Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
The police in Rivers State yesterday averted what might have turned out to be a major clash between the members and supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) ahead of the December 10 rescheduled rerun election in the state.
Supporters of the APC staged a peaceful protest demanding the swearing-in of two lawmakers elected on the party’s platform into the State House of Assembly.
The two lawmakers are Hon. Victoria Nyeche representing Port Harcourt 1 constituency and Hon. Andrew Miller, representing Opobo/Nkoro Constituency.
The APC protesters, who marched from the party’s secretariat, along Forces Avenue, Old GRA, Port Harcourt to major streets, with placards that read ‘Rivers State House of Assembly must obey court order’, ‘Wike, allow rule of law to prevail’, among others, were however prevented by policemen who took over strategic government buildings in the state, especially, the Government House, the State House of Assembly complex and the State High Court complex, from going beyond the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) area of Port Harcourt in order to avoid clashes with PDP supporters.
THISDAY gathered that while the APC supporters had converged on the party secretariat in preparation for the protest, a senior police officer had gone there to prevail on the leadership of the party to shelve their plan to march to the State House of Assembly premises but terminate at the CBN area.
However, the message was not passed on to the supporters who got restive when they were ordered to stop at the CBN junction. They subsequently gathered at the entrance of Government House, dancing and chanting anti-Governor Nyesom Wike songs.
However, while the APC supporters were marching through the CBN area, supporters of the PDP were also marching to the state House of Assembly premises where they said they were to pay a solidarity visit to the assembly Speaker, Rt. Hon. Dabatorudima Adams.
While the police, led by Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of Operations, Mr. Steven Hasso, initially provided cover for the PDP supporters, things went awry when the police shot one of the PDP members on his foot and injured several others at the Moscow Road Roundabout near the state House of Assembly.
The police also physically assaulted the cameraman of Channels Television, Ekikere Udom. Policemen used their guns to batter the Channels Television cameraman, dispossessing him of his mobile telephones and other valuables.
Udom was later rushed to Government House clinic where he received treatment and was discharged several hours later
Speaking to journalists later, Secretary of APC in the state, Chief Emeka Bekee, said they did not take their protest to the state House of Assembly complex as initially planned because of the planned visit of Wike to the assembly.
Bekee said: “Two of our members were elected to serve in the state House of Assembly and today, they don’t want to swear them in. Even if it is one person, he should be a minority voice in the assembly. Give our members, Victoria Nyeche and Andrew Miller, the opportunity to sit in the assembly chamber. That is what we are asking for.
“The governor had fixed a programme in the House of Assembly and because APC is a law-abiding party that has the fear of God, we want to give them the benefit of doubt. But subsequent times, we will not accept that. Whatever they want to happen, will happen; we will not take it anymore.”
Speaking to journalists also, Publicity Secretary of PDP in the state, Hon. Samuel Nwanosike, denied claims by the police that supporters of the party were out to counter the protest by members of the opposition APC, insisting that they had mobilised to pay a solidarity visit to the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Dabatorudima Adams.
Nwanosike said: “As PDP members, we wrote the state chairman and told him that we were going to pay a solidarity visit to the Speaker of the assembly, who incidentally is a youth. It is on record that this is the first time a youth is running the affairs of the Rivers State House of Assembly.
“So, we chose today, November 17, 2016, to visit the speaker. Funny enough, on our way to the House of Assembly, we saw fierce looking policemen who attacked us with live ammunition, and teargas. As I am talking to you, a few of our members are in the hospital right now with life threatening injuries. One is at Saint Patrick’s Hospital, another one is at Riverside Hospital and I don’t know the hospital they took others to.”
He also said: “If they (APC members) think that they can do what they did in Edo State here in Rivers State, they are making a mistake. They will be duly resisted.”
Addressing the PDP supporters, Speaker of the of the assembly, Adams, thanked the PDP members for refusing to take the law into their hands despite the provocation by the police who shot at them.
The Speaker said: “I thank you that despite the provocation of the police, you didn’t take the laws into your hands. The Commissioner of Police can take the message to those that sent them.”
He noted that the police must realise that the Rivers people have the capacity to match them, especially with their deliberate intention to create havoc in the state.
He commended Governor Wike for his commitment to peace and security, adding that the pro-people programmes of the governor had endeared him to the people. The speaker said the state assembly would continue to support the governor’s development programme.
A release from Government House signed by the Special Assistant to the Governor on Electronic Media, Simeon Nwakaudu, however alleged that the Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of Operations, Mr. Steven Hasso, led armed APC thugs to attack the Government House, Port Harcourt.
He alleged that at the front of the Government House in Port Harcourt, ACP Hasso and his operatives also physically assaulted the Chief Security Officer of Government House.
“They shot repeatedly into the air, as the Government House security prevented them from gaining entrance.
“Hasso, the Rivers State Police Command Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of Operations, kept on shouting, saying ‘these APC supporters must meet Wike in Government House since they cannot go to the state House of Assembly’,” the speaker alleged.
Hasso also allegedly backed the APC protesters with 20 Hilux Vans, while DSS operatives in four Hilux vans were in their company.
The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Nnamdi Omoni (DSP), did not take his calls when THISDAY tried to get the police angle of the allegations.