By Jimitota Onoyume, Kingsley Omonobi, Ben Agande, Luka Biniyat & Henry Umoru
PORTHARCOURT—THE animosity between rival factions in the festering crisis ravaging Rivers State recurred again yesterday as four Northern states governors on a solidarity visit to their Rivers counterpart, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, were embarassed as their convoy was pelted with stones by protesters as they left for Government House.
Surprised by the turn of events in Rivers, the four governors — Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu (Niger), Sule Lamido (Jigawa), Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano), and Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), who condemned the fracas in the Rivers State House of Assembly, also called for the transfer of the state Commissioner of Police, Mr Mbu Joseph Mbu.
In a statement issued at Government House, Port Harcourt, yesterday, the quartet said they came to the conclusion after interacting with Governor Amaechi and other persons, adding that the way the Police were being allegedly used and abused could force state governments to reconsider their efforts towards funding the Nigeria Police.
They spoke as the office of the Inspector General of Police summoned and quizzed the Aide-de-Camp (ADC) to Governor Rotimi Amaechi and his Escort Commander. Both officers who had earlier appeared before the DIG Philemon Leha (DIG Operations) panel constituted by the IGP, to say all they knew about the fracas, were however left to go back to Port Harcourt and resume duties pending decisions by the Police High Command after interrogation. The report is expected this weekend.
Meanwhile, PDP National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur sued for peace in the state and distanced leaders of the party from the crisis. He also denied anointing anyone for any post in the party’s forthcoming special convention as the member of the Rivers State House of Assembly who was declared speaker by the five anti-Amaechi faction of the House, Hon. Evans Bipi, yesterday declared that he remains authentic speaker of the House since he has not been impeached.
Claiming that he was elected by 23 members and not five as being acclaimed, Bipi said “the only regrettable thing is the governor coming to the hallowed chamber to supervise the beating of my honourable colleagues.”
Bipi’s claim came as the Felix Obuah-led faction of Rivers PDP faulted the setting up of a judicial commission of inquiry by the state government to look into the crisis that rocked the House of Assembly, saying the action was to pre-empt the decision of the Senate Committee which would soon submit its report. Also, both the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, and Northern Elders Forum, NEF, called on President Goodluck Jonathan to order an immediate cessation of hostilities in Rivers State and stop using the Nigeria Police to settle political disputes.
We’re shocked by police role — Aliyu, Lamido, Kwankwaso, Nyako
The statement issued by the four governors read in part: “Having interacted with our colleague and other persons, we are shocked at the role of the Police in Rivers State and condemn its clear partisanship in the show of shame that took place at the Rivers State House of Assembly. As chief executives of our states, who have sworn to protect lives and properties in our various states, we are particularly troubled by the development in Rivers State.
“With the way the Police is being used and abused and with officers like Mbu in the force, we do not see the need for state governments to fund an antagonistic Police and may be forced to reconsider our position on the financial contribution of the states towards the funding of the Nigeria Police.
“We wish to call on the Inspector General of Police to hearken to the voice of reason and immediately redeploy and discipline Commissioner Mbu. His actions smirk of unprofessionalism and political partisanship which is unbecoming of his office. Arising from the actions of the Police and Mr Joseph Mbu in Rivers State, the call for state police as a constitutional provision has become a necessity.
“We commend the House of Representatives for its proactive leadership in the crisis and appreciate the Senate Committee’s thoroughness in addressing the matter.”
Continuing, the governors said the alleged action of Mbu had again brought to “the fore the question of true federalism and the need for institutions derived from the Constitution to be allowed to function without undue interference. As federating units we must be allowed the space to guarantee our people’s sustainable development as provided by the Constitution.
The governors, who arrived at 1.00pm did not come out to meet with reporters until about 4.15 pm. When finally they came out they declined to speak. Governor Amaechi told eager journalists that they only resolved to make available to the media a speech they had signed. Thereafter, the governors started walking to their vehicles.
A smiling Governor Lamido of Jigawa State who managed to take a question from Vanguard on allegations that they were held hostage for a while by a protesting crowd at the VIP wing of the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa said there was nothing like that. “If I was held hostage, I won’t be here”, he said.
Ruptured peace at airport
Earlier in the day, the peaceful atmosphere at the Port Harcourt International Airport was ruptured as thousands of Nyesom Wike’s loyalists stormed the airport, protesting the visit of the four northern governors. The protesters literarily took over the exit gate of the VIP lounge of the airport, singing anti-Amaechi songs. Some of the placards they carried read: “Northern governors leave Rivers State alone!” “Amaechi must go”, “Rivers money for Rivers people”, etc.
Vanguard gathered that the protesters came in several buses mobilised to the airport as early as 5a.m. Many passengers at the airport said they were terrified by the action of the protesters.
Governor Amaechi who reportedly flew in from Abuja yesterday morning at about 10a.m. went straight to the VIP lounge to wait for the other governors. The Adamawa State Governor was the first to arrive; he was followed by the Jigawa governor. The governor of Kano State came in later while the governor of Niger State came in about one hour later.
It took the combined efforts of security men attached to Governor Amaechi and those at the airport to push the protesters back for the governors to exit the VIP lounge. An armoured personnel carrier was driven by security men into the crowd at the gate before it gave way for the convoy. Security men also fired several warning shots into the air. Meantime as the convoy was driving out, some protesters started hurling stones and other objects at the vehicles.
One of the stones, sources said, almost hit the windscreen of the vehicle conveying Governor Aliyu. “We saw him shifting inside the vehicle as if he was dodging the object”, an eye witness told Vanguard.
Rivers state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs Ibim Semenitari condemned the actions of the protesters at the airport, saying it was worrisome.
The commissioner who spoke after the governors had left said some of the cars in the convoy of the governors were pelted with stones by the protesters. She said it was not true that the governors were held hostage by the protesters, adding that Governor Amaechi got to the airport and had to wait for his colleagues
“What happened at the airport was worrisome. Amaechi waited for all his colleagues; they were not held hostage. The bus carrying the commissioners was damaged and some other vehicles were smashed by the protesters”, she said.
Tukur sues for peace, exonerates PDP leaders
Pleading with warring members of the Rivers State House of Assembly to sheathe their swords and embrace peace in the overall interest of the state, Tukur said the legislators must avoid overheating the polity by their actions as democracy cannot thrive in an atmosphere of violence and anarchy.
According to him, PDP was a united political family under one big umbrella and no true member of this united family will like to pull down the family’s political structure and existence.
Exonerating the party leadership from the crises, he said, “it is the desire of the PDP that peace returns immediately to the Rivers State House of Assembly in particular and the state in general”.
Also, ahead of the Special National Convention of the party, Tukur declared that he had not anointed any aspirant for any of the positions, adding that the convention would be transparent, free, credible and fair.
I remain authentic Speaker – Bipi
Speaking with State House correspondents at the end of the Presidential dinner in honour of delegates to the Abuja+12 African Union (AU) Special Summit on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Abuja on Monday night, Hon Bipi said contrary to reports that only five members of the Rivers Assembly installed him, he was duly elected by 23 members after Dan-Amachree was impeached.
His words: “It is not contestable; I remain the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly because I have not been impeached. A motion for impeachment was placed on the Speaker and I emerged as the Speaker and I have not been impeached.” According to him, the House of Assembly was properly constituted and a quorum of the House was formed before he was elected.
”How would it be five? We formed a quorum. It was a full house and I was duly elected. It was over 23 lawmakers,” he said.
He denied reports that he punched one of his colleagues in the House, saying he was being framed by the Rivers State Government.
”I want to thank God Almighty for making it possible for me to serve my people once more. But the only regrettable thing is the governor coming to the hallowed chamber to supervise the beating of my honourable colleagues. It is so sad, governor of a state bringing down all the security apparatus in the Government House including his ADC and CSO, beating duly-elected honourable members in the hallowed chamber. It is so degrading and embarrassing,” he said.
IGP quizzes Amaechi’s ADC, others
Aftermath of ongoing investigations into the bloody fracas that ensued in the Rivers State House of Assembly last week in which a Police officer was seen on television manhandling a lawmaker, the office of the Inspector-General of Police has summoned and quizzed the Aide De Camp (ADC) to Governor Amaechi and his Escort Commander.
Both officers who had earlier appeared before the DIG Philemon Leha (DIG Operations) panel constituted by the IGP, to say all they knew about the fracas, were however left to go back to Port Harcourt to resume duties pending the decisions that will be taken by the Police High Command after interrogation. Vanguard gathered that an interim report of the outcome of Police investigation may be ready by weekend.
Already, Chairman of the panel, DIG Leha arrived in Abuja to brief the IGP and the management team of the progress in the investigations so far, while the Commissioner of Police, Anti-Fraud Unit and the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Special Anti Robbery Squad, DCP Chris Ezike were left behind to continue with other aspects of the investigations.
Vanguard’s investigations’ revealed that certain unbecoming action as captured by television stations while the fracas was going on, was said to have been occasioned by the need to protect Governor Amaechi when it became obvious that some people who mobilized thugs to the House were shouting instructions that Amaechi should be shot.
One source said the Police officers could not believe that in their presence, a member of the House of Assembly was dishing out orders to his thugs to shoot the governor of a state hence the reflex action to pounce on the member before a monumental harm was done.
Meanwhile, Vanguard learnt that Police authorities in Rivers State displayed professionalism and utmost caution in bringing about orderliness at the Port Harcourt International Airport yesterday when supporters of Governor Amaechi and those of the Minister of State for Education, Nyesom Wike both converged to welcome both personalities.
Vanguard gathered that when Governor Amaechi chose to receive the four northern governors who had come to pay him solidarity visit at the airport, at a time Wike’s supporters were expected to arrive the airport to partake in a scheduled PDP function in the state, the Police had to ensure that hell was not let loose.
Sources said Governor Amaechi was persuaded by prominent citizens to reschedule his meeting with the four governors at the Government House to avoid a confrontation between supporters of the governor and those of Wike. It was gathered that Wike was expected in the state to open an office of the PDP built by the Obuah faction of the party.
Stop using the police to settle political disputes —ACF, Northern elders
Meanwhile, the ACF and NEF have called on President Jonathan to order an immediate cessation of hostilities in Rivers and stop using the police to settle political disputes.
Briefing newsmen yesterday in Kaduna, spokesman of the groups, Professor Ango Abdullahi, said: “The shameful and disturbing abuse of power and rule of law in Rivers State are signs that Nigeria is descending into anarchy and lawlessness rarely seen in our history.
“The hands of the Presidency are clearly visible in all these events that appear to draw inspiration from the ambition of President Goodluck Jonathan to stay in power in 2015. The most recent development in River State represents a new low in the shameful conduct of political office holders at the highest levels, and they should be condemned by all Nigerians.’’
“The crisis in Rivers State is a sad reminder of our experience in the Western Nigeria crisis of 1963. We call on President Goodluck Jonathan to order an immediate cessation of hostilities in Rivers State and stop using the Nigeria Police to settle his political disputes. The Police must not be dragged into the internal crisis of the President’s party. The governor and people of Rivers State and indeed, all citizens of Nigeria, deserve the full protection of the law and their rights to live in peace under the state-guaranteed security.’’
Amaechi’s panel ‘ll pre-empt Senate report – Rivers PDP faction
Picking holes in the setting up of a judicial commission of inquiry by the state government to look into the crisis, the Felix Obuah-led faction of PDP, in a statement by his media aide, Mr Jerry Needam, said that the action of the state government was to pre-empt the decision of the Senate Committee, which would soon submit its report.
“Governor Rotimi Amaechi can’t be a judge in his case. Amaechi is a principal suspect in the matter. Above all, the matter is before the Senate. The Senate will give their report on Wednesday. His action is to pre-empt the decision of the Senate Committee on States and Local Governments. It is a shame that Amaechi will go this length in his desperate quest for power,” Obuah said.
Attack on govs barbaric – Hon Peterside
A member of the House of Representatives, yesterday described as barbaric, the hiring of thugs by desperate politicians to harrass Northern governors who were in Port Harcourt to pay a solidarity visit to Amaechi. This was contained in a statement issued yesterday by Dakuku Peterside, Chairman House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) and representative of the Andoni/Opobo-Nkoro Federal Constituency of Rivers State.
He asked: “When did we degenerate to this Hobbesian and primitive state? Those who are fanning this ember of discord must be ready to reap the whirlwind.”
Nigerian community in US commend Amaechi
The Nigerian Community in the United States has commended the embattled Governor of Rivers State Rotimi Amechi for what they described as “his extra-ordinary courage” over the raging crisis in the state. They also commended the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar for promptly sending a strong team to the state to ascertain the role played by his men during the crisis.
In a statement signed by its representative, Bonaventure Ezekwenna, the community, stated that they were watching with keen interest “the ugly and dangerous mutiny resulting in physical fights among state lawmakers in Rivers State House of Assembly.”