Monday, 15 August 2022 10:43

[OPINION] Political violence and the 2023 elections in Akwa Ibom State - Etim Etim

One of the major problems we have in Akwa Ibom State is politically motivated violence during election seasons. During the 2015and 2019 elections, many APC members and supporters were killed before and on election day. Soon after the last general elections, an orgy of violence erupted in Etim Ekpo, Ika and Ukanafun LGAs. We were told that the fighters were gang members who were hired by some PDP warlords to unleash violence in those communities during the elections. Abandoned after the polls, the criminals resorted to terrorizing the people to draw government’s attention to their plights. I’m not sure that these three LGAs have fully recovered from the three-year gang wars that devasted the areas between 2016 and 2019.

There are also reports that the western flank of the state, notably Mkpat Enin LGA, has been engulfed in violent crises in the last two years. Kidnapping, robberies and rapes are common in this vast LGA which was hitherto very peaceful.These crimes are usually perpetrated by rival gangs fighting for supremacy in their communities.

In Akwa Ibom, PDP habours many cells of criminal gangs sponsored by political big wigs. Ibiono Ibom, Etim Ekpo, Ukanafun are notorious hotbeds of these violent killers. Although Gov. Udom Emmanuel has banned cultism in the state, the problem has not abetted. Maybe, it is spreading. We now know that some secondary school students in the state are gang members. It is a very dangerous dimension to a frightening challenge. The administration appears helpless in tackling these vices.

But as we prepare to elect a new governor next year, Akwa Ibom people are eager to hear from the major candidates on how they’d fight these crimes. So far, of the three major governorship candidates in the 2023 election, only Senator John James Akpanudoedehe of NNPP has spoken out loudly against the problem of gang violence and criminal activities in the state and proffered solution on how he would address it as governor. The Senator believes that the problem is caused mostly by unemployment, poverty and lack of skills among the youths.

At every stop during his ongoing ward tour and even during the concluded federal constituency tour, Senator JJ keeps harping on his message of creating jobs to employ the youths and take them out of crime. He has also vowed to implement an amnesty program in which gang members would be offered amnesty and empowerment in return for their renouncing violence and returning their arms to the authorities. In addition, he wants to implement an investment program in which 1,000 people would be selected from each LGA and given a grant of N1 million to start their own business.

In addition, Senator JJ has also pledged to support and strengthen the police and other law enforcement agencies to fight crimes. He has also pledged to support a Constitutional amendment that would create State Police.

I commend Udoedehe for his courage and strength of character in confronting our demons.

I am very disappointed that no other candidate has made any pronouncement on gang violence and criminal enterprises in the state. Some people have claimed that because these other two major candidates are weighed down by their own guilty consciences (both are facing criminal trials in the courts), they are hard pressed to talk openly about crimes and criminals.

Well, Akwa Ibom want to hear from their governorship candidates on these critical issues. I therefore challenge all the candidates to tell us their plans for curbing gang violence and other crimes in the state. They should come clean on their roles in nurturing cultism in the state.

Akwa Ibom people are wiser. They are listening.

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