Controversy and condemnation have trailed the creation of 39 new political wards by the Akwa Ibom State Electoral Commission (AKISIEC) ahead of the local government elections.
The creation of the new wards, which was announced last week by the commission, has brought the total number of wards in the state to 368.
Before now, the state had 329 wards with 13 wards created in each of the three senatorial districts of the state.
According to checks, the criticisms and knocks arose from the alleged lopsidedness and marginalisation of some communities.
According to a councillor from Nsit Ubium Local Government Council, Ekopimo Ekopimo, the exercise did not favour his local government area, saying that “Whosoever advised AKISIEC may have pushed the conclusion that the commission was not independent.
“Nsit Ubium deserves more than one new ward. Let the script be well acted please, if the commission can prove to us that they didn’t do it based on script.
“AKISIEC must show how independent it is; is it by returning unjustified-merger of Ubium South ward V to Ubium South people”.
Ekopimo, who stated this on his Facebook post, maintained that his opinion was the stand of his people in Nsit Ubium, who must be liberated, adding, “Ubium South should not be politically victimised”.
In its reaction, the Oron National Forum (ONAF) described the creation of the new ward as lopsided and unjust against the Oron People who are found in five local government areas of the state.
In a statement signed by Ita Ante and Etifit Nkereuwem, national president and national secretary respectively, they viewed the exercise as a “continued deliberate gross marginalisation and exclusion of Oron people” from the governance of the state.
“We therefore, condemned in a strongest terms this unjust and unfair allocation of only three (3) wards to Oron ethnic Nationality (Oron Federal Constituency) as against greater numbers given to other groups.
“Oron National Forum (ONAF) in its avowed commitment to Oron meaningful survival and identity in the Nigeria Federation shall continue to resist this gross marginalisation against Oron people as enshrined in the famous Oron Bill of Rights proclaimed in 1999.”
They demanded that “AKISIEC should withdraw immediately the recent wards creation skewed deliberately against Oro, people. That we call on AKISIEC to review the entire exercise in the interest of justice, equity and democracy.
“That in carrying out this sensitive matter, AKISIEC should involve all relevant stakeholders to ensure a fair and transparent wards creation exercise in the interest of peace and justice.
“That we call on the State Governor, His Excellency, Udom Emmanuel to as a matter of urgent importance intervene in the clear case of injustice and marginalisation of Oron people by AKISIEC.
“Finally, we appeal to all well-meaning people of Akwa Ibom State to rise up in support of the just agitation of Oron people as integral part of the state. It should be noted that Oron Nation is the economic base of the state and the third leg of the tripod that sustains Akwa Ibom State, therefore, should be treated fairly and given the necessary recognition it deserves.”
Similarly, a former member of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly and a chieftain of the All Progressives (APC) Congress, Uwem Udoma, faulted the creation of additional 39 wards, claiming that the State Electoral Commission does not have such powers, but that only the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), is by law, empowered to do so.
” AKISIEC”, Udoma told newsmen in Uyo, “is not ready to conduct the 2020 local government election because the 2007 AKISIEC law they are quoting, it’s provisions are subject to the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act 2010 as amended.
He called on AKISIEC to withdraw the purported creation of new wards as such illegality would not stand legal and judicial scrutiny.
Responding to the criticisms that followed the creation of the new wards, Aniedi Ikoiwak, chairman of AKSIEC and former Resident Electoral Commissioner with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), insisted that AKISIEC has the powers to create Electoral Wards but not Polling Units, saying there would have been more auspicious time than now.
“INEC does not have anything to do with wards. INEC creates Polling Units. INEC has nothing to do with ward creation except in the Federal Capital Territory,” Ikoiwak insisted.
He explained that the commission followed the law to create and to realign the new wards in the state.
Criteria for ward creation, Ikoiwak explained is spelt out in the law that set up the commission which he said specified that there should be creation and realignment of wards in the state every 10 years, and pointed out that the last exercise was about 22 or 24 years ago.
Other criteria taken into consideration during the latest exercise were contiguousness of the wards and number of registered voters, he said.
On the allegation that the Oron nation had only three new wards created or realigned, Ikoiwak underlined that the population of local government areas as well as the population of registered voters were taken into consideration in creating and realigning new wards.
“I will like to see one local government in Oron that has population close to the local government areas where new wards were created,” Ikoiwak said.