THERE was tension yesterday in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital where two factions of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are struggling for control.
Five lawmakers loyal to the Minister of State for Education, Chief Nyesom Wike, were at the House of Assembly, escorted by Commissioner of Police Mbu Joseph Mbu.
The 27 pro-Governor Rotimi Amaechi lawmakers, including Speaker Otelemaba Dan Amachree, stayed away.
Pro-Wike protesters, armed with placards bearing various inscriptions and singing anti-Amaechi songs, thronged the Assembly and the secretariat of Obio/Akpor Local Government in Rumuodomaiya, Port Harcourt.
The protesters, from the 23 local government areas, called for the resignation of Amaechi or his impeachment, as well as the removal of the Speaker.
To the state government, it was all part of a grand plan to provoke violence and pave the way for emergency rule and the governor’s removal.
The protesters also called for the reinstatement of the Chairman of Obio/Akpor Local Government, Timothy Nsirim, his deputy, Solomon Eke, and the 17 councillors suspended on April 22 by the 27 pro-Amaechi legislators.
The Chief Felix Obuah-led executive of the PDP also condemned the speaker’s call for Mbu’s redeployment, accusing Amachree of raising false alarm.
But the speaker insisted that the police commissioner should be removed for taking sides and acting the script of “Abuja forces”.
The case filed by the 27 suspended lawmakers against the Obuah-led PDP at a Port Harcourt High Court presided over by Justice Henry Aprioku was yesterday adjourned till May 23.
The five lawmakers — Michael Chinda (Obio/Akpor II Constituency), Kelechi Godspower Nwogu (Omuma), Evans Bipi (Ogu/Bolo), Martins Amaewhule (Obio/Akpor I) and Victor Ihunwo (Port Harcourt III) — said they got information from the Clerk of the Assembly, Emmanuel Amaewhule Ogele, that the House would reconvene at 10 am yesterday and they decided to attend.
The speaker, who spoke through his Press Secretary, Jim Udede, said the House would have reconvened at 10 am, but decided to postpone the sitting indefinitely when he was hinted of a planned protest, which he claimed could lead to the breakdown of law and order. It was not to allow “enemies of progress” to declare emergency in the state, he said.
The five anti-Amaechi lawmakers moved to the Assembly, amid tight security, and stayed in their offices. They were still there as at the time our reporters left the Assembly around 1 pm.
They said they were waiting for the 27 pro-Amaechi lawmakers to show up for the sitting, stressing that they were not informed of the postponement. The speaker admitted that they were not informed, because, according to him, the information that Wike’s supporters would unleash mayhem came very late on Sunday.
On April 22, the Chairman of Obio/Akpor council, Prince Timothy Nsirim; his deputy, Solomon Eke; and all the 17 councillors loyal to Wike were suspended. The Obuah-led PDP executive, also on April 29, suspended the 27 pro-Amaechi lawmakers, including the speaker.
The five anti-Amaechi lawmakers condemned the suspension of Nsirim and others.
Bipi said: “How would the 27 lawmakers have suspended Nsirim and others, without following due process? Where did they get the committee’s report? Nothing like that. The report was forged. No petition against Nsirim and others.”
Ihunwo said: “We are supposed to reconvene today, but we cannot see any of them (27 pro-Amaechi lawmakers). We believe in the rule of law. In suspending Nsirim and others, they did not follow Order 22, Rules 1 and 4, which make it mandatory for the petition to be laid before the House by a lawmaker.
“What is chasing them could be what they did to Obio/Akpor Local Government chairman and others. Rivers people should be calm and law-abiding.”
Chinda said: “The procedure through which they suspended the Obio/Akpor chairman and others is wrong. They did not follow Order 22, Rules 1 and 4.
“There was no petition against Nsirim and others. They should stop deceiving Rivers people. There should not have been any caretaker committee in Obio/Akpor council.”
Nwogu and Amaewhule also corroborated the three others, insisting that there was no petition against the suspended officials. They maintained their suspension was illegal.
The anti-Amaechi protesters, in over 100 buses, under the umbrella of Grassroots Democratic Initiative (GDI) and led by Kinikanwo Amadi, stormed the locked gate of the secretariat of Obio/Akpor council at Rumuodomaya around 7:30 am.
But battle-ready policemen did not allow the protesters into the expansive secretariat. They later moved to the Rivers House of Assembly on Moscow Road in Port Harcourt.
The peaceful protest led to a heavy traffic jam on the ever-busy road to the Port Harcourt International Airport and Moscow Road, with the youths declaring that the protest would continue daily, until the caretaker committee members and chairman vacate their offices for Nsirim, his deputy and councillors.
Some of their placards read: “Felix Obuah, man of the people”; “Go Round (Felix Obuah), Agwu Zumba”; “GDI is in full support of what policemen are doing”; “Dike David Chikordi (chairman of a seven-member caretaker committee inaugurated on April 23) out, Hon. Timothy Nsirim in”; and “Hon. Timothy Nsirim is our choice. Rivers State House of Assembly, leave him alone.”
Speaking for the protesters, ex-Security Adviser of Obio/Akpor Local Government, Godwin Ikeazor said: “We are condemning the action of Governor Chibuike Amaechi and members of Rivers House of Assembly, who suspended Nsirim, his deputy and 17 councillors.
“We are asking the caretaker committee members to leave office and also call on Governor Amaechi to resign from office within 48 hours. Amaechi masterminded the suspension of the performing, focused and hardworking Hon. Nsirim and others.
“The leader of Rivers House of Assembly, Chidi Lloyd, should also resign with immediate effect. Lloyd is the person causing the whole trouble for Amaechi. He is making noise here and there, but he could not win the last election in his constituency, if not through the help of Amaechi, who pleaded with his people.
“We will continue with the protest, until the caretaker committee members leave office. We want Hon. Timothy Nsirim to return to the office. The allegations levelled against him are baseless, untrue and frivolous.”
The leadership of the PDP also “strongly” condemned the statement credited to the speaker, calling for the redeployment of police commissioner.
The Obuah-led PDP said: “The call on the Inspector-General of Police (Mohammed Abubakar) to redeploy the Rivers State Police Commissioner (Mbu Joseph Mbu) is baseless, malicious, reckless and another demonstration of legislative rascality.
“Mr. Mbu is a professional police officer, who has discharged his duties diligently and should not be dragged into partisan politics.
“We hereby urge the Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly to concentrate on the business of lawmaking, for the good people of Rivers State, rather than blaming his incapacity and ineptitude on some federal institutions in the state.
“The PDP leadership in the state is also using this medium to ask the speaker and his cohorts to stop raising false alarm and spreading rumours about impeachment of the governor of Rivers State, arrest of state functionaries and the plan to declare a state of emergency in Rivers State. The PDP in Rivers State is not aware of the said plans.
“It is pertinent to state that no reasonable and responsible government is administered on the basis of cheap blackmail. Enough of the unnecessary and unwarranted political tension in the state.”
Obuah, while responding to questions from reporters, after reading the five-paragraph statement, in company of the party’s secretary, Walter Ibibia, and other members of his executive, declared that the speaker’s “blackmail” was capable of chasing away investors and heighten tension in the state.
The PDP chairman, who is a former chairman of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area, also admonished Rivers people to disregard all the statements credited to the speaker, who he said wanted to cause confusion, insisting that the police commissioner acted fast, to prevent the breakdown of law and order and should be encouraged, rather than being castigated.
Obuah noted that no problem had been recorded in Rivers state, since Mbu took over as police commissioner about two months ago, stressing that the speaker and 26 other members disrespected the leadership of PDP in the state, by refusing to reinstate Nsirim and others, within the 48-hour ultimatum given.
He added that there was no plan to impeach Amaechi and that no fake mace was smuggled into Port Harcourt to remove the speaker and governor.
Obuah, while commenting on yesterday’s protest by pro-Wike supporters, said: “Members of my executive and I are in the state for peace. Rivers people should remain calm. It is not in our character to use thugs.
“Thugs were not involved in yesterday’s peaceful protests. The people of Obio/Akpor Local Government Area protested because of injustice and showed their displeasure to the illegal removal of Prince Nsirim, his deputy and the 17 councillors.”
The speaker issued a statement in which he insisted that there was a plan to create violence and declare a state of emergency. Besides, he condemned what he called the plot to make the sitting of the legislature violent.
Amachree said: “The overall plan is to introduce gunshots outside the chambers, create pandemonium in the Assembly and its environs. Thus paving the way for the declaration of a state of emergency.
“All those who live and do business in Rivers State know that the Governor, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, has worked very hard for the return and sustenance of peace in Rivers State since he assumed office in 2007.
“The Rivers State House of Assembly, as an active partner, stands with the governor and challenges anyone, who is part of the plot to destabilise Rivers State to do the following, before declaring any emergency in Rivers State:
“Declare a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Kano states, where Boko Haram and their collaborators are killing innocent men, women and children on a daily basis. Identify, arrest and prosecute those who carried out the Madalla Christmas killings of December 2011.
“In Bayelsa State, 12 policemen were killed in Azuzuama Creek, followed by another round of killings in Lobia1 last weekend, without a state of emergency declared in the home state of President Goodluck Jonathan.
“We state again that Rivers State is peaceful and that the symbol of democracy in the state, the Rivers State House of Assembly, is peaceful and very orderly. Let the law enforcement agencies cooperate with us, not to be tools against the people.
“There is a plan to arrest the speaker and other key members of the Rivers House of Assembly before May 7, 2013 and also to arrest the Rivers Commissioner for Finance, Dr. Chamberlain Peterside, as soon as possible, so that a state of emergency can be declared in Rivers State before May 9, 2013.
“Rivers people, is this the way to go? Please rise against the plot to abort democracy in Rivers State.”
The Rivers Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, speaking with reporters in Port Harcourt yesterday, said that some hoodlums were trying to cause disaffection, thereby pretending that there was chaos in the state.
Semenitari said: “I know that Governor Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi is in full control of the state. There are no matters for concern in Rivers State.
“We are certain that there is no chaos in Rivers State and that government is in full control of the situation.
“As far back as about two weeks ago, we heard of rumours that a few miscreants were making an attempt to foist something that is totally undemocratic on the people of Rivers State.
“We are aware that people were imagining that it would be possible to attempt a Dariye treatment in Rivers state, where they would take just five members of the Rivers State House of Assembly, out of 32 members and attempt an impeachment of the governor of Rivers State.
“This is Rivers State, this is not Plateau State and Nigerians are lot more aware now, than they were at that time. This democracy must stand and the people of Rivers State will defend every vote that they have cast for Governor Chibuike Amaechi.
“There is no way it is going to happen, that a very tiny insignificant minority in the Rivers State House of Assembly will be able to oust Governor Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi.
“As at yesterday, the Chairman of Obio/Akpor Local Government council issued a statement saying that it had come to his notice that some disgruntled elements and certain politicians had been going around local government councils across Rivers State to see if they could mobilise a crowd.
“I was told that they went as far as Khana and Emohua to try and get a group of boys to join them to come to protest the removal of Obio/Akpor council chairman, his deputy and 17 councillors. I found it a little curious, but I believe that because the council chairman is the Chief Security Officer of Obio/Akpor Local Government Area, that he certainly knew what he was talking about.
“He went ahead and notified the relevant security agencies about this threat. I believe he was on top of the situation. As at this (yesterday) morning, I heard that a group of people were at the Rivers State House of Assembly.”
As the Obuah-led executive of PDP was suspending the 27 Assembly members on April 29, a Port Harcourt High Court, presided over by Justice Henry Aprioku, was granting an order of interim injunction, restraining the PDP from suspending the pro-Amaechi lawmakers. The court directed that the order should stand, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
The case was adjourned till May 23.
Rivers Progressive yesterday condemned the take over of the Rivers State House of Assembly Complex.
In a statement by Owei Lawson, the group said: “Today, 6 May, 2013, over two dozens armed men converged on Rivers State House of Assembly in a desperate attempt to disrupt activities in the Assembly and circumvent the wishes of the people.
“All over the world, the legislature is sacred and remains a critical arm of government because of its representative nature. Therefore, Rivers Progressives condemn this invasion in its entirety.
“As a people, we must be vigilant and continually remind ourselves that these are perilous times. Therefore, the interest of a few politicians in Abuja must not be allowed to triumph over the aspirations of our people.
“We are not unmindful of this orchestrated act, which is geared towards engendering disaffection and mayhem, all in an attempt to provide sufficient reason for the Presidency to declare a state of emergency in our peaceful state. We must not fold our arms and watch this act of lawlessness.