By George Onah & Gbenga Oke
PORT HARCOURTâ€”There was a mild drama at the Port Harcourt Magisterial Court, yesterday, as the arrested 12 factional leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP,Â in Rivers State were brought to the court premises and locked in an air-conditioned bus for over four hours, while officials frantically searched for a court roomÂ to arraign them.
This happenedÂ as former Deputy Speaker of the House of Rpresentatives, Mr. Austin Opara, denied media reports that he was arrested in Port Harcourt, saying he was not present at the meeting but confirmed some former Commissioners and local government area chairmen were arrested at the factional PDP meeting.
Opara, who was reacting to reports yesterday that he and some other members of the PDP faction in the state were arrested, saidÂ â€œI read with dismay a story that I was arrested and detained by the police with some other members of the factional PDP in Rivers State.
The story is untrue. I was not arrested. The people arrested are Chief Lolo Ibieneye, two members of the Rivers State House of Assembly, the majority leader of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Mr. Tamuno Jaja and the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Befey Nwile among others, but they have been granted bail yesterday.â€
On the arraignment of the 12 PDP factional leaders in the state, when it became obvious that there was no spare court room to hear the charges brought against them, they were later taken to the Magistrateâ€™s Chambers, where they were arraigned behind closed-door. The case is now before Magistrate Israel Agbesor.
The politicians arraigned amidst tight security were granted bail in the sum of N500,000 each and a surety, who must be a serving civil servant in the state of not below level 15. The accused persons were kept in the same bus, until they met their bail conditions.
Those charged are two former Commissioners,Â Mr. Lolo Ibieneye and Mrs.Chidi Nancy, former deputy state chairman of PDP, Prince Ohochukwu as well as former council chairmen, including Ejor Ngowah Ejor, Nwuke Anucha and Sokuru Jaja, Dominic Saatah Agiobu Fubara, Achinike Wonodi, Francis Ebenezer, Grant Orugbani and Lali Green.
On why they were arrested, detained and prosecuted, the state government said in a statement by Secretary to State Government Mr. Magnus Abe, that they are hired thugs and cultists.
â€œInformation received by the security agencies in Rivers State indicates, some hired thugs and cultists had gathered at a house somewhere in Port Harcourt and were conducting themselves in a manner likely to cause a breach of the peace.
The security agencies on receiving the report acted swiftly to contain the situation, whereupon their political paymasters emerged.
â€œIt is clear, therefore, that the actions of these persons were sponsored by the so-called Abuja Group, with a clear intention of trying to use violence to create some disturbances in the state capital to attract attention,â€ he added.
But in a swift reaction, factional secretary of the party in the state Pastor Jerry Needam said the arrested men were â€œnot cultists but respected and prominent members of the PDP.â€