Rivers Crisis: Police Announce Takeover of 23 Council Secretariats, Critical Govt Infrastructure

•One cop, local security guard killed  

•Recalcitrant chairmen scamper for safety as youths pull down Wike’s effigy 

•Fubara vows to resist supporters’ arrest, directs admin heads to take charge

•Attempts by pro-Wike chairs to forcefully retain seats treasonable, say lawmakers

Chuks Okocha, Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja and Blessing Ibunge in Port Harcourt

Following what they described as “breakdown of law and order” at the various local government secretariats in Rivers State yesterday, the police have announced the temporary takeover of all the 23 councils’ secretariats, as well as critical government infrastructure in the state.

The police also confirmed the death of two persons in Eberi-Omuma, Omuma Local Government Area, including an officer and an unnamed local security guard, popularly known as “vigilante”.

The steps by the police followed the intensification of the crisis that trailed the expiration of the tenure of local government chairmen in Rivers State. Several persons, especially youths, occupied the secretariats of the 23 local government areas to try to prevent the outgoing council chairmen and their supporters from gaining access into the head offices.

At the Obio-Akpor local government secretariat, scores of youths and women besieged the premises and pulled down an image of the Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mr Nyesom Wike, an indigene of the local government area and ex-chairman of the council.

Governor Siminalayi Fubara vowed to be fearless in his attempt to lead the way to peace in the state. In also stressed, in a state broadcast, that his government will resist the arrest of his supporters.

A faceoff between Fubara and his predecessor and erstwhile political godfather, Wike, is at the centre of the current crisis in Rivers State.

In a statement signed by the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in the state, Grace Iringe-Koko, the police said the decision to take over the councils was taken to forestall more bloodshed and prevent further deterioration of security in the state.

The police stated, “Following the breakdown of law and order in the various local government council secretariats in Rivers State, where supporters of the two political factions clashed over the tenure of local government council chairmen, a case of death was recorded at Eberi-Omuma, Omuma LGA, where a police officer and a vigilante were killed.

“To forestall more bloodshed and prevent a further breakdown of law and order, the police have taken over all the 23 council secretariats and some critical government infrastructure in the state.

“Conventional police officers and anti-riot police officers have been deployed to these facilities.”

While urging all groups and individuals to be law-abiding, the police warned those intending to cause mayhem to retrace their steps, or face the full weight of the law.

The police added in the statement, “We also wish to ask the law-abiding residents and visitors in the state to go about their lawful businesses without fear. We are resolved to carry out our constitutional duty of protecting lives and property.”

The police release came as the crisis following the expiration of the tenure of local government council chairmen in the state deepened, with youths occupying the 23 council secretariats resisting the outgoing chairmen and their supporters.

One of the youths at the Obio-Akpor local government secretariat, who refused to mention his name, told journalists that they besieged the secretariat to ensure that the former chairman and his allies did not loot council property.

He said, “We are here to make sure that the chairman and his people do not come in and loot council properties. We are here to make sure that they do not have access to this place again, their tenure has ended, let them go home.”

There was heavy shooting at Port Harcourt City Local Government Area secretariat, after some youths blocked the outgoing chairman, Mr Allwell Ihunda, from gaining access to the secretariat.

The gunshot sounds, coupled with shots of teargas canisters, sent many scampering for safety.

In Eleme local government, hundreds of youths stormed the council secretariat to chase away persons that tried to counter a directive issued by the governor to the chairmen to vacate their offices.

A youth, who pleaded anonymity, said they were at the council secretariat to ensure that the directive of the governor was obeyed.

He said, “All of them have disappeared, because we have come to takeover. The governor is the power that we know. We have taken over Eleme. It’s total takeover. The governor is the power we know, there is no other power. We have taken over Eleme. Eleme is taken. Their tenure has elapsed; they should go home.”

Fubara, in a state-wide broadcast yesterday morning dissolved, the councils, citing the provisions of the Nigerian constitution on the tenure of local government administration. He directed the heads of administration in the various local governments to immediately step in and take charge of the councils’ affairs.

The outgoing chairmen’s insistence to remain in office was based on a law passed by the Martin Amaewhule-led Rivers State House of Assembly, which had extended their tenures by six months.

Majority of the local government heads had vowed not to exit their offices, quoting the law passed by the embattled lawmakers loyal to Wike.

THISDAY observed that early yesterday, youths and other citizens of the state besieged the various council secretariats, denying the outgoing leadership access to the council secretariats. The resistance caused tension, as protest spread across the 23 local government areas of the state, following the expiration of the three years’ tenure of the elected chairmen and ward councillors.

Not long after, the Rivers State police command confirmed the death of the two persons in Omuma. The spokesperson of the command also revealed that an investigation had been instituted to unravel the circumstances surrounding the killings.

Reacting to the crisis, Fubara said he will ensure that peace prevailed in the state while also protecting all patriotic supporters for their stand on the path of truth.

The governor gave the assurance shortly after the state security council meeting with heads of security agencies, held at Government House, Port Harcourt. He stated that there was no extension of tenure for elected local government chairmen, adding that the law is unambiguous on the matter. He clarified that the court had also affirmed the position of the law.

The governor added, “I am aware that there is a grand plan to come and arrest some of our supporters. This time around, you have to pass through me to arrest them because I don’t think there is anything that any of those people following us has done. Rather, they are standing on the side of truth.

“If it will cost us our lives to stand on the path of truth, we will do that. And I will be the one that will lead the cause. Let me assure everyone, more especially, the great and peace-loving people of Rivers State, that the law is the law. The law has said that there is no extension of tenure.

“The court said so, and whoever that is assuring anybody anywhere of whatever, I advise them to desist from it because peace is what we need in this state. I assure every one of you that whatever it takes to make sure that we maintain peace and order, we are not going back on that.”

Fubara explained that the security council meeting was called because of the ongoing threat to the peace of the state by the outgone chairmen of the local government councils.

He stated, “It’s really unfortunate that we started hearing some disturbing news from some local governments of the invasion of council secretariats, and it is really unfortunate. So, we have called the security council meeting so that the needful will be done.

“We are also aware that our enemy is also planning a lot of things. But we will not fall into that plot. We will not also allow him or them to destroy the peace that we are enjoying in the state.”

Meanwhile, youths in the three local government areas of the Kalabari ethnic group occupied their council secretariats to demand the vacation of the council chairmen from office. The local government areas are Degema, Asari-Toru, and Akuku-Toru.

Amateur videos obtained by THISDAY showed that some of the youths mobilised to block the entrance to the council complexes and requested traders within the premises to leave.

In his intervention, a former Niger Delta agitator, Asari Dokubo, had advised the chairmen to quietly leave office by midnight yesterday, as their three-year tenure had expired.

Dokubo said despite arguments from the chairmen, they must leave office to avoid creating problems in the state. He stressed the importance of adhering to the stipulated tenure limits in the local government law of 2018 to maintain order and legality.

He stated this during a visit by the Muslim community in Rivers State to Fubara at Government House, Port Harcourt.

Dokubo specifically addressed the youths, cautioning them against being recruited to disrupt the peace of the state during the transition period. He said Rivers people were willing to take over council secretariats till the state government was ready to conduct local government elections.

Dokubo, who is Vice President General of the Rivers State Council of Islamic Affairs, commended the governor for his inclusive approach to religious diversity, stating that there have been no attacks on the Muslim community or conflicts with other religious organisations.

In a major decision that could change the complexion of the crisis, Fubara yesterday directed heads of local government administration to immediately take charge of the 23 council areas of the state. This followed the expiration of the statutory three-year tenure of the elected local government chairmen, vice chairmen, and councillors on Monday, June 17.

The governor commended the outgoing local government chairmen for their services in the last three years and wished them well in their future endeavours.

He stated, “As we move forward in making sure that the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is upheld, and that law and order is maintained as we continue to strive to provide leadership and direction for our people. I hereby direct heads of local government administration to continue to provide leadership in their respective local government areas.

“Heads of local government administration are hereby directed to immediately take charge of the councils with renewed vigour and readiness to serve and await further directives as we navigate towards even greater accomplishments together.”

Some opposition members of the House of Representatives described the attempt by the former local government chairmen to forcefully retain their seats after the constitutional expiration of their three years’ tenure as a treasonable act.

The lawmakers, under the umbrella of G60, disclosed their position yesterday while addressing a press conference after an emergency meeting in Abia.

Speaking on behalf of the group, Hon. Ikenga Ugochinyere frowned upon what he called attempted treason organised by the former local government chairman who wanted to use magistrates/judges from neighbouring states to conduct a kangaroo swearing in ceremony around 5:00am in the morning, despite the fact that their tenure expired since June 17.

The opposition lawmakers accused the former local government chairmen of breaching the provisions of Section 37(1) of the Criminal Code Act, Section 39 of the Nigeria Police Act, Section 12 of the Criminal Procedure Code, Section 23 of the Criminal Procedure Code, and Section 1(2) of the 1999 Constitution that frowns on anybody or group of persons that attempts to unlawfully occupy position of power in the country or forcefully attempt to take over government in any part of Nigeria.

Ugochinyere stated, “We salute the courage of the Rivers State people who came out boldly to protect the local government and foil the attempt to unlawfully seize the institution of governance by the former chairmen.

“This heroic action is in line with Section 20 of the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act that empowers citizens to arrest and foil any criminal act being committed in their presence.”

He said Section 39 of the Nigeria Police Act, 2020, stated, “A private person may arrest a suspect in Nigeria who in his presence commits an offence or whom he reasonably suspects of having committed an offence for which the police is entitled to arrest without a warrant”.

According to him, Section 37 Criminal Code Act (1) states: “Any person who levies war against the state, in order to intimidate the president or the governor of a state, is guilty of treason, and is liable to the punishment of death.

“Any person conspiring with any person, either within or without Nigeria, to levy war against the state with intent to cause such levying of war as would be treason if committed by a citizen of Nigeria, is guilty of treason and is liable to the punishment of death.”

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