BY EMMANUEL AZIKEN, POLITICAL EDITOR, JOHNBOSCO AGBAKWURU & JOSEPH ERUNKE
ABUJA — EMOTIONS arising from the political standoff in Rivers State overflowed for the second day in the National Assembly, yesterday, as senators on opposite sides nearly exchanged blows over the matter.
The development came as the Senate summoned the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, to appear before it to explain what he knows about the political crisis rocking the state. It did not, however, give a specific date for the IGP’s appearance.
Also, yesterday, Senator Magnus Abe who was recently shot during an aborted rally in Rivers State, wrote the Senate, alleging that the plot to kill him came from the highest authorities.
At the centre of the drama in the Senate were Senators James Manager (PDP, Delta South), and Ahmad Lawan (APC, Yobe North) who disagreed over approaches to developments in Rivers.
The stand-off between both men which quickly degenerated, involved senators from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and All Progressives Congress, APC. Shortly after the uproar, the legislators were seen backslapping and hugging.
Following the Senate session, Senator Manager told Vanguard that it was a “a quick parliamentary flash.”
The development in the Senate followed Tuesday’s more emotive showdown in the House of Representatives when PDP and APC members held down proceedings following the depiction of the PDP deputy leader, Rep. Leo Ogor as the deputy minority leader by the APC leader, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila.
How it started
The standoff in the Senate arose during the consideration of a motion sponsored by Senator Wilson Ake, PDP, Rivers on the political crisis in Rivers State.
Senator Ake’s presentation of his motion was interrupted by Senator Manager through a point of order in the course of which he informed the chamber that the Senate had dispatched a delegation to visit Senator Magnus
Abe who was allegedly shot during a rally in troubled Rivers State.
As he spoke, a spat reportedly broke out between him and Senator Lawan over side comments between the two.
Senator Lawan was sufficiently provoked by the side comment to walk down to where Senator Manager was sitting to engage him physically.
As Senator Lawan walked towards Manager, he was followed by a number of APC senators who had become highly emotional on the Rivers issue, but they were matched by almost an equal number of PDP senators who formed a human barricade around Senator Manager. Meanwhile, some senators from both parties were at the same time seen restraining Senator Lawan.
Some APC senators led by Senator Alkali Jajere, APC, Yobe South, were seen shouting on Manager, “apologise to him immediately, apologise immediately, apologise now”.
Senators Chris Ngige, APC, Anambra Central and the Senate Minority Leader, Senator George Akume led by other senators from both parties, however, were able to calm the situation and bring about a reconciliation between the two men. Following the intervention, Senator Manager walked up to Senator Lawan’s seat and shook hands with him after which the latter stood up to embrace him.
Not satisfied with the reconciliatory move, President of the Senate, Senator David Mark asked the two senators to embrace each other as a sign of reconciliation which they both did.
It’s regrettable — Mark
Mark regretted the development, saying the conduct of the senators did not promote the spirit of dialogue which they have been preaching for.
“At this stage we would dialogue, dialogue, dialogue and then we want to fight. The paradox is inexplicable. The contradiction is unacceptable.
But I accept that tempers rose just now and I hope it doesn’t rise again from anybody,” Mark warned.
Senator Manager had made the ‘offensive’ remark that caught the attention of Lawan, after he was asked by the Senate President to speak on a point of order he raised upon Order 14, seeking to stop debate on the motion, on the grounds that the Senate had mandated its committee on Police Affairs to investigate the shooting of Senator Abe.
Manager had reminded the Senate President that he earlier informed the Senate during his address at Tuesday’s plenary that he had already mandated some senators to visit Abe in London to see and assess the situation and come up with their findings, saying it was better to wait for the report of the team before further deliberation on the issue.
He also told the Senate that the Rivers State House of Assembly had recently passed the 2014 Budget of the state despite a resolution by the National Assembly to take over its legislative functions and sought to know whether the takeover had lapsed.
Senator Manager’s assertions created an uproar that presaged the standoff between him and Senator Lawan.
Ake, Sekibo speak on Rivers
Before then, Senator Mark had asked the two senators from Rivers, Senators Ake and Thompson Sekibo to contribute to the debate.
While Senator Ake urged the Senate to intervene in what he described as the ugly political situation in Rivers State which he said was akin to apartheid era in South Africa, he warned that the reign of impunity could spread to other parts of the country if not checked now in Rivers State.
He said the rally which led to the alleged shooting of Senator Abe was approved by the Police with a valid Police permit as he wondered why the Police turned against a rally it had approved.
“Rivers State Police Command under its present leadership has witnessed too many attacks professionally unleashed on the ordinary citizens of Rivers and its environs. What is happening in Rivers is a classical example of what happened in S/Africa during the apartheid era. Our people are living in fear,” he insisted.
But Senator Sekibo disagreed, saying the group, Save Rivers Movement, which had organised the said rally had done it without Police consent, urging the Senate to be careful in dealing with the issue, even as he noted that he would not support anything that was wrongly done against any group of people.
Senator Sekibo added that bigger public rallies usually required Police permits. “I don’t support destruction of well organised rallies based on the rule of law, and won’t support victims of any rally because it can happen to anybody tomorrow.”
He observed that it would be pre-emptive for the issue to be debated on the floor when the Police Committee was yet to report back to the Senate, adding that it would be difficult for senators to discuss the matter without a clear understanding of the issues involved.
“We have not heard from the senator that he (Abe) was actually shot. But if he was not shot and they are making claims, then we are in trouble.”
In his remark, Senator Mark, said he decided to allow the two senators speak on the issue against his usual tradition because they were both from the state and the crisis directly affected them more than any other person in the chamber.
He said the Rivers issue has to be handled with caution, just as he said the crisis was beyond him.
Mark discontinued further debate on the issue, saying consideration should be given to the prayers being sought.
Upon that, the Senate condemned the attacks in Rivers State and summoned the Inspector General of Police to appear before it to give further details of the situation in the state.
Plot to kill me —Abe
Meanwhile, Senator Magnus Abe who was shot during a political rally penultimate Sunday in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State has written senators alleging a calculated attempt by the highest authority of the Federal Government to kill him.
In a seven-page account of his experience, Senator Abe rebuffed suggestions that he had dramatized the incident, saying that he would on no account use his life for political subterfuge.
In the letter which he requested to be read in the Senate, Abe said that the pains he suffered after he was shot caused heart palpitations that triggered the alarm system in the London hospital he was treated.
Noting the efforts he made to reach the police hierarchy ahead of the rally, he said:
“I decided to reach out to the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Mbu and share my concerns with him. The CP refused to pick my calls. I also tried to call the Inspector General of Police to bring the facts to his attention,” but his efforts, he said were unsuccessful despite channeling his request through other senators.
Senator Abe said that he was not at the venue at the time the violence started but that he subsequently rushed to the scene when he heard that children and others who had come for the rally were scampering for shelter and that even churches in the vicinity of the rally ground could not hold scheduled services because of the high dose of tear gas in the neighbourhood.
“When I arrived at the gate of CAS, I saw the Nigeria Police in full battle formation with armoured personnel carriers and scores of mobile policemen armed to the teeth.
“The officers informed me that they were acting on ‘orders from above’ and that I should call the Commissioner of Police or the Inspector General of Police. I was busy trying to call the CP and the IG, when one of the policemen walked close to me and whispered, ‘Oga, leave now, leave now, they said we should take you down.
“At this stage, I became apprehensive and reminded the officers that I am a serving senator in Nigeria. In fact, I went close to the senior officer and said, ‘I am following you and if anything happens to me, it will be in your presence and before God.
“It was when I was standing with him that the attack began and a teargas canister was shot directly at my feet. He quickly moved away while more teargas canisters were fired directly at me in quick succession. It was at this stage that I was hit by something in my chest. I screamed, ‘I have been shot’ Friends and staff who were with me, realizing what had occurred, rushed me to my vehicle.
“However, the left side of my chest where I was hit was very painful and inflamed. My staff decided that we should rush to the nearest doctor. We were able to reach my doctor, Dr. Mackay Anyanwu, who stabilised me at his clinic and transferred me to the Kesley Harrison Hospital, from where a decision was taken that I proceed to London immediately for further cardiology evaluation.”
Narrating his experience in the London hospital, he said:
“My heart repeatedly fluctuated so much so that it triggered the alarms in the hospital and they decided that I should be moved to the Cardiology Unit at the London Bridge Hospital.
“The consultant cardiologist at the London Bridge Hospital determined that the site of impact on the left side of my chest was directly in line with my heart and there was a risk related to the distribution of kinetic energy from the high velocity impact to my chest.
“It is the Federal Government that deployed the Police and gave them orders that I should be taken down. I have heard that the Rivers State CP has alleged that the police were chasing criminals on that day and that I was running from the scene and that I ran into the church to evade arrest.
“I have also heard that Mr. Mbu said they have no rubber bullets in the state command. It is clear that Mr. Mbu is talking with the confidence of a Governor General; who knows that nothing will happen, and nothing would have happened even if I were killed.
“The decision to take my life comes from the highest levels of the Federal Government and nobody will be questioned or punished even if I am killed because I am one of those that have stated and I want to repeat here, that I will cross over to APC on the floor of the Senate.”