The fracas that erupted Monday over who controls the Rivers State House of Assembly, yesterday, spilled to the streets, leaving several people injured. At the centre are 27 legislators loyal to Governor Rotimi Amaechi and five others belonging to the opposition.
Yesterday’s street fight attracted thugs who descended on pro-Amaechi supporters, forcing them to retreat into Government House in Port Harcourt.
The seat of government in the state did not prove to be a safe haven as policemen in hot pursuit of the pro-Amaechi suppporters shot several canisters of tear gas into the fence of the seat of power, peppering government officials holed inside the complex. The chaos provoked by the mayhem forced banks, the state secretariat and the judiciary to hurriedly close shops.
Echoes of the crisis in Rivers State reverberated in the National Assembly with the House of Representatives taking over the legislative responsibilities of the Rivers Assembly while the Police high command said it would investigate activities of its men in the state. The House also adopted a resolution for the removal of the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Joseph Mbu Joseph.
The Senate, in an equally emotive session, however, stopped short of the resolutions adopted by the House but called on Police authorities to reconcile Mr. Mbu with the state governor, Rotimi Amaechi. Nonetheless, the two factions in the Rivers State House of Assembly remained dogged in their positions yesterday as they clashed for a second straight day.
The clash between supporters of opposing factions in the House near the gate of the Government House led to intervention of the Police who forcibly separated them using tear gas. Some canisters of tear gas breached the perimeters of the Government House in the melee which led to severe injuries on at least five persons including one person that was reportedly shot.
Evans Bipi who was Tuesday elected by a group of five legislators as new speaker told Vanguard yesterday that he had taken office and was now the presiding officer of the House even as he poured invectives against Governor Amaechi.
He was immediately countered by the opposing group of 27 legislators who issued a resolution affirming their continued recognition of Hon. Otelemaba Amachree as speaker. The legislators in a statement signed by 26 of the 27 members in the group also pledged one hundred per cent support for Governor Amaechi.
Stakeholders across the country were, however, full of condemnations for developments in the state yesterday.
The Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN however, treaded new grounds in its response as it called on the National Assembly to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Goodluck Jonathan who the party alleged was fully responsible for the escalating crisis. The party was immediately countered by Dr. Doyin Okupe, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Communications and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP acting national publicity secretary.
The stage for violence was set after the group of five legislators fixed a sitting for yesterday at 8.00 a.m. yesterday while the group of 27 fixed their own session for 10.00 a.m. As early as 7 a.m., thousands of youths had started milling around the Assembly complex, a situation the Police said forced it to move in to stop the sitting.
Commissioner of Police Mbu said he got a letter from the Assembly on Tuesday that the House would reconvene yesterday, adding that his men had to stop the sitting to avoid a breach of peace in the state. Continuing, the Police boss who spoke through the state Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Angela Agabe said the Police did not seal off the Assembly complex as alleged in some quarters.
“There was a letter to us that the House will sit this morning. There was a crowd of people and this could pose a breach of peace. So, we had to disperse them, and they have been dispersed,” she said.
The Police barricaded the two ends of Moscow Road leading to the Assembly complex with patrol vehicles and armoured personnel carriers. Motorists and pedestrians were not allowed into the road. Some youths who had gathered on the road before Police moved in were asked to raise their hands up and were frisked by anti-riot policemen before being turned back.
The police spokesperson also reiterated the ban on public processions in the state. “The Commissioner of Police warns that the ban on public processions is still on. Any person that violates the law will be prosecuted. The Police will use minimum force on violators of this order,” Agabe said.
Supporters of the two factions in the Assembly openly clashed several times after they were dispersed by the Police. One of the incidents was around the Post Office area, a situation that forced the Police to fire teargas to disperse them.
Vanguard gathered that demonstrators loyal to pro-Amaechi lawmakers marched to the front of the Government House in the morning and started chanting songs denouncing the state Police Commissioner, Mr. Mbu. They also called for his immediate removal.
While this was on, another group of demonstrators loyal to the five lawmakers was also around the Post Office which is about one hundred meters from the Government House, were also chanting anti Amaechi song.
Bipi who was elected speaker of the group of five on Tuesday was with them. He later told newsmen that he was around to resume duties as Speaker of the House of Assembly. He called on his supporters to be law abiding, describing himself as the substantive speaker of the House of Assembly. His words:
“I came in today to discharge my duties as Speaker of the House of Assembly but the Police did not allow me to go in. I was so embarrassed. Here you can see all my loyalists and followers, sympathizers; they are on the path of truth. I advise my people to be law abiding, peaceful.
By tomorrow we will go to the office. The people should disregard whatever they see on the screen. The truth remains that Rivers people do not want Governor Amaechi any longer. I am duly elected as Speaker of the Rivers state House of Assembly yet Amaechi is using the Police to stop me”, he said.
Victor Ihunwo who is also one of the five lawmakers against Amaechi lawmaker said they came to the assembly to let the world know who the authentic speaker is. Thank God my speaker, Rt. Hon. Evans Bipi is here. We can’t see the other people. If not that governor Amaechi has stopped him with his Policemen, he would have been in his office discharging his duties”, he said. Later the two lawmakers left their crowd of supporters.
The group of 27 legislators loyal to Amaechi, however, debunked the claims yesterday in a press statement signed by 26 of them, in which they reiterated support for Speaker Otelema Amachree and one hundred per cent support for Governor Amaechi. While the two groups of loyalists massed on opposite sides of the road, a fracas soon broke out over yet unknown reasons as the two groups hurled stones at each other; a development that made the Police shoot canisters of tear gas at the two groups.
It was in the process that tear gas was shot into the Government House. As the tear gas fumes diffused within the perimeters of the Government House, the state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs Ibim Semenitari was forced to call out for help yesterday, saying that the Police were firing tear gas into the Government House, adding that it was affecting activities in the Executive Chambers.
“Please SOS! Police are shooting tea rgas into Government House, Port Harcourt. We are unable to conduct business in the executive chambers,” she alleged in a text message.
When contacted, the state Police Public Relations officer, DSP Agabe said she got a text message and quickly rushed to the area, adding that there was nothing as such. “There is nothing like that.
I got the same text and rushed to see things. But there was nothing like that”, she said. Special Adviser to the Speaker of the House, Mr Jim Opiki on his part said the House had to postpone its planned sitting yesterday when it became clear that the security situation was not conducive.
Banks, state secretariat, judiciary complex affected
The fracas forced banks at the state secretariat to shut down. Also affected was the judiciary complex as workers hurriedly closed for the day. As at 11 a.m. most staff of the state secretariat had gone home. Some of them who were still around when Vanguard visited said they were on their way home too. They said the actions of the youths had sent fear down the spine of most staff of the secretariat.
When contacted for comments on the clash, the state Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Angela Agabe said she was aware, adding that the Police moved in to rescue the situation. At press time there was heavy presence of heavily armed anti-riot policemen in front of the Government House gate. Two armoured personnel carriers and patrol vehicles were also on standby.
Meanwhile debate continued in Port-Harcourt yesterday as to the number of maces in circulation. It was alleged that as many as three maces were available to the squabbling lawmakers during the fight of last Tuesday.
Vanguard gathered that one end of the mace that was broken was in the custody of the state Police command. The police could not say if the part they had was from the authentic mace.
Vanguard gathered that there was shooting around Diobu area of Port Harcourt yesterday afternoon. A source who gave her name as Franca Alloysius said she had to run for safety while the shooting was going on. She could not say if it was from security operatives or hoodlums. Meantime, there had been increased Police patrol in the state capital, Port Harcourt.
ACN blames Jonathan, calls for his impeachment
In its reaction, the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, blamed the ongoing crisis in Rivers State on President Goodluck Jonathan and asked the National Assembly to immediately commence impeachment proceedings against him, for breaching his oath of office to uphold the 1999 Constitution.
The party in a statement signed yesterday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, condemned alleged Jonathan’s abhorrence of the rule of law and majority rule, as well as “his unmistakable support for a group of renegade lawmakers who are fomenting trouble in Rivers State”.
“Under President Jonathan’s watch and with his tacit support, a few lawmakers dictated to majority of the members of the Ogun State House of Assembly, which was locked for a long time. Under President Jonathan’s watch, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, was sabotaged by his minions who declared a governor with 16 votes winner over the one who scored 19 votes. This is injurious blow to the concept of democracy.
“And under his watch, five lawmakers – out of 32 – have become the majority and, simply because they have the backing of the presidency, are now being given police protection to disrupt the proceedings of the House.”