NIGERIA: Rivers Lawmakers Resort to Fisticuffs over Attempt to Impeach Speaker

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The crisis rocking the Rivers State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) took a turn for the worse Tuesday when five out of 32 lawmakers claimed that they had impeached the speaker, Hon. Otelemaba Amachree.

The five are believed to be allies of the Minister of State for Education Nyesom Wike, whose faction of the state PDP wrested control of the party from the Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Amaechi, following a court judgment.

But shortly after their announcement, Amachree and 23 other members said to be loyal to the governor sat in the same chamber to conduct the legislative duty of the day termed, “minor amendment of the state’s 2013 budget”.

The drama started as early as 8.30am when members of the assembly started arriving the complex for the first sitting since May 6 when the house adjourned indefinitely.

There was a heavy police presence at the complex, which is situated opposite the headquarters of the state police command. Also present were suspected thugs and supporters of the lawmakers.

But as the members entered the chamber and were exchanging pleasantries, an argument ensued between pro and anti-Amaechi legislators which led to a free-for-all.

As the lawmakers were fighting one another, the thugs, allegedly imported into the assembly by anti-Amaechi lawmakers, also had a field day as they harassed and attacked those they could lay their hands on, even in the presence of the policemen.

At the end of the melee, the leader of the House, Hon. Chidi Lloyd, was injured. He, however, managed to escape from the complex but returned later with the governor, his security detail, Amachree and others.

But while he was away, the five lawmakers – Michael Okechukwu Chinda, Victor Ihunwo, Michael Amaewhule, Godspower Kelechi Wogu and Evans Bapakaye Bipialaka – sat in the chamber.

They passed a vote of no confidence on the leadership of the house and announced the impeachment of the speaker, Amachree, based on a motion moved by Amaehule and seconded by Wogu.

They also announced the election of Bipialaka as the new speaker of the House. It was while Bipialaka was about to assume his new “office” that Amaechi and the leadership of the assembly walked into the chamber, during which the second round of the fracas ensued.

Upon entering the chamber, Lloyd disrupted the inaugural speech and snatched the “imported mace” that was used for the sitting and broke it into two.

Unexpectedly, another round of fighting broke out when Bipialaka slapped Lloyd. In the ensuing fight, Amaewhule and Chinda were badly injured and rushed to St. Patrick’s Hospital for treatment.

Shortly after, the governor left the assembly, following which the pro-Amaechi group sat to deliberate on the “minor amendment of the 2013 budget” of the state.

However, while the house was in session, Bipialaka and his supporters stormed the complex and tried to assault the deputy governor, Mr. Tele Ikuru, who had presented the request for the amendment on behalf of Amaechi.

While the deputy governor’s security details battled to protect him and the speaker from the onslaught of Bipialaka’s supporters, the armed policemen present in the chamber remained indifferent and looked on without lifting a finger to stop the attack.

A statement signed by the acting press secretary to the deputy governor, Godswill Jumbo, said Ikuru was attacked at about 12.26pm while leaving the assembly.

According to the statement, “He was at the House of the Assembly to present the amendments to the 2013 Appropriation Bill to the assembly on behalf of the Executive Governor of the State, Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.

“On his way out after making the presentation, thugs who flooded the complex in their multitudes, chanting war songs in support of a member of the House of Assembly, Hon. Evans Bapakaye Bipi, descended on the deputy governor on sighting him.

“His official car was badly damaged while other cars in his convoy also sustained some damage. Members of his entourage were also attacked and had to escape by running on foot from the scene of the incident.”

Addressing journalists after the incident, Amachree, in company with the 23 members who were at the second sitting of the assembly, dismissed claims of his impeachment.

He said: “As far as this House is concerned, the leadership of the House has not changed. I am the Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly and all the other officers and the clerk are here with me. The leadership of the House is intact.

“I don’t know where this rumour (of impeachment) is coming from, but we just finished our sitting. There was no attempt as far as we are concerned to impeach me or anybody. We are even shocked to hear that in the news. It is not true.

“Look at us; can five members sit to impeach the speaker? We are about 27 members here. We don’t know what their aims were but today, in fact, we did not know there would be chaos in the House.

“So we went to the House as usual and we were exchanging pleasantries before Evans Bipialaka attacked me and the leader of the House; then Hon. Michael Chinda joined him. But we quickly arrested the situation and started our deliberations.”

On the activities of the five lawmakers, Amachree said members would determine the appropriate disciplinary measure later.

“Every member knows that we have rules and regulations that guide us in our conduct. I will not say anything yet but the leadership and members of the House will meet and decide on that,” he said.

He however denied that Amaechi was at the Assembly at any time during the incident.

“How? How can. The governor was never in the Assembly. What happened was that the deputy governor came to the House to present some minor amendments (virement) in the 2013 budget.

“If you watch our proceedings, you will see the deputy governor and not the governor. The governor was not there,” Amachree insisted.

He also said he was surprised that the police looked the other way while lawmakers were being harassed by suspected thugs.

He said: “I am so surprised and shocked because yesterday I officially directed the Clerk of the House to the Commissioner of Police for security because of what happened on the 6th of May when some hoodlums invaded the assembly.

“We did not want a repeat of that, so I directed the clerk to write to the Commissioner of Police and also the Brigade Commander, but to my greatest surprise I did not see one single army personnel there (assembly).

“The police I saw were acting funny. One of my colleagues was even beaten by the police.”

Amachree said he was not really bothered by the fighting in the chambers among lawmakers but was more concerned with the destruction of the computers and the use of hoodlums.

He said: “But outside the chamber, it was unfortunate that the police was there and watched the hoodlums attacking members.

“As a House, we would look into it, but we don’t have power over the police. What we will do is that we will write to the National Assembly. We will do a presentation or we will send a formal complaint to the National Assembly.”

But despite Amachree’s claims, Bipialaka insisted Tuesday that he is the new speaker of the house and that there was no room for reconciliation with Amaechi’s loyalists in the assembly, stating, “We don’t belong to the same party.”

“We will not reconcile with the other members because they are not in the same party with us, so what is there to reconcile? I am the new speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly and my election was witnessed by other members of the Assembly,” he said.

Giving him fillip, the state chapter of the PDP has congratulated Bipialaka for emerging as the new speaker of the House of Assembly.

The Chief Felix Obuah-led PDP said by the election of the new speaker, the state lawmakers had demonstrated the unity and sense of purpose that characterised the hallowed chamber before the crisis.

A statement signed by the Publicity Secretary, Mr. Monday Oyenzeowu, said the party was optimistic that normal House proceedings would pick up.

But in his reaction to the incident, the state Commissioner of Police, Joseph Mbu, denied leading or backing the hoodlums to storm the assembly, stating that he was nonchalant about the security of the lawmakers and had acted on the letter from the assembly by sending a detachment of riot policemen there.

Mbu said: “Yesterday, in the evening, I received a letter from the clerk of the House of Assembly through the House leader, Chidi Lloyd, requesting for police security as the House wanted to resume sitting.

“I was nonchalant about it because it is unusual for the House to request for police when sitting. Moreover, there is a police station with men attached to the House of Assembly.

“Later, at about 2100hrs of same yesterday, the Brigade Commander wrote to me requesting me to please provide police personnel to the House of Assembly. He attached a letter written to him by the same assembly requesting for the presence of the army at today’s sitting.

“It was there and then that I called the Commander of Mopol 19, CSP Braide, to send half a unit to the House of Assembly this morning.

“On my way to the office, I saw the mobile police personnel and detachment of C4I, Civil defence with sniffer dogs checking persons going in and out of the assembly gate.

“I then sent my Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of operations and the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Operations, to go there.

“The next thing I saw was a call from the governor that he was going to the House of Assembly, that his members were not safe. I saw his convoy through my office window driving into the assembly.”

Reacting to the fracas in the state assembly, the senator representing Rivers South-east in the National Assembly, Senator Magnus Abe, Tuesday described the attacks on Amachree and Lloyd, under the watchful eyes of the police as a shame and slap on democracy.

In a statement issued by his spokesman, Boma Pepple, Abe charged lovers of democracy and Nigerians to not only condemn the dastardly and barbaric act, but resist moves being orchestrated by those under democratic oath to make the state ungovernable.

The Senate Committee Chairman on Petroleum (Downstream) wondered what kind of democracy was being practised in Nigeria if democratic institutions and those elected to make laws cannot be protected.

Similarly, the House of Representatives Tuesday condemned in strong terms the invasion of the Rivers State House of Assembly by suspected hoodlums.

The lower chamber of the National Assembly warned politicians and men of the police in Rivers State to avoid actions that could lead to a breakdown of law and order and derail democracy.

The warning followed a motion of urgent national importance sponsored by Hon. Andrew Uchendu (PDP/Rivers) on the growing political tension in the state.

During the debate on the motion, Uchendu drew the attention of the House to the fracas that took place in the state assembly yesterday, stating that some hoodlums stormed it and disrupted proceedings.

Chairman, House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream), Hon. Dakuku Peterside, also joined his colleague to condemn the invasion of the assembly by the hoodlums.

After listening to their presentations, the House directed the ad hoc committee set up to look into the political crisis in the state to take note of the latest development and to expedite action on the intervention process.

Also, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar condemned the attempt to remove elected leaders by unconstitutional means, whatever might be their perceived offences.
Reacting to the outbreak of chaos in the Rivers State assembly, the former vice-president warned against the consequences of going outside the constitution to oust elected leaders. 
Atiku said in a statement by his media office in Abuja Tuesday that the constitution of Nigeria was not written on sand so that anybody could breach it as he or she pleases to achieve private motives rather than the public interest.

According to Atiku, any wanton disregard for the sanctity of the constitution or due process in the removal of elected public office holders would seriously harm the nation’s democratic order.

He explained that the constitution is superior to any individual and that any effort to apply barbaric tactics to remove leaders should not be condoned by anybody.
The former vice-president regretted that the failure to punish similar crude attempts in the past such as the Chris Ngige saga in Anambra State in July 2004, had encouraged impunity among those seeking to impeach elected leaders by means other than that enshrined in the constitution.

“It is sad that those who are seeking to subvert our nascent democracy are some of those who never fought for what many laid down their lives for.

“These persons are advised to take heed to the festering crisis in Egypt following a forced change of leadership in that country," Atiku said.

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