BY EGUFE YAFUGBORHI
Penultimate Tuesday’s life threatening mace attack on Michael Chinda by a colleague at the Rivers State House of Assembly (RVHA) which heralded the current crisis in Rivers State is still on the front burner of public debate.
While that violent episode of the fractured Rivers Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) saga is still simmering, this week recorded fresh episodes in the diary of the crisis, coincidentally on another Tuesday.
Four Northern governors on a solidarity visit to Governor Rotimi Amaechi in Port Harcourt were allegedly waylaid and stoned by placard-carrying youths, and their welcome party was not left out of the melee which occurred at the Port Harcourt International Airport.
As with penultimate Tuesday’s chaos, the reported stoning of the governors fuelled another round of accusations and counter-accusations by both warring factions and their supporters. The visiting Northern governors, including Rabiu Kwankwanso of Kano, Sule Lamido of Jigawa, Babangida Aliyu of Niger and Murtala Nyako of Adamawa, after a closed-door meeting with Amaechi, issued a statement accusing the police of “partisanship in the show of shame at the RVHA.”
The governors, who did not make much noise over the alleged stoning at the airport, however, joined calls for the redeployment of Police Commissioner Joseph Mbu from Rivers State to the extent of threatening to “reconsider our position on financial contribution by states towards funding of the Nigeria Police.”
Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communication, Ibim Semenitari who witnessed all the fuss at the airport, said “what happened was worrisome. Amaechi waited for all his colleagues. They were not held hostage. The bus carrying the commissioners was damaged and some other vehicles smashed by the protesters.”
Expectedly,Nyesom Wike’s faction in the crisis, reacting through Felix Obuah, the state PDP Chairman, denied that the protesters were mobilised on the platform of Wike’s political interest group, Grassroots Development Initiative (GDI). Obuah concluded that the protesters were Rivers people, expressing disappointment at the Amaechi government.“You should understand that the visitors who have failed to deal with the menace of Boko Haram up North have no substance to add to resolving the Rivers crisis and could only have come to heat up the polity.”
Beyond the hard lines by both warring factions, the Rivers populace hardly classified the raging saga as right or wrong when Saturday Vanguard measured the street conscience on the crisis in the State Capital.
Celestine Akpobari of Social Action believes “the PDP is confused. It is no question of one party being a saint and the other a villain. Nyesom Wike is part of Amaechi and both of them are products of Odili.
Wike professed he was the Commander-in-Chief and took responsibility for the good, the bad and ugly that trailed the Amaechi struggle while he muscled himself into power. It does not benefit the ordinary man on the street if the relationship has suddenly gone awry between the two.
“The other way to look at it is that the wife of the President, Patience Jonathan who is from Okrika, wants to produce the next governor of the state and no governor, particularly Amaechi, would allow that in the way we do politics in Nigeria.
And the President thinks Amaechi’s 2015 ambition stands in the way of his own 2015 interests. The worry for Rivers indigenes is that if PDP members want to kill one another, they are very free to do so. But they should not allow it swallow the businesses and social lives of the people. Already, people are worried.”
Like Akpobari, Frank Anwusonye of the Nigerian Democratic Awareness Forum said “I don’t side anybody. What is happening is a welcome development to the extent that it exposes the slavery Rivers people have been under, given the lawless and imperious posturing of its leaders.
The PDP has a culture of vindictiveness and lawlessness. While they were united, the warring factions had enjoyed taming the institutions and resources of government to repress the opposition and critical populace. Pitted against themselves, they are finding it difficult having business as usual.
“I give you a glaring instance of the slavery we have been through. The ruling PDP in Rivers is so zealous in sustaining a 100% PDP state from the local government to state level to the extent that in Oyigbo, an All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) councillor-elect has been subdued from occupying the office after winning the council election in 2011, including two emanating re-runs against the PDP opponent in the first quarter of this year.
“In the last re-run, the state Independent Electoral Commission (RSIEC) issued Sunny Williams, the APGA candidate, a return certificate. No electoral law denies the councillor-elect the occupation of the office – even in the face of repeated litigations by the PDP opponent. He must exercise his mandate until a court proves him unfit.
“So the stage was set recently in May for him to be sworn in. With impunity, the Oyigbo Council boss, Felic Uche Uwaeke, invited expectant Sunny Williams with his supporters to the council hall, only to tell them he could not swear the councillor-elect in because PDP stakeholders were contesting his third successive election victory in court.
Like the Amaechi faction is pointing fingers at President Jonathan for instigating the crisis in Rivers, Sunny Williams is convinced the governor has a hand in his denied mandate which may well elapse without anyone occupying the office. This is what we have been faced with in the PDP-controlled Rivers State.”
Ifeke Imoh, an engineer said, “Much has been said about government institutions, particularly the police compromising their role in the matter. This is a political crisis. Who isn’t compromising on the issue really? Who is not partisan?
The National Assembly is partisan.Tambuwal is an ally of Amaechi, so Reps spontaneously took over the Rivers Assembly. I read about a Rivers Senator cheering the Lower House on its position. But Mark is the President’s confidant so the Senate preferred restraint. I wonder why the cheering Senator didn’t see any oddity in his Senate’s restraint.
“Politicians think they reserve the liberty to be partisan. Granted, they are fighting a self-serving political war, but they are fighting as government, as political office-holders using government resources. As government, they are not supposed to do so. Government is for the Rivers people and not for PDP politicians.
“Last time I checked, the police remains a federal organ. In Nigeria, the police don’t settle political quarrels. Politicians just fight and resolve on self-determined political solutions. Joseph Mbu didn’t bring himself here. He reports to authority.
So, he is just playing along. There is nothing to suggest a new Police Commissioner will not be partisan if Mbu is removed. Mbu is just a symptom of the ailment. Removing him does not cure the disease when the President is an interested party.”
The Rivers people are not divided as to whether the raging crisis is unsettling the state socially and economically. All who spoke noted apprehension is already high enough to depress commerce and investments in the state.
Akpobari, for one, projected that “with the involvement of thugs and cults gradually gaining momentum, the situation stands to degenerate. The minute the politicians mobilise the cults to fight for their interests in the crisis, we are back to the dark days in Rivers.”
Beyond what the common man fears for Rivers over the crisis, even Governor Amaechi has admitted the situation is distracting him from running the wheel of government properly.
“Look at what we want to do in the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. We have plans for phase II of the school. I met them (those in charge of driving it), and they say they are still working on the modalities.
But you know me, I would have since pushed them and the contract would have been on. I am not able to do that now because of the crisis in the state,” a disenchanted Amaechi told a forum of development stakeholders in Port Harcourt.
The way out
Akpobari proffered: “The PDP should begin to think about development and the people and leave 2015 to decide for itself. They should take advantage of the prime offices they have rigged themselves into and show responsibility.
“They are all opportunists. Jonathan was in Abuja for the PDP Convention towards 2007 to vote for Odili over whoever wanted to be President. He was not in contention, but he became Vice President and now President.
“Amaechi did not contest for election. He ran to Ghana, leaving Wike to do all the dirty jobs. He returned to be Governor. Each one of them should leave 2015 for now and deliver genuine governance to the people.”
Forty hours after four governors visited Amaechi in Port Harcourt to affirm their support and call for Mbu’s removal, five more governors and three deputy governors from eight states paid a similar visit to the embattled Rivers helmsman on Thursday.
The Governors include: Babatunde Fashola of Lagos, Rauf Aregbesola of Osun, Abiola Ajumobi (Oyo), Ibinkunle Amosun (Ogun) and Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti; while the governors of Taraba, Zamfara and Imo States were represented by their deputies.
On their departure, Thursday’s visiting governors appealed to their host to find the courage to approach President Jonathan and present his case towards resolving the crisis.
Governor Fayemi who led remarks for the visitors at about 1.35pm at the Government House, Port Harcourt, noted that “we have come to see our colleague, the Chairman of the Governors’Forum, in solidarity over the situation in the state.
“We are supposed to be in Abuja for a National Executive Council meeting, but we have come not because we consider our responsibilities in Abuja less important, but because we owe it a duty to be involved in seeing that a critical issue at hand in one of the states needs to be resolved in the interest of our country.
“What is happening here is not just about Rivers state. It is something that has implications for all of us, for our entire country. We have met and spoken with the governor and collectively advised him to see that he goes to Abuja to brief the President on what is happening here.
“We believe in him. We hope he would take our advice and that it is expedient he meets the President to present his case.
“ We also know the President is well meaning. He is our President. We are all the President’s men; we are all the President’s governors. We are also saying that he ensures nobody uses him as subterfuge to create chaos or destabilise the state.
“We are very sure the problem we have here is avoidable. We trust he can be on top of the situation. And we know the governor here is in touch with the people, and by meeting with the President, he can resolve the issue.”
On the role of the police, Governor Fayemi said, “We equally believe the Inspector General of Police should help in restoring the image and confidence of the police in the governor and the Rivers people, taking all the necessary steps it would take to do so.”
Meanwhile, a Port Harcourt-based media consultant, Chukwuemeka Eze, believes much progress could be made if leading Christian leaders intervene.
Eze said: “Even as I congratulate Pastor Ayodele Oritsejafor on his well deserved re-election as CAN President, let me appeal to him to intervene and find a way out of this madness in Rivers State, seeing that the two political leaders (Jonathan and Amaechi) have much respect for him and may listen to him as other pleas in this regard seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
“Also, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, needs to intervene in this matter as the present face-off between the two is already threatening Nigeria’ s democracy. Hence, these respected men of God should not watch from the sidelines.”
Anwusonye said, “The ball is still in the governor’s court. The President’s hand may be in the crisis, but the governor remains the commander of the once united house now crumbling. The President will not come to Rivers to throw stones and break a lawmaker’s head with a mace. If the Rivers people say “no” in one voice to the President and his wife, there won’t be any crisis.
“The governor should be less vindictive against those who helped him to the height he is currently enjoying. Most of the people around him enjoying the political offices today weren’t in the picture fighting to enthrone him. When he cowed the State Assembly to sack the entire elected cabinet of Obia/Akpor Council including all 17 councillors over Wike’s dethronement of his state party Exco, he didn’t appeal to the sensibility of the ordinary man.”
Ogoni advances ethnic tone to crisis
Advancing an ethnic tone to the crisis, Akpobari, who doubles as Coordinator of the Ogoni Solidarity Forum, contended that the entire situation is being orchestrated to deny Ogoniland the governorship in 2015.
“Check the history of the state since the creation of Rivers. An Ogoni has never been governor, never been deputy. We have not been Speaker of the Rivers State Assembly, ever. But we have sacrificed so much, losing lives and natural resources while contributing so much and gaining so little in the bargain.
“2015 is the set time we have resolved, and other zones must appreciate it, to take the reins of power in Rivers. Now, we have Amaechi and the ruling PDP trying to throw spanners in the works. And Wike is saying there is no more zoning. Ogonis think this crisis is a conspiracy to deny us the governorship. We are monitoring the situation. MOSOP is on top of it and nothing shall by any means stop us from producing the governor.
Chinda’s attack sways police, public impression of chaos in Assembly
When news of five lawmakers allegedly mobilising thugs to the Assembly chambers to fight 27 pro-Amaechi lawmakers and impeach Speaker Otelemaba Amachree first broke, much of the public sympathy fell for the majority lawmakers. This position was further boosted by early video footage of the fracas which zeroed in on the initial aggression put up by acclaimed new Speaker, Evans Bipi, who was said to have started the brawl with a fisticuff against the House Leader, Chidi Lloyd.
But that position changed spontaneously for most residents and watchers when more videos of the crisis, particularly that of Lloyd’s vicious mace attack on Chinda Michael of Obia Akpor II, also went viral. At present, the unlucky lawmaker is having critical health problems and has been allegedly flown abroad for medical attention.
Appraising the dreadful scene, Akpobari said Chinda should be prosecuted because “what he did was animalistic. No human being should exhibit such cruelty towards a fellow human, no matter the level of provocation. If the victim dies, the story will turn more tragic. “
Akpobari spoke hours before the Police, through the state Police Public Relations Officer, Angela Agaba, declared the suspected attacker wanted for “a case of conspiracy, attempted murder, wounding and wilful damage.”
Expressing his disgust at the conduct of the lawmaker who is still at large, Engr. Imoh queried: “Is this the manner of evil the government is accusing Mbu of not aiding and abetting? The media has been awash with claims that the anti-Amaechi Five brought thugs to fight lawmakers at the chambers.
“I don’t support five aiming to impeach a Speaker, but there has not been any report of any of the thugs laying a finger on a lawmaker, let alone shooting the governor. It was shocking for a leader of the Hallowed Chamber to club a fellow lawmaker with a mace. Mbu might have compromised, but the warring factions are the ones in the habit of playing into his hands. Rivers thugs are thus far more decent and law abiding than some honourable members.”