Onofiok Luke, the lawmaker representing Nsit Ubium state constituency in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, has been elected Speaker of the Assembly.
The motion for Mr. Luke’s election was moved on Monday by Nse Essien (PDP – Onna State Constituency) and seconded by Mark Esset (PDP – Nsit Atai State Constituency).
Twenty-four of 26 members of the assembly were present in the chambers when Mr. Luke was elected.
Mr. Luke (PDP – Nsit Ubium) is currently doing his second term in the Assembly.
He takes over from former speaker, Aniekan Uko, whose election as member representing Ibesikpo/Asutan State Constituency was recently nullified by the Court of Appeal.
Aniekan Bassey (PDP – Uruan Constituency) was also elected on Monday as Deputy Leader to replace Aniefiok Dennis (PDP – Etinan) whose election was also nullified by Court of Appeal.
Before the election of a new speaker, the members met with Governor Udom Emmanuel for hours at the Government House, Uyo.
From there, they drove in a convoy to the House of Assembly.
Mr. Luke said in his acceptance speech that his election as speaker was God’s doing.
A few hours later, the new speaker posted on his Facebook page, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound.”
The lawmaker’s emergence as speaker surprised many because of the distrust that had existed between him and the former Governor Godswill Akpabio.
Sources present at the Government House when Mr. Emmanuel met with the House members said the governor indeed wanted Mr. Luke to become speaker, but was unsure of what Mr. Akpabio would make out of it.
The race for the position of the speaker was reduced to a battle among Mark Esset (PDP – Nsit Atai), Idongesit Ituen (PDP – Itu) and Mr. Luke.
The PDP stakeholders, who were interested in who became the new speaker, were said to have a special liking for Mr. Luke, but they couldn’t trust him because of his perceived independence and strong political views.
What worked for Mr. Luke, according to the sources, was his enormous popularity which everyone – Governor Emmanuel, the PDP leadership in the state and some senior members of the party in the state, including most of the House members – believed could be helpful for the PDP campaign during a re-run of the governorship election.
Mr. Luke, beyond being Mr. Akpabio’s political son, was one of the most powerful foot-soldiers to the former governor.
The crack in their relationship became noticeable in Mr. Akpabio’s second term when Mr. Luke began to publicly express his independent political views, which sometimes were at variance with then governor’s political beliefs.
The relationship between the two degenerated so badly that in November 2013, Mr. Luke was physically assaulted at Etim Ekpo Local Government Area by Nse Ntuen, the then chairman of Essien Udim Local Government Area where Mr. Akpabio comes from, and Emmanuel Ekon, a member representing Abak/Ika/Etim Ekpo federal constituency in the House of Representatives.
The incident, which happened under Mr. Akpabio’s watch, nearly sparked ethnic crisis in the Assembly.
Mr. Luke is Ibibio which is the majority ethnic group in the state, while Mr. Akpabio is Annang.
When Mr. Akpabio was weeks away from finishing his second term, the then governor, and his wife, Unoma, were strongly opposed to Mr. Luke returning to the House of Assembly even when he (Luke) won the 2015 PDP primaries against Solomon Ekokoi who was sponsored by the first family.
Mr. Luke had to publish an apology in a local newspaper before the Akpabios allowed him to contest the general election as candidate of the PDP.
“As a political son, I hereby take responsibility for the comments, unfavourable words, positions, ideas and ideology espoused by me which may have contradicted Your Excellency’s disposition,” Mr. Luke had said in the open apology to Akpabio.
“I apologise for the harmful toll which these may have caused Your Excellency. Specifically, I apologise for the use of the phrase, ‘admonish the Governor’, in my open letter to Akwa Ibom people, entitled, ‘At a time like This’. As a younger person, I can’t admonish an elder in our culture. All these are sincerely regretted.”
Before Mr.Luke was elected speaker on Monday, politicians loyal to Senator Akpabio in the State Executive Council and the PDP in the state were said to have plotted to have the deputy speaker, Effiong Bassey, (Oron/Udung Uko) run the House as acting speaker pending when the sacked speaker, Aniekan Uko, could win the re-run ordered by the Court of Appeal and then come back to the House to take up his position as speaker.
Mbosowo Essien, the former chief press secretary to the sacked speaker, somehow confirmed the existence of such a plot when he told PREMIUM TIMES that it was the thinking of members that Mr. Uko should still be made speaker if he wins the re-run.
Mr. Akpabio loyalists saw the former speaker, Mr. Uko, as one that could be trusted to ‘deliver’ Akwa Ibom state for Governor Emmanuel and PDP if he were to become acting governor of the state, if the Supreme Court eventually affirms the decision of the Court of Appeal that there should be a re-run of the governorship election in the state.
However, the deputy speaker, Mr. Bassey, just had his election nullified too, on Monday, by the Court of Appeal.
PREMIUM TIMES could not confirm if the sacking of the deputy speaker by the Court of Appeal contributed in forcing those critical of Mr. Luke to accept the Nsit Ubium legislator.
Mr. Luke, a youthful politician with grassroots appeal, was favoured from the onset to emerge the speaker of the sixth assembly. His only rival was another two-term member of the House, Ime Okon (Ibiono Ibom).
Despite his advantage position then as a returning member and the goodwill he enjoyed from within and outside the House, Luke was dislodged and Mr. Uko, a first time member of the House, elected speaker because of Mr. Akpabio’s influence.
Most people in Akwa Ibom State, including some members of the All Progressives Congress, who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES, welcomed the election of Mr. Luke as speaker.
“Government has returned to the street for all of us,” Mr. Luke told a crowd of supporters in Uyo. “We will all work together to support our dear governor Deacon Udom Emmanuel and our party, the PDP.”