11 July 2015

Nigeria: Rivers - Police Seal Council Offices, Bar New Caretaker Committee Chairmen

The police in Rivers State Friday sealed off all local government secretariats in the 23 local government councils in the state. The action, THISDAY gathered, was on the orders of the Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, received by the state Police Commissioner, Chris Ezike, at about 11.30pm Thursday night.

This came a few hours after the state Governor, Nyesom Wike, had sworn in caretaker committee chairmen of 22 out of the 23 councils by 8pm after a Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt on Thursday morning annulled the May 23 local government polls in the state.

When THISDAY visited the Port Harcourt City Council yesterday at about 11am, about 10 police operational vehicles with armed policemen were strategically positioned around the complex along Moscow Road. The gates were firmly closed while no one was allowed into the premises.

Although polite, the policemen were firm in not allowing anybody into the complex. They also were not ready to state their mission in the premises.

The armed policemen who were polite when accosted simply said they were on official duty and are not expected to disclose their mission to anyone who is not directly connected to offering security services to Nigerians.

When contacted for comments on the presence of armed policemen at the entrance of the local council secretariat, the Police Public Relations Officer, Ahmad Muhammad (DSP), simply responded through a terse text statement that, "It's for protection of life and property."

Earlier in the day, supporters of the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party were said to have clashed in front of Emohua Local Government Council secretariat.

Supporters of the APC whose chairmen had been sacked by the ruling of the federal court insisted that they would not vacate the premises of the council for the newly sworn-in PDP caretaker committee chairman.

Sources said the verbal exchanges soon degenerated into use of guns and other dangerous weapons until the police intervened and dispersed the warring parties.

Reacting to the development, Governor Nyesom Wike, described the action of the police as provocative and a temptation which he said the people of the state would overcome.

Wike spoke at the swearing in ceremony of chairmen and members of the Rivers State Judicial Service Commission (RSJSC) and the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission (RSIEC). He said: "Yesterday, we inaugurated the caretaker chairmen. The (Federal High) court dissolved the local governments. The court said the election was illegal and nullified the election.

"But, you can see what is happening in the country today and that is the change everybody is talking about. The change the Nigerians expect is what we are seeing this morning. We woke up this morning and the police have taken over all the council secretariats. They said that is the directive of the Inspector-General of Police. They said nobody should enter the councils."

He said he was very cautious in his actions and refused to dissolve the councils even when other state governors were doing that in their states.

"I knew this will happen that was why I didn't dissolve the councils. Plateau State government dissolved local government councils and nothing happened. Now, the court has nullified the election and Police said they would not obey court order. If I had dissolved the councils then, there would have been an excuse. So, that is the change Nigeria is expecting, and we have seen the change," he lamented.

He however pleaded with the people of the state to be patient as he was sure to surmount the challenges.

"We only plead with Rivers people to be patient and not to take the laws into their hands. This is a temptation and obviously, we will overcome it. They expected me to dissolve councils since but I said I will not do that; I am going to follow due process. These are the kinds of things you are expected to face; intimidations and all kinds of things," he said.

Meanwhile, Rivers state Government has said it is worried by the spate of misinformation going on about the judgment of the Federal High Court which nullified the May 23 Council election in the state.

Addressing journalists in Port Harcourt yesterday, the State Attorney General, Mr. Chinwe Aguma, said he believed the police was misinformed about the judgment of the Federal High Court. About the case, he clarified: "The Peoples Democratic Party was the plaintiff; the defendants were the Independent National Electoral Commission, the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission, the Governor of Rivers State, the Police and the Department of State Security. The All Progressives Congress was never a party to that suit.

"That suit was filed when Governor Amaechi was still the governor of Rivers State. The suit was filed to prevent INEC, the first defendant from releasing the Voters' Register to the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission because PDP at the time believed the 30 days' notice given by RSIEC for the conduct of the election was illegal.

PDP applied for an ex-parte order of injunction restraining INEC from releasing the register. The court in its wisdom decided not to grant the order but directed that the defendants in that case be put on notice.

"The government of Rivers State at the time, the Governor and RSIEC decided to appeal that order. The purportedly appealed the order and dropped what they called a notice of appeal on appeal before the Federal High Court. The judge in the matter, having seen that the appeal was allegedly entered did adjourn the matter sine dine, but made a preservative order that none of the parties should do anything to foist on either the Court of Appeal or the Federal High Court a fait accompli.

"Any lawyer will understand clearly that what the Court was saying was that no party should do anything depending the outcome first on the alleged appeal and secondly, on the case in the High Court.

In spite of this order, the government of Rivers State and the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission proceeded to conduct the elections on May 23, 2015."

PDP accuses police of double standard... The national leadership of the PDP has demanded for the immediate unsealing of local councils in Rivers State by the Police. PDP described as unconstitutional, reprehensible abuse of power and brazen show of partisanship, the action of the APC-led federal government controlled police in barring caretaker committees lawfully appointed by the state government from taking charge of the councils.

The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh in a statement yesterday said the action of the police is an affront to the ruling of the High Court, which Thursday dissolved the 22 local government councils unlawfully imposed by the immediate past administration in the state, upon which the caretaker committees were appointed by Wike.

The party said "it was curious that the police allowed the dissolution of local government councils and appointment of caretaker committees in APC controlled Plateau and Kaduna states, even when they were without the orders of the court but elected to clamp down on that of Rivers State, which came as a result of judicial pronouncement."

It asked the Inspector General of Police to come out clean on the matter and assure the nation of the non-partisanship of the police by ordering the immediate unsealing of the councils.

The party said Nigerians and the international community should note the development, which "is a yet another clear indication that the Nigerian police may have become a partisan and compromised instrument in the hands of the APC federal government to destabilize PDP controlled states, particularly Rivers State.

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