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The police in Port Harcourt Thursday used tear gas to disperse pro-Governor Chibuike Amaechi members of the Rivers State House of Assembly, who attempted to gain access to the Assembly complex.
This came as the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has said it would not accept the judgment of the Federal High Court Abuja, which asked the National Assembly to hands off the functions of the assembly.
The police had cordoned off both ends of Moscow Road where the assembly complex and headquarters of the state police command are located as early as 7a.m. before the lawmakers arrived.
As 22 lawmakers, led by the Deputy Speaker of the assembly, Mr. Leyii Kwanee, got to the Port Harcourt City Council end of Moscow Road, armed regular and riot policemen prevented them from going further towards the complex.
The police also stationed about 20 patrol vans and armoured personnel carriers (APCs) around the vicinity of the assembly complex.
Entreaties by the lawmakers to persuade the police to allow them access to the assembly or to see the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Joseph Mbu, did not yield any result as the police insisted that they had not received any certified true copy of the judgment of the Federal High Court on the assembly.
As the face-off between the lawmakers and the police lingered, the police Area Commander, Aliyu Garba, arrived the scene and took over discussions with the legislators.
The Deputy Speaker, Kwanee, presented two demands to the area commander: that they pay a courtesy call on Mbu and to visit the assembly complex to inspect the facilities at the complex.
At this point, Garba advised the lawmakers to formally write to the commissioner of police for a courtesy visit.
He also told the lawmakers that it would not be possible for them to visit the assembly complex as the police had not been ordered to vacate the premises.
When the lawmakers did not have any headway in the dialogue, Kwanee addressed journalists behind the police barricade. He said the action of the police amounted to impunity, adding that the people would resist any attempt by the police to scuttle democracy in the state.
He lamented that it was surprising that the commissioner of police would prevent them from performing their functions even after a court of competent jurisdiction had delivered judgment.
“We condemn this act of impunity in Rivers State. We are prepared to risk our lives to defend democracy. We want to assure you that the 25 pro-Amaechi lawmakers are intact.”
The lawmaker representing Eleme Constituency, John Olu, also said, “Yesterday (Wednesday), the High Court in Abuja gave a judgment and we are in tune with that judgment. I am here with over 20 of my colleagues and we are ready to work. Initially, they were saying we are afraid and we wanted to hand over our duties to the National Assembly.
“People should hear us and hear us very well. People cannot continue to operate in impunity, it is totally unacceptable. We will resist it.
“Hell will be let loose if the police allow the five opposition lawmakers to go into the assembly and conduct any proceeding intended to impeach Governor Amaechi.”
Chief of Staff, Government House, Port Harcourt, Chief Tony Okocha, who was also prevented from going through the police cordon, also said: “We are not a violent people. The moment we are sure that the police have not allowed the opposition lawmakers to go into the chamber of the House to conduct any proceeding, we will go back home”.
The interim state Chairman of the APC, Dr. Davis Biamau, lamented: “You see how power is being used against the people. The majority of the lawmakers in the state House of Assembly want to visit the commissioner of police, but the police have refused to allow them see the Commissioner of police, Mbu Joseph Mbu.
Meanwhile, Hon. Evans Bipi, who was picked as speaker by the five anti-Amaechi lawmakers, said he had no plans to impeach Amaechi, but called on the governor to recognise him as the speaker of the assembly.
“I remain the authentic speaker of the state assembly and I must say that I do not have any plan to impeach Amaechi. He (Amaechi) is my governor, but I want him to address me as speaker and I will work with him,” he said.
Bipi wondered why the pro-Amaechi lawmakers were in a hurry to resume sitting, when the police had not been served the court judgment to re-open the assembly.
Reacting to the incident, the state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), said the police was right to have refused the lawmakers access to the assembly complex.
It also blamed Amaechi for hiring thugs to escort the lawmakers and occupy the assembly.
In the same vein, the state chapter of APC has said: “We are surprised that the court could render this kind of verdict despite the persisting threat to life and peace in Rivers State as a result of the unpatriotic and sponsored activities of a few members of the Rivers House of Assembly which informed the decision of the National Assembly to take over the functions of the House. We are convinced that this decision is not in the interest of the good people of Rivers State and have, therefore, instructed our lawyers to immediately appeal against it.
“We wish to alert the Nigerian public about the imminent breakdown of law and order in Rivers State if the judgment of his Lordship, Justice Ahmed Mohammed, is allowed to stand.