Rivers plans parallel secretariats as police bar Fubara caretaker chairmen

By Dennis Naku

Rivers State Governor, Siminalayi Fubara, has said 23 local government councils in the state will operate from alternative secretariats following Tuesday’s sealing of the councils by the police.

The governor, who said this after swearing in the 23 local government caretaker committee chairmen on Wednesday in Port Harcourt, the state capital, said they could operate from anywhere.

Fubara stated this as the police barred the newly inaugurated caretaker chairmen from from accessing their offices in all the 23 LG headquarters. The secretariats were barricaded with police patrol vans manned by armed policemen.

The state police command had on Tuesday announced that it had taken over all the LG council headquarters to forestall further bloodshed and to prevent a breakdown of law and order.”

A policeman and a member of a local security outfit were killed during a clash between supporters of the governor and his predecessor, the Federal Capital Territory Minister, Nyesom Wike at Eberi-Omuma in the Omuma Local Government Area of the state on Tuesday.

Fubara and his predecessor have been embroiled in a bitter disagreement since late last year.

The crisis led to the bombing of the state House of Assembly last year, factionalised the House while the governor survived an impeachment by Martin Amaewhule led 27 lawmakers of the House loyal to the FCT minister.

The crisis worsened on Tuesday when youths loyal to the governor dislodged some chairmen loyal to Wike after the expiration of their tenure.

The three-year tenure of the 23 chairmen expired on Monday but they had vowed to remain in office, citing the Local Government Amendment Law 2024 made by the Martin Amaewhule-led House of Assembly.

The law by the 27 lawmakers loyal to the Minister of the Federal Capital Wike, empowers them to remain in office for six months due to the failure of Fubara to conduct local government elections.

Caretaker chairmen

The governor after swearing in the newly appointed caretaker committee chairmen in the Government House on Wednesday, charged them to eschew violence, maintain the peace, and be guided by the Constitution.

 Fubara also directed the Auditor-General of Local Governments to commence an immediate audit of the accounts of the 23 councils, adding the new appointees could operate from anywhere

He said that the swearing-in of the chairmen would ensure seamless administration of local governments following the expiration of the tenure of elected chairmen and councillors in the state.

He warned them against any form of confrontation, insisting that such was not in his nature and style but advised them to be law-abiding as they take full control of the local government councils.

He said, “Whatever happened yesterday (Tuesday), I know and the world knows that it is not from you people. Some people caused it. So, let us not allow them to continue to make our state look bad in the comity of states.

“So, when you go back, if there is any situation, you should be law-abiding. I don’t want any confrontation. You can operate from anywhere for now. But the most important thing is that you have the control of the local governments today.”

Fubara defends appointments

Defending the appointment of the caretaker chairmen, he stated,  “What is happening here now is a defence of democracy. We will not allow the wrong precedent to be created in this country.

“It is not about Rivers State. It is not about Fubara. But if in any way this attempt at tenure elongation succeeds in Rivers State, it becomes a norm in Nigeria.

“So, we have taken it upon ourselves to say, not on our watch will it happen because it is completely alien to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

 Fubara wondered why the tenure of elected officers would expire, and they would want to perpetuate themselves in office against their oath of office and the provisions of the Constitution of Nigeria.

The governor said such insistence to elongate the tenure of council chairmen would not happen in the state.

He pointed to the importance of knowing how the finances of the 23 Local Government Councils were managed in the last three years and directed the Auditor-General of Local Governments to begin auditing the accounts and make the report available within the next month.

He urged the new chairmen to ensure payment of the outstanding financial benefits and entitlements, including salaries of the immediate past chairmen, vice-chairmen and councillors.

He added, “I am not of the class to say that because something happened, you should maltreat them. No. Whatever is their entitlements, ensure that they get them.”

Fubara instructed the caretaker chairmen to work hard to ensure that there was no breakdown of law and order in their various council areas.

He added, “Please, I want to appeal to you that when you go back, I don’t want a crisis. Just manage the situation as much as you can. God does not start and end halfway. That is the truth. Since God has started with us, He will complete His work in our lives.

“I don’t want any fight. I don’t want any life to be lost because it does not earn me anything. We know that we can overcome, and we have been overcoming.”

Reiterating that the  caretaker chairmen would soon leave office, he said, “Let me also sound very clear here that your tenures are not going to be too long because as  a matter of fact before the end of today or tomorrow, there should be a process for the commencement of elective local government chairmen in our  dear state.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the Victor Oko-Jumbo-led State House of Assembly loyal to the governor had during plenary screened and confirmed the nominees,

 The list of seven-member nominees per local government council was forwarded to the Assembly under Section 9 (5) of the Rivers State Local Government Law No. 5 of 2018, for screening and confirmation.

Secretariats shut

One of our correspondents who went round the state reported that the LG secretariats of Port Harcourt City, Obio/Akpor, Ogu/Bolo and Ikwerre and other council headquarters across the state were under lock and key with police patrol vans stationed and fierce-looking operatives.

The caretaker  Chairman of the Ikwerre LGA, Dr Darlington Orji, said he was not able to access the council following the barricade mounted by the police. He, however, said he had assumed duties and could control the council affairs from anywhere.

Orji stated, “The police have taken over the place. When the police have taken over the place, what do you expect me to do?”

When asked if had started work, he responded in the affirmative.

Also, the caretaker  Chairman of the Ogu/Bolo LGA, Evans Bipi, who could not access the secretariat,  inaugurated other committee members outside the council secretariat and charged them to serve with diligence and honesty.

He said although the council was shut, he had assumed duties.

One of our correspondents observed on Wednesday that the Federal High Court along Azikiwe Road and the State Judiciary complex housing the State High Court were locked, although no reason was been given, but it might be due  the tension in the state.

Speaking to the correspondent on the development, the state Commissioner for Police, Olatunji Disu, said the LG council headquarters would remain shut for the time being due to the clash between the feuding parties.

Disu stated, “It is because two groups are fighting over something. Two groups are fighting over it. The other group is waiting to tackle them. We have to prevent them from clashing and killing one another like they did yesterday (Tuesday) and killed a policeman and one other person.

“So we have to prevent them from going in. We have locked up the local government secretariats. If we allow them (caretaker chairmen) to go in, other people will come out and clash. Then people will ask what are we doing as police officers?

“We are here to prevent a breakdown of law and to protect lives and property. So we know definitely if there is a clash, anything can happen. So we are doing our jobs of protection of lives and property.”

On why local government workers were not allowed into their offices, he said, “For the time being nobody should come in. If we allow local government workers to come in, others will sneak in. So it will still boil down to the same thing. How do we sit and those who are not workers sneak in?

“So it is better we lock up the place and ensure that there is peace. And that is exactly what we are doing.”

State of emergency

Meanwhile, the All Progressives Congress in the state has called on the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency in the state, saying the governor and the police are helpless over what it termed ‘war in the state.’

The state APC Caretaker Committee Chairman, Chief Tony Okocha, while briefing newsmen at the party’s secretariat in Port Harcourt on Wednesday, said, “I have been informed that the federal and state high courts cannot sit because of palpable fear. Young men are brandishing all manner of guns, so we are in trouble in the state. We are in a state of war.

“It is because the governor is un-teachable and he does not listen to counsel, even the counsel of the President. The APC in Rivers State is asking and demanding a state of emergency. That is the way it is so that you and I will live in peace. I say so because it will be too late to cry when the head is cut off.

“The Federal Government should do what it should do to ensure that this state of anarchy we are heading to, does not degenerate for us to be seeing fire everywhere.”

 Noting the importance of the state in terms of the economy of Nigeria, he said the country would be in trouble if there was anarchy in the state.

But in a swift reaction, the state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Joseph Johnson, faulted the APC’s call for emergency rule, saying Okocha’s comments were not worth responding to.

Johnson stated, “On Tony Okocha I don’t think that what Okocha said is worth giving any attention. We should not break our heads over what Tony Okocha said.

“The other time he said there was a cholera outbreak.  When the medical personnel visited the place they said there was nothing like that. Another day he (Okocha) said he was welcoming members of the House of Assembly who defeated the APC. What is the position today?

“He also said that he was going to ask the members of the House of Assembly to commence impeachment of the governor, what is the position today?”

On the police refusal to allow the CTC chairmen access to their various councils, the commissioner said,” I am not in a position to speak for the caretaker committee chairmen.

“I am the Commissioner for Information in Rivers State and I can only speak for the state government. The caretaker committee chairmen are in a better position to speak on the matter by themselves.”

But the Deputy National Organising Secretary of the APC, Nze Chidi Duru, faulted the call by the state chapter that President Bola Tinubu should declare a state of emergency in the state.

Duru, in an interview with The PUNCH on Wednesday, explained that there was no justifiable reason to drag the President into the crisis.

According to him, the matter is still within the purview of the law enforcement agents.

He said, “This is my personal view. This is something that lies within the purview of the law enforcement agents and Mr President cannot be dragged into matters such as this. Truly, we are in a democracy. What underpins democracy essentially is the rule of law, procedure and obedience to the relevant orders of the court

“So, Mr President cannot be dragged into isolated issues or issues that have to do with the functionalities of states such as this. That is my view.”

Meanwhile, the Inspector General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, has ordered a thorough investigation into the killing of the police officer and a vigilante operative in the state.

He also directed the probe of the general violence which erupted in the state.

During a clash between supporters of Fubara and Wike on Tuesday, in Port Harcourt, a policeman and a vigilante were killed.

The Force Spokesperson, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, in a statement on Wednesday, said the IG directed the Rivers Commissioner of Police, Olatunji Disu, to heighten security measures across the state.

The statement reads, “The Inspector General of Police, Kayode Adeolu Egbetokun, condemns in the strongest terms the recent outbreak of violence and subsequent breakdown of law and order at various local government council secretariats in Rivers State, where supporters of two political factions clashed over the tenure of local government council chairmen, which unfortunately led to the tragic deaths of a Police Officer – Inspector David Mgbada, and Samuel Nwigwe, a vigilante member at Eberi-Omuma in the  Omuma Local Government Area.

“In response to these heinous acts, the IGP has directed the Commissioner of Police in Rivers State, CP Olatunji Disu, to heighten security measures across the state and institute thorough investigations into the killing of the police officer and the vigilante operative, as well as the general violence which erupted in the state.”

Adejobi said Egbetokun also deployed operatives of the Force Intelligence Response Team to assist the Rivers State Command in apprehending the killers of the police officer and the vigilante member.

“The IGP has specifically deployed operatives of the Force Intelligence Response Team (IRT) to assist the Rivers State Command in apprehending the killers of the police officer and the vigilante member.

“The IGP seriously warns individuals and groups of people who have a penchant for senseless attacks and mindless killings of police officers and other security operatives across the country to desist forthwith as the fullest force of the law will be meted on them.”

In a related development,  the Peoples Democratic Party  has alleged that there is a plot by the APC   to take over the state, saying the plot has failed.

The  PDP National Publicity Secretary Debo Ologunagba, while responding to a call for a state emergency by the Rivers State APC, called on the Federal Government and the APC’s national leadership to immediately intervene and advise Okocha (the state APC chairman) to cease his actions as they posed a threat to democracy and stability in Nigeria.

The statement read in part “The attention of the Peoples Democratic Party  has been drawn to yet another hallucinating press conference by the Rivers State Caretaker Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Tony Okocha wherein he again fantasized that the will of the people of Rivers State as expressed in the governorship election which produced Governor Siminalayi Fubara can be upturned by the imagination of the APC.

“This reckless outburst by Tony Okocha further exposes the sinister plot by the APC in Rivers State which has been seeking ways to instigate crisis, forcefully overthrow a democratic order and impose an anti-democratic regime in Rivers State in clear violation of Section 1 sub-section 2 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).

“The use of the word ‘war’ by Mr Okocha in his statement clearly shows an evil intention which has been firmly resisted and will continue to be resisted by the people of Rivers State.

“The APC in Rivers State should note that its malevolent scheme to instigate crisis and forcefully take over the state has failed. Rivers State is a stronghold of the PDP and the people are solidly behind the Government of the PDP in the state.”

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