The Commissioner for Environment in Akwa Ibom, Iniobong Essien, has reportedly been arrested for preventing President Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign billboard to be hoisted at a location within the state capital.
The spokesperson of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, Ini Ememobong, said in a press statement that the commissioner was detained for hours at the police headquarters, Ikot Akpan Abia, on Tuesday, before he was later released at night.
The billboard, Mr Ememobong said, was for the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, Nsima Ekere, and not that of Mr Buhari.
He told PREMIUM TIMES the commissioner returned to the police headquarters on Wednesday on the police’s request.
“He is still in the police station as we speak,” the PDP spokesperson said at about 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
Ubong Asanga, the media aide to the commissioner, spoke from the police headquarters with PREMIUM TIMES at 2p.m. He corroborated Mr Ememobong’s claim that Mr Essien was at the police station.
Mr Ememobong explained in the press statement the controversy surrounding the billboard.
“According to the facts of the matter, a local vendor had sought and got an approval to erect a billboard. The Ministry approved the erection of the billboard at a particular location free from encumbrances and in accordance with the extant regulations. The vendor many months ago commenced the erection of the board, but at a different location, which for all intent and purposes is not fit for the undertaking he sought.
“This fact was brought to the attention of the vendor many months back and he halted the erection of some components of the board.
“Surprisingly, yesterday the ministry learnt that APC agents went to hoist a banner on the billboard and were prevented by security agents.
“The approved location of the billboard was several meters away from the main thoroughfare of the market. Instead of restricting themselves to the point approved for them, they erected the billboard at a place most unfit for such and in flagrant contravention of environmental regulations,” Mr Ememobong said.
Continuing, he said, “The Commissioner of Environment, Dr. Iniobong Essien in full execution of the regulatory powers vested in his ministry advised the company to relocate the pole to the approved location. Instead of adhering to the advice, the thugs employed by the APC engaged in unrestrained violence injuring bystanders and chasing away staff of the ministry.”
The PDP spokesperson said the arrest of the commissioner was “deeply offensive”.
“If this is the beginning of the Federal might that the APC has been promising to use in capturing Akwa Ibom, we can assure the world that the people of Akwa Ibom State who are solidly behind Governor Udom Emmanuel will resist this type of Federal might with every fibre of our being,” he said.
The chairman of APC in the state, Ini Okopido, however, told PREMIUM TIMES that Tuesday’s squabble near the market occurred when people working for the state government and the PDP tried to put up a billboard for the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, on the exact spot paid for by the APC.
Mr Okopido, who was away in Abuja when the incident occurred, said, “Later in the evening, someone told us that they came to mount Atiku’s billboard in the spot that they prevented us from putting up President Buhari’s own”.
“So the information was relayed to the commissioner of police who said nobody should put up any billboard in that particular space. They invited everyone to the station the following day,” he said.
The police spokesperson in the state, Odiko McDon, said it was not true that the commissioner was arrested.
“The command invited those who had issues with what happened at Akpan Andem market in order to chart a way forward for peace. He was not the only one, we had people from the APC, and we had people from PDP.
“It is just like fact-finding and then looking for a solution to make sure nothing like that happens again in the future. Nobody was detained,” Mr McDon told PREMIUM TIMES, Wednesday afternoon.