Eleven governors in opposition political parties, have condemned the crisis in Rivers State, describing it as a ploy by the Federal Government to declare emergency rule in the oil-rich state.
They made the claim just as the embattled Governor of the State, Rotimi Amaechi, told visiting members of the Senate Committee on State and Local Government Administration, that the state(Rivers) was under siege.
Amaechi’s allegation is almost in tandem with the Niger State Governor Babangida Aliyu’s belief that the Commissioner of Police, Rivers State Command, Joseph Mbu, had become the governor of the crisis-ridden state.
The 11 opposition governors, who are members of the Action Congress of Nigeria, All Nigeria Peoples Party, Congress for Progressive Change and All Progressives Grand Alliance , said in a statement in Abuja on Thursday, that what was happening in Rivers State, was an assault on Nigeria’s democracy.
Their statement, which was made available to journalists, reads in part, “Events in Rivers State resulting in the shameful occupation of the State Government House by members of the Nigeria Police Force on Wednesday, July 10, 2013 are a direct assault on Nigeria’s democracy.
“These developments are not only worrisome but outright condemnable as an affront to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The Progressive Governors’ Forum unequivocally condemns the ill-disguised attempt to create a state of emergency in Rivers State by plunging the state into a needless and avoidable crisis.
“All available evidences surrounding the events of Tuesday and Wednesday indicated that the Rivers State Police Commissioner, Mr. Mbu, and his men did not act in a professional manner.
“Before now, the Police Commissioner had exhibited very clear bias against the Governor (Amaechi) and other state officials. This is a dangerous development that would only produce anarchy with unpredictable consequences.”
They added that events of July 9 and 10 in the state represented “acts sponsored by anarchists,” whose interest included subverting democracy and exposing the lives of democratically elected representatives to great danger.
According to them, “The constitutional responsibility of the State House of Assembly is being impeded and in the circumstance the House of Representatives has voted to take over the functions of the state Assembly as provided under Section 11(4) of the 1999 Constitution.
“It is very clear to all discerning Nigerians that the crisis in Rivers State is a product of intolerance and highhanded attempts to undermine our rights as governors acting under the Nigeria Governors’ Forum to freely choose our leaders.”
• Crisis not unconnected to NGF poll
The opposition governors said that having elected Amaechi on May 24 as the NGF Chairman , the anti-democratic forces against the election were now using other security agencies to threaten and intimidate him.
They said the same forces were in the process of engineering anarchy and endangering the lives of innocent persons and property in the state.
They therefore called on President Goodluck Jonathan not to only exercise his moral authority, but also apply his constitutional responsibilities to ensure the restoration of peace and protection of the governor and all citizens of the state.
“Should the crisis in Rivers State continue and anything happen to the governor or any official for that matter, the Nigerian leadership would not be absolved of blame,” they warned.
They called on all Nigerians to do all within their powers to prevail on those in positions of trust and responsibilities to exercise their powers with restraint and refrain from steps that could plunge “our fragile democracy” into a descent.
• Rivers under siege – Amaechi
Shortly before the governors of the opposition parties made their statement public, Amaechi, told the Senate Committee on State and Local Government Administration investigating the crisis in the state how tear-gas canisters were shot into the state Government House.
Amaechi, who expressed shock over the sudden withdrawal of soldiers and Armoured Personnel Carrier attached to Government House, lamented that security commanders had not held meetings with him in the last two months.
He said, “Yesterday (Wednesday), they were shooting tear-gas canisters into Government House. When we were meeting with the Deputy Inspector-General, the police claimed that it was inadvertent that they shot tear-gas canisters into the Government House.
“So, I asked one question. Supposing it was a live bullet and it hit me? and they said, ‘No, the governor was not outside.’ But I said I was outside.
“We are under siege here. For two months now, we have not met with security men. Security commanders in the state don’t come to me any longer. They are either scared or they deliberately don’t want to see me.”
• Soldiers withdrawn from governor
The governors also alleged that soldiers attached to him were withdrawn on Wednesday and Thursday, thereby further exposing him to danger.
“They withdrew soldiers attached to me yesterday(Wednesday) and this(Thursday) morning, they withdrew the APC attached to Government House, ” he lamented.
Earlier, the Chairman of the Senate Committee, Kabiru Gaya, had said, they were in the state to find out how “best we (Senate) could have the (Rivers State) legislators perform their functions without undue interference.”
He pointed out that the panel would after the courtesy visit on the governor, discuss with him to know what happened.
Gaya added,” We also need to talk with the Assembly members on both sides, including the Commissioner of Police, the SSS(State Security Service) and the JTF (Joint Task Force) . We have already asked the Commissioner of Police to meet us.
“The purpose of our mission is to ensure that peace returns to the state and to maintain good governance so that the people of the state will relax and have peace.
“We are not happy with what we saw and what we heard, especially when we saw people walking on the streets and their hands are up as if they are being interrogated, as if the the state is at war.”
• Soyinka flays Jonathan, wife
Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka also condemned the Rivers State crisis and accused Jonathan’s wife, Patience, of becoming a tool of destabilisation with a mission to shut down the apparatus of the state.
Soyinka, at a meeting with journalists in Lagos, said it was regrettable that Patience was giving tacit support to those opposing Amaechi’s authority.
“Too much is too much. She is now being used to reduce the authority of an elected governor,” he said as he described the situation in the state as an emergency.
Although the playwright enjoined Jonathan to intervene in the crisis in order to restore normalcy to the state Assembly and the entire state, he fired a salvo at him: His seeming indifference led to the pandemonium in the Assembly on Tuesday.
He said, “There is a certain way a leader can convey certain coded messages to his followers and they will be acting accordingly. That President Jonathan might not have openly declared support for what is going on, his comportment, his carriage and most especially, his silence might have indicated his meddlesomeness in the matter.”
Making a comparison between Tuesday’s incident on the floor of the Assembly and the circumstances that led to the 12th Century murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, on the orders of King Henry II, he warned that the crisis in Rivers might lead the country into what he described as absolute monarchism, if not quickly checked.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, who was at the meeting, urged Nigerians to disregard the “illegality” being perpetuated in the Rivers Assembly.
“There is a Speaker known to everyone, while the other one is unknown, even to the President,” he said as he called for the removal of the state Commissioner of Police for his role in the crisis.
• Rivers CP now gov, says Aliyu
In Minna, Niger State, Governor Aliyu lamented the crisis in Rivers State, saying what was on the ground indicated that the Commisssioner of Police was now the governor of of the state.
Aliyu, who received the Commissioner for Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, Ambassador Zubairu Dada, at the Government House, said, “You saw what is happening in Rivers State? A Commissioner of Police has now become the Governor of Rivers State. Is that the image we want the world to look out to?
The governor, who is also the chairman of Northern States Governors’ Forum, recalled that since he became his state’s chief executive, “there has not been a Police Council Meeting.”
According to him, the PCM is supposed to “decide the appointment of Police Commissioners and their deployment.”
He therefore called for a reduction of the funds and powers available to the Federal Government because it(Federal Government) had no business in the provision of health, water, agriculture and education.
“There is too much money at the centre for the Federal Government to spend and that is why they are creating problems for the states, ” Aliyu advised.
Pointing out that Nigeria was in a bad shape, he claimed that nobody knows the amount of oil the country produces.
• Jonathan not behind Rivers mayhem
Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Ahmed Gulak, in an interview with our correspondent described the claim by opposition governors that President Goodluck Jonathan planned to declare a state of emergency in Rivers State as untrue.
He said the claim was a mere opposition statement.
The presidential aide said rather than dragging the name of the President into the crisis, Governor Rotimi Amaechi should be advised to face his problem squarely.
He said, “That claim is not true. It is a mere opposition statement. That is not the first state House of Assembly in Nigeria that there will be problem. The President has nothing to do with it.
“Rather than dragging the name of the President to the crisis, Amaechi should be advised to face his problem squarely.”‘
Also, Jonathan has denied instigating the crisis in the Rivers State House of Assembly, saying as a President, he will never support any actions that negate his commitment to the rule of law.
He also called on those behind the mayhem to sheathe their swords and show greater respect for the constitution and the rule of law.
Jonathan’s position was contained in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati.
The statement reads in part, “The Presidency has also noted with regret the continuing attempts by some individuals and groups to place responsibility for the unpleasant developments in Rivers State on President Jonathan.
“We are constrained to state once again that there is absolutely no factual basis for suggestions that some of the politicians involved in the current dispute are acting at the behest of the President.”
Expressing concern over what he called untoward political developments in the state, Jonathan urged members of the state Assembly and all other political gladiators in the state to put the interests of the state and the nation above their personal egos.