May 11, 2024

Eyes on INEC as anarchy looms in Rivers


•Fubara building new structures through monthly Thanksgiving events; Okocha dubs them wasteful
•Three Speakers in one year, Impeachment talks, governance suffers

By Daniel Abia, P/Harcourt

The political crisis in Rivers State may gradually gallop into a state of anarchy. In less than one year, the administration of Governor Siminalayi Fubara since its inauguration last year May 29, 2023, has produced three Speakers, a clear indication that all is not well in the state.

What began like a mere misunderstanding between a political godfather, Nyesom Wike and his godson, Governor Fubara, is merely a few steps away from snowballing into a catastrophic dimension that may result in the declaration of a state of emergency in Rivers.

With the emergence of a new Speaker, Rt Hon Victor Oko Jumbo from Bonny state constituency among a 3-member Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, lawmakers, and political watchers are on feverish edge waiting for what will happen next. Credible sources volunteered that the immediate assignment of the new Speaker will be, among other things, the swearing-in of caretaker committee chairmen for the twenty-three local government areas of the state.

Recall that the tenure of the present council chairmen expires next month. It presupposes that either an election is conducted or caretaker chairmen are appointed to fill up those positions across the state. Of course, for obvious reasons, the Governor will not dare to conduct any election under the present circumstances because he does not have any solid structure to carry out such a sensitive political exercise, at least for now.

In the recent past, the House of Assembly led by Martins Amaewhule as Speaker had passed a law extending the tenure of the council chairmen by six months. This legislative scheme was carried out at the same time the Rivers state chapter of the All Progressives Congress, APC, was mounting pressure on the Governor to conduct a local government election in the state. The party frowned at any attempt by the Governor to appoint caretaker chairmen into those councils.

But with the emergence of Rt Hon Jumbo as the new Speaker of the divided Assembly, all is now set for caretaker chairmen to be sworn in to replace the outgoing chairmen whose tenure elapses next month. When this is successfully done, Governor Fubara may now have some respite knowing that only those loyal to him would be appointed as caretaker chairmen into the twenty-three LGAs.


Wade into Rivers political crisis, Bode George urges PDP elders, Tinubu

However, the lingering crisis in Rivers State has been attributed to the deliberate refusal or otherwise of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct elections to fill the vacant positions of the 27 lawmakers who defected from the PDP to APC.

The then factional speaker of the House, Edison Ehie had declared the seats of the 27 lawmakers vacant. This was immediately followed by the decision of the High Court in Port Harcourt which barred the Amaewhule-led lawmakers from gaining access to the Assembly complex under any guise or form.

Concerned stakeholders in the state including the PDP had informed INEC, as a matter of constitutional necessity, to conduct an election to fill up the vacant positions of the defected lawmakers, but to no avail. The electoral body has yet to make any public statement about the matter since the political crisis broke out in the state in October last year.

INEC’s silence has compelled Nigerians to ask whose interest the Commission is serving in a sensitive matter like that of Rivers State.

Recall that in 2022, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja had sacked 17 members of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly who defected from the PDP to the APC in a similar circumstance. The lawmakers had on November 17, 2020, joined Governor David Umahi and his Deputy, Dr Eric Kelechi Igwe to move over to the APC.

The court, in a judgement delivered by Justice Inyang Ekwo, held that the lawmakers, having abandoned the political party that sponsored them, could not transfer the mandate they obtained from the ballot to another political party.

The court held that section 109(1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution was purposely couched to ensure that defectors were not allowed to retain their seats in the House unless such defectors could justify their action.

The court also made an order of mandatory injunction compelling the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to accept from the PDP, a list of its candidates to replace the sacked lawmakers, as well as to issue a Certificate of Return to them.

In the same vein, the High Court in Rivers state presided over by Justice M.W. Danagogo gave an order barring Martins Amaewhule and his group from accessing the Assembly complex. This was followed by a letter from the national working committee, NWC, of the PDP notifying INEC of 27 vacant seats in the Assembly.

It follows that the action or inaction of INEC will determine how long the crisis in Rivers State will last. Nigerians expect that INEC being the creation of the constitution must abide by the tenets of the statute book that created it in the first place.

Until last Monday when a powerful delegation led by the former Governor of Bayelsa state, Seriake Dickson visited Governor Fubara in Government House Port Harcourt, everywhere wore a similitude of quietness when the Governor suddenly declared that the 27 APC lawmakers were no longer recognised by law.

That statement also ignited a corresponding reaction from the state APC which called on the lawmakers to commence an impeachment process on the governor or face sanctions from the party. Chief Tony Okocha, caretaker chairman of the party in Rivers state said the Governor was fast becoming a “dictator” and APC as a major opposition party in the state will not sit and watch Rivers state become a mockery in the comity of states.

Okocha faulted the Governor when he recalled that in a letter dated December 11, 2023, Governor Fubara addressed Amaewhule as “Rt. Hon Martins Chike Amawhule, DSSRS, Speaker, Rivers state House of Assembly” in a letter requesting for re-screening and reconfirmation of commissioner nominees. And therefore wondered when the same Speaker and his group ceased to exist as lawmakers.

Okocha’s quest for the immediate impeachment of the Governor elicited contrary reactions within his own APC with some saying that such order was a mere vocal expression which is not backed by any legal instrument. They argue that politics is subject to law and not the reverse.

Barrister Sogbeye Eli, former spokesman of the campaign council of the APC in the 2023 governorship elections said “In the eye of the law, the 27 lawmakers do not exist. Who is he (Okocha) calling to impeach the governor? They don’t have such rights because the law does not even recognize them as lawmakers having defected from their party to another party.

”INEC had since been asked to conduct an election to fill the 27 vacant seats and it said no. They said the peace pact overrides the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, how? Tinubu was a Governor, he knew very well that this could not fly. So, as far as the law is concerned, the Rivers State House of Assembly has three members and they can form a quorum with two.

“Right now, the constituents of the 27 lawmakers are suffering because they need adequate and lawful representation in the House. And INEC must conduct elections to fill those positions so that the constituents can now have a sense of belonging”, he said.

Chief Eze Chukwuemeka Eze, another chieftain of the APC said the emergence of Rt. Hon Jumbo as the new Speaker of the Assembly was very lawful because, in the absence of other rightful Lawmakers, the very few that are remaining there constitute the State Assembly.

“This action is informed by the absence of 27lawmakers who have by their defections ceased to be Lawmakers and in their absence the few Lawmakers remaining will have to elect their Speaker pending when INEC will conduct an election to elect new representatives from the areas the former 27lawmakers come from. That is the Law and in line with the Supreme Court and our constitution”.

Also, Hon. Azubuike Wanjoku, a former lawmaker said, “Those in the PDP constitute the authentic house, and it does not matter who is picked as a speaker whether he sleeps on the same bed with the Governor. When the 27 others decided to switch parties, they automatically lost their seats. The question we should ask ourselves is, what exactly happened to Martins Amaewhule when he threw away the gavel of authority into the pit?

“I know that as an independent arm of government, the Rivers State House of Assembly, as presently constituted, is representative of all 32 constituencies until such a time when fresh elections are conducted. The house makes its rules and regulations, and no one can stop its functions, no matter how you interpret their actions”.

With the Thanksgiving program now being held in virtually all the LGAs in the state, Governor Fubara appears to be creating his political structure across the state. The opposition APC alleges that the Governor spends about N120 million for each of such outings. “I heard that about N120 million is spent in each of those jamborees”, Okocha alleged.

Observers reason that this is a wasteful venture at a time when hardship has eaten deep into the fibre of the society and the indigent citizens are in search of what to eat.