By Jimitota Onoyume
HOW many maces surfaced in the Rivers State House of Assembly on Tuesday? Two or three as being alleged in some quarters? Will the judgement of a tiny minority of five overrule over that of 26? These and many more are some of the questions that have continued to agitate the minds of keen observers of political developments in the Assembly after the drama on Tuesday.
As early as 7.30 am that Tuesday, members started streaming into the Assembly complex for the day’s business. Some, who had not seen themselves for a while, took time to exchange banters. The House, until that day, had not sat for about two months. So some of the lawmakers were probably seeing themselves after the House adjourned sine die.
Youths were all over the Assembly complex. Nobody could say if they came to observe the proceedings of the House but they clustered in groups. Such sight is not unusual at the House on special days like when nominees for political appointments are scheduled for screening. Such nominees, oftentimes, mobilise relatives and supporters to cheer them when being screened.
Security operatives were also all over the complex. They took time to search vehicles before being allowed into the complex while those on foot were frisked. The atmosphere looked busy.
At the hallowed chambers, some of the members moved from their seat to exchange pleasantries, depicting a friendly and convivial atmosphere. Then, suddenly, the mood changed. Probably only the gladiators could explain what informed the provocation. All the journalists present could see from the gallery was a member landing the leader of the House, Hon Chidi Lloyd, a slap on his cheek. Within seconds, the House became chaotic, computers were destroyed and objects were thrown all over by the lawmakers.
Policemen raced into the chambers. Their presence created an opportunity for the pro-Amaechi lawmakers to run out.
A speaker and questionable mace
The five anti-Governor Chibuike Amaechi lawmakers now had the whole hallowed chambers of the Assembly complex to themselves. They are Michael Okechukwu Chinda, Victor Ihunwo, Michael Amaewhule, Godspower Kelechi Wogu and Evans Bapakaye Bipialaka . They immediately commenced sitting with a mace. Only the Assembly could say if the mace was fake or authentic. But there was a mace. Amaewhule moved a motion calling for the impeachment of the Speaker of the House, Hon Otelemaba Amachree; the motion was seconded by Wogu. They went ahead to pronounce Bipialaka as the Speaker.
Bipialaka stood up, headed for the dais and sat on the seat reserved for the Speaker of the House. He then proceeded to give his acceptance speech. He was on this when the pro-Amaechi lawmakers that stormed out came in; this time accompanied by the governor.
Fresh fracas ensued. One pro-Amaechi lawmaker dashed for the mace, broke it. A part of it was used to hit Chinda. A policeman also dealt Chinda some blows. He managed to escape through one of the exit doors.
About four lawmakers were allegedly injured in the melee that engulfed the House.
Meantime, the pro-Amaechi lawmakers with Amachree as Speaker later reconvened.
The deputy governor, Engr Tele Ikiru, was in the House to present an executive amendment to the 2013 budget. A mace was in the chambers, this time; it was not the one broken by the House member who was not with the lawmakers because he was reportedly admitted in a hospital for injuries suffered during the fracas.
Amachree was not robed in the Speaker’s official attire. He was ushered into the hallowed chambers by the sergeant-at-arms who was carrying the mace. When he sat, he called on the Clerk to read out the order of the day. He was still talking when Bipialaka, who had earlier been made Speaker by five members, pushed his way into the gallery. He watched the proceedings briefly from there before he was forced out by some security operatives. He was accused of coming into the gallery with teargas; this could not be confirmed.
Amachree told the majority lawmakers that Amaechi wanted the House to amend sub heads in the 2013 budget relating to some capital projects. He invited the deputy governor to address the House.
Ikiru thanked the lawmakers for their attention, adding that he was representing his principal, Amaechi. He said he had come to present an executive amendment to the 2013 budget on capital expenditure, stressing that it would enable government deliver more on its promises to the state.
The Speaker took over and explained that the amendment was not intended to add or remove from the N490,220,000 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 then asked the deputy governor to leave while it dissolved into a committee of the whole House where the amendment was granted.
Amachree announced that the amendment had been affected The House adjourned.
Ikiru, 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.
As they made their way out, Bipialaka broke out from a crowd of youths he was addressing and made attempt to attack Amachree. Security details attached to the Speaker had to shield him and the deputy governor.
Ikiru and Amachree drove out of the complex.
At a media briefing later, the Speaker dismissed the claim that he was impeached by the five 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 I was attacked. “
When asked why only 23 lawmakers sat to pass the amendment sought by the executive when the claim was that they had 27 lawmakers on the side of the governor, Amachree said four members sent excuses to be absent. He however quickly noted that 23 was still a 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 used by the five lawmakers to sit, the Speaker 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 dissatisfied with their conduct. Amachree 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”, the Speaker said.
The following day, another crisis broke out, this time between supporters of the two factions. The pro- Amaechi lawmakers had slated a sitting for 10 am while the five anti-Amaechi lawmakers fixed 8am for theirs.
By 6:30 am, there were thousands of youths on Moscow Road which leads to the Assembly complex. It dawned on all that there would be another showdown among the lawmakers if they went ahead with the sittings. An aide to the Speaker, Mr Jim Opiki, said the pro-Amaechi lawmakers had called off their sitting to avert another round of crisis.
Meantime, a combined security team quickly moved into the Assembly, ordering everybody out including the staff. They fired teargas to chase away loyalists of the two parties on Moscow Road.
Police later mounted barricades on the two sides of the road. Motorists and pedestrians were not allowed into the road. They also mounted an armoured personnel carrier at the end of road connecting William Jumbo road. No vehicle was allowed to go beyond the Port Harcourt City Council secretariat.
Then youths chased from the Assembly complex and Moscow Road later moved to the Government House end. Those in support of the 27 lawmakers gathered in front of Government House while those in support of the anti-Amaechi lawmakers assembled close to the post office which is barely 100 meters from the Government House.
The two groups started hurling stones and other hard objects at each other. Motorists and pedestrians had to scamper for safety. The police fired several canisters of teargas to disperse the factions.
Bipialaka addressed his supporters at the Post office end earlier, saying he had gone to the House to resume as Speaker but police men from the opposing group made it impossible for the House to sit.
Meantime, Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Mr Joseph Mbu Joseph, said the ban on public protest was in force in the state. He said the police would apply minimal force to stop any street protest.
The two lawmakers who were hospitalised told their stories of how they found themselves in hospital.
God will judge – Hon Llyod Chinda
“Rivers State House of Assembly elected a new Speaker, Hon. Evans Bipialaka, after Hon. Daniel Amaechree was impeached and everything concerning the enthronement of the new speaker was concluded. We were about to leave the peace when the governor broke into the chambers with thugs. Governor Rotimi Amaechi led a group of thugs including the Government House police and some other security men. They came in and started beating everybody”, Chinda the injured anti-Amaechi lawmaker said.
He continued: “In my own case, I have to be very specific. I was about leaving, I never knew that Chidi Lloyd , we are very close in the House, I was misled by my closeness with him. I never had any idea that he could be so brutal to use such a weapon on my head with one policeman who also held my hand, jacket to assist him to accomplish that task.
My colleagues rushed me to Saint Patrick Hospital in the pool of my own blood and I have been here since yesterday.
“If you look at my records, from the very day we were inauguarated by the governor of Rivers State, …I have never insulted the governor. I hold the office of the governor of Rivers State in a very high esteem and I wouldn’t have gone close to the governor. I didn’t even go close to the governor because we respect him. But Chidi Lloyd and the policemen came and did what they did. God will judge. Why will I insult the governor? If anybody said I did such a thing, he is not being fair to me.
“We formed a quorum, the number required to impeach a Speaker”.
Our state under siege — Assembly leader chidi lloyd
“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”, Lloyd, the pro-Amaechi member of the House said. He went on: “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 the 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 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 and calling 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. After a while, we learnt 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 had 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 was something we could settle; whatever it was, maybe I didn’t greet him. When that continued, the Speaker intervened. Then Bipi 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 had 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’.
“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. The governor came and rescued members. After a while, we heard that they were meeting, they had procured a fake mace; 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.
So while I was in 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. I want to use this opportunity, while in hospital here, I have received phone calls of threat to 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 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 Rivers State. This could lead to something that we cannot imagine. It happened in Anambra State, people were laughing, today it is Rivers State; nobody knows the next state it would be. If we are practising democracy, let us play by the rules. The state is under siege. You can’t even vouch for the safety of the governor”.
At the time of this piece, none of the two factions could access the state House of Assembly.