BY Emmanuel Akpan
Recently, the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Chief Godswill Akpabio revealed that the state government had uncovered a plot by some elements of the opposition parties to eliminate people who served as polling agents for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during the last general elections so that they would not be able to testify at the Election Petition Tribunal which has just commenced sitting in Uyo, the State Capital.
According to him, there was a security report linking an opposition party in the state to a killer squad allegedly hired to attack PDP agents and supporters in order to prevent them from coming forward as witnesses in the case involving a petition seeking to nullify the victory of the PDP in the last gubernatorial election in the State.
The Governor had said this while reacting to the shooting of Dr.Francis Udoikpong who was his campaign coordinator and the PDP agent for Ika Local Council during the election. Dr. Udoikpong, a former Chairman of the said Local Council was shot by armed men on a motor bike in Uyo.
Although the Governor did not mention any particular political party, The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has, predictably, reacted to the allegation in a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, denying any involvement in such a plot. The party however counter-accused the Governor of preparing the ground for the elimination of opposition politicians in the state through his statement on the alleged plot.
While defending itself the ACN said further that it has a tradition of resorting to legal recourse in election disputes rather than engaging in Street battles or killings. “It is in the interest of our Party to see the election petition tribunal successfully treat the cases before it….. That is our interest and we have no reason to eliminate anyone. It is not in our character”, the Party added.
It is good to hear that the ACN has dissociated itself from the alleged dastardly plot. But can it be believed? The answer is no because its claim to reliance on peaceful, legal processes in pursuit of its petitions before the Tribunal is not supported by its antecedents in Akwa Ibom State. One can easily recall the wave of violent attacks it unleashed on PDP supporters during the electioneering campaigns in which many lives were lost, in Uyo and Ikot Ekpene, including those of innocent members of the public who were just going about their normal endeavours.
The premeditated attacks were clearly targeted at PDP leaders and supporters. Apart from the loss of lives, properties belonging to PDP leaders worth hundreds of millions of naira were destroyed.
One of the many victims was Senator Aloysius Etok, a PDP leader whose school and other properties worth hundreds of millions of naira were completely destroyed while he escaped being killed. In their fury, the ACN thugs did not spare even government property. They went to the state government secretariat where they destroyed public property worth billions of naira. Surely, a Political Party that did not hesitate to destroy public property (the common wealth of the people it seeks to rule) just because it is opposed to the government in power, is capable of doing anything.
Thus, even if the name of the party was not mentioned in the alleged plot, The ACN remains a suspect because of its ugly antecedents of the recent past in the State. The Party has shown by that dastardly attack that violence is in its character and that it is really desperate to capture power by whatever means. For the people of Akwa Ibom State who witnessed the ACN supporters’ unwarranted rage, the party can only redeem its name and image if it turns a new leaf by holding its errant leaders and thugs in check and helping to maintain peace, law and order. It should also publicly apologise to the people make restitution and respect their wishes as expressed at the polls.
The plot alleged by the Governor is a matter of serious concern that must be looked into by the security agencies and all the stakeholders in the State. The attempt of the ACN to trivialize the matter by counter-accusing the Governor is untenable and should not be allowed to divert attention from the seriousness of the issue at hand. All the stakeholders should be vigilant and ensure that political violence of any kind does not occur in the State again. Meanwhile, government should not relent in efforts to bring the perpetrators of that unwarranted mayhem to justice.
It is important however, to stress that election violence was not known in Akwa Ibom State until the ACN governorship candidate, Senator James Akpan Udoedehe entered the race for the State House. His politics of incitement, ethnic and tribal hatred has contributed in no small measure to the inflammation of passions and sentiments among his few supporters who are now always ready to take up violence as a means to achieving their political ambitions.
The good people of Akwa Ibom State should speak out, before it is too late, to caution the ACN candidate and his party both of whom appear to be bent on destabilizing the state after they failed to win political power through the ballot box. It is well known among the people that ACN is not popular in the state and this was confirmed by the electorate at all the polls held in the state, from the State House of Assembly to the presidential poll. Udoedehe and his party cannot force themselves on the people by blackmailing and intimidating the PDP and the elected government of the State. That gimmick, no matter the intensity of their propaganda, will not work.
It is also necessary for the security and law enforcement agencies to investigate reports of threat to the lives of former ACN members who defected to the PDP and current members of the ACN who have accepted the victory of the PDP and conceded defeat, including its state chairman who publicly congratulated Governor Akpabio and reportedly got suspended by the party for doing so. Finally, in view of the controversies surrounding the tribunal judgments in Osun and Ekiti States over allegations that the ACN bought the verdicts in favour of its governorship candidates, the electorate in Akwa Ibom state should show keen interest in the proceedings of the State Election Petitions Tribunal and ensure that justice is not miscarried.
BY Emmanuel Akpan