approval. An emergency sitting was convened for the following day, May 29, Nigeria’s former democracy day which still remains the swearing-in day/anniversary day for the president and most elected governors in the country.
While the governor was getting ready to commission the newly built 300-bed isolation centre in Ituk Mbang, Uruan, the house sat in an emergency session. The speaker announced the indefinite suspension of the two council bosses. The state was sent into frenzy with the announcement though there were jubilations in the camps of Murray and Esset. The primary beneficiaries of the suspension, Ukai Udeme Emmanuel and Mr Idorenyin Effiong Inyang went to the houses of their benefactors to kick-start the celebrations. While Ukai went to pay allegiance to Monday Eyo in his Shelter Afrique residence, Mark Esset had the pleasure of hosting his political godson, Idorenyin Inyang at his palatial residence in Osongama.
Imoh Okon’s travails is said to be primarily because of his pride, arrogance and high-handedness since he assumed office as Executive Chairman of Uyo Local Government. He is said to have stepped on the toes of so many politicians in the area while others have tasted dosage(s) of his insult and arrogance.
Another thing that got Imoh Okon into problem with those who are now loyal to Murray is because of revenue collection. The Qua Iboe Church (alias United Evangelical Church) Elder is said to have stopped some of Murray’s loyalists from being in-charge of the collection of the LGA’s revenue.
He is said to have also plotted and removed Murray as the person in charge of collection of revenue at the illegal Ibom Plaza market. Close allies to the suspended chairman informed TheMail that Elder Imoh Okon had planned closing down the illegal market at plaza, much to the chagrin of Murray.
Also, Imoh Okon is said to be receiving upto N80m as IGR. This money, many sources say have been largely syphoned by the chairman and has been unaccounted for. He has also reportedly refused to share the IGR to some political chieftains in the area despite not using it for any visible project in the LGA.
Amongst his many ‘sins’ is that Imoh Okon was the DG of the campaign organization of Senator Bassey Albert Akpan as senator. He campaigned vigorously for the senator nicknamed OBA during last elections. He has been telling those who care to listen that he is thoroughly an OBA man and that he owes no one no explanation for his choice, as he will still support him for the 2023 governorship election. OBA is a marked politician in the state. He is marked by a section of the ‘system’ who feel he won’t be a good successor to Udom Emmanuel. This particular ‘sin’ of Imoh Okon got him into trouble with the system who during his travail, gave full support to the legislature to dislodge him from his elected position. This, according to insiders in Hilltop Mansion is to weaken the political base of the man called ‘Enin Ibiono Ibom’.
A petition is said to have been written separately by the Vice Chairman (now Ag. Chairman) and some Councilors to the AKHA. They are said to have made some allegations against Imoh Okon, including his alleged refusal to buy official vehicles to the Vice Chairman and Leader of the legislature and give them their due entitlements. The other councillors are equally said to have made several other allegations against the chairman, including financial impropriety.
As for Emem Ibanga, her major problem is Mark Esset. Mark had aligned with the Commissioner from the area, Otuekong Raphael Bassey to destabilize the chairman. Mark has the Vice Chairman of the council and about 5 councilors on his side. While the LGA Chairman on her part, has the support of the Secretary of Council and Leader of the Legislature alongside majority of the councilors. The newly elected Chapter Chairman of PDP in Nsit Atai is said to be her loyalist. Also, the likes of Emmanuel Okon of Eminence Oil is said to be on her side.
A petition is said to have been written by the councilors loyal to Mark Esset. Emem Ibanga is said to have refused to buy an official vehicle to the Vice Chairman as directed by the relevant AKHA Committees. This, according to those in the know is allegedly because her Vice Chairman is loyal her political arch-enemy, Mark Esset. Allegation of financial recklessness has also been levelled against her. The rumoured involvement of the chairman in the Deaf Pen character assassination scandal is also said to be one of the reasons the house suspended her.
Sources in the house say the duo were suspended in order to get fairness during their trial and investigations of the said allegations.
Speaking to TheMail Newspaper on Sunday, Ms Emem Ibanga said it is untrue that she was invited by the AKHA committees and she refused to show up. She said the only time she was invited by the committee was last year based on petitions by some of her councilors. She told our reporter that she appeared before the committee and defended her self. She said when she appeared before the committee, she tore up the tissue of lies peddled against her in the frivolous petition to the House of Assembly. She said after her appearance before the committee, the lies against her were detected and the petition was deemed worthless.
She said that since then till date, she has not received any fresh petition by the house of assembly, wondering where the petition that led to her suspension emanated from. She told our reporter that she had bought and presented a 2010 Toyota vehicle to her deputy last year. She said that she was surprised that her vice drove to her house in Shelter Afrique and returned the car to her just a week after she gave him the car.
She said the car she gave to the now Ag. Chairman was a clean car which was in good shape. She said that after her vice returned the car, she handed over the vehicle to the Paramount Ruler of Nsit Atai, HRH. Edidem Peter Effiong. She said the monarch is still using the vehicle till date without complaints.
Meanwhile, her Uyo counterpart, Elder Imoh Okon issued a statement on Monday, accepting his suspension by the AKHA. He called on those who are disrespecting the state legislature over his suspension to stop forthwith.
“For avoidance of doubt and for record purposes, I wish to state as follows: That, I hold in the highest esteem, the Leadership and Honourable Members of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, AKHA, and charge all who comment on this matter to do so with decorum. That, as a public office holder who respects membership and powers of the House of Assembly, I also believe the AKHA is peopled by men of honour, competence and proven integrity and have my absolute confidence in their capacity to investigate and resolve all pending matters pertaining to my Office before them. That, I hereby reiterate my conviction that, the AKHA is constitutionally empowered to exercise oversight on the Local Government Administration and should not be denigrated for acting in accordance with the said constitution.
“That, I don’t intend to challenge the powers of the AKHA, in person and/or, through proxies, neither have I mandated any person or group to institute any Litigation howsoever on my behalf. That, any attributions of comments, reviews or pronouncements on the matter before the AKHA, by citizens are not by any chance, on my promptings, neither do they represent my personal opinion. I completely repose my faith in the propriety of the State Legislature to resolve the matter. I charge all the good people of Uyo to maintain the peace and continue to support the Administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel for the overall success of his Completion Agenda”, Imoh Okon said in a press release personally signed by him.
SUSPENSION TO BE LIFTED
TheMail has gotten feelers that the suspension of the said chairmen would likely be lifted. We learnt on good authority that the duo have been pressing necessary buttons in a bid to get their suspension lifted. For Emem Ibanga, she is counting on the influence of the Governor’s wife, the Deputy Speaker, and the incoming PDP Chairman, Hon. Udo Ekpenyong, amongst a host of other influential politicians in the state. They are lobbying the governor, influential members of the political class and AKHA for her suspension to be lifted.
Also, we learnt on good authority that the ALGON Chairman, Frank Archibong has been working tirelessly to ensure that the suspension is lifted.
“Immediately he got wind of the plot of oust his colleagues since last week, he has not been resting. He been moving from pillar to post, negotiating for their return to office. I’m sure his efforts would yield fruits”, said a source close to the ALGON boss.
Another source in government informed TheMail that though Emem Ibanga’s suspension looks most likely to be lifted, it would be herculean for that of Imoh to be lifted. The source said that some political forces outside Uyo and Nsit Atai LGAs had a hand in the duo’s suspension. The source hinted that Okon’s recall would be tough because the system is bent on dislodging OBA’s political structure, and they see Imoh Okon as one of the senator’s henchmen who must be dealt with.
WHY COUNCILLORS ARE GOING FOR THEIR CHAIRMEN’S JUGULAR
Councilors in many LGAs are out for their chairmen’s jugular. They know that they have less than half a year to the end of their tenure, and they must do all within their powers to extract some finances from chairmen whom they feel haven’t treated them well.
Apart from Uyo and Nsit Atai, there are crises in many other LGAs between the Councilors and chairmen. Ibiono Ibom, Esit Eket and Ukanafun are in the news for similar reasons. Ibiono Ibom and Esit Eket councilors have sent petitions against their chairmen to the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. The assembly has acknowledged the petitions and forwarded same to the appropriate committee(s) for action.
Esit Eket petition is not unconnected with the crisis between the LGA Chairman, Iniobong Robson a.k.a Etebe and his house of assembly member, Rt. Hon. Usoro Akpanusoh. A supervisor loyal to Usoro Akpanusoh was sacked by the council boss, Robson.
The Ibiono Ibom councilors are accusing their council boss of
writing a budget and signing it to law all by himself without presenting the
budget to the legislature.