By Egufe Yafugborhi & Davies Iheamnachor
PORT HARCOURT: The battle over who becomes Speaker of Rivers State 9th Assembly remains heated and unpredictable as three lawmakers-elect push strongly among other pretenders for the number three seat in the state.
Prominent among the top contenders are incumbent Speaker, Ikunyi Owaji Ibani representing Andoni Constituency, Bariene Deeyah, Khana I and Adonye Diri, representing Opobo/Nkoro Constituency.
Diri and Deeyah, who both retained their seats in the last election for second term in the have not shown much interest in the race for the top assembly spot until their supporters in the House commenced campaigns to ensure that that either of them replaces incumbent Ibani.
In Rivers, ethnicity has had minimal impact on determining choice of who occupies sensitive political offices. Rather, the greater consideration has been to share power along senatorial districts.
Consequently With re-elected Governor Nyesom Wike from Rivers East and his Deputy, Prof. Ipalibo Banigo from Rivers West, the balance of interest in the race for the speakership favours lawmakers-elect from Rivers South-East.
This influence, divorced from merit and credentials is what has egged the leading contenders into the front line. Among the Rivers South-East aspirants, the incumbent Speaker, having being in the House since 2011 should appear as favourite to retain his seat, but there has been a snag of circumstance.
National Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, Prince Uche Secondus is from Andoni, same locality as incumbent Speaker of the House. The agitation at the moment is that Andoni should not produce the occupant of another high profile office, as the speaker in the state.
The people of Ogoni and Opobo/Nkoro are therefore insisting that the speakership position that would go to South-East Senatorial District should come from among them, to maintain a balance and equity in the state.
Allwell Ene, an indigene of Opobo said: “There is no gainsaying that the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly should remain in the South-East, since the other two senatorial districts already have the governor and deputy governor.
“It is also expected that since Governor Wike has been re-elected, the political zoning formula would remain unchanged. When it comes to who becomes helmsman of the state legislature, it is important that justice, equity and fair play prevail.
“With the focus on Rivers South East on who becomes next Speaker, it is only fair to look outside Andoni, to other tribes, particularly, Opobo/Nkoro constituency which has never held speakership or deputy speakership in the past
“Incumbent Speaker, Ibani, apart from having his kinsman, Prince Secondus as PDP national chairman, the most ranking, the Andoni further occupy various ranking positions in the state.
“More so, during the reign of Ibani as Speaker of the 7th Assembly, the legislature witnessed significant system failure as lawmakers complained of not attending trainings, just as there was anger that the canteen, health facilities and other welfare services were also dysfunctional.
“Ibani has also succeeded in converting the legislature which ought to be a separate arm of government to being an appendage of the executive.
As a second term legislator, Hon Diri understands the ropes, has adequate experience and ably qualified to helm the legislative affairs. For peace, equity, justice and to promote further harmonious coexistence in the state, he should wear the wig in the 9th Assembly.”
With Governor Wike having enjoyed seamless cooperation from the 8th Assembly with a couple of dissenting voices roundly sidelined punitively, it is expected that the governor would have preferred retaining incumbent Ibani. The governor is however under pressure not to support him following emergence of Secondus as PDP national chairman.