June 22, 2024

Rivers Crisis: It will be too late to cry when the head is off – APC

PDP has failed us — Fubara cries out

Rivers State Governor, Siminalayi Fubara

•Fubara reacts

By Daniel Abia, P/Harcourt

For the second time in less than four months, the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, has called for the declaration of a state of emergency to tame the rising wave of political crisis in Rivers state.

The call was a sequel to the near case of a total breakdown of law and order orchestrated by the “forceful” ejection of the 23 outgone local government council chairmen whose tenure expired on midnight of Monday, June 17.

The tenure expiration of the twenty-three (23) council chairmen had sparked a constitutional debate in many quarters across the state and beyond with some drawing strength from the Law No 2 of 2024 enacted by the former Speaker of the Assembly, Rt. Hon Martins Amaewhule and his 26-man House.

The import of the law was to give a 6-month tenure elongation to the council chairmen pending when the state Governor, Siminalayi Fubara would inform the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission, RSIEC to commence the processes for the conduct of local government elections.

The law notwithstanding, all parties in the crisis were eagerly waiting for the midnight of Monday, June 17 when the constitutional period for the council chairmen would elapse. Hence, on Tuesday morning, heaven was let loose as non-state actors, particularly armed men invaded some quarters .

It was alleged that some hired gunmen and cultists were brought from the Niger Delta creeks with some boasting in trending videos that they came from the sea where they were assigned for oil pipeline protection work to ensure that they occupied the entire 23 council secretariats in the state.

Reports of sporadic shooting, looting and harassment of innocent citizens spread in some local government areas like Emohua, Obio/Akpo, Akuku Toru, Eleme, Ikwerre and many others. Some people were wounded while some were out-rightly killed.

In a particular LGA, the effigy of the Minister of the federal capital territory, FCT, Chief Nyesom Wike was brazenly dismantled and thrown to the street. Some council secretariats were openly looted thereby sending fear waves of a possible state of anarchy in Rivers.

On Tuesday morning after a brief statewide broadcast, Governor Fubara ordered Heads of local government service administration to take over the council secretariats. Some of the former chairmen attempted to access their offices probably to retrieve personal documents but were roundly rebuffed by mobs.

In Port Harcourt City Council, the Mayor, Allwell Ihunda, for instance, was blocked from entering the secretariat even as gunshots were blaring close-by with Police keeping watch. Also in Obio/Akpo, a vehicle belonging to the outgone chairman there, George Ariolu was vandalized by the angry mob who barricaded the entire secretariat gate.

Tuesday’s tension took serious toll on the state Police Command when one of its officers on duty was reported killed alongside a vigilante and another young man in one of the council areas. This unfortunate scenario prompted the Inspector General of Police, Kayode Adeolu Egbetokun to order for immediate reinforcement of officers to protect all council property in the state.

Despite the warnings of the state Commissioner of police, Olatunji Disu that nobody should take laws into his hands, the battle-ready youths were seen in various local government secretariats singing war songs like “asawana” brandishing sticks and other dangerous instruments.

Meanwhile, the outgone chairman of Eleme LGA, Obarilomate Ollor, had warned those eager to throw him out of office not to come close to the council, saying they would be resisted.

Ollor, while addressing stakeholders at the first Annual General Meeting of the Aleto Clan Association in Port Harcourt, said he got wind of plans to invade the council on June 17 and threatened to unleash terror on such invaders.

”Some people are ganging up, they want to use force to enter into the local government. Let me tell you, the local government is not a community town hall or students union secretariat.

”That is a government facility. So stay away from there except the law permits you to go there. If you go there against the law, what you will see you will not believe it. You will see your forefathers earlier than you expected. So don’t go there if you are not meant to go there. You can stay in a hotel and make noise, but don’t go there.”

This terrifying development prompted the state APC to urge President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to declare a state of emergency to save Rivers from gliding into a complete state of anarchy and rescue its residents and property from avoidable destruction.

Just a few minutes after Governor Fubara had sworn-in the 23 caretaker committee chairmen and their members, the chairman of APC in Rivers state, Chief Tony Okocha at a press conference said “we are in a state of war”.

Okocha further lamented that “because the governor is unteachable, he does not listen to counsel even the counsel of Mr. President. APC that I represent is demanding a state of emergency to be declared in Rivers state. It is the way out so that we can live in peace.

“It will be too late to cry when the head is off. The reasons for war, the indices of full blown war are clear. The federal government should do what they should do so that this situation of chaos in Rivers state does not degenerate into where we will be seeing fire everywhere”, he said.

“We also know the importance of Rivers state in our national economy. If Rivers state is aflame, our economy as a country will be affected. We must make hay while the sun shines”, Okocha informed.

Apparently responding to the call for the declaration of emergency by the opposition, the state Governor on Wednesday replied, “we are here to also tell Nigerians that Rivers State is peaceful. You can see that we are moving about inspecting projects as against what you see on the screens of your television sets that police are everywhere, that we don’t move about anymore, and that Rivers State is under siege.

“We are not under siege. Our State is free and peaceful. If at all there is any problem in any part of the State, I know quite well that Nigerians know where the problem is coming from, not from us,” he clarified.

However, the Tuesday crisis was an anticipated twist to the lingering political crisis between the state Governor Fubara and the pro-Wike former members of the House of Assembly led by Martins Amaewhule over the extension of the tenure of the outgone local government chairmen 98 percent of who were loyal to the FCT minister.

This came as LG chairmen, under the aegis of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria, ALGON had vowed to remain in office, referencing the Rivers State Local Government Amendment Law passed by the Martin Amaewhule-led 27 members of the state House of Assembly.

The pro-Wike former lawmakers had passed the LG law on April 22, overriding the assent of Governor Siminalayi Fubara, who earlier refused to sign the bill into law after the lawmakers had passed it and sent it to him for his assent. The Law No 2 was prompted by the alleged refusal of Fubara to conduct local government elections.

If allowed to stand, the law was to empower the LG chairmen to extend their tenure by six months and stripped Governor Fubara of the power to appoint a caretaker committee to take over the local government areas.

The state ALGON Chairman, Allwell Ihunda, who was also the Chairman of the Port Harcourt City Local Government Area, insisted that the law by the House of Assembly empowered them to remain in office.

But Fubara at an event in Port Harcourt last month warned the LG chairmen not to do anything that would jeopardize the peace of the state by not vacating office once their tenure expires on June 17.

However, the leader of the pro-Wike lawmakers, Amaewhule, at a news briefing last week warned the governor against setting up a caretaker committee to man the 23 LGs of the state, saying the lawmakers would not accept such a decision.

To put the matter to rest, the Rivers State High Court sitting in Port Harcourt last month voided the tenure extension for local government chairmen in the state. This was as the court declared Local Government Law No. 2 of 2024, which extended the tenure of local government chairmen by 6 months after expiration of their tenure, invalid.

The court held that the new law was inconsistent with the 1999 constitution and Section 9(1) of Rivers State Law No. 5 of 2018, which fixed 3 years for local government chairmen and councilors.

The court gave the ruling that the recent extension of local government chairmen’s tenures was invalid in suit number PHC/1320/CS/2024, in a case that was instituted by Hon. Enyiada Cookey-Gam, then chairman of Opobo Ndoro LGA & 6 Ors vs. The Governor of Rivers State & Ors.

In his judgment, Hon. Justice D.G. Kio declared that Local Government Law No. 2 of 2024, which sought to extend the Chairmen’s terms by six months, conflicts with the 1999 Constitution and Section 9(1) of Rivers State Local Government Law No. 5 of 2018.

The court affirmed that the lawful tenure for local government chairmen and councilors remained three years, as stipulated by the 2018 law, stressing that any attempt to extend the tenure was not only unlawful but also violated the officials’ oath of office.

Meanwhile, the Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on Thursday reserved its judgement in the case between Hon. Martin Amaewhule and 24 others against Rt. Hon Victor Oko-Jumbo, the Speaker of the House of Assembly and others.

The Court reserved to deliver its judgement on a later date following the completion of defenses and adumbration by counsel to the parties in the matter. The three man panel composed of Justice Jimi Olukayode Bada, Justice Hama Akawu Barka and Justice Balkisu Bello Aliyu, made the decision during its sitting on appeal number CA/PHC/198/2024, monitored virtually.

Nevertheless, what looks like a pyrrhic peace has gradually returned to the state with all parties in the crisis waiting for the actual judgment from the Appeal Court. For now, the status quo remains.