In protest of what they called the commission's “delay or tactical refusal” to hold a bye-election to fill the vacant office of the federal constituency, youths from the Oron Nation, which includes the five Local Government Areas of Akwa Ibom State, stormed the INEC offices along Udom Udoma Avenue Uyo.
Nse Ekpenyong, a former member of the House of Representatives representing the Oron Federal Constituency, passed away on April 23, eight months ago, and the Speaker declared his seat vacant during his interment on June 30.
In a demonstration on Wednesday, the local youth bemoaned how their lack of representation had denied them many privileges and rights from the National Assembly and accused the electoral umpire of being careless in holding a byelection there.
The youths urged the INEC National Chairman, Prof. Yakubu Mahmood, to ensure that the bye-election is held right away in the federal Constituency while holding placards with messages like “INEC sabotaging our constitutional benefits for 8 months of no representation,” “Oron Federal Constituency deserves a Representative from National Assembly in Abuja,” and “We need a voice at the National Assembly,” among others.
The youth characterized the federal constituency as having the highest oil-producing communities in the Niger Delta and being the largest in Nigeria.
Speaking on behalf of the protesters, Mr. John Bassey, the group's international president, was flanked by Mr. Maxi Mkpo, the group's secretary. Mr. Bassey recalled that INEC had held bye-elections for six constituencies in four states of the federation sometime in January and questioned why Akwa Ibom would be different.
Akure North/Akure South Federal Constituency, Ondo State; Jos North/Bassa Federal Constituency, Plateau State; Pankshin South State Constituency, Plateau State; Ogoja/Yala Federal Constituency, Cross River State; Akpabuyo State Constituency, Cross River State; and Ngor-Okpala State Constituency, Imo State are among the constituencies and states where bye-elections were held.
“Today, we are gathered here to send a very strong signal to the Chairman of National Electoral Commission INEC Prof. Mahmood Yakubu over this perceived cruel disenfranchisement and open robbery of our constitutionally and democratically granted right to representation at the green Chambers of the National Assembly, Abuja,” the statement said in part.
“In theory, INEC has avoided any action that might have been taken to conduct a bye-election in our federal constituency. As a people, we are wilfully denied the right to representation guaranteed by the Federal Republic of Nigeria's constitution.
“It has been approximately eight (8) good months since the untimely death of our late MP on April 23rd of this year, the speaker declaring the seat vacant, and his interment on June 30th, 2022. In light of this, we are deeply concerned about what could be INEC's rationale for refusing to facilitate the process of holding a bye-election to fill the vacancy.
“Recall that on October 12, 2022, Mr. Emmanuel Inyang, a native of the Mbo LGA, staged a one-man protest outside the INEC office in Uyo over what he called the organization's “unnecessary delay” in finding replacements for open seats in the National Assembly. This press conference serves to reiterate our concerns with INEC regarding the dangers of its apparent refusal to conduct the bye-election and the numerous drawbacks of such an undemocratic delay to the Oro people.
“Our point is very clear and straightforward, we are calling on INEC to fast-track the processes of conducting a bye-election for this mega and oil-rich constituency to avert any future breakdown of law and order within the already volatile elections season and Niger Delta region.”
He also called on members of the parliament representing other federal constituencies within the state to join hands in solidarity in condemning such acts during sessions.
He added that further delay by the commission to accede to their request before the end of December 2022 will leave them with no option but to occupy the state headquarters of INEC from the first of January 2023 until the needful is done.
However, the Head of Operations of INEC in Akwa Ibom, Vincent Ogene addressing the youths assured them that the issue will be addressed.
Ogene commended the youths for their orderly and peaceful conduct nothing that the commission at the national level will give a directive on what is to be done.