INSECURITY IN AKWA IBOM STATE: When Government Propaganda Is Not Enough.

14 Jul

Godswill Akpabio, Akwa Ibom State Governor.

                                          By Ita Awak.
Following the assassination attempt on Chief Soni Udom, the Director General of Umana Okon Umana’s political network on 6th May 2014 in Uyo, a petition had been sent to the Nigeria Police Headquarters in Abuja requesting the highest police authorities to investigate the incident and other cases of politically motivated violence in Akwa Ibom State. The petition, written by an Abuja-based lawyer, Mr Uzoma Igbebulam, on behalf of Mr Umana and all his political associates and supporters, chronicles several other cases of political killings, kidnappings, abductions and harassments of politicians and their relations in Akwa Ibom State since Chief Godswill Akpabio became governor in 2007 and requested the police and other security agencies to conduct investigations into them. The most compelling reason for sending the petition was because the victims of this violence were either the political opponents of Gov. Godswill Akpabio or their family members. Secondly, we also believe that the tendency and eagerness of the government to always blame the attacks on armed robbers were enough to raise sufficient suspicion and therefore should be of interest to the police authorities.
A few examples may suffice: During the re election campaigns of Chief Akpabio, a governorship aspirant, Engr. Ini Udonwa, narrowly escaped death when armed men stormed his residence at night. His mother who lived with him was, unfortunately, not that lucky as she was abducted, murdered and her corpse dumped at the roadside. Before then, the aspirant had received several threats to withdraw from the race. In that same period, the wife of another candidate, Sam Ewang, was kidnapped and kept away for weeks. Mr Paul Inyang, a former zonal officer of the PDP and Mr Imo Udonwa, a prominent member of PDP in the state and former member of the state House of Assembly, were murdered because they were both associated with the former Governor of the state, Obong Victor Attah, and they were both rumoured to be interested in the chairmanship of the party in the state. Retired General Edet Akpan, former DG of NYSC and a PDP stalwart, was kidnapped in the church for his refusal to support Akpabio’s second term re election.  Three female members of the church were killed in the process. Another prominent victim is the former Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Nelson Efiong who was also abducted for weeks for not supporting Akpabio’s second term election. In December 2013, Mr Umana Umana himself received a written threat at his Uyo residence ordering him to withdraw from the 2015 governorship race or face death. He promptly reported the threat to the police, but was shocked to learn that the governor had also ordered the withdrawal of his police protection. Was the governor setting up Mr. Umana Umanah for an eventual attack?
It was in the context of all these coincidences and mysteries that Akwa Ibom people were sufficiently alarmed when early this year a prominent politician in the State, Engr. (Chief) Albert Ukpanah, was cold bloodedly murdered in his residence. Late Chief Ukpanah was known for his unstinting opposition to the senatorial ambition of Chief Godswill Akpabio, our state governor. Ukpanah’s killing, followed closely by the attempt on Soni Udom’s life, were enough warnings to prominent Akwa Ibom citizens that the violence that marked the election season of 2010/2011 were making an eerie comeback to the state. They provided the context and the compelling reasons why our lawyers wrote to the police authorities in Abuja, requesting for investigations, especially since the government had also typically blamed armed robbers for the attacks. Why is the Akwa Ibom state government always quick to blame political killings in the state on armed robbers, even before the police commence investigations? And why are these ‘armed robbers’ always attacking the governor’s political opponents, and not the banks, supermarkets, petrol stations and other businesses that deal in heavy cash transactions in the state? Very importantly, is it not curious that none of these armed robbers has ever been prosecuted and convicted since 2010? These are some of the mysteries we requested the police to help unravel.
 As soon as the authorities in Abuja received our petition, the police high command commenced their investigations. We are aware that the police had already invited many persons to their headquarters in Abuja for interrogations; while a set of investigators flew into Uyo recently to conduct further investigations into the subject matter of the petition. To the best of our understanding, the police are yet to conclude their investigations. We were, therefore, shocked to read a press statement issued by Mr. Aniekan Umanah, the Commissioner for Information and Communications in Akwa Ibom and published as an advertorial in The Nation newspaper of 7th July 2014 in which the government spokesman stated that the attempt on Soni Udom’s life was a robbery incident because, according to the him, the suspects had been arrested by the Akwa Ibom State Command of the SSS and that they had made confessional statements to that effect; that on the morning of March 5, 2014, the same day he was assassinated, Chief Ukpanah was at the governor’s official residence where he met with Governor Akpabio to solicit assistance for his wife who was receiving medical attention at a Lagos hospital. The Commissioner then wondered how the same governor, who gladly assisted Engr Ukpanah, would turn around to assassinate him; that Governor Akpabio did not threaten Hon. Ekperikpe Ekpo who is also eyeing the same senate seat as he is; and that Mr. Umana Okon Umana himself has not been under personal threats.
  Since the police headquarters in Abuja are still investigating this matter, we wish to request the Commissioner and other officials of the Akwa Ibom State government to allow the police to do a thorough work and conclude their investigations. By publishing hasty and false conclusions while police investigations are in progress, we believe that the Akwa Ibom State government wants to distract the police from doing its work and deceive and confuse the good people of the state who have suffered unprecedented reign of organised terror, violence, official intimidation, gruesome murders and harrowing kidnappings since May 29th, 2007 when Obong Victor Attah handed over to Chief Akpabio. In fact, records have it that in the last seven years of the Akpabio administration, there have been over 100 cases of unresolved political murders and kidnappings in Akwa Ibom. In the press conference we addressed after the failed attempt on Soni Udom, we had stated several reasons to indicate that the attack could not have been a robbery. One, a gang of five Hausa-speaking and cash-hungry robbers could not have come to Uyo from Nassarawa, Plateau and Benue States with the sole mission of robbing for cash in broad daylight only to  ignore and bypass all the commercial banks in town, the active and lucrative supermarkets that dot the Uyo metropolis, the unprotected petrol stations and other various business places where there are heavy cash transactions only to stray into the obscure office premises of an estate firm owned by Obong Soni Udom.
If the invaders were indeed armed robbers as the Commissioner declared, why did they not ask for cash during their operation at Soni Udom’s office; rather they repeatedly asked “where is oga?” and went about breaking locked doors in search of “Oga.” It is important to note that when one of the armed men started seizing phones from staff, one of them, perhaps the ring leader, reprimanded thus “Is that what we came here for?”
The SSS in Akwa Ibom State paraded before journalists five young men who are said to have owned up as the armed gang that invaded Soni Udom’s office. However, Udom’s staff that were invited to the DSS office in Uyo could positively and definitively identify only two of them. But one fundamental and disturbing finding we made is that during the armed operation in Obong Udom’s office, one of the hoodlums mistakenly shot himself, severing off his right thumb. A picture of this cut-off and bloodied thumb that the killers left in Soni Udom’s office was showed to journalists at a Press Conference Soni Udom himself addressed on Wednesday, 7th May 2014.
One of the gangsters the DSS paraded as the “armed robbers” who went to Obong Udom’s office had white bandage tied around his right index finger. This fellow claimed that he lost his index finger during the operation in Obong Udom’s office. We find this very curious. Perhaps, Mr. Aniekan Umana is in a position to tell the world why the person paraded by the DSS claims he lost an index finger whereas the hired killer that invaded Obong Soni Udom’s office lost the thumb which is still in the custody of Obong Soni Udom. We recall also that the gang had claimed before the SSS that they were led into Uyo by a linkman who is an Akwa Ibom person known as Anas. Regretably, the SSS has not produced Mr. Anas who would be in a position to explain what the mission of his gangsters in Uyo was.
 
 We note that other prominent Akwa Ibomites have been sufficiently alarmed by the re-emergence of violence in their State. Earlier in May this year, Chief Don Etiebet, a renowned businessman, a founding father of the PDP and a member of its Board of Trustees, sent a petition to the Inspector General of Police on the violence in the state. In it, Chief Etiebet chronicles the litany of politically motivated violence and attacks in Akwa Ibom State. He particularly called attention to the fact that “these close coincidences are the reasons why I am sending this letter to you to be aware of the state of insecurity, political brigandage and threats to human life and property in my State prelude to the forth coming Party Primaries in the State with the sole motive of scaring people away from participating in free, fair and open congresses and primariesas the National Chairman has often said. I, therefore, call on you, Sir to do everything possible to prevent a breakdown of law and order in the State and to ensure that violent-free party congresses and primaries are held when the time comes.” Chief Don Etiebet further stated that Governor Akpabio had called him with an unknown number to rain invectives on him. On Thursday, March 20, 2014, a couple of months before Chief Etiebet lodged his petition at the Force Headquarters, Abuja, a distinguished Akwa Ibom son, retired Police DIG Udom Ekpoudom, informed the governor at the government sponsored Abak town hall meeting that he had credible  intelligence that some highly placed government officials and aides of the governor have been recruiting felons and indulging them with car gifts and other pecuniary benefits with the chief aim of using them to unleash violence and intimidate political opponents ahead of the 2015 Governorship race. Chief Akpabio did not provide any response to this charge. Is it possible for these three eminent Akwa Ibom citizens to raise false alarm against their governor? Is it possible for Chief Don Etiebet to write a petition to the IG and send copies to the President and NSA if indeed there is no political violence in our state?
Governor Godswill Akpabio has persistently stoked the embers of ethnic discord in the state by openly inciting brothers to inflict violence on each other, especially those who are opposed to his 2015 politics. For instance, at the Oron town hall meeting on Monday, 31st March, 2014, the governor asked the Oro Traditional Fathers to call on Oro people to violently attack any of their sons who support any aspirant from Uyo senatorial district. The governor’s position was amplified by a former deputy governor of the state, Chief Etim Okpoyo, who stated that any such Oro persons should be burnt alive with their cars. We have all these on tape. In any event, we want to bring to the kind attention of Mr. Aniekan Umanah that never in the 27-year-history of our state had any of his predecessors had the singular unfortunate and depressing task of defending their governments’ alleged involvement in politically-motivated killings, violence, kidnappings and intimidation of the Akwa Ibom people. Not even during the epic resource control battle with the Federal Authorities, a period when highly placed Abuja based Akwa Ibom politicians aligned with the Federal Authorities to wage a fierce battle over the control of the State Chapter of the PDP with Obong Attah, there was NEVER any incident of the harassment, violent intimidation or killing of any of Obong Attah’s perceived political opponents. In the light of this, we imagine that Mr. Aniekan Umanah ought to be seriously disturbed that he appears to be the only Commissioner of Information in the country with the misfortune of repeatedly blaming political killings on armed robbery.   
In the light of all the unanswered questions, our petition to the police was a call for further investigation. Officials of Akwa Ibom State government should therefore not make statements that may interfere with or distract the police from conducting a thorough investigation into the petitions forwarded to them.  If the Commissioner has good reasons to believe that his government is innocent of any involvement in these horrifying events, he should dutifully present his facts to the relevant authorities and stop the media propaganda.
Ita Awak is the Director of Research & Publicity of Umana Okon Umana’s Political Network.
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