•Police take over 22 council to avert mayhem •Wike appoints caretaker chairmen
Following the crises that have trailed Thursday’s dissolution and the subsequent inauguration of new caretaker committee chairmen and councilors for the 22 local government areas by Rivers State governor, Onyesom Wike, operatives of the Nigeria Police have sealed-off the council secretariats.
Te order to seal-off the secretaraits followed a directive by the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Solomon Ariase, to forestall any possible breakdown of law and order in the state.
A Federal High court in Port Harcourt, on Thursday nullified the election of council chairmen and councilors of the 22 Local Government Areas (LGAs) on the grounds of disobedience. They are all members of All Progressives Congress (APC).
Governor Wike of the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) immediately inaugurated a new caretaker committee man the affairs of the councils for the next three months.
They names of the new members were said to have been sent for screening by the members of the state House of Assembly shortly after the court sacked their predecessors.
Members of the ousted APC council chairmen, while speaking with newsmen, accused the PDP members and supporters of already invading the council secretariats and called on security agencies to protect lives of residents and properties, including those of government.
The order to prevent workers and members of the public from going into the affected council premises was reportedly sent by IGP at about 11.30 Thursday night.
Governor Wike criticized the IG and the Federal Government for ordering the sealing-off of the secretariats, saying that it was not right.
He described it as a period of temptation and appealed to party members and supporters to maintain the peace.
He said: “We were informed this morning that armed policemen have taken over the local government councils. Yesterday, were sworn-in 22 caretaker committee chairman after the federal high court nullified the so-called May 23, local government election.
“We did not dissolve the local government councils, as been highly speculated. We followed due process. We refused all pressures to dissolve the councils as some states had done. So, we are surprised to be informed this morning that the gates of the councils have been locked. And armed policemen who have taken over are insisting no one can go inside the councils.”
Meanwhile, members and supporters of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State, yesterday engaged themselves in an confrontation.
Eyewitnesses said supporters of both parties clashed in front of Emohua secretariat. According to sources, while members of the APC refused to vacate the premises of the council for the newly sworn-in PDP caretaker committee chairman, those of the PDP insisted that the new members must have access to the secretariat.
The two camps were said to have engaged each other in gun battle, with sporadic gunshots being fired. Residents of the area scampered for safety, while the sporadic gunshots continued for about 45 minutes before armed policemen drafted to the scene restored order.
Eyewitnesses said that scores were injured, while many vehicles were damaged during the fracas.
It was also gathered that all the other 21 local council offices in the state, where new caretaker committee chairmen and councilors were sworn in on Thursday night, were sealed off by the police.
It was gathered that the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Solomon Ariase, gave the order for the Commissioner of the Rivers State Police command, Mr Chris Ezike, to deploy armed policemen to seal off the local government secretariats.
At about 11 20am on Friday, 10 police operational vehicles with armed policemen were strategically positioned around the Port Harcourt City Local Government Headquarters, along Moscow Road with no one seen inside the secretariat whose gates were firmly locked.
The armed policemen who were polite when accosted simply said they were on official duty and are not expected to disclose their mission to anyone who is not directly connected to offering security services to Nigerians.
When contacted for comments on the presence of armed policemen at the entrance of the local council secretariat, the Police Public Relations Officer, DSP. Ahmad Mohammad, said in a terse text message that: “It’s for protection of life and property”.
Meanwhile, the Rivers State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has kicked against the decision of Governor Nyesom Wike to inaugurate members of the caretaker committees in 22 of the state’s 23 local government areas, contrary to the order of the National Industrial Court (NIC), sitting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.
The NIC earlier gave an order restraining Wike from dissolving the 22 Rivers councils, pending the determination of the suit filed by the chairmen.
Speaking on the development, Rivers APC, through its chairman, Chief Davies Ibiamu Ikanya, yesterday in Port Harcourt, insisted that the setting up and the inauguration of the caretaker committee members were illegal.
Rivers APC said: “Wike, on Thursday night, appointed and sworn in caretaker committees for 22 Local Government Councils in Rivers State, presumably based on the illegal pronouncements of Federal High Court One, sitting in Port Harcourt and presided over by Justice Lambo Akanbi.
“The APC will like to unequivocally state that the ruling by Justice Akanbi on was illegal and to that extent, unacceptable to the APC. Our rejection of the ruling is based on facts.
“On April 29, 2015, Justice Akanbi acknowledged that he was on notice that the jurisdiction of his court was on appeal by counsel to the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission (RSIEC) and the Rivers State government, and therefore adjourned the matter sine die (indefinitely), pending the outcome of the appeal at the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt. Consequently, all parties retreated to wait for the decision of the Court of Appeal, fixed for October 12, 2015, for which all parties are already on hearing notice.
“The application to join by the APC, which Justice Akanbi turned down, was appealed and that appeal is still pending at the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt. There is a subsisting court order in suit number: NICN/YEN/26/2015 by the National Industrial Court, Yenagoa, preventing the Rivers governor and other parties from undertaking any action to dissolve the 23 councils and/or remove the chairmen and councilors from office. Both courts have co-ordinate jurisdiction.
The party also called on the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Solomon Arase; the Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS); the new Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Chris Okey Ezike; and all other security agencies to be on notice to continue to provide security for the duly-elected chairmen and councilors.
But the Rivers chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Felix Obuah, described the move as a step in the right direction.
Obuah also said the dissolution of the 22 councils, through a ruling of the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, and presided over by Justice Lambo Akanbi, was in order.
The PDP said the ruling had once more strengthened the confidence and trust of the people in the Nigerian judiciary as the last hope of the common man, and praised its members for remaining calm while the litigation lasted.
“The court’s victory is not only for the PDP, but for the entire Rivers people, who are the beneficiaries of the sanity and rule of law that have been ushered in by the council election nullification.”
It will be recalled that Justice Akanbi sacked the 22 chairmen and their councilors, who were elected on May 23 this year, for allegedly disobeying his order.
•Police take over 22 council to avert mayhem •Wike appoints caretaker chairmen