THE CONTINUING DSS HARASSMENT OF THE AKWA IBOM RESIDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSIONER, AUSTIN OKOJIE: PRESS STATEMENT ISSUED BY THE PUBLIC INTEREST LAWYERS LEAGUE (PILL)
Seven days ago the Resident Electoral Commissioner of Akwa Ibom State, Austin Okojie was arrested and detained by the Department of State Services and was later requested to report daily to the offices of the DSS. Today, having reported to the offices of the DSS, Mr Okojie was subsequently arrested and detained. We are unable to confirm the authenticity of the report of the arrest, but going by newly found mojo of the DSS we have cause to believe that Mr Austin Okojie is being held incommunicado at the behest of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Recall that last week the All Progressives Congress alleged that the Resident Electoral Commissioner “caused damages to electoral materials”. The party further alleged that the conduct of the Resident Electoral Commissioner was ” absolutely criminal in content, reckless in execution and done with impunity”. It’s absolute bunkum going by the claim (in quotes) for any self-respecting party to come to the irrevocable conclusion that the Resident Electoral Commissioner is criminally liable for an offence that has not be proven or established on the basis of proof or evidence, let alone established beyond all reasonable doubt that the Resident Electoral Commissioner is criminally liable “for the damages to the electoral materials”. Clearly, there is something going on beyond what the APC has placed in the public domain that points to a more sinister motive at discrediting the Akwa Ibom governorship election outside the adjudicatory precinct of the election tribunal.
AKWA IBOM STATE AS A “SPECIAL INTEREST CASE”
The Presidential and National Assembly, Governorship and States Houses of Assembly elections have come and gone. The outcomes of those elections are today being contested at the Election Petition Tribunals, established pursuant to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, and sitting across the states capitals of our country, including Abuja. But, Akwa Ibom state presents itself as a “special interest case” to the powers at the center and the ruling party, All Progressives Congress. How else can one explain the decision of the Chief Justice of Nigeria to relocate the sittings of the Election Petition Tribunal to Abuja, thereby doubling the pains of election petitioners who, already burdened by the cost of hiring lawyers, are now saddled with the additional costs of procuring witnesses and materials before the Akwa Ibom state election petition tribunal sitting in Abuja? How can one explain the seemingly inordinate interest federal investigatory agencies have suddenly shown in the PDP and APC governorship, coupled with the incessant harassment, intimidation and arrests of Akwa Ibom’s opposition politicians and INEC officials? The answers aren’t far fetched. Power in our country is inexorably linked to oil. Akwa Ibom, a rich oil state, is thus thrust into the very vortex of power politics by the mere fact of resource endowment. Thus, whichever party controls power in Akwa Ibom state invariably controls the resources of the state and that party is unarguably resourced to expand its power base within its gel-political region and or is resourced to negotiate and expand its spheres of influence nationally. Unfortunately, the ruling party is not in control of Akwa Ibom, at least going by the contested results of the Governorship election, it is in the hands of the national opposition party, PDP. As it appears to all perceptive observers, it is to forestall attempts by the PDP to stage Akwa Ibom as its power Renaissance post that draconian and utterly repressive measures and steps are being taken by the APC to snatch the state away from PDP’s control, using the repressive apparatuses and instruments of the state. One of such steps as it now appears is the deployment of security operatives to create hellholes for opposition politicians in Akwa Ibom state. Welcome the DSS. So, what Nigerians are seeing in Akwa Ibom today is a deliberate ploy and plot to hijack power by extralegal means. It doesn’t matter if state apparatuses are compromised to achieve that singular objective. And it doesn’t matter if opposition politicians are harassed and public officials who superintended the June Governorship election that the ruling party at the centre lost are bruised and broken. We will not allow this assault on the people and our democracy.
THE CONTINUING DSS ASSAULTS AND HARASSMENT OF AKWA IBOM STATE RESIDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSIONER, AUSTIN OKOJIE
Doubtless, our country is in the cusp of a seemingly creeping dictatorship. A dictatorship that is in part driven by a section of a party that feels that it is the turn of the APC to feast on the rotten rumps of our country. It is sad that the party which promised Nigerians a break from some of its inglorious past is today arming state operatives to harass the heavens out public officials who have sworn to defend the Constitution and the integrity of their oaths of offices. How do we explain that the democracy many sacrificed their lives for, which boasts of a constitution that guarantees some of our basic and fundamental liberties, has today ushered in an environment that is hostile to opposition politics? More disturbing is the continuing attacks on rights, liberties and freedoms of citizens like REC Okojie, whose only offence is that he superintended the governorship and local parliamentary elections in that state. REC Okojie’s rights to the dignity of his person, liberty, private and family life and freedom of movement is guaranteed by Sections 34, 35, 37 and 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999. We condemn in no uncertain term the continuing attacks on his rights and liberties and we call on the DSS to release him forthwith if they have him.
Finally, we call on President Buhari to call the DSS to order. We can’t as a nation do away with a DSS the APC alleged was very partisan in the run up to the last elections only for the party to seek institutionalize a DSS that is appearing far worse and more sinister than the one it has done away with. Democracy flourishes best when the opposition thrives. We can’t afford to have our country thrown back to the dark days of dictatorship.
Abdul Mahmud ESQ
Public Interest Lawyers League (PILL)