Rivers’ unending battle for soul of the

Rivers’ unending battle for soul of the state

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AMAECHI OKONKWO writes on the unending political crisis in Rivers State and how the governor, Siminalayi Fubara and his supporters are trying hard to resist the hijack of the state’s structure and its resources.

IT was predicted, expected and waited for by all. And that is June 17, 2024- the expiration date of the three-year tenure of the 23 local government chairmen in Rivers State. The date, when due, is officially the terminal timeline for the chairmen of the 23 local government councils and they would cease to wield control of the grassroots.

This date was highly anticipated because the third tier of government in Rivers State has been a major battleground between the gladiators in the ongoing political war between Minister of FCT, Nyesom Wike and the Rivers State Governor, Sir SiminalayiFubara.

How did the local government chairmen get involved in the battle for the political control of Rivers State between the former governor and his political godson, Fubara?  The war, according to Wike, is about the political structure of Rivers State and the 23 LG chairmen have always been part of the major structure Wike had used to maintain a stranglehold on the state in his eighth years as state governor and being fiercely loyal to him, co-opting them into the war became a mere fait-accompli. They were a very strong part of the structure. And the former governor had accused the incumbent of trying to destroy his structure vowing not to allow him to succeed in any such attempt.

So, when at the outbreak of the political battle in October last year, and the chairmen massively sided with Wike, it was not surprising that they lined behind the former governor who personally hand-picked them for their positions, keeping them at his beck and call throughout his two terms in office.

He did not waste time to deploy a majority of them in trying to intimidate Gov. Fubara and whip him back into line. Many of them like Samuel Nwanosike, chairman of Ikwerre Local Government Area was reported to have publicly insulted the governor at some point, allegedly making some uncharitable comments, whereas none of them dared utter against their master, Wike, knowing that the consequences would be dire.

Amaewhule

So, knowing that it was at most six months before the expiration of their tenure, Governor Fubara waited patiently. Said nothing and did nothing to the chairmen. It was soon to dawn on the chairmen themselves that they had but just a little while and they would be no more. So, they began a campaign to demand for the conduct of local government elections.

They had to recruit the Amaewhule-led state house of assembly and the Rivers State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) under the caretaker chairmanship of Chief Tony Okocha to demand the Rivers State Independent National Electoral Commission (RSIEC) conduct local government elections.

When the calls and the threats from the Okocha-led faction of the APC seemed to have fallen on deaf ears as Governor Fubara didn’t utter a word about the election or released money to RSIEC to conduct the election, the Amaewhule-led assembly members tried another card: amendment of the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission (RSHASC) Law, altering the section 3 of the law to strip Governor Fubara of the constitutional powers to appoint RSHASC chairman and members. It also stood on the strength of the law to extend the tenure of the local government councils chairmen by six months.

This amendment gave some of the 23 local government chairmen the impetus to start boasting that they would not vacate their offices after June 17, 2024, claiming that the state house of assembly had granted them extension of tenure by additional six months.

But unfortunately for the assembly and the LG chairmen, their statements and actions gave rise to a flurry of litigation challenging some of the actions.

A non-governmental organisation, Association of Legal Legislative Drafting and Advocacy Practitioners, had dragged the House of Assembly to court over the amendment of the section of the RSHASC Law. Also, Enyiada Clifford Cookey-Gam, chairman Opobo/Nkoro Local Government Area and six others instituted another case against the Governor of Rivers State &Ors with case No: CA/PH/145M/2024. Another of such legal tussle is suit No. CA/PH/172/2024 by Hon. Augustine P. No versus the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The assembly and by extension, the local government chairmen suffered huge losses on all the cases at the High Court level and had approached the Court of Appeal. In one of the cases filed by Association of Legal Legislative Drafting and Advocacy Practitioners, the High Court nullified the amendment of the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission (RSHASC) Law, declaring it inconsistent with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.

The High Court presided over by Justice Kariba Dagogo-Jack, in its judgement, declared the amendment null and void. stating that the “Constitution unambiguously states that the governor should constitute the House of Assembly Service Commission and some other commissions, boards and Institutes, but based on the confirmation of the Assembly”.

The court declared that the amendment which shifted the power to constitute the House of Assembly Service Commission to the Speaker, contravenes the doctrine of separation of powers which guarantees the right of the various arms of government to operate independently of each other.

Rivers’ unending battle for soul of the
Oko-Jumbo

The judge further stated that the Rivers State House of Assembly was not authorised by law to exercise executive powers which include the constitution of the Rivers State House of Assembly Commission, which is among bodies described in part two of the third schedule of the 1999 Constitution whose membership are to be constituted by the governor.

However, the most important of all the judgements is that given by Justice Charles Wali, on May 30 restraining Hon Martin Amaewhule and 25 others from parading as Speaker and members of the State House of Assembly, pending the determination of the suit before it.

The judgment was on a suit No: PHC/ 1512/CS/2024 on an order of Interlocutory Injunction, filed by factional Speaker, Victor Oko-Jaja, and praying the court to stop Amaewhule’s faction from acting on such capacity.

Justice Wali also ordered that Governor SiminalayiFubara and Rivers State government should restrained from accepting any resolutions, bills or interacting with Amaewhule and the 25 other estranged lawmakers.

The injunction reads in part; “An Order of Interlocutory Injunction is granted restraining the 1 to 25th Defendants from parading and holding out themselves as members of the Rivers State House of Assembly and/or meeting/sitting at the Auditorium of the House of Assembly Quarters located at Off Aba Road, Port Harcourt or at any other place whatsoever to purport to carry out the legislative business of the Rivers State House of Assembly, their legislative seats having been declared vacant pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.

“An Order of Interlocutory Injunction is hereby made restraining the 26th to 28th Defendants from dealing with, interfacing, accepting any resolutions, bills and/or howsoever interacting with the 1st to 25th Defendants in their purported capacities as members of the Rivers State House of Assembly, their legislative seats having been declared vacant with effect from 13th December, 2023 pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.”

Amaewhule and his group challenged the judgements and the appeals are still awaiting final determination at the appellate court, then came Monday, June 17, 2024, with the expiration of the tenure of the 23 local government Chairmen.

All hell was then let loose Tuesday, June 18 as youths in the 23 local government areas of the state took sides between the two warring camps in a show of force and attempts to take charge of the various local government secretariats.

Despite the presence of the police at some of the local government headquarters, 3 persons, a police officer, one vigilante officer and a student Rivers State Polytechnic, Port Harcourt, lost their lives in the ensuing battles that saw the former local government chairmen and their supporters totally overpowered and unable to access their former offices.

The associated widespread violence forced the State Government to convene a security council meeting where the governor, Sir SiminalayiFubara warned against the invasion of the local government secretariats assuring that he would fearlessly lead the way to ensure that peace continued to prevail in the state while also protecting all patriotic supporters for their stand on the path of truth.

The governor emphasised that no grand plan to arrest such patriotic supporters on trumped-up charges would be tolerated stating that there was no extension of tenure of elected local government chairmen.

“Let me also say this: I’m also aware that there is a grand plan to come and arrest some of our supporters. This time around, you have to pass through me to arrest them because I don’t think there is anything that any of those people following us has done. Rather, they are standing on the side of truth.

“If it will cost us our lives to stand on the part of truth, we will do that. And I will be the one that will lead the course”, he stated.

Gov. Fubara added; “Let me assure everyone, more especially, the great and peace-loving people of Rivers State: the law is the law. The law has said that there is no extension of tenure.

“The court said so, and whoever that is assuring anybody anywhere of whatever, I advise them to desist from it because peace is what we need in this state.

“I assure everyone of you that whatever it takes to make sure that we maintain peace and order, we are not going back on that,” he emphasised.

Governor Fubara explained that the Security Council Meeting was called because of the threat to the peace of the state by the outgone chairmen of the Local Government Councils.

The Governor said: “You are all aware that the tenure of the council chairmen ended yesterday, 17th June, 2024, and today, we have ordered the Heads of Local Government Administration to be in charge while they await further directives.

“It’s really unfortunate that we started hearing some disturbing news from some LGAs of invasion of council secretariats, and it is really unfortunate. So, we have called the Security Council Meeting so that the needful will be done.

“We are also aware that our enemy is also planning a lot of things. But we will not fall into that plot. We will not also allow him or them to destroy the peace that we are enjoying in the state,” Fubara had explained.

The police high command also moved in to announce the take-over of all the 23 LG secretariats and some critical government infrastructure in the state.

A press statement by the Police Public Relations Officer PPRO, Rivers State, SP Grace Iringe-Koko, said the action was taken following the breakdown of law and order in the various Local Government Council secretariats where “supporters of the two political factions clashed over the tenure of Local Government Council chairmen, a case of death was recorded at Eberi-Omuma, Omuma LGA, where a police officer and a vigilante were killed”.

“To forestall more bloodshed and prevent a further breakdown of law and order, the police have taken over all the 23 council secretariats and some critical government infrastructure in the state. Conventional police officers and anti-riot police officers have been deployed to these facilities.

“While urging all groups and individuals to be law-abiding, the Command also warns anyone who intends to cause mayhem as we will not hesitate to impose the full weight of the law on them”.

The advice of the police seemed to have been accepted by the two factions as they called back their troops and preferred to look inwards for strategies to guide them further in the battle.

While Gov. Fubara on Wednesday swore in caretaker committee chairmen for the 23 local government areas who were screened same day, the Amaewhule-led House of Assembly invited its own group of caretaker committee members for screening.

However, those sworn in by the governor are yet to take over their offices because the police is still occupying the local government secretariats. The appointees are currently operating from outside the secretariats, swearing in their members and announcing appointment of their various aides.

All eyes are currently on the judiciary as the determination of the cases at the Court of Appeal holds the light to the shape of the next phase of the unending battle. Meanwhile, the appellate court has reserved judgment on one of the appeals while adjourning further hearing on two others to July 4, 2026.

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