INIOBONG EKPONTA, reports the impeachment scare which recently hit the Akwa-Ibom State House of Assembly.
Crisis recently hit the otherwise close knit members of the Akwa-Ibom State House of Assembly when a crack emerged as some of the members classified as ‘rebels’ took up arms against the Speaker, Onofiok Luke.
It all started two months ago, when five members, classified as ‘rebels’ allegedly met secretly to hatch an impeachment plot against the Speaker of the 6th Assembly.
Listed in the botched impeachment plot were the Deputy Leader, Hon. Aniekan Bassey; the Deputy Chief Whip, Otuekong Nse Essien; the member for Uyo Constituency, Hon. Monday Eyo; member for Nsit Atai, Hon. Mark Esset and member for Ibesikpo Asutan, Hon. Aniekan Uko.
Although members, including Bassey (Uruan) and Otuekong Essien (Onna), have since denied such plot was hatched, the matter had created tension in the House and polarised it between the Speaker and his loyalists on one hand, and those accused of the plot on the other hand.
Bassey, who was first to respond said: “There is no such plot in the House, how can five lawmakers impeach the Speaker of a 26-member House?”
In the same vein, Otuekong Essien simply dismissed the allegation, saying it only existed in the imagination of those who concocted the rumour.
Signs that all was not well in the House was the rejection of government bill for owners of buildings, stalls and other structures to be subjected to routine tax regime.
It was learnt that the bill was contrived by government tax consultant and passed through Hon. Usoro Akpanuso (IbenoEsit Eket), the Chairman of the House Finance and Appropriation Committee, as a private member bill.
All the five accused of impeachment plot were tagged as co-sponsors of the bill, but they all rejected the sponsorship, saying they were tagged without their consent.
And the bill suffered a resounding rejection on the floor of the House, even as the general public condemned such legislation as anti-people, and against the growth of the common people.
“The bill was designed to rake in millions of Naira to shore up the internally generated revenues especially in this time of recession”, a member of the House, who would not want to be named, said.
Miffed by the conspiracy of his colleagues to kill the bill, Akpanusoh, who denied the legislation was targeted at the poor, said that it was designed to compel oil companies operating in the state to pay appropriate tax to the state government.
While fighting back, Akpanusoh labeled the five lawmakers as “anti-leadership of the House,” adding: “with their action, it is all clear that they were behind the impeachment plot against the Speaker.”
It was gathered the disagreement between some members and Speaker stemmed from the N14.5billion Paris Club refund that Governor Emmanuel Udom brought before the lawmakers and solicited their cooperation for enabling powers to spend it.
“The Governor, after presenting the bill to enable him spend the cash before the lawmakers, appealed to them to add it up to the 2017 budget,” a source in the State Assembly said.
The source disclosed that some persons felt that the Speaker and the governor had some discussions they were not privy to in relation to the refund.
And determined to stave off the lingering crisis with a view to effectively taking control of the Assembly, Speaker Luke had to wield the big stick.
The Speaker staged a minor cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday, March 23, relieving Bassey and Otuekong Essien of their positions as House Deputy Leader and Deputy Whip, respectively.
Although they had all denied the allegation and pledged allegiance to the Luke-led leadership, the House was apparently uncomfortable with the Principal Officer positions and wielded the big stick.
It was gathered, the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and 17 lawmakers in the 26-member Assembly, endorsed the removal of the affected lawmakers.
According to the Speaker, the decision which also affected the composition of some committees was taken in the best interest of the House, adding that he was not alone in the act, as members were unanimous in reaching a consensus on the matter.
“The decision is in the best interest of the House,” Speaker Luke stressed, adding that majority of the lawmakers agreed to the new development.
While Mr. Ime Okon (Ibiono Ibom), who currently chairs the House’s Committee on Information, replaced Hon. Aniekan Bassey as the Deputy Leader, Hon. David Lawrence (Eket) was announced as the new man for the position of Deputy Chief Whip.
In the minor change, the Speaker also moved Hon. Otobong Ndem (Mkpat Enin), Chairman of the Committee on Rural Development and Public Utilities to the position of the House’s Committee on Services.
However, Hon. Bassey, who chaired the House’s Services Committee, was redeployed to head the Committee on Science and Technology.
The new Deputy Leader, Okon, who doubles as the Chairman of the Information Committee, told reporters that the action to axe the affected lawmakers was in line with the House’s Standing Order that any member perceived to be working, not in tandem with the leadership of House, must be removed and replaced.
But there are insinuations that the change effected in the State Assembly could pitch the Speaker against the Governor in view of the removal of Otuekong Essien, former Deputy Whip, who represents Emmanuel’s State Constituency of Onna. But that may be neither here nor there; as such affairs are considered internal affairs of the legislature.
However, it might be counterproductive for the PDP to go into the build up to 2019 general elections with a divided house as it is already assured of meeting stiff opposition in the All Progressives Congress (APC). Many are already of the view that instability in the House, may negatively affect the re-election bid of the Governor, going by the fact that the PDP is arrayed against the APC.
Besides, with the wave of defections from the PDP to the APC, in the State in the recent times, a troubled House of Assembly, according to Chief Itak Umoren, a community leader in Uyo, could further lead to a weakened response from the ruling PDP.
Currently, only one member representing Uruefong Oruko, Hon. Asuquo Edet Archibong, holds the membership card of APC, while PDP dominates the House with 25 members.
Already some forces are externalising the crisis. Members of the Onna PDP Youths addressed newsmen recently and described the House’s removal of their representative in bad faith.
“Otuekong Essien is not just representing Onna and the people, he also represents the Governor. He has empowered a lot of people across the State and doesn’t deserve such treatment,” Nsikak Etim, a member of the Onna PDP youths’ wing, said.
While the House might describe its actions in parliamentary language, the internal workings of the Assembly itself is something the Speaker and the members need to watch closely in order to ward off perceived insurgency. Hon. Onofiok Luke is the second Speaker to lead the 6th House of Assembly since its inauguration in June, 2015.
Amid intrigues and horse-trading, Hon. Aniekan Uko, popularly called ‘Iboro Akam’ (Ibesikpo Asutan), emerged the first Speaker, but his election was annulled by the Appeal Court.
Members had to rally for Luke, as his replacement before he won the rerun polls and returned to the House, as ordinary member.
And it was gathered, the Ibesikpo Asutan lawmaker is still angling to reclaim the position he vacated.
The unique history of Akwa-Ibom Assembly would show that since the return of democracy in 1999, only two Speakers, Senator Nelson Effiong and Hon. Sam Ikon, had steered the Assembly successfully without being impeached before the end of their tenures.