BY EGUFE YAFUGBORHI & DOTUN IBIWOYE
THE mayhem on the floor of the House of Assembly in Rivers State last Tuesday had been brewing since April, following the shock displacement and replacement at the state Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Executive Council.
Ahead of the 2015 elections, the state was faced with imminent crises on many fronts. One is the Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and President Goodluck Jonathan face-off over the former’s alleged interest in occupying a position in Aso Rock in 2015, an ambition that can hurt Jonathan’s yet to be declared plan to retain his seat.
There is also the battle for the control of Rivers PDP between Amaechi and Minister of State (Education), Mr. Nyesom Wike, who is said to be angling to succeed Amaechi in 2015. Wike was Amaechi’s campaign director in 2011.
Before long, the combatants intensified their struggle for the soul of Rivers PDP and the matter was taken to the law courts.
Last April, Justice Ishaq Bello of the Federal Capital Territory High Court declared as invalid the congress that produced Chief Godspower Ake as State Chairman in 2012. Ake enjoys the support of the Governor.
Following the verdict, the Felix Obuah-led EXCO, which is loyal to Wike, started flexing muscles. It announced the immediate suspension of 27 members of the Rivers State House of Assembly, who are loyal to Amaechi, from the PDP over the suspension of the Obio/Akpor Local Government Council on account of allegations of corruption against him.
Since then, the battle line had been drawn in the Rivers legislature between the five anti-Amaechi lawmakers and the majority 27, who swore to “swim or sink” with Governor Rotimi Amaechi, raising fears that the state may return to the days of Rivers of blood before Amaechi took the reins of power.
What happened Tuesday on the floor of the House did not come as a surprise to keen observers. And the day after, it could have been worse as hoodlums, most of them professed ex-militants claiming loyalty to both warring factions, stormed the State Assembly and Government House, threatening public peace but for the timely intervention of security operatives who dispersed them with canisters of tear-gas. The chaos of Wednesday was not without fatalities, as several victims were reported wounded in a duel between Pro-Amaechi supporters and the anti-Amaechi five led by Evans Bipi. The Bipi faction ‘impeached’ Speaker Amachree, who enjoys the backing of 26 lawmakers.
As they did with volatile Obia/Akpor Local Government following the State Assembly’s suspension and immediate replacement of its cabinet, the police in Rivers moved into the Assembly complex Wednesday. They also halted intended separate sittings by the Anti-Amaechi five and the group of 27 in the Assembly chambers. Police Commissioner Joseph Mbu was quoted as saying the heavy police presence and restrained sitting were imperative under the fragile atmosphere.
Rivers residents sue for peace
Barring the loud condemnation by several informed opinions, of the spontaneous House of Representatives decision to take over the affairs of the Assembly under the circumstance, some Rivers people, who feel the direct impact of the crisis, insist the situation must not be allowed to go out of control before a drastic action is taken. Describing the chaos in the House as unfortunate, Governor Amaechi, while receiving the 27 supportive members, on Wednesday, said: “It is sad. You can imagine what would have happened if I had not come with my own security team to save the situation just because the police is failing to do its job or seem to be on one side. But it is very necessary that you people (the House) strive to work together.”
Higher King, a lawyer and rights activist in Port Harcourt, said: “I am unapologetically disappointed at the Assembly members for not preventing the shameful fight in the hallowed chambers. Everybody saw it coming judging by the events of the past four months. It would have been wiser if they never attempted sitting in the chambers. The law does not restrict sitting to the chambers.
“Five lawmakers sitting to impeach the Speaker in a House of 32 would seem null and void in the eyes of the law, but the ‘new Speaker’ has been on air and he can go on in such posturing and force a parallel leadership and a complicated situation only a court could resolve. Fidel Castro noted that in the land of lawlessness, the lawful is guilty. This is that perfect context. Both parties are being lawless in their actions over the crisis.
“The Reps at the National Assembly may not be far from the true position in voting to take over the Rivers Assembly. Presently, there is no government in Rivers in the strict sense of government. The government may not accept this, but that is reality staring us in our face. A state where the legislature is grounded in self-destruct and police defiant of the authority of the governor who is the chief security officer shows we are insignificant inches away from anarchy.”
Stressing the public tension being generated by the crisis, Livingstone Wechie of the Rivers State chapter of the Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO, said: “We are already in a state of nature. Make no mistake about it. Those who should maintain law and order are the ones begging for anarchy with impunity. More than ever before, there is now total denial of social security and good governance. The greater danger is that under the prevailing atmosphere, the relevant government institutions including security operatives have been compromised, further eroding the right of the people to hold the leaders accountable. So where does the ordinary man on the street find protection?”
However, serving councillors in the state under the Rivers chapter of the National Councillors Forum of Nigeria affirmed the State Assembly remains focused and far from being grounded against the odds. Contending that five “antagonists” cannot stop 27 members from running a state assembly, the forum on Tuesday threatened “civil disobedience includes occupying the state assembly if the five legislators opposed to Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi continue in the House’s business after alleging to have appointed their own speaker and principal officers.”
The day after (Thursday), student leaders under the interest group, Rivers Leadership Advancement Foundation, RIVLEAF, further threatened “to take laws into their hands over the crisis if relevant authorities fail to honour growing calls for redeployment of the State Police Commissioner, Joseph Mbu Joseph, out of the state” while speaking through their Spokesperson, Comrade Owhorkire Rhino.
Across the capital city, with farther reaching implications, the escalating crisis is also unfolding with economic setbacks aside the social dangers. “Key players are stretching an obvious partisan crisis to unsettle an entire state and create unnecessary tension. Today (Wednesday), the state and federal courts are not sitting. Everyone is apprehensive. I am told other agencies of government are closed to normal business,” Higher King, a lawyer, lamented.
By Thursday, businesses and markets around the Town axis of Port Harcourt witnessed dull commercial activities as hoodlums, divided over the crisis, clashed on the streets. Charity Emerievwen who trades at the Creek Road Market, Port Harcourt, said: “Even from our shops at the market on Tuesday, there was tension when fight broke at the Assembly. On Wednesday it got worse. We don’t want to experience the better forgotten past years of daily bloodletting in Rivers. I am begging these PDP people.”
Orlu-Orlu, also a lawyer, said, “Nobody will claim all is well. Nothing is working right now except that lawyers stand to gain from the attendant litigations. If the tempo of the crisis continues to grow in intensity, many investors may leave the state. Those in the process of raising new investments may be restrained.”
Victor Dike, an educationist, reacted, “We had the suspension and replacement of Obio/Akpor Local Government cabinet. The stalemate has grounded that council, halted staff salaries and negatively affected businesses in that locality. Now we have a stalemate in the state assembly. This is not good for the people.”
While no one knows what trouble lies ahead as the warring foes remain at loggerheads, stakeholders wish Governor Amaechi and all interested parties could resolve the crisis amicably. King said, “This is the House Amaechi built now disintegrating into a war of supremacy and unsettling the entire state. He has to find a way to pull it all together again. If it gets worse than we have seen, I won’t be surprised if a state of emergency is declared in Rivers.”
National Coordinator of Ogoni Economic Forum, Mr. Mmuen Kpagane, took a swipe at the five members of the Rivers House of Assembly and cautioned against introducing the riverine onshore-offshore dichotomy into the state.
In reaction to Tuesday’s pandemonium at the Rivers State House of Assembly, Kpagane also stated that it is only in the 13th century that five out of 32 members will impeach the Speaker of the House.”
Kpagane urged the Niger Delta people not to introduce the ‘Ijaw factor’ into Rivers State because the adverse effect might engulf everyone around.
“It is only in the 13th century that five members out of 32 members will impeach the Speaker of the House of Assembly. The people against Amaechi should not introduce the onshore/offshore dichotomy into Rivers State,” he said, adding that President Goodluck Jonathan should not deny anybody the right to have an ambition.
“Amaechi is the president of Rivers State, just as Jonathan is the president of Nigeria. It is abnormal when someone’s ambition is now used against him as a punishment. Only people without a vision will want to punish a man because of his ambition,” he quipped.
The Ogoni activist added: “I am appealing to the Niger Delta people not to introduce the ‘Ijaw factor’ into Rivers State. Let those fighting Amaechi not introduce it because the adverse effect might engulf everyone around. Amaechi is being punished only because he said there should be state police. He has a right to be the president or the vice president of the country. He has not made any mistake.”
It’s desperation for power and 2015 fever – Uko
Also, President of Igbo Youths Movement, Evangelist Elliot Uko, linked the incident to greed and desperation for power and 2015 fever, lamenting that both quests had begun bearing negative fruits. “This greed for power and 2015 is a cancerous issue that will do Nigeria no good. We must, as a people, place the survival of our democracy and Nigeria high above every craving for higher political office. This is just the beginning. Nigerians will see more 2015-inspired drama as the days go by,” he said.