Is Fubara Now Calling the Shots in Rivers?

Blessing Ibunge writes about recent steps being taken by Governor Siminalayi Fubara to redirect governance in Rivers state and wonders if the governor is gradually settling down to deliver dividends of democracy to the citizenry.

With the current developments in the politics of Rivers state, one would believe that the ongoing misunderstanding between the Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nyesom Wike and his godson, Governor Siminalayi Fubara may not end any soon, following the attacks and counter attacks by their supporters who may be acting out their principals’ scripts.

The one believed to be calm and a novice in the game of politics in the state, Governor Fubara is now making many politicians to have sleepless nights. The governor on assumption of office in May 2023, was widely described as a man who was allegedly positioned in office to do the bidding of his predecessor, Wike.

But with the current game playing out, it seems Fubara has taken hold of his position as the leader of the state.

The relationship between Wike and Fubara was on a smooth sail until late last year, few months after he (Fubara) took oath of office. Reports had it that the reason for the fallout was not unconnected with a breach of agreement reached between the duo.

Just like Wike would  want his godson to be fully loyal to him, the governor, who at this period may have garnered friends and some experienced political advisers would also want to be independent in some of his decision making. At this point, some of the decisions may not favour some politicians in the state who may have contributed to making Fubara governor.

As at May 29, 2023, Rivers State House of Assembly had 32 members, all believed to be elected or re-elected through the support of  former governor Wike. This made the assembly members to declare their unflinching support for the FCT Minister, not minding that there is a new leadership in the state. They still believe that as a benefactor, even the governor should have some special reservations for his  predecessor who fought tooth and nail to make him governor, despite the strong fight by the opposition party that Fubara was not experienced enough and may not be able to independently handle the affairs of the state.

In the thick of the crisis in the state, one of the lawmakers died in office.

As the crisis deepens, 27 of the lawmakers led by the Speaker, Hon Martin Amaewhule expressed their full support to the FCT Minister, overlooking the position of governor Fubara as the current ‘Number One Man’ of the state. However, four lawmakers insisted that there is change in power and vowed to remain firm supporter of the incumbent governor. As things continued to unfold in the governance of the state, the disagreement between the godfather and his godson got out of hand resulting in several stakeholders including politicians, traditional leaders, statesmen, including President Tinubu trying to settle the differences among them.

Late in 2023, lawmakers who are loyal to the Minister of FCT, moved to impeach Governor Fubara, who at this point has assumed the power bestowed on him. To stop possible embarrassment, this led to the demolition of the hallow chambers of the State House of Assembly on Moscow Road in PortHarcourt last October. Although the governor claimed that the action was not done with malice but a process of rehabilitating the structure, which he claimed had lost standard.

The governor explained to Rivers people that his action was in favour of the lawmakers, after the complex was burnt by unknown gunmen. But this did not go down well with the lawmakers, who protested that the governor’s action on demolition of the building was targeted at them, so as to stop their move to impeach him. They relocated their sitting venue to the Assembly Quarters, along Aba Road, Port Harcourt.

At a point, the 27 lawmakers defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC), dumping the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), through which they had their mandate as elected lawmakers. 

While the pro-Wike lawmakers were having their sitting, the four lawmakers loyal to the governor assumed leadership of the Assembly, declared the seats of the aggrieved 27 lawmakers vacant, with defense that they defected from the PDP without any crisis in the party, citing Section 109 sub section 1(g) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of (as amended) as a legal backing to their action. The former leader of the House, Edison Ehie, was immediately elected the new Speaker of the House. Their sitting venue was relocated to the Government House by the Governor with an Order of court, pending the full renovation of the Assembly Complex.

Fubara’s Visit to Assembly Quarters and Aftermath

On May 9, 2024, Governor Fubara, had an unofficial visit to the State House of Assembly quarters. The governor explained that his visit to the residential quarters of the lawmakers was to undertake on-the-spot assessment of condition of the structures for a possible rehabilitation work to restore its status and make liveable.

The Governor who ensured he dismissed every suspicions that he was at the quarters to drive the pro-Wike lawmakers away said: “Is the Assembly quarters not part of my property? Is there anything wrong in going to check how things are going on there? You are aware of the developments. We have a new speaker, and I went there to see for my myself how things are. There might be a few things I might want to do there for the good of our people.”

Few hours later, a Rivers State High Court, granted an interim order asking Martin Amaewhule and 25 others to stop parading themselves as Rivers State House of Assembly members, pending the determination of the suit. The court also asked the state governor, Attorney General of the State, and Chief Judge to stop dealing with the lawmakers loyal to Wike. The matter filed by the newly sworn in Speaker, Victor Oko-Jumbo on May 10, 2024, was registered in Suit Number PHC/1512/CS/2024, before Justice Charles N. Wali.

Less than 24 hours after the governor’s visit to the assembly quarters, over 35 police personnel were deployed to the area, after Amaewhule-led Assembly members have written the Director General of Department of State Security, alleging that their lives are being threatened by the state governor. The state Police Command on a statement, however, clarified that the deployment of the policemen at the gates of the quarters was to prevent any possible breakdown of law and order.

On his part, the entranged Speaker, Amaewhule said  the governor is sliding into the position of a “law breaker”. According to him: “Our governor demolished the House of Assembly Complex and plans are underway from what we are seeing again, to demolish the Rivers State House of Assembly Quarters”.

He accused the governor of not having respect for rule of law and democracy, alleging that on daily basis, the governor carried out actions that are against democratic institutions.

His words: “If it’s not  against Rivers State House of Assembly, it is against Local Government chairmen. He has declared war on all elected people in Rivers State, so that only him will function as elected one while others would be on the run. We don’t know why the governor has resorted to this self-help.”

Reactions to latest development in Rivers 

Fubara appears to have fully taken over the mantle of leadership as Rivers governor.

Just recently, Local Government Council chairmen under the aegis of Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) in the state were lamenting that the governor has allegedly refused to release the LG councils allocation for April, 2024 and two months in some cases for some councils.

They alleged that the leadership of Governor Fubara, “has neglected, failed and deliberately refused to hold the statutory Joint Account Allocation Committee meeting (JAAC)”, which, according to them, is the prerequisite for the disbursement of funds due to the LGs in the State Joint Local Government Account.

During a media conference in Port Harcourt, the lawmakers led by their Chairman, and Mayor of Port Harcourt,  Mr Allwell Ihunda declared that on the expiration of their tenure on June 17, they will not leave office, but will continue for the next six months.

Also recently, Minister of FCT, during a thanksgiving ceremony at Ogu town in Ogu/Bolo LGA of Rivers state in honour of a federal lawmaker George Sekibo, apologised to Rivers people for choosing Governor Fubara as successor, saying he had not at anytime told anybody to worship him to aquire power.

Wike said “I have never told anybody to worship me. Nobody can worship man. All of us believe that we only have one God. And it is only that God we will worship. And will continue to worship that God. But, as politicians, we appreciate people who have helped us”.

The Minister noted that nobody can be completely free from mistakes, stressing “I have made a mistake. I own it up. And I ask God to forgive me. I have said all of you forgive me. But, we will correct it at the appropriate time. I am a human being. I am bound to make a mistake. My judgement can be wrong. So, forgive me for making a wrong judgement. That is life. So, nobody should kill himself.”

He also stated that he would rather focus on delivering projects enmarked to mark the one year in office of President Bola Tinubu, than be bothered on the intrigues that characterised the Rivers State politics.

On his part, a chieftain of APC, Eze Chukwuemeka Eze who cautioned that the State should not be plunged into an unprecedented crisis that may truncate the nascent democracy, said the lawmakers led by Amaewhule lost their seats the moment they defected to APC from PDP.

Eze recalled that “Wike campaigned against the defection of erstwhile Governors of Cross River State and that of Ebonyi, Dr. David Umahi and Cross River State lawmakers when they defected from PDP to APC and ensured that the legislators from Cross River State lost their seats”. He wondered “why Wike is now supporting the illegality taking place in Rivers State after the 27 legislators defected from PDP to APC”.

The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) has also expressed commitment and support to the Rivers State Governor, Siminalayi Fubara for his untiring move to liberate the State of all levels of detractors for developments. National President of IYC, Mr Jonathan Lokpobiri, who spoke during a solidarity walk to Government House in Port Harcourt, warned all detractors to retrace their steps, and allow the governor, who has the full mandate of the people, to discharge his duties to Rivers people.

Despite his return to the APC, the governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the 2023 general elections in Rivers state, Senator Magnus Abe, declared that he will not be uncharitable to Governor Siminalayi Fubara because he is with the Minister of FCT.

Abe argued that the embattled Assembly members cannot vacate their seats because they defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to APC, explaining that he and many others took same step as federal lawmakers and they didn’t vacate their seats until they left office.

As the crisis lingers, no fewer than nine members of Fubara’s cabinet have resigned their positions. Most recent were the five pro-Wike’s commissioners who resigned last week allegeding that they cannot continue to work in a toxic environment. They include, Jacobson Nbina, (Transport), Inime Aguma (Social Welfare and Rehabilitation), Gift Worlu (Housing), Prof Chinedu Mmom (Education) and Austen Ben-Chioma (Environment).

However, with the current declaration by the governor to set up a judicial panel of inquiry to investigate the affairs of governance, how it was being conducted in the State before he assumed office, is a prove that Governor Fubara is ready to protect his seat no matter who may be offended in the process.

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