It was a day that the unexpected happened in Akwa Ibom State. Many of the top government officials including political appointees who never thought their cars could be searched or never imagined they could be stopped by the police while on the highway but now live to tell a different story. It was a day that those who saw themselves as being above the law had their cars impounded and some of them had to trek few kilometres to their offices.
The sun was up in the sky though the day was not as bright as expected because of the season. All was set for the swearing in of newly appointed five permanent secretaries. It was a big deal for the families of those to be sworn into the exclusive cadre of the civil service who will be entitled to their salaries and benefits as long as they live.
Unknown to many residents of Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, the police acting on instructions from above had amounted series of road blocks or check points to impound all those cars with tinted glasses and those with covered plate numbers.
It common in Akwa Ibom State to see government appointees who ride in cars provided by the state government ranging from the latest model of Toyota cars, from Venza to Camry to Prado jeeps and Hilux jeeps from South Asian countries including those who are personal assistants, having the number plates of their cars covered.
So while they were racing to the executive chamber of the governor’s office for the swearing in of the five permanent secretaries, little did they know that they would not be able to make it to the ceremony in time. The police had taken strategic positions along all the roads leading to the governor’s office known here as the Hilltop Mansion, waiting for those with covered number plate and cars with tinted glasses.
A particular funny scene that played out was when one of the top government officials was stopped by the police and asked to explain why he had to cover his number plate. Wearing a caftan and a designer hat, he was pacing up and down the road with some air of importance, raising his voice and perhaps in attempt to let the police know his status and position.
As his driver saw how his boss was being questioned by the police and that it was no laughing matter, he attempted to remove the cover from the number plate and the police descended on him.
The ‘big man’ who was sitting at the back of the car came out roaring “why are you harassing my driver.” And the police would not bulge. After a heated exchange of words, he was asked to get into his car and taken to a police station. What transpired there could best be imagined but the good news however, is that he was later released but arrived the swearing in ceremony late.
Several of the top government appointees including commissioners and party bigwigs were caught unawares in the exercise and before they could wriggle themselves free from the police stop-and-search exercise, it was late and they got to the executive council chamber after the governor had already taken his seat.
It was gathered that Governor Udom Emmanuel on noticing that one of his aides came late to the event reportedly asked him whether his car was impounded and how he was able to free himself.
One of the aides reportedly told the governor that he was released on self recognition in which the governor reportedly asked “who are you to be released on self recognition” everybody laughed.
Even the commissioners who were caught in the melee had to trek to the swearing in ceremony and had to find a seat in the public gallery instead of the main executive council chamber.
“I can see my commissioners watching from the gallery today,” the governor was quoted as saying.
Many analysts say the idea of appointees covering the plate numbers of their vehicles is an abuse of privilege and position. It is an indication of lawlessness and a sick society, they say. Even with the use of tinted glasses which is banned by the police, many people still go about driving cars with tinted glasses cars in town without obtaining any permission.
Akwa Ibom police command could not confirm how many cars belonging to government officials were impounded during the exercise that lasted for several hours but checks reveal that a good number of top government officials and personal aides to the governor had their cars impounded.
According to the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), it is illegal for any individual to ride in a car with a covered plate number stating clearly that nobody has the right to do so.
Chidi Ebere Benjamin Nkwonta, the Cross River Sector Commander was recently quoted as saying that “nobody has the right to cover the number plate except the governor or general in the army, commissioner of police or anybody who is a flag officer when he is not in the vehicle, otherwise, no escort vehicle has the right to cover number plate, all they are doing is illegal.”
It was however, gathered that governors, deputies and speakers are authorised constitutionally to use the Coat of Arms in place of number plate.
So while the families and friends of those who attended the swearing in of the new permanent secretaries went home for a session of merrymaking with photographs to keep the memory alive for a long time, those who were caught in the police check point and whose cars were impounded would not forget that day in a hurry.
Now, a visit to the state civil secretariat located in the heart of the state capital shows that many of the political appointees who were known culprits are now leaving the plate numbers of their cars bare, something that was never imagined before the raid by the police.
ANIEFIOK UDONQUAK, Uyo