Pre-Election Violence in Akwa Ibom and the Search for Truth
26 Jun 2011: Anietie Ekong
Stakeholders in Akwa Ibom State lay bare before the Presidential Investigation Panel the remote and immediate causes of the pre-election violence which had rocked the state on March 22, 2011 and proffer solutions to nip future occurrence in the bud and the way forward.
On Tuesday, March 22, 2011, Akwa Ibom State was engulfed by political violence of unprecedented proportions. On that day, the serenity and calm ambience of the state was terminated and a reign of terror unleashed on residents in some parts of the state, particularly in Ikot Ekpene and Uyo. The once harmonious and peaceful relationship which had existed among the people and for which they took pride in, had given way to fear and suspicion following one of the worst cases of electoral violence in Nigeria.
By the time the dust of the mayhem settled, according to officially confirmed Police report two supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Etop Nicholas Idiong, a trader and Daniel Udo Akpan, a commercial motorcyclist were brutally murdered in Ikot Ekpene while several people sustained various degrees of injuries. Also, Nsemo Ita Ekong, an Akwa Ibom Transport Company bus driver was recovered shot dead in his vehicle on Abak road. Similarly, several persons were injured in Uyo.
Other loses suffered included properties worth billions of Naira which were destroyed during the politically motivated rampage. The properties included: 200 brand new Peugeot 307 cars; 500 brand new tricycles; the Goodluck/Sambo Campaign office which was burnt down by the rampaging mob; Fortune International High School owned by Senator Aloysius Etok which was razed down with school children in session and over 20 Toyota Hiace buses belonging to the PDP and Godswill 2011 Campaign Organization, nine Hilux jeeps belonging to the Government of Akwa Ibom State which were either completely destroyed or vandalized.
The magnitude of the pre-election violence in Akwa Ibom State and the mayhem that had rocked several parts of the country before and after the April 2011 general elections had compelled President Goodluck Jonathan to set up a 22-man panel under the chairmanship of Sheikh Ahmed Lemu to look into the various crises. Specifically, the Panel was mandated to identify those responsible for the pre-election violence in Akwa Ibom State as well as the violence that greeted the re-election of President Jonathan in some Northern states.
The Panel was also asked to identify the remote and proximate causes and those responsible for the mayhem and the extent of their involvement, finding out the human and material loss occasioned by the crises and recommending means and ways of preventing future occurrences as well as punishment for those responsible. The Panel is also empowered to investigate the sources of the illegal weapons employed in the carnage.
The sub-committee on the violence in Akwa Ibom State which visited some parts of the state to assess the magnitude of the pre-election violence in the state was chaired by eminent jurist, Justice Sampson Uwaifo. The Panel had its open sitting in Ibom Hall, Uyo the state capital on June 22 and 23, 2011. Analysts believed judging by the caliber of the members, the Panel will get to the roots of unraveling the perpetrators of what has been described as an unprecedented case of electoral violence in Akwa Ibom State.
Firing the first salvo, the state government in a memorandum to the Panel laid the blame for the March 22 carnage squarely on the door steps of the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Giving a background to the political inferno, the state Government blamed opposition politicians for whipping ethnic sentiments to promote their aspiration. “But a disturbing pattern of incitement and sectional politicking soon began to emerge when desperate politicians started to whip up ethnic sentiments for the single purpose of promoting an atmosphere of rancour and mutual suspicion among the interest groups in the state.”
“The promoters of this unfortunate situation imported hit squads from neighbouring states and orchestrated the kidnap and murder of prominent Akwa Ibom citizens in order to create instability, fear and a situation of helplessness, and for the simple objective of blackmailing the Governor, His Excellency, Chief Godswill Obot Akpabio,” the memorandum said.
We gathered that when security reports at the disposal of the Government had indicated that some politicians were behind the orgy of violence that was manifesting in the state, Governor Akpabio had written to the National Security Adviser on February 23, 2010 and alerted him on alleged conspiracy by Senator John Akpanudoedehe, Ambassador Sam Edem, Obong Victor Attah, Group Captain Sam Enwang (rtd), Otuekong Idongesit Udokpo and one Chef Ime Mbat-Essien who allegedly has a common purpose to make the state ungovernable by sponsoring armed insurrection, assassinations, kidnappings, and wanton destruction of lives and property.
The memorandum recalled that by this time, some prominent Akwa Ibom people had fallen victims of the orchestrated insecurity among whom was Retired Major General Edet Akpan who was abducted during Sunday worship in Nsit Atai and Retired Group Captain Sam Enwang whose wife was kidnapped but who allegedly refused to cooperate with security operatives both before and after her release for the same reason of personally holding the leadership of the state accountable in furtherance of their agenda.
We learnt that following these disturbing trends, the Governor had called a security stakeholders meeting and invited prominent citizens of the state but the aforementioned persons were said to have boycotted the meeting but instead allegedly kicked off a campaign of calumny against the Governor by running a series of advertorials in national dailies in which they blamed the Governor for the situation.
Continuing the state government said, “Of worse implication, however was the attempt to tar the situation with an ethnic brush when the sponsors promoted the innuendo that the Governor was waging a war against the Ibibio nation and therefore issued what at best was a war cry to the Ibibios. Subsequent events proved that the clarion was well received in some quarters as Akwa Ibom literarily went up in flames on March 22, 2011,” the memorandum said.
Giving its own account of the mayhem the state government said, “Prior to March 22, 2011, feelers reaching the government suggested that the group had concluded plans to foment trouble but little did we anticipate the dimension, extent and scale of the hell we had to endure. On that day, the Action Congress of Nigeria was at Ikot Ekpene for its gubernatorial campaigns. As usual, the ACN outriders and supporters brandishing machetes hidden in brooms and mowing whatever was in sight and easy reach, including the Police Officers Wives Association (POWA) shop at Ikot Ekpene Police Station.
“This has always been the trademark of the ACN advance team and convoy. In the process of this violent entry into Ikot Ekpene on March 22, 2011, people were shot at and wounded, vehicles, motorcycles, shops and articles of trade on their path were burnt or destroyed by the ACN hoodlums. At the well-policed venue of the rally in the middle of Ikot Ekpene town, with blaring loud speakers, Senator Udoedehe and his deputy sought to vitriolise and invoke ethnic sentiments among the people who were not moved.
“Based on the events from their entry into Ikot Ekpene, the Police commendably reinforced to the venue, and at the end of the rally, escorted them out of Ikot Ekpene. Despite the reinforced presence of the Police in their convoy, the ACN convoy continuously maimed innocent road users, firing at them and/or into nearby buildings and shops, matcheting people, and further destroying articles of trade. At a point the security escorts almost abandoned them due to these acts of criminality but for the prompt intervention of the Divisional Police.
“The ACN thugs and its candidates in tinted vehicles continued shooting sporadically and indiscriminately as the convoy made their way out of Ikot Ekpene, resulting in the death of five persons, including one Daniel Udo Akpan (alias Daniel Ekpu), Eto Akpa Idiong from Obot Akara LGA and one Nsima Imo, and the destruction of properties. The killings took place around the popular Control Post on the Ikot Ekpene - Uyo road, about three kilometres from their campaign venue. Having tasted blood, the convoy sped up on their way to Uyo, still shooting indiscriminately,” the memorandum said.
Giving an account of the incident in Uyo, it continued, “When the ACN campaign train got to Uyo; it executed a script that proved that what happened in Ikot Ekpene and later at Uyo was not spontaneous but a premeditated course of action. Without provocation but with criminal resolve to kill, maim and destroy, they swooped on the city and unleashed unprecedented violence on the otherwise quiet town.
“They invaded the Idongesit Nkanga Secretariat where they set fire to over 500 brand new tricycles and over 200 brand new cars meant for the mass transit programme of the state. They then invaded Fortune High School, owned by Senator Aloysius Etok a PDP member, where they destroyed facilities running into millions of naira and subjected the helpless students to unimaginable trauma as they scampered into the bush for safety. Not done yet, the mob, ably led by the ACN governorship candidate and his deputy, and then stormed the Goodluck/Sambo State campaign office where they razed it with petrol supplied from a Hilux vehicle owned by Dr. Udoma Bob Ekarika, the Director-General of the ACN Governorship Campaign Organization,” it said.
The account concluded that the rampaging mob was selective in its choice of victims in Uyo as only cars that bore PDP stickers, persons who spotted any regalia like face caps or t-shirts having PDP inscriptions, all bore the brunt of the violence as they were allegedly seized, attacked and some killed. The report also said apart from vehicles and property destroyed and the lives lost, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Labour and Public Service Matters, Mr. Sunny Akpadiaha, narrowly escaped death at the hands of the hoodlums, but sustained compound fractures as a result.
Also narrating other serial pre-election violence allegedly perpetrated by the ACN, the state executive council of the PDP in its own memorandum to the Panel recounted that during the ACN campaign in Ibiono, the office of a PDP House of Assembly candidate then, Barrister Ime Okon, was razed down with valuables therein. They also claimed that during the same rally, a PDP member who was identified was inflicted with several machete cuts and was immediately rushed to the general hospital where he remained on the throes of uncertainty for a long time.
The party also recounted that during one of the PDP rallies in Uyo, the party’s vice-chairman, Bishop Samuel Akpan was attacked on his way back from the rally and his car riddled with bullets. We learnt that the matter was reported at the barracks road police Station and the bullet riddled car was also taken there.
According to PDP what may have triggered these attacks from the ACN was the mass exodus of their key officials to the PDP. In their words, “what triggered the mayhem of March 22, 2011 was the sudden realization by ACN of the mass defection of its chieftains and principal officers within the period to PDP. It is on record that the former Youth Leader of ACN, Mr. Emma Wilson, Mr. Etim Sampson Umanah, a brother to the ACN deputy gubernatorial candidate, Dr Ime Umanah, Chief Mbong O. Mbong, the former deputy director general of Senator Udoedehe’s Campaign Organization who led 22 chapter chairmen, two House of Assembly candidates including an ACN State Vice Chairman from Uruan to declare for PDP,” the party said.
As a remedy, both the party and the government demanded payment of compensation to the victims of the mayhem as may be deemed appropriate and the prosecution of identified offenders and their sponsors. They expressed faith in the ability of the Panel to do justice not only to the memory of those who had lost their lives but also to the citizens whom they claim were still suffering from the outcome of the mayhem.
In his account the Chairman of Ikot Ekpene Local Government Area, Pastor Sunny Ibuot, debunked the widely held claim of the ACN that they were denied the use of the stadium in Ikot Ekpene because PDP had barred any other party candidate from campaigning in the area.
Pastor Ibuot recounted how he in company of the State Security Officer in charge of the local government and the divisional police officer had after due consultation approved the use of Ikot Ekpene township stadium for the ACN only for the party to default in paying the necessary fees for the facility only to opt for the use of a Primary School which they had also made sure was approved for them.
According to the Chairman, “On the morning of March 22, 2011, I went out to ensure that the Primary School they preferred was made available to them since I was assured that the rally would commence in the afternoon after the school might have closed and the pupils returned to their respective homes,” he said. What later followed the rally which we learnt was successfully held was the attack on shops, vehicles, and indigenes by the ACN campaign train. Several photographs were attached to the memoranda to buttress their assertions.
But the ACN in its memorandum claimed that the mayhem was ignited by the injunction of the PDP that no other party should campaign in the area. The party represented by its state legal adviser Barrister Andem Ndem claimed the PDP masterminded the attack on its (PDP) members, burnt the Goodluck/Sambo Campaign office and also set ablaze over 700 brand new vehicles that the state government had purchased for its mass transit programme.
Echoing these same sentiments, a former Governor of the state, Obong Victor Attah, whose son-in-law, Dr Udoma Bob Ekarika was the director general for the ACN governorship candidate campaign organization, claimed it was agents of the state government who attacked and killed their fellow party members and also destroyed property belonging to the party and its members, a view an analyst described as ludicrous.
The former Governor, however, who made frantic, desperate, and disruptive attempts to scramble the political agenda of rotation within his party by introducing his kinsman into the race never contemplated the consequences of his action or the affront on the people of the other two senatorial districts of the state and even the future existence of the state.
Responding to these claims the PDP said they were fallacious and illogical. “ACN has raised fallacies that are disagreeable and only qualified for untruths and fabrications. It is an attempt at creating claims and counter-claims that would allow lucid imagination to appreciate and prejudiced imagination to be swayed. But the questions are: Is it possible for the ACN to have been victims of the mayhem without showing any proof of loss of either property or human personage(s).
“Is it possible for agents of the state government to have organized the burning or destruction of government’s property which they were assigned to protect and which were destined to benefit Akwa Ibom people? Is it possible that the state government would have organized the assault that brought to ruins the Jonathan/Sambo Organization while the state government maintained a very robust relationship with the presidency and its aspirations? It is clear that these fallacies were intended to hoodwink the unsuspecting public but we are sure many were not swayed,” they said.
Most of the stakeholders were unanimous that the perpetrators of the mayhem and their sponsors should be brought to justice. For instance, the Chairman of Ikot Ekpene Local Government Area in his submission to the Panel said: “The leadership of ACN in Akwa Ibom State that was behind this arson should be prosecuted roundly and to the logical conclusions. This will serve as a deterrent to others in the future. This will also speak loudly that it is the ‘will’ of the people and not ‘a do or die’ attitude that should be embraced in the pursuit of any political office in the land,” the Council boss said.
Many people believe that the Panel has a huge task in sifting through the labyrinth of claims and counter-claims to arrive at the truth of who actually masterminded the violence that had engulfed the state and bring justice to those innocent people who have been made to suffer untold loses as a result of the conflagration.
In his closing remarks on the last day of the sitting of the Panel, the Chairman of the sub-committee for Akwa Ibom State, Justice Sampson Uwaifo thanked the people of the state for the massive turn out to contribute their quota towards unraveling the truth of the pre-election violence which had engulfed Akwa Ibom State.
He said the people had demonstrated their resolve for democracy by their participation and promised that the Committee would do all within its power to justify the confidence reposed on her by the people and the government through their recommendation to the government. There was a general consensus that the Panel had a huge task in its hand.