By Uwem Otu
What many people have described as abuse of human rights and unconstitutional arrest of the Clan Head of Ukana East, Okuku Andrew Okon, by operatives of the Inspector General of Police Intelligence Response Team (IGP-IRT), has raised deep concerns by citizens of Ukana East and Ukana West communities of Essien Udim Local Government Area.
The unlawful act, the incarceration of the 80-year old Clan Head, according to the people of the area who vehemently condemned the police action, took place on Tuesday, May 12, 2020.
Expressing disappointment on the police action, the political leader of the area and erstwhile Commissioner in the then Cross River State, Abom Emmanuel Umana, said “Inasmuch as I do not want to impede the police investigation, I seriously condemn the desecration of our revered traditional stool by operatives of the Nigerian Police. Their action is ill-timed considering the fact that the world is at war with a dreaded pandemic, COVID-19. It is very saddening that our father, who is very vulnerable by age to the virus, was carted away by unprotected men of the IGP-IRT who came all the way from Abuja, a highly prone area to COVID-19. He was taken from Akwa Ibom, where his COVID-19 status was sure to Abuja, an endemic area, without protection and without explanation to any member of our communities.”
Speaking further, Abom Umana said “I feel so embarrassed. The entire community feels very hurt that the IGP-IRT could desecrate our traditional institution. Their action is very ridiculous and it has raised a very restive situation by youth and elders of the area. The IGP-IRT could have cross-examined the Monarch in a decent manner.”
Also speaking, the Clan Head of Ukana West, Okuku Sylvanus Udo Ekanem, expressed fears over the health condition of his colleague, saying the trauma of the police action could trigger the unexpected.
He hinted that a high-powered delegation of the Ukana Traditional Rulers Council (TRC) met with the OC-SARS in-charge of Ikot Ekpene Division and “we were assured that the arrested Clan Head will soon reunite with us. The OC-SARS is a traditional title holder and I want to take him by his word.”
Okuku Ekanem, who said the TRC have gathered to pray for the safety of their colleague, added that “the TRC will not hesitate to take to traditional injunction should our solemn appeal to police command is turned down.”
In their separate remarks, the Deputy Clan Head of Ukana East, Eteidung Patrick Timothy Idio; the Chairman of Ukana West Villages, Chief Obot Eyo, and Chief Cornelius Udotong, urged the police to respect constitutional authority even in their quest to protect the citizens.
They further stressed their concerns, saying “Would men of the IGP-IRT have carried out the action with the Obi of Onitsha or the Oba of Lagos or any Emir in the North? Why abuse and insult a traditional stool in Akwa Ibom State?”
They commended youth of the area for exuding a high level of understanding and calmness even in the face of strife.
In his remarks, the youth leader of the area, Engr Gabriel Akpan, said “We will continue to be civil in our approach to issues. We will not take to vices, but will do all that is needed to maintain peace and progress in our community. That does not mean we will fold our hands and watch our fathers being desecrated by uncivil operatives of the Nigerian Police Force in the guise of enforcing the law.
He, therefore, called for the immediate release of the monarch, stressing that a repeat of such action would not be treated with kid-glove.
Narrating the incident, the eldest son of the arrested Clan Head, Prince Emmanuel Okon, said “though the police have assured the family that our father will return in good condition, I do not have confidence in that assurance.”
He said his father was wrongly arrested for an alleged murder case involving a Benue woman that was to be married to an indigene of Ukana East on the 29th day of December, 2019.
Speaking earlier, Mrs. Idongesit Afangide, daughter of Okuku Okon, said “Our father, the Clan Head of Ukana East was picked up by IGP-IRT, led by one Joseph Ihongren, in the company of OC SARS, Ikot Ekpene Division, ASP Otuekong Ndayo, since yesterday to an unknown destination without the knowledge of any family member.”
“Since yesterday, we have not heard from him and the Police have not also informed us of his whereabouts. They have not also mentioned the reason behind the arrest. Efforts to trace his whereabouts from the Police Stations in Ikot Ekpene, Essien Udim, Itam and Ikot Akpan-Abia have been unsuccessful. He is diabetic and hypertensive who is on routine medication and has not taken his medications since the arrest yesterday. Apart from his underlining health conditions, we are also worried about the risk of exposing him to this COVID-19 Pandemic. We call on every well meaning indigene of Ukana East, Esssien Udim LGA and Akwa Ibom State to stand up and help us rescue our daddy to save his life.”
Reacting to the development, the police spokesperson, CSP Nudam Fredrick, said he was not aware of the alleged arrest, “probably because the issue is beyond the state.”
He, therefore, advised the family to keep tab with the IGP-IRT through their available contacts.