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June 23, 2024

RIVERS: PDP, lawyers step up opposition to emergency rule call

Fubara

By Nnamdi Ojiego & Dickson Omobola

The ongoing political crisis in Rivers State has taken a dramatic turn, with lawyers and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, weighing in on the call by the All Progressives Congress, APC, for the imposition of a state of emergency and installation of an interim administrator.

The latest crisis was stoked by the refusal of Local Government Area chairmen whose tenure had elapsed to leave office.

Their attempt to perpetuate themselves in office against the laws of the land had resulted in violent protests.

APC had on Wednesday called for a declaration of emergency rule in Rivers following what it described as the barrage of political crises currently tearing apart the political fabric of the state.

The demand was made in Port Harcourt by the party’s caretaker committee chairman in Rivers, Tony Okocha, during an interaction with journalists.

Okocha, who blamed the state governor, Siminalayi Fubara, for the unrest, said the state was at war, and the only way for residents to live in peace was for the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency.

“We are at war in Rivers State, and because the governor is unteachable, APC in Rivers State is calling for a state of emergency so that we can have peace in this state,” he said.

Recall that Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo on May 18, 2004, and October 19, 2006, imposed a state of emergency on Plateau and Ekiti states respectively. Citing Section 305 of the 1999 Constitution, Obasanjo suspended the elected governors, Joshua Dariye and Ayodele Fayose, and their State Houses of Assembly.

In contrast, President Goodluck Jonathan did not follow this precedent, instead, he retained all the state functionaries. Before the full declaration in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states in 2013 without sacking the governors and suspending democratic rule, Jonathan had declared a partial state of emergency in some Local Government Areas in Borno and Plateau states in 2011.

PDP kicks

The PDP condemned the call, warning that it would not accept a state of emergency or police occupation of council headquarters.

The party also insisted that nothing was happening in the state that warranted the call for an emergency rule.

Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, BoT, Senator Adolphus Wabara, estagged up oppoosition to the emergency rule call at the weekend when he advised President Bola Tinubu not to allow “self-seeking anti-democratic forces stoking the embers of war in Rivers State” to push him into taking any step that could plunge the state into chaos.

Subjudice

Meanwhile, lawyers who spoke to Sunday Vanguard rejected the call, labelling it as selfish, subjudice and a blatant attempt to undermine the rule of law.

According to them, APC’s call is a thinly veiled attempt to circumvent the democratic process and install a puppet government in the state.

The legal practitioners argued that the current situation in Rivers State does not warrant the imposition of a state of emergency, saying it is a drastic measure reserved for extreme circumstances such as war, natural disasters, or widespread chaos.

They pointed out that the state is not experiencing any of these conditions, adding that APC wants to take advantage of the state.

Political fate

The solicitors stressed the need to uphold the rule of law and defend democratic principles and warned that imposing a state of emergency would have far-reaching and devastating consequences for the state including the suspension of democratic institutions, suppression of civil liberties, creating a power vacuum, perpetuation of impunity and potentially spark violence and instability in the state.

They, however, urged all parties to respect the democratic process and allow the legal system to run its course, ensuring that the people of Rivers State are allowed to determine their political future.

Speaking on the matter, Abiodun Owonikoko, SAN, described a state of emergency as an extreme measure given to the President to invoke after considering the wider ramifications stressing that “almost everything that is an issue in Rivers is in court.”

He said: “Until it can be shown that the judicial process is incapable of providing a resolution, the extraordinary measure of Mr. President declaring a state of emergency given the wider implications and the optics about the stability of the country, should not be advised.

Political interference

“So far, I have not seen anything to suggest that the system, as conceived by the constitution, cannot sufficiently address the issue in Rivers. People should learn to be disciplined politically. All gladiators advising the parties must understand that there is a thin line between constitutional governance and the breakdown of law and order in any part of Nigeria. So far, nothing suggests that Rivers is ripe for declaration of a state of emergency in this circumstance.

“If it is about the inability of parliament to function, the first step is for the National Assembly to take over the state legislature. When all options for addressing that kind of conflict fail, then a state of emergency can be contemplated, not declared. I don’t think we are at that stage yet.”

Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Professor Ernest Ojukwu, said: “There is no breakdown of law and order in Rivers State. All efforts should rather be made by all parties to ensure the state is governed by the elected governor as envisaged by the constitution and democratic will of Rivers people without undue political interference. The call will not be heeded by the President.”

Overthrow

In his submission, Principal Partner, Onunaku Chambers, Uche Alisigwe, said the call was an attempt to overthrow a democratically elected governor, stating that the situation has not degenerated to warrant a state of emergency.

His words: “This call is an attempt to overthrow a democratically elected governor because the situation in Rivers is not as such that warrants a state of emergency. The situation is not beyond the security architecture of the state.

“For now, President Tinubu should set up a high-powered peace and reconciliation committee to be headed by Bishop Kuka and other respected dignitaries to resolve the lingering imbroglio.”

Good intentions

Similarly, Mr Ebenezer Apata, said: “The situation in Rivers has not degenerated to a state of anarchy or total breakdown of law and order. It can still be managed by the governor. It is when the situation has broken down and the governor is no longer in charge of security and welfare that it could be an option.

“It appears like the state chapter of APC is trying to politicise the situation. It has not degenerated to warrant the President invoking such. If there is sincerity of purpose with good intentions to resolve the issues, the President can call all the parties involved. The issues are clear and they can be amicably resolved.

“The court should also do its part in saving that state from total breakdown of law and order. The matters are in court and the court should try and save the situation. The critical stakeholders should as well perform their duties. It is a political statement and an attempt to take undue advantage maybe because the APC is in power at the federal level.”

No Authority

Also, President of African Bar Association, Mr Hannibal Uwaifo, said President Tinubu does not have any authority to remove a state governor, not even a local government chairman democratically elected.

He said:”There is no security situation warranting any interference with the governance of Rivers State and any such attempt will amount to illegal political interference that will lead to a chain of reactions that will spiral out of control which will throw the entire country into a political crisis.

“Terrible as the security crisis has been in Kaduna, Katsina, Borno, Plateau, Zamfara, Sokoto and many other northern states, no emergency rule was ever imposed because of the implications associated with such actions. Disagreements between rival politicians cannot amount to a security threat to a state or Nigeria as a country. If criminals and criminality get involved, the police have the capacity to simply identify, arrest and prosecute them.”

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