The Senate, last week, concurred with the House of Representatives when it passed a resolution taking over the functions of crisis-torn Rivers State House of Assembly. Omololu Ogunmade examines some of the issues that heralded the decision and its consequences
The fowl finally came home to roost last week when the Senate announced its decision to take over the functions of the Rivers State House of Assembly. The move lent credence to the earlier resolution of the House of Representatives to legislate for the troubled assembly until the protracted crisis rocking the state is fully resolved.
Given this move, the National Assembly made history, being the first time a federal legislature would invoke a constitutional provision to take over the functions of a state legislative house on account of crisis. Although, the Ogun State House of Assembly passed through similar travails if not worse during the days of former governor Gbenga Daniel and even took the protest to the National Assembly, the federal legislature still did not take over the assembly.
However, by the decision to concur with the House of Representatives to take over the Rivers Assembly, the Senate said it was acting on Section 11(4) of the constitution which empowers the National Assembly to make laws for peace, order and good governance of any state whose legislature is unable to discharge its functions as a result of unusual episodes.
Specifically, the section says: “At any time when any House of Assembly of a state is unable to perform its functions by reason of the situation prevailing in that state, the National Assembly may make such laws for peace, order and good government of that state with respect to matters on which a House of Assembly may make laws as may appear to the National Assembly to be necessary or expedient until such time as the House of Assembly is able to resume its functions; and any such laws enacted by the National Assembly pursuant to this section shall have the effect as if they were laws enacted by the House of Assembly of the state.”
Thus, following Senate’s concurrence with House of Representatives which had on July 10, passed a resolution which sought to take over the functions of the state legislature, what seemed to be a mere imagination has now become a reality as the National Assembly will henceforth assume the full responsibility of the state legislature.
Rivers State has for almost one year, been embroiled in crisis of confidence which snowballed into fracas on July 9 when five of the 32 members of the state House of Assembly who are opposed to Governor Rotimi Amaechi moved to impeach the Speaker, Hon. Otelemaba Amachree and subsequently, the governor.
It is believed that the anti-Amaechi forces had hoped that once they could get rid of the speaker, the coast would be clear to oust the governor. The legality of their action would be relative which time the presidency which is believed to be behind it would have withdrawn the security of the governor and sent him back to court where he would have been seeking justice.
As a result, the Senate resolution last Thursday followed the adoption of the recommendations of the committee on state and local government which investigated the crisis in Rivers State following the July 9 fracas.
The parliament also asked the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, to as a matter of urgency, redeploy the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Joseph Mbu, as a result of irreconcilable differences between him and Amaechi.
The chamber also asked the Senate President, Senator David Mark, to mediate in the crisis with a view to ensuring amicable resolution of it. It also asked the three senators from the state to liaise with all warring factions with a view to resolving the crisis which it said had grave implications for our democracy.
But worthy of note is one of the committee's findings that the protracted crisis stemmed from alleged mishandling of certain situations by Amaechi but aggravated and blown out of control by the overt interference of both President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Patience.
Although the Senate committee did all within its disposal not to indict anyone, yet it found it inexplicable to completely exonerate the president and his wife even though it failed to elaborately define its understanding of the interference. This discovery by the committee only fulfilled the suspicions of many that the president's family knows about the festering crisis in Rivers.
In view of this, the president and his wife are perceived not to be playing their roles well as both the father and the mother of the nation who should be troubleshooters instead of being alleged troublemakers.
On the other hand, tracing the origin of the crisis to what the senators described as Amaechi's attempts to portray himself as the architect of his own misfortune.
Besides, the committee said it found out that the crisis was fuelled by the insistence of Amaechi to run for a second term as the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF). It added that the governor's move pitted him against both against his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Presidency.
This committee's finding, however, looks incontrovertible as the president had unilaterally set up PDP Governors' Forum in his move to neutralise Amaechi's grip of NGF which until it was polarised into two on May 24 following Amaechi's re-election, was a vibrant platform which had put the presidency on its toes.
The committee did not also overlook the judgment of an Abuja High Court which dissolved the Rivers State PDP executive committee led by Chief Godswill Ake and ordered Ake’s replacement with Felix Obuah, saying the court was believed to lack somewhat, the jurisdiction to handle the case.
Another factor identified by the committee was the suspension of the chairman of Obio/Akpor Local Government Area on April 22, 2013 by the House of Assembly. This, it said, provoked anger in supporters of the suspended members of the council executive as well as the Minister of State for Education, Nyeson Wike, who was believed to have the back of the chairman.
Yet it didn't fail to recommend that Mbu should comply with the subsisting court order directing the police to vacate Obio/Akpor Local Government secretariat to enable workers resume work until that order is set aside by another court of competent jurisdiction.
The senators did not also mince words to advocate the prosecution of Chidi Llyod, the assembly's Majority Leader and others involved in the brutality of Michael Chinda and some other members. It also called for the investigation and possible prosecution of another member, Evans Bipi, who allegedly brought armed thugs that assaulted the speaker and some other members.
However, by National Assembly’s decision, certain issues came to the fore. First, it may be unsavoury for the governor, who might have to be running from Port Harcourt to Abuja as often as it is required, to seek National Assembly's intervention in his state.
Second, it is extra burden for the National Assembly which till date has a heap of legislative activities on its shoulder without knowing how to exhaust it. The Senate for instance, has volumes of bills at its disposal, many of which will be abandoned at the end of the seventh assembly for want of time.
Besides, every legislative day, the Senate has to defer a number of its legislative proposals as contained on its Order Paper till another day. For instance, barely four months to the end of the year, the Senate is yet to pass the 2013 Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) budget.
Most importantly and particularly niggling is that the report turned out a major indictment on the institution of the presidency and the First Family, which at the risk of critical national and international concerns not only meddled in local and extraneous politics but aggravated it to such an extent that the entire country was put at grave risk.
What this extra burden therefore implies is that government activities at both the national level and Rivers State will definitely slow down just as many believed that the federal legislature was hasty in its decision to take over Rivers Assembly job. But the National Assembly is also right when it said it had a duty to defend the constitution by saving Rivers from degenerating into a theatre of war.
However, a school of thought disagreed, alleging that the National Assembly looked the other way when Ogun State House of Assembly was shut down for over a year during the Daniel administration.
Side-by-side with this is a school believed that the decision is a great relief for the polity in general and Amaechi in particular, who was everyday haunted by threats of impeachment by his traducers whose mission is to bring him to his knees at all cost.
Nonetheless, all wait to see how the National Assembly will demonstrate its super strength to legislate for two governments.