By Abdulwahab Abdallah, Brith Ogunkilede & Wilson Yafu
Rivers —At least four members of the Rivers State House of Assembly were yesterday brutalised in a fracas that literally painted the walls of the Assembly complex with blood.
At the end of the squabble, the group of five legislators opposed to the governor claimed to have removed Speaker Otelemaba Amachree. Their claim was, however, quickly repudiated by 23 members who flocked in support of the speaker.
Yesterday’s violent clash happened on the first day of sitting since the political upheaval in the state triggered by removal of the structures of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP from Governor Amaechi about three months ago.
Computers and several valuables in the main chamber of the legislative complex were smashed in the morning violence that was witnessed by security agents who had mounted an unprecedented cordon within and outside the chambers.
The members had been recalled from an indefinite break by Speaker Amachree following a request by Governor Amaechi for an amendment to the 2013 budget of the state.
At about 10.30 a.m. as members sauntered in and engaged themselves in banters awaiting procession of the speaker, the leader of the House, Hon Chidi Lloyd offered a hand to the member representing Ogu-Bolo constituency, Hon Evans Bipi, a newly married member and relation of First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, whose wedding drew the First Lady to Port-Harcourt last month.
A handshake and a slap
Llyod’s gesture of a handshake was rewarded with a slap on the face by Bipi and immediately, the whole house was engulfed in bedlam. In the melee, one of the other four members in the anti-Amaechi camp dashed for the tripod of a television camera and swung it round, hitting at opponents.
He was followed by another lawmaker who went for the mace and smashed it on the head of two lawmakers. The violence continued for some time with security men watching until Governor Amaechi rushed to the scene with his own entourage of security men from Government House who attempted to stop the fracas. Following the intervention, loyalists of the governor followed him back to the Government House.
The remaining four members, however, remained within the chambers and held a session during which it was announced that Amachree be removed as Speaker of the House. In his place, Bipi was announced new Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly by the group of five members. Bipi in his acceptance speech announced the suspension of 15 members whose names he promised would be released subsequently.
Meantime, the other 23 members had received information of what was going on and they quickly dashed back to the chamber and this time, they were in company of the Deputy Governor, Hon. Tele Ikuru.
As they returned, the majority leader, Llyod moved to grab the mace with which the five members were using to sit but he was restrained by Bipi and Hon. Michael Chinda, another anti-Amaechi person, leading to a short fracas in which the group of 23 prevailed.
Bipi quickly then told his remaining three colleagues to join him to visit the fifth member of their camp who had been injured in the earlier fracas following which he was rushed to an undisclosed hospital.
At 11.44 a.m. Speaker Amachree was ushered into the House by the Sergeant-at-Arms, bearing the mace. He was not robed in his usual attire. As he sat on the speaker’s chair to take charge of proceedings, he beckoned on the Clerk of the House to read out the order of the day. About that time, Bipi who had been elected Speaker by three other legislators pushed his way into the gallery. He watched the proceedings briefly from the gallery before he was forced out again by some security operatives. He was accused of coming into the gallery with tear gas, though no one was able to confirm the allegation.
Lawmakers grant Amaechi’s budget amendment request
Speaker Amachree in his address to the House said that the governor had written the House seeking an amendment to the sub heads in the 2013 budget relating to some capital projects. Following his short address, he invited the deputy governor, Engr. Ikuru into the chambers at exactly 11.49am.
Ikuru in his remarks thanked the lawmakers for their attention, adding that he was representing the governor. He said he had come to present an executive amendment on the 2013 budget on capital expenditure, stressing that it would enable the government deliver more on its promises to the state.
Following the remarks by Ikuru, the speaker explained that the amendment was not intended to add or remove from the N490 billion budget earlier passed by the Assembly.
“The amendment is only on capital expenditure. We are not adding or removing from the budget. The governor is only asking for movement from one sub head to the other and it is only on capital expenditure”, he said.
The House later asked the Deputy governor to leave at exactly 11.59 while it dissolved into a committee of the entire house where the amendment was granted.
At exactly 12.08 pm the Speaker announced that the amendment had been effected and the House later adjourned. The Deputy Governor, Engr Ikuru who retired to one of the offices in the complex later joined the Speaker and other principal officers on their way out of the chambers.
How Evans Bipi attempted to attack Speaker, Deputy Governor
As the deputy governor, Ikuru, and the Speaker, Hon Amachree were leaving, Hon Bibi broke out from a tiny crowd of youths he had been addressing and made an attempt to attack the duo but the security details of the deputy governor and the speaker stopped him.
Immediately after that last attack, the duo of Ikuru and Amachree left the complex. At a media briefing later, Amachree dismissed allegations that he was impeached by four lawmakers, stressing that the leadership of the House had not changed.
“We were shocked to hear of the impeachment. The leadership of the House has not changed. Can five members sit to impeach the leadership of the House? We did not expect there would be chaos in the House. We were all exchanging pleasantries before we were attacked.“
Asked why only 23 loyalists of the governor sat to pass the amendment sought by the executive given the fact that the ranks of the loyalists of the governor had been given to be 27, he said that the four other members sent in excuses that they would be absent.
He, however, quickly noted that the 23 who sat were still in the majority. “It is not compulsory that every member must be present in our sitting. I am aware they took excuses”, he said.
On the mace that was used by the four lawmakers to sit, he said it was fake, adding that the tradition to convene the House was for the Speaker to be escorted by the Sergeant-at-Arms with the mace. “The Sergeant-at-Arms only escorted me with the mace.”
When asked to comment on the action of the Police and other security operatives during the melee he said he was totally dissatisfied with the conduct of the Police. The Speaker said the House had applied for Police protection to cover the sitting but he was surprised that they only came to watch.
“I asked the Clerk to write to the Commissioner of Police and the Army for protection. The Police came watching. We will write to the National Assembly. We also did not see the Army”, he said.
Giving his narration of what happened yesterday, the Majority Leader who was taken to hospital in a statement said:
“Well, yesterday the Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. Otelema Dan Amachree directed that the House be reconvened to consider an amendment to the 2013 appropriation law which the Governor had communicated to him via a letter and as if Mr. Speaker saw what was going to happen today, he wrote a letter through the Clerk of the House to the Commissioner of Police to provide security for today’s sitting and he also wrote to the commander of 2 Amphibious Brigade who also doubles as the head of the internal JTF.
So when we got to work this morning, we saw the presence of policemen numbering over 50 and we thought that this was in response to Mr. Speaker’s request.
“Shortly thereafter, I noticed that the five anti-Amaechi members were discussing in clusters and calling on their boys to come in. Initially, the policemen were searching everybody who would come into the premises. I had to even come down at the gate and trekked into the premises. So after a while, we learnt that there were phone calls and the commissioner of police personally called the unit, the man in charge to allow everybody in.
“We went in as members who have not seen ourselves for sometime because of the crisis in the state. I was on my seat, without provocation, Hon. Evans Bipi came to me in the full glare of everybody on camera and started raining punches on me. As his leader I did not react because I felt that it is something we could settle, whatever it is, maybe I didn’t greet him also. So he continued when that continued, the speaker intervened and said, ha, ‘what’s happening’.
“Then he reached out for the tripod that stands the camera, used it freely on me, himself and Michael Okechukwu Chinda. They flogged me to their satisfaction, I didn’t just utter a word until Hon. Ihunwo graciously asked me to run for my dear life because they have brought people with guns and of course when I looked at the gallery they were shouting who is the Chidi Lloyd, who is the Chidi Lloyd.”
“So at that point, I’m sure somebody may have reached out to the governor of the state who came in with his own security because these other policemen were there standing helplessly, watching what was going on. So he came and rescued members out of the place.
“Then after a while, we heard that they were meeting; they had procured a fake mace to the House, so we went back and I took the mace where they were sitting. I sustained injury as a result of the violence by Michael Chinda and Evans Bipi.”
While I was in the hospital the speaker and other members of the House sat and heard the amendment that the governor sent, was presented on his behalf by the deputy governor. Now these amendments are, the governor said he was just seeking for us to via some sub heads for him to enable him take care of certain unforeseen events such as flood and all that. That is why we went to work for the state only to be dealt with in the manner that they have dealt with us. I want to use this opportunity while in the hospital here, I have received phone calls of threat to life for my family and I.
> Incidentally, I’m so helpless, I don’t know who to run to. I can’t go to the commissioner of police because he is already in the arena, he’s already on the other side. I’m appealing to well-meaning Nigerians to pray for me and my family. That is the last hope we have resorted to and that we also urge the National Assembly, the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Reps not to turn the other way on the events of Rivers State. This could lead to something that we cannot imagine. It had happened in Anambra State, people were laughing, today is Rivers State nobody knows the next state it would be. If we are practising a democracy, let us please for crying out loud play by the rules. Nigerians should pray for me and come to our aid. The state is under siege. You can’t even vouch for the safety of the Governor. The people are getting more dashed out on a daily basis.
The Rivers State Commissioner for Police, Mr. Joseph Mbu meanwhile yesterday denied allegations that the police gave cover to the anti-Amaechi lawmakers in the fracas that ensued.
The Police boss who spoke at the Police headquarters yesterday evening admitted receiving a request from the clerk of the House for police protection for the sitting saying that his first reaction was to ignore it as he claimed it was unusual request.
He said he changed his mind after he got a letter from the Brigade Commander of the Bori Camp of the Nigerian Army in Port Harcourt asking him to provide Police personnel for the sitting.
The Police Commissioner said he later saw that the Assembly complex had been flooded with security operatives. “On my way to the office I saw the Mobile Police personnel and a detachment of C 41, Civil defence with sniffer dogs checking persons going in and out of the Assembly. I sent my Deputy CP in charge of operations “
Meanwhile harsh reactions have greeted yesterday’s incidence from the political and legal community.
Senator Magnus Abe in his reaction condemned the attacks saying it was regrettable that the police stood by as the attack took place.
Ladi Williams, SAN in his own reaction said:
“The move is very undemocratic and an act of barbarism that should be condemned. Yes, the speaker can be removed from office, but it must follow due process. I also appreciate the fact that this is not the first time this is happening. It has happened before and had also happened in the western region House of Assembly and the outcome was not something we expected. That was not what the people voted for, they voted for due process and good governance. We have to respect the sovereignty of the people. The people did not vote our lawmakers to the house to go and fight, they were voted to legislate for good governance. It is most unfortunate and a sad experience in our democratic experiment.”
Chief Robert Clarke, SAN on his part said:
“For five members to move and impeach the speaker is very wrong. They know it was illegal. The Supreme Court has decided on it in Inakoju’s case that it is not possible for such thing to happen.
“But politicians being as crafty as they are will still go and carry out the illegal act and ask the victims to go to court, if they are not satisfy. It is a tactic that yes ‘we have done it, you can go to court ‘ and while the case is in court they use the machinery of the court to stick to their offices and wait for the court to decided the case.
It is something we really have to think of what to do with such people. Those who know the law or suppose to protect the law will still go ahead to commit illegality. So, their actions are condemnable and it is illegal. Those who commit such act should also be charged to court for criminal offence.”
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