By Gbenga Oke & Jimitota Onoyume
The Rivers State Government and the former state Commissioner for Information, Mrs Ibim Semenitari, traded words, yesterday, over the recovery of what the state government described as government vehicles, from the former commissioner who, however, insisted that the vehicles rightfully belonged to her, but were taken away from her residence in an attempt to rubbish her reputation.
Semenitari said: “Over 10 heavily armed policemen in two trucks, one Ford Transit and a Hilux, on Thursday, invaded my 12 A, Ernest Ikoli Street, Old G.R.A Port Harcourt, Rivers State, residence, without a search warrant, as they forced their way into my premises.”
Reacting to the carting away of her Lexus SUV and other property by suspected agents of the state government, she said: “My security guard on duty requested to know their mission and who sent them. They refused to disclose either, but went round taking photographs and recording my premises on video. The security guard got in touch with my assistant who spoke with the men, explaining to them that I was out of town and again requested to know their mission. Again, they declined, insisting on seeing me first. She then got in touch with me on phone as we were uncertain of the identity of the policemen in question.
“Upon further investigation and after about three hours of them laying siege to my premise, I was told that they were from Rivers State Government House and had been sent to recover vehicles in my possession. They attempted to break into a Range Rover SUV belonging to my Husband which was bought long before I was appointed Commissioner in Rivers State Government, damaging the front door. The vehicle in question, contrary to the lies being paraded is not an armoured vehicle and has never at any point belonged to the Rivers State Government nor its agents including myself as Commissioner of Information.
“By the time I finally made contact with them and expressed my displeasure, they insisted that they would take away a Lexus SUV duly allocated to me as Commissioner for Information and which by law I am entitled to leave with upon leaving office.
“The monetization policy of the government allows public officers to leave government with their official vehicles as this is in lieu of vehicle allowance, transport and other allowances, which they cannot draw because of the monetization policy of 2002. Mr. Nyesom Wike served as Chief of Staff, and upon departure left with all the vehicles he used as Chief of Staff. This has been the practice since this democratic dispensation.
“Having served as Commissioner for two tenures, I am entitled to my status cars and have proof of allocation. While I understand that Mr. Wike feels a dire need to destroy the reputation of Governor Rotimi Amaechi and all those who worked with him, it is unacceptable that he will engage in brigandage, thuggery and underhand tactics to do so. A simple letter from any government official requesting me to make a submission or tender documentation would have been the appropriate way to go and I would have willingly tendered all the relevant documents to them.
“Breaking into my home, invading my privacy, damaging my property and removing property from my premises is inappropriate and illegal.
“I have chosen, however, to put out these details in the public space as it is apparent that for some persons only a destruction of my hard earned reputation would do and this I would not accept. My records in the Ministry of Information are crystal clear and I hope that Mr. Wike is able to say same about his tenure in every office he has held.
“Forcing their way into my home unlawfully isn’t the appropriate way for any government that claims legitimacy to behave,” she added.
Meanwhile, the state government in a statement, yesterday, said it recovered two vehicles allegedly belonging to the state government from the private residence of the former Commissioner for Information to former Governor Amaechi in Port Harcourt,
A statement by the state government, said: “In furtherance of efforts by the Rivers State Government to recover government property from officials of the immediate past administration in the state, security agents and Government House officials, yesterday, took possession of government vehicles from the home of the former spokesperson for the Amaechi administration, Semenitari.
“The security operatives carried out the operation at the home of Mrs Semenitari located on Ernest Ikoli Street, Old GRA, Port Harcourt.
“The operatives recovered a Lexus Armoured Vehicle from the residence and a Range Rover vehicle is said to have been in the possession of the former Information Commissioner.
“It will be recalled that top officials of the Amaechi administration carted away several government property and vehicles prior to May 29.
“Governor Wike has since assured the people of Rivers State that all government property illegally carted away before his inauguration will be recovered and those found to be involved in the illegal act will be brought to justice,” the statement said.
Reacting, however, the state All Progressives Congress, APC, governorship candidate, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, said the action of the Rivers State Government should be highly condemned by Nigerians.
“What has happened yesterday is condemnable and I hope this government is not going to run an irresponsible government. Rivers people are ordinarily law abiding and it will be unfortunate and regrettable if what had been foisted on Rivers people is a government that has no respect for rule and order.
“The PDP-led government must realise that we are not in a Hobbesian state.”
On his part, former senator representing Rivers South East senatorial district, Senator Magnus Abe, said there was need for the Wike-led government to exercise caution as they need to respect the fundamental human rights of people especially people that have served Rivers people in the past.
“Every position is temporary and disrespecting those people that had served the state in different capacities should be condemned in strong terms. Breaking into people’s houses is not the right thing to do and this incident is very unfortunate.
“When I was Secretary to the Rivers State Government, SSG and we needed to recover vehicles, we made an announcement on television and radio asking people to return government property in their possessions.”
Also reacting, former Commissioner for Agriculture in Rivers State, Emma Chinda, said: “This is the worst brigandage and falls short of any good government. Under the monetisation policy, as a minister or commissioner in a state, when you are leaving office, government can allocate vehicles to you and that is why we don’t get paid for transportation.
“As a responsible government, they are supposed to write officially and ask for explanation rather than force their way into her apartment and destroying her property,” he added.