NIGERIA: Rivers under siege – Amaechi

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Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State yesterday cried out over recent developments in the state, saying that the state and the people were under siege.

Governor Amaechi spoke even as the Police launched a high-level investigation into the role of its officers and men in the crisis, with an invitation to the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Joseph Mbu Joseph and police officers attached to the Government House alleged to have taken sides in the fracas.

Also yesterday, the Army high command denied withdrawing troops from Government House, affirming that the troops pulled out were not a component of the security infrastructure of the Government House.

President Goodluck Jonathan in his first public reaction since the fracas in the State House of Assembly on Tuesday warned politicians in the state to tread within the bounds of political engagement. The President, presently on a state visit to China, said he was deeply concerned over the spate of violence and imputations of his involvement on the side of one party.

Receiving the Senate Committee on State and Local Government Administration investigating the crisis in the state yesterday, Governor Amaechi who is also Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF lamented that the state and its functionaries were now under siege.

“Yesterday, they were shooting tear gas into Government House. When we were meeting with the Deputy Inspector-General (DIG) today, the Police claimed that it was inadvertent, that they shot tear gas into Government House. So, I asked one question, supposing, it was live bullet and it hit me, they said, ‘Nooo, governor was not outside,’ but I said, I was outside, you can check”, Amaechi said.

Expressing shock at the sudden withdrawal of soldiers and Amoured Personnel Carrier, APC attached to Government House, the governor lamented that commanders of security formations in the state have in the past two months not met with him on account of political pressures.

We are under siege here — Amaechi

“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 don’t deliberately want to see me. They withdrew soldiers attached to me yesterday (Wednesday) and this morning, they withdrew the APC attached to Government House”, Amaechi said.

Senator Kabiru Gaya, chairman of the Senate Committee said the committee was mandated by the Senate to find a solution to the problem in the state.

“Your Excellency, yesterday, July 10, 2013, the Senate had a meeting or session where a motion was raised by Senator Magnus Abe on the situation in Rivers State. The motion was discussed. We had two hours in the closed-door session to discuss how best to sustain our stable democracy, how best we could have the legislators perform their functions without undue interference”, Senator Gaya said.

“I will also say the state was under the situation of violence, and there were disturbances in Rivers State. Therefore, this committee was mandated by the Senate to come and investigate, and also invite other members, including stakeholders. After this courtesy visit, we have to discuss with you (Amaechi) to know what happened from your side. We also need to talk with the Assembly members on both sides, including the Commissioner of Police, the DSS and the JTF.  We have already asked the Commissioner of Police to meet us this evening and DSS,” Senator Gaya said.

IGP inaugurates probe panel, invites Rivers CP

Meanwhile, Vanguard learnt, yesterday, that Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar has inaugurated a high powered investigation panel headed by the Deputy Inspector-General of Police in charge Operations, DIG Philemon Leha to move to Port Harcourt.

While inaugurating the panel, Abubakar assured that the Police will not spare anyone found to have fallen foul of the law during the fracas, irrespective of placement and status. Already, Vanguard was told that the Commissioner of Police, Rivers State, Mbu and some police officers attached to Governor Rotimi Amaechi have been invited by the panel to answer questions regarding the roles they played in the melee.

The high powered panel is to “scrupulously investigate all the circumstances surrounding the on-going impasse in the State particularly, as it relates to the actions and omissions of Police personnel that were physically on ground during the unfortunate fracas that occurred at the hallowed Chambers of the Rivers State House of Assembly”.

A statement signed by CSP Frank Mba, Force spokesman on the development said: “The Police High Command uses this medium and opportunity to remind the citizens of the state, irrespective of their ideological leaning, of the need to play by the rules. While the Force continues to do everything within its constitutional powers and means to provide a safe, impartial and conducive atmosphere for legitimate social, political and economic activities to thrive in the State, the IG warned that the Police will not tolerate any form of lawlessness or acts amounting to threats to public safety and public order.”

It continued: “The IGP strongly advises citizens to seek civilized and decent means of resolving their differences, devoid of all forms of violence and confrontation.”

“He reminds the good people of Rivers State that the peace of the state is paramount to the well being and development of the state and that the Police Force needs the maximum co-operation and understanding of the people to optimally discharge its statutory responsibilities”.

Reiterating that “the success of our democracy depends on our collective efforts and contributions”, the IG noted that “we must as a people; manage our differences to the advantage of our growing democracy for the good of all.”

The IG then reassured the good people of Rivers State and the general public of “the readiness of the Force to at all times ensure the security of the State and implored the citizens not to further heat-up the polity through hateful, inflammatory and unguarded statements/actions but to consciously work towards the enthronement of peace within the State.

“Meanwhile, citizens are advised to continue to go about their legitimate businesses without fear of intimidation from any quarter”, the statement said.

Moreso, the Nigerian Army, yesterday, denied any relationship between the withdrawal of 35 soldiers deployed to Government House in Port Harcourt and the political impasse between Governor Amaechi and a faction of the PDP said to be loyal to Minister of State for Education, Nyesom Nwike.

An Army General told Vanguard that the Army personnel in question are under the command of the Joint Task Force for Niger Delta, code-named ‘Operation Pulo Shield,’ adding that the JTF routinely carries out rotation of its troops which may have necessitated the recall of the soldiers.

“If that is the case, there should be replacements in the not too distant future, however, it should be noted that the military do not deploy soldiers to guard governors. No governor has troops deployed to guard him. Rather in areas where Joint Task Forces are deployed due to peculiar security challenges, soldiers are deployed to ensure peace and security for the people of that state or environment and not to protect individuals. The only exception to that rule is the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, which is being protected by the elite Brigade of Guards,” he said.

Contacted on the issue, Director of Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Ibrahim Attahiru said he was not aware that the Army headquarters ordered the withdrawal of soldiers guarding the governor as such development was not known to the army.

National interest more important, says Jonathan

In his reaction to the developments in Rivers State, articulated by Dr. Reuben Abati, Special Adviser to the President on Media, the presidency said:

“President Jonathan urges members of the Rivers State House of Assembly  and all other political gladiators in the state to put the interests of the state and the nation above their personal egos and ambitions that seem to have gotten in the way of their expected commitment to uphold the principles of democracy and good governance.

“The President calls on all those who were remotely or directly involved in heightening political tension in Rivers State to put an immediate end  to their actions which are capable of plunging Rivers State into public disorder and strive to settle their political differences without further recourse to barbaric acts of violence.”

“President Jonathan expects all members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Rivers State, irrespective of their current affiliations or loyalties, to comport themselves with greater restraint while efforts continue to resolve existing differences and restore internal harmony to the state branch of the party.”

Disclaiming presidential involvement in the crisis, the statement continued:

”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.

“President Jonathan certainly did not instigate the crisis in the Rivers State House of Assembly and as President of the nation, he will never support any actions that negate his avowed commitment to the rule of law. The President will also never violate his oath of office to always defend the Nigerian Constitution.”

House factions stick to their guns

Meanwhile the leaders of the two factions in the State House of Assembly  stuck to their positions last night, with Evans Bipi, leader of the five-member faction insisting he had taken over from Hon. Otelemaba Amachree, leader of the faction of 27 members. There were no indications that either of the factions would convene a session.

Speaker Amachree said he would wait on the House of Representatives which on Wednesday voted that the National Assembly take over the legislative duties of the House of Assembly before taking further actions. Amachree who spoke through his media aide, Mr Jim Opiki said since a process had already been launched by the House of Representatives he would wait for the process to run its course before taking further action.

Majority leader of the House, Chidi Lloyd was still hospitalized on account of the fracas last Wednesday and said he was not in a position to talk yesterday.

On his part, Hon Bipi who leads four other members of the house insisted he is the Speaker of the House even as he said the House of Representatives should first look at the cause of the crisis rocking the House of Assembly before talking about taking over the functions of the assembly.

He further appealed to the House of Representatives to convene a joint session of the two chambers of the National Assembly to properly look at the root cause of the crisis rocking the state assembly with a view to resolving them.  On when he would convene a sitting, he said he would get back to Vanguard when he is ready.

“I am the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly. I was duly elected. During my acceptance speech I raised some fundamental issues that the House of Representatives should look into. They should look at the cause of the problem. I also called on the EFFC to investigate the House. These things should be done,” said.

In a related development, Rivers state local government legislators’ forum has passed a vote of no confidence on the state Police Commissioner, Mr Mbu Joseph, calling for his redeployment from the state. A statement signed by Lawrence Wagbara for the group further condemned the action of five lawmakers of the House on Tuesday who alleged to have impeached the speaker of the house.

Progressive govs condemn crisis

TheProgressive Governors’ Forum, PGF, comprising governors in the opposition political parties in the country, has expressed concern over the crisis rocking the Rivers State House of Assembly.

PGF in a statement, said: “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 direct assault on Nigeria’s democracy.

“These developments are not only worrisome but outrightly condemnable as an affront on the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“PGF 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, July 9 and 10 respectively, indicated that the Rivers State Police Commissioner, Mr. Joseph Mbu and his men did not act in a professional manner. Before now, the state Police Commissioner has exhibited very clear bias against the governor and other state officials. This is a dangerous development that would only produce anarchy with unpredictable consequences.

“Events of July 9 and 10 in Rivers State represent acts sponsored by anarchists whose interest include subverting our democracy and expose the lives of democratically elected representatives to great danger.

As it is today, the orderly conduct of democratic institutions in Rivers State have been impaired and the life of Governor Amaechi and his team are in great danger.

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