11 July 2013

Nigeria: Port Harcourt in Chaos As Party, Assembly Crisis Worsens

From the hallowed chambers of the Rivers State House of Assembly, the brawling occasioned by the power tussle in the state chapter of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) moved Wednesday to the streets of Port Harcourt, the state capital.

A day after lawmakers loyal to the state Governor, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, and those opposed to him clashed in the Assembly, injuring some legislators, supporters of the two rival groups took turns to settle their political differences with fisticuffs, leaving an unspecified number of people injured. Wednesday's clashes between the rival groups roused security agencies to seal off the Assembly complex to prevent a total breakdown of law and order in the state.

Later in the day, 26 out of the 32 members of the Assembly reaffirmed their loyalty to Amaechi and the Speaker, Hon. Otelemaba Amachree, whom the five anti-Amaechi lawmakers had claimed they had impeached on Tuesday.

The lawmakers disputed the claims by the rebel lawmakers who had claimed on Tuesday that they had removed Amachree and replaced him with Hon. Evans Bipialaka.

Bipialaka, who defended his 'election' Wednesday, accused Amaechi of stopping him from assuming duties.

Also, one of the injured lawmakers in the Tuesday fracas, Hon. Michael Chinda (Obio/Akpor Constituency II), who was badly battered in the fight in the chambers, has described the assembly's majority leader, Chidi Lloyd, who attacked him as brutish. The attack by Lloyd went viral on the internet Tuesday when it was posted on YouTube and other sites.

But while the ripples of Tuesday's clash between the lawmakers were yet to die down, the lawmakers, alongside their supporters, again converged on the assembly complex at about 7.30am Wednesday for a plenary session.

Unlike on Tuesday when the lawmakers, who had adjourned indefinitely since their last sitting in May, said they had reconvened to consider amendment to the state's 2013 budget, no reason was given for reconvening the assembly Wednesday.

The assembly had adjourned indefinitely on Tuesday following the fracas that broke out between the two rival groups.

Preparatory to reconvening again, the assembly had written to the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Joseph Mbu, requesting protection during the sitting.

But as the lawmakers assembled at the chambers, their supporters milled around Moscow Road and engaged in verbal abuse that degenerated into physical altercation.

The policemen at the assembly complex were unable to arrest the situation until men of the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) were called in at about 8.30am.

The JTF fired tear gas at the crowd to disperse the supporters and evacuated the assembly complex.

The police also cordoned off all the roads linking the assembly complex, paralysing business and other activities in the area.

A source told THISDAY that on getting information about the crowd of supporters around the complex, he had advised the lawmakers to shelve their proposed sitting to avoid bloodshed.

According to him, "For the interest of the people and peace, the governor advised that we call off the sitting. He said he would not want the blood of any person to be shed because of politics."

However, the supporters of the anti-Amaechi lawmakers regrouped in front of the General Post Office, Station Road, while the pro-Amaechi group gathered in front of the Government House.

Security was immediately beefed up around the Government House, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), state secretariat and adjoining areas.

But despite the heavy security presence, a fight broke out between the groups when the pro-Amaechi group pounced on a man wearing a T-shirt with the inscription, Grassroots Democratic Initiative (GDI), a youth organisation believed to be loyal to the Minister of State for Education, Chief Nyesom Wike, who was walking past the fountain at the Government House junction. Wike is the leader of the anti-Amaechi forces in the state.

Other members of GDI responded and a fight ensued.

Stones and bottles were hauled at one another, while in the melee, a gunshot was heard and another person wearing an Ikwerre Youth Movement (IYM) vest was hit on the chest.

It was not immediately clear if the shot was fired by the GDI supporters or by the security men who moved in to quell the situation.

Addressing journalists later, the Police Public Relations Officer, Angela Agabe, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), said the command received a letter from the assembly clerk informing the police that the lawmakers would sit, adding that the police had to disperse the crowd of supporters around the complex because they were a threat to peace.

She said: "There was a letter to us that the House of Assembly members will be sitting today. But this morning, there was a crowd of people around the whole place and it was about to cause a breach of the peace in the state. So we had to disperse them.

"And when we were dispersing them, they had to raise their hands for us to be sure that they were not carrying arms.

"For now, we are assuring the people of Rivers State that there is peace and people should go about their lawful duties."

On whether the police had sealed the assembly, Agabe said the complex had not been sealed.

"No. We have not locked the House of Assembly. The House of Assembly has a police post and the policemen are there. Other policemen are there too guarding the assembly. "They cannot refuse anybody entry into the premise except they suspect that you want to cause a breach of the peace," she explained.

But when THISDAY visited the Assembly complex, it was deserted and nobody was allowed into the complex.

A policeman at the gate said they had instruction not to allow anybody into the complex.

It was also learnt Wednesday that soldiers deployed to provide security for the governor at the Government House, Port Harcourt, have been withdrawn.

A source said that no reason was given for their recall.

However, against the backdrop of the claims and counter-claims over the leadership of the Assembly, 26 out the 32 lawmakers yesterday denied reports that the speaker had been removed from office.

A statement signed by the 26 lawmakers, including Amachree, said the claim by the five anti-Amaechi lawmakers that they had removed the speaker was wrong and misleading.

They said: "We state for the benefit of the public that no such situation existed on the floor of the House on the 9th of July, 2013. These are mere machinations of the five members desperate to do their masters' bidding.

"The purported claim by a member of the Assembly, Hon. Evans Bapakaye Bipi, to be the new speaker of the state Assembly is outright false and hallucinations of the most debased form.

"We urge members of the public and the press to disregard such claims."

They reiterated their support for Amachree as speaker as well as for Amaechi.

But while addressing journalists Wednesday, Bipialaka said: "I was duly elected yesterday (Tuesday) as Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly.

"I came in today (Wednesday) to resume normal duties as speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly only to meet Amaechi and his police people there.

"The police stopped me from going to my office to resume my own legislative duties. I was so embarrassed. All my loyalists and followers; sympathisers, those who are on the path of the truth were also embarrassed.

"We do not want Governor Amaechi any longer. Look at the police right in front of the Government House stopping me from resuming my legislative duties."

He, however, advised his supporters to be peaceful and law-abiding, saying he was in control of the situation.

Meanwhile, one of the lawmakers that was badly battered in the Tuesday fracas has described the assembly's leader as brutish.

Speaking from his hospital bed at St. Patrick's Hospital, Port Harcourt, Chinda said he was shocked that Lloyd, whom he was very close to, could attack harm.

Recounting the incident of Tuesday, Chinda said: "Yesterday (Tuesday), the Rivers State House of Assembly elected a new speaker, Hon. Evans Bipialaka, and the old Hon. Daniel Amachree was impeached and everything concerning the enthronement of the new speaker was concluded.

"We were about to leave the place when the governor broke into our chambers with thugs. Governor Rotimi Amaechi led a group of thugs, including the Government House police and some other security men. They came into the chamber and started beating everybody.

"I was about to leave. I never knew that Chidi Lloyd, we are very close in the House, could harm me. I was misled by my closeness to him. I never had any idea that he could be so brutal to use such a weapon on my head, with one policeman who also held my hand and jacket, to assist him to accomplish that task.

"My colleagues rushed me to this Saint Patrick's Hospital in a pool of my own blood and I have been here since yesterday (Tuesday)."

He dismissed claims that he was attacked because he had insulted the governor.

In a related development, Amaechi has appealed to politicians to desist from acts capable of distracting his administration and has called on them to support his government's efforts at developing the state.

Amaechi said this Wednesday while addressing youths from the 23 local government areas of the state who had paid him a solidarity visit.

Represented by his deputy, Mr. Tele Ikuru, the governor said: "What we will appeal is that every Rivers man and woman who loves this state should help the Rivers State Government put more projects on the ground and reduce the distraction.

"Since we came on board, our interest has been projects, projects, projects. These are projects that touch on the lives of our people."

In his speech, Amachree admonished the youths to be law abiding, stating that the assembly was in order and that five members could not impeach the speaker.

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