The story of a dangerous turf battle
By Jimitota Onoyume, Port Harcourt
IT has been one form of alarm or the other raised by either faction in the struggle to take political control of Rivers State.
The former Chief of Staff, Government House, Rivers State, now Minister of State for Education, Nyesom Wike, has been locked in a battle with Governor Chibuike Amaechi, ostensibly encouraged by President Goodluck Jonathan, over who controls the politics of the state.
The factional state chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Mr Felix Obuah, raised the first alarm in his inaugural press briefing in Port Harcourt when he alleged a plot by 27 members of the Rivers State House of Assembly to suspend five other lawmakers in the House over views relating to internal democracy within the party. Obuah warned the 27 lawmakers to desist from carrying out the alleged plot otherwise they would suffer sanctions from the party.
The Leader of the House, Hon Chidi Lloyd, said there was no such contemplation by the 27 members. According to him, the House could not be so petty as to engage in witch-hunting any lawmaker, stressing that it had always conducted its operations within the ambit of its rules and the constitution.
Few days later, the Speaker of the House, Hon Otelemeba Amachree, raised his own alarm; this time saying he had uncovered a plot by five members of the House to impeach him and the governor. He said those behind the plot had procured a fake mace to smuggle into the House for the job.
Amachree said the alleged plan also include creating an atmosphere of chaos that would warrant declaration of emergency in Rivers.
“The leadership and members of the Rivers State House of Assembly wish to bring to the notice of the people of Rivers State and Nigerians some of the dangerous moves by the Felix Obuah-led PDP to cause general chaos and confusion in Rivers State”, the Speaker said in a statement.
“ We have been reliably informed that a fake mace has been smuggled into the state to enable five members of the House hold an emergency session even when the House adjourned sine die on Tuesday, April 23, 2013.
“The Abuja plan on ground is to falsely impeach the Rt. Hon. Speaker and the Executive Governor of Rivers State, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, and create confusion through varied responses, which they hope will make the state ungovernable and provide them with some kind of warped basis to introduce emergency rule in Rivers State”.
The state police command also joined in the alarm game when the police commissioner, Mr. Mbu Joseph Mbu, deployed about 50 heavily armed policemen to seal off Obio Akpor local government secretariat.
The police claimed to have uncovered a plot by some hoodlums to unleash terror on the council secretariat. At the time of this piece, policemen were still occupying the property. The Caretaker Committee of the local government and staff of same were not allowed access into the secretariat.
The dust raised by the alarm from the police and its subsequent sealing of the council secretariat had hardly died down when Amachree, the Speaker of the House of Assembly again raised a fresh alarm over alleged plot to destabilise a sitting of the parliament. According to him, some hoodlums had been rented to cause panic in the premises of the Assembly complex. He fingered the state police commissioner as an interested party in the political crisis rocking the Rivers PDP.
Amachree, who said there was also a plot to arrest him and some key figures in government, stressed that the move was part of the prelude towards declaration of emergency rule in the state. He called for the immediate re-deployment of the state commissioner of police.
The Speaker had to adjourn the House sine die because, according to him, the state police boss allegedly withdrew approval earlier granted following a request by the House for police protection during the sitting.
“Ironically, a request by the House of Assembly for deployment of police operations to guard and protect the Assembly complex earlier approved was unceremoniously withdrawn by the commissioner of police, Rivers State Command on ‘orders from above’”, he said.
Meantime, hundreds of youths stormed the House, on Monday, apparently thinking that members would sit. The youths said they were protesting the suspension of the Chairman, his vice and 17 councilors of Obio Akpor Local Government Area by the House. The action of the youths lent credence to the alarm by Amachree that there were plots to destabilize the sitting of the House, create chaos within the Assembly that might warrant shooting and firing of tear gas by the police.
The protesting youths, who spoke under the aegis of Grassroots Development Initiative, called for the resignation of the Speaker and the Leader of the House over issues relating to the suspension of the Chairman, his vice and 17 councilors of Obio Akpor local government.
The elected council officials had been suspended by the House recently on account of alleged abuse of public funds and breach of security. The state government went ahead to constitute a seven-man Caretaker Committee for the council.
Some of the placards the protesters carried read, “We support police occupation of Obio Akpor local government council secretariat”, “they should revoke the sack of Timothy Nsirim and others”, among others.
The youths alleged that the House did not follow due process in the suspension of the officials, adding that some of the state lawmakers lied when they claimed that they acted on a petition before the House to suspend the officials.
Stressing that the suspension of the elected officials of Obio Akpor local government was a violation of the constitution, the youths said the governor and the House of Assembly should accord what they termed constitutional respect to local governments as a third tier of government.
The youths had earlier marched to Obio Akpor local government secretariat where they hailed the police for sealing off the place.
The alarm game continued at the premises of the House the day the protesters came. This time it came from the five lawmakers who had been accused of plotting to throw out the Speaker and then impeach the governor. The lawmakers who said they were in the House for the sitting, told newsmen that they were not aware it had been put off. They too said they had uncovered a plot by other members of the House to remove them.
The five lawmakers are Hon Evans Bipi representing Ogobulo constituency; Chinda Michael Okeh, Obio Akpor constituency II; Martin Amehule, Obio Akpor constituency I; Kelechi Wogu, Omuma constituency; and Victor Ihunwo, Phalga constituency III. They told hundreds of youths, who had trooped to the House premises that morning, that they got an order from the Clerk of the House that the House would reconvene by 10 am but were surprised the other 27 members were not around.
The five lawmakers, who took turns to address the cheering crowd, faulted the suspension on council members. According to them, the House did not follow due process in the suspension of the council officials.
“We were to reconvene today but we cannot see the other 27 members. We don’t know if what chased them had to do with the suspension they gave to the Obio Akpor local government elected Chairman, his vice, and 17 councilors. Everybody should be calm and peaceful”, they said.
Also, the Chairman of Obio Akpor Caretaker Committee, Mr. Chikordi Dike, told newsmen that there was alleged plan by some hoodlums to set the local government secretariat on fire. According to him, the reason was to destroy sensitive documents the House might need to thoroughly investigate the suspended Chairman of the council and the others currently under suspension as well.
Indeed, it was a harvest of alarms last week in Rivers State. All parties in this game have also been exploring the instrument of the court to fight the battle.
Of utmost interest to residents of the state, however, was the assurance by the state government that it was in firm grip of the security situation. The state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, who spoke to newsmen in her office in Port Harcourt, said the people of Obio Akpor local government were relaxed with the action of the House which recently suspended the elected council members.
She said those who came out to protest against the suspension and subsequent constitution of a caretaker committee for the local government were sponsored.
The prayer on the lips of all is that the Rivers PDP should urgently resolve its differences in the overall interest of the state.