The protesters, who were the next of kin of late primary school teachers in the state, were on Monday chased away from the areas around the Government House, as well as the adjoining streets.
A Punch correspondent observed an Assistant Commissioner of Police, C. Abibo, giving his officers and men the order to beat up the protesters. More than five policemen descended on the group’s leader, Benjamin Benson, and tore his clothes.
The police also used tear gas canisters and an Armoured Personnel Carrier to disperse the over 100 protesters.
They also threatened to beat up the journalists, who were on the ground, to cover the protest.
The ACP said, “Beat up these people; if you cannot beat them; let me beat them myself.”
The policemen needed no further encouragement as they battered protesters and bundled some into a waiting police patrol van.
The protesters, under the aegis of Coalition of Families: Next of Kin of Late Primary School Teachers in Akwa Ibom State, asked the police to immediately release their colleagues they arrested for demanding their rights.
The spokesman for the group, Aniekan Thompson, said the families of the dead teachers had obtained letters of administration from the court and had been screened by the State Universal Basic Education Board since 2010, which gave them clearance slips for payment.
He added that the police acted in a manner that was unbecoming of officers of the law.
“They beat us up mercilessly, you need to see how they beat and bundled our colleagues – Enobong Kenneth, Benjamin Benson and Utibe – into their vehicle like criminals.
“We asked them for our rights, but the government and the police were accusing us of being sponsored by the All Progressives Congress.
“Ninety nine per cent of us are card-carrying members of the People’s Democratic Party. We belong to different groups that ensured the victory of the present Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel,” he said.
Thompson explained that in 2014, 185 names were authorised to be paid by SUBEB. He said only 42 of the number were cleared to receive their entitlements, adding that out of the 42, only four persons were identified as bona fide next of kin.
Thompson stated that the government never showed any commitment to the plight of the next of kin, noting that the governor had denied owing them a kobo when he spoke on the television a year ago.
He said, “After numerous protests, a committee on pensions, headed by the leader of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Mr. Udo Kierian, invited us. We met on August 29 and September 19, 2016, and agreed that the government would pay the backlog of entitlements in batches from September.
“Surprisingly, the government did not pay as agreed. On November 29, 2016, we had a meeting with the Head of Civil Service, Mrs. Ekerebong Akpan, and she said the government had set aside N100m to commence the first batch of the payments.
“After three weeks, we did not hear of any positive development on the matter. The government has always cited paucity of funds as hindrance, but we know of states that have tackled this problem even with less income than Akwa Ibom.”
He urged the state government to use part of the “N14.5bn Paris Club money” released to the state for payment.
The Information Officer for the Head of Service, Mr. Edem Okon, said the group actually came on a courtesy visit.
He said, “The HoS assured them that their issues were being looked into along with others who have similar matters.”
The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Cordelia Nwawe, said she was not aware of the protest. She stated that the protesters did not inform the police.
“I am not aware of any protest. The protesters did not inform the police. I did not get any letter on my table from anybody.
“If anyone wants to embark on a protest, he should inform the police so that hoodlums won’t cash in on the situation. We will not allow any breakdown of law and order in Akwa Ibom,” she said.