No doubt, the Rivers State House of Assembly, before now, the envy of other state Houses of Assembly, is passing through its worst phase in the history of the state. By extension, the fate of the executive, the judiciary, and even the people of the state rest on the outcome of the current storm threatening to blow the third arm of the government to shreds. It is not an exaggeration to say that the House is sitting on a time bomb with two distinct factions creating the crisis that erupted last month following the sacking of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) EXCO in the state led by Chief Godspower Ake by an Abuja High Court presided over by Justice Ishiaq Bello. The court enthroned Felix Obuah as the authentic chairman of PDP in the state. The Ake faction rejected the judgment and refused to acknowledge Felix Obuah as the chairman of the ruling party.
Since the pronouncement of that judgment, things have fallen dangerously apart in the state with the State House of Assembly now the main battle ground for its soul by the two warring factions. As events unfolded, the House suspended the Chairman of Obio/Akpor, Timothy Nsirim, his vice chairman, Solomon Eke, and 17 Councillors to enable it to investigate the petition of financial impropriety and a breach of security against the chairman and his team. Out of the 32 members of the House, only five voted against the suspension. The House was adjourned sine die after the suspension. The Chief Felix Obuah faction saw this suspension as victimisation.
In a surprise move, the factional chairman announced the suspension of the 27 legislators who directly or indirectly supported the suspension of the Timothy Nsirim led council.
From this point on, hell was let loose and the centre could no longer hold in the House. The battle line was drawn between the two factions as each went for the other’s throat. And the people of the state watched with great consternation as their law and policy makers went to war, using all democratic and undemocratic tactics and forces to undo each other.
Monday April 29, 2013 saw yet another dimension to the fight of the Titans. The Nigeria Police, in Rivers, sealed off the Obio/Akpor Local Government Council Secretariat, claiming that they were acting on the order of the “Oga at the top” to seal off the premises in order to maintain law and order.
In spite of the sealing off of the premises of Obio/Akpor local government secretariat, the Speaker of the House, Otelemaba Amachree announced that the House would reconvene on Monday, May 6, at 10am for its 192nd legislative sitting of the second, Seventh Assembly.
But on Sunday night of May 5th a counter statement was issued advising members to keep off the Assembly premises to avert what he described as an evil plot by the other party. The statement read in part, “Fellow citizens of Rivers State and Nigerians, Two (2) days ago, we warned of the commencement of the planned gradual collapse of security and democratic structures of our state. “In their avowed resolve to destabilize the state, a series of planned protest has been concluded by the Abuja based politicians with the collaboration of some politicians and security agencies in the state with effect from 6th May 2013 as a continuation of the operation storm Rivers.
“Consequent upon the above and as your elected representatives determined to save the democratic structures of the state, lives and properties do state as follows; that we are aware of plans to stall the sittings of the House through disruptive and violent acts by five members of the House intended to culminate into sporadic shootings and firing of tear gas canisters by security agencies outside the chambers under the guise of maintaining law and order,” the statement said and advised the citizens of the state to remain calm in the face of unwarranted provocations.”
True to the statement from the Speaker, the House was stormed by fierce-looking youths. The youths had besieged the House after their first stopover at the Obio/Akpor local government council secretariat where they ensured that persons loyal to the governor were nowhere around the premises. At the Assembly Complex, the aggressive-looking youths displayed placards some of which read: “Ake Out!! Timothy Nsirim in!!”; “Is in Full Support of what police is doing.” “Hon. Timothy Nsirim is our choice. Rivers State House of Assembly leave him alone.” They also called for the removal of the state governor, Chibuike Amaechi and the Speaker of the House, Amachree.
The five pro-Obuah legislators were in the Assembly. The Rivers state police drafted from the Rivers State Police Command, situated directly opposite the Assembly were also within and outside the Assembly complex in their numbers. Journalists were temporarily barred from entering the complex by security operatives but were latter allowed in.
The five legislators took turns to address the mammoth crowd of youths and journalists when the 27 legislators failed to appear. They said that the absence of the 27 lawmakers, the Clerk of the House and the Sergeant at Arms did not augur well for the growth of democracy in the state.
They blamed the absence of the legislators on “the manner in which they suspended the Obio/Akpor Local Government Chairman without following due process,” and called for the resignation of the Leader of the House, Chidi Lloyd. “We have come here today for the sitting but when we got here, we were shocked that the people have absconded. We don’t know why. They say he who goes to equity must go with clean hands. I think it is because of what they have done, suspending the Obio/Akpor chairman and the Councillors illegally. That is why they absconded.”
Countering their claim, a member of the Assembly, Augustine Ngo said that the suspension of Timothy Nsirim which ignited the Assembly crisis was not the first of its kind in the state. He said that investigation was still on-going to ascertain the truth and cited the situation where some time ago, the chairman of Okirika LGA was suspended and after investigations, was restored to his office. Ngo said that the people of Okirika did not molest Rivers people or attempt to sack the legislator.
“But as I speak, our lives are in danger because people from nowhere, we are told that they are from Obio/Akpor, were brought to invade the Assembly Complex and have allowed only the five members supporting Timothy Nsirim. There is a very wrong impression and I want Rivers people to note that the report of the committee ought not to have been laid on the table and then referred to the House Committee on petitions. That is against our House Rules because in the Assembly, when a petition is presented by a member of the House on the floor, that is during plenary, that petition stands referred to the public complaints committee as long as it is on the floor,” she explained.
Reacting later to the siege at the Assembly by the youths, the 27 pro-Amaechi members said in a statement signed by the Speaker of the House, “Fellow citizens of Rivers State and Nigerians, I crave your indulgence to update you on the recent happenings especially with the callous invasion and desecration of the Hallow Chambers of the Rivers State House of Assembly by armed thugs with the connivance of the Nigeria police under the command of the Commissioner of Police, Mbu Joseph Mbu.”
“We have severally alerted the state and the world of the commencement of the planned gradual collapse of security and democratic structures of our state and called for the transfer of the Commissioner of Police Mr Mbu Joseph Mbu.
In recent past, Mr. Mbu Joseph Mbu had ordered 250 policemen, accompanied by two armoured personnel carriers to storm Isale Oyo area of Oyo state and SEALED the palace of the ASHIPA of Oyo without any court orders, embarrassing and infuriating the Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Muhammad Abubakar. Mr. Mbu Joseph Mbu was hurriedly transferred to Rivers State – a man with a track record of invading and desecrating constituted authorities,” the statement recalled. Speaking on the PDP crisis, revered Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka warned, “Before the irretrievable point of escalation is reached, we have a duty to sound a collective alarm, even without the lessons of past violations of constitutional rights and appointments of elected representatives of the people, and their consequences.
“There is an opportunity in Rivers state to break this spiraling culture of executive impunity -manifested in both subtle and crude ways – that is fast becoming the norm in a post-military dispensation that fitfully aspires to be called a democracy,” he said.Professor Soyinka continued, “The increasing flash points in the nation have reached an unsustainable level and responsible governance must accept that it is an urgent duty to diminish, not increase them. Even the notoriously short Nigerian memory remains traumatized by recollection of the rape of Anambra that was enabled by the connivance of federal might and the abandonment of all moral scruples in executive disposition.
“Even a child in this nation knows that the police derive its enabling and operational authority from the dictates of the centre, so there can be no disguising whose will is being executed wherever democratic norms are flouted and the people’s rights ground to mush under dictatorial heels.” Also reacting, the government of Rivers state through the Commissioner for Information, Ibim Semenitari, condemned the invasion of the Assembly complex by the youths: “Let me just say that as far back as two weeks ago, we had heard of rumours of a few miscreants making an attempt to hoist something that is totally undemocratic on the people of Rivers state.
“We are aware that people were imagining that it will be possible to attempt a Dariye treatment in Rivers state where they will take just five members of the Rivers State House of Assembly out of 33 members and attempt an impeachment of the Governor of Rivers State. But, this is Rivers state, this is not Plateau State and Nigerians are 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. So, 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 Amaechi.”
As the drama in the House unfolds, Rivers people are living in fear. Nobody knows where this crisis will lead the state to, but the law abiding citizens of the state and Nigeria at large expect our political players to embrace the rule of law as their watchword. The Nigerian people also expect President Goodluck Jonathan to intervene in this matter as Professor Wole Soyinka and other well-meaning Nigerians appealed in order to forestall anarchy in the otherwise peaceful Rivers State.