I’m Defending Democracy and Constitution in Rivers, Fubara Declares

•Swears in 23 caretaker chairmen amid crisis, declares they can operate from anywhere

•Says action against sit-tight mentality, orders audit of council accounts

•Concerned elders caution as situation worsens

•APC, PDP trade tackles over emergency declaration, commissioner faults claims

•IG decries crisis, calls for investigation

Chuks Okocha, Ikechukwu Aleke in Abuja, Emma Okonji, Agnes Ekebuike in Lagos and Blessing Ibunge in Port Harcourt

Rivers State Governor Siminalayi Fubara has said his prompt appointment of caretaker chairmen for the state’s local governments following the ejection of council chairmen, who had tried to extend their tenure, was in defence of constitutional democracy. 

Fubara spoke yesterday in Port Harcourt while swearing in chairmen of caretaker committees for the 23 local government areas in the state.

He said the state, under his watch, will not set the bad example of elongating the tenure of local government chairmen. 

The governor told the 23 caretaker chairmen, who took their oath of office amid escalating tension over the tenure of the former chairpersons, that they could function from anywhere, if necessary, to avoid violent confrontation.

Fubara ordered an audit of the accounts of all the local governments in the state. He said Tuesday’s ousting of the former chairmen, who had refused to leave after their statutory term, was a statement against sit-tight mentality, in defence of democracy.

However, some concerned citizens of the state warned against actions that could stoke further chaos as the situation deteriorated.

The leadership of All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State called on the presidency to declare a state of emergency in the state to stem a decent into anarchy.

But Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the governing party in the state, told APC to bury the thoughts of a state of emergency in Rivers State, as it was delusional. PDP cautioned the outgone council chairmen against conducts capable of disrupting the peace.

The Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mr Joe Johnson, in a swift reaction, said the APC leadership had no basis for calling for emergency declaration.

The former council chairmen are loyalists of Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and immediate past governor of the state, Nyesom Wike, whose recently strained relations with erstwhile political godson, Fubara, is at the centre of the crisis rocking the state.  

Fubara swore in the caretaker chairmen at Government House, Port Harcourt, after they were screened and confirmed by the House of Assembly, led by Victor Oko-Jumbo.

The governor charged the new council heads to eschew violence.

The list of seven-member nominees per local government council had earlier been forwarded to the Assembly pursuant to Section 9 (5) of the Rivers State Local Government Law No. 5 of 2018, for screening and confirmation. 

The governor advised the caretakers to maintain peace, and be guided by the Nigerian constitution, to promote unity, inclusive administration, and achieve progress at the grassroots.

He directed the Auditor-General of the local governments to commence immediate audit of the accounts of the 23 council areas.

He said the swearing-in of the chairmen would ensure seamless administration of local governments following the expiration of tenure of the elected chairmen and councillors in the state.

Fubara said the exercise demonstrated his administration’s commitment to upholding the tenets of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that did not provide for tenure elongation.

He stated, “What is happening here now is a defence of democracy. We will not allow the wrong precedent to be created in this country. It is not about Rivers State. It is not about Fubara.

“But if in any way this attempt of tenure elongation succeeds in Rivers State, it becomes a norm in Nigeria.

“So, we have taken it upon ourselves to say, not on our own watch will it happen because it is completely alien to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

He wondered why the tenures of elected officers would expire and they would want to perpetuate themselves in office against their oath of office and the provisions of Constitution of Nigeria.

He said such insistence to elongate tenure of council chairmen would not happen in Rivers State while he was governor, and advised the former chairmen, vice-chairmen and councillors to let go and return home.

Fubara added, “So, for those people who are saying, the only reason why we (they) want to continue in office is because election has not been conducted, we have more than 85 per cent of the states in Nigeria that are being run by caretaker committees.

“Ours is different. You had your tenure, you have completed your tenure, it is proper you let go. Life doesn’t create a vacuum.

“If you are not there again, that is, if your tenure has expired, doesn’t mean I should, because I want to please you, allow you to stay longer.

“No. It doesn’t happen like that. People must take over, manage the affairs and elections will be conducted.”

Fubara also told the caretakers that their tenure would not be too long because the process for fresh elections into the local governments would start soon. He advised them to resume at their respective councils with utmost sense of duty and commitment to serve the people and protect the interest of Rivers State.

The governor equally warned them against any form of confrontation, and insisted that such was not in his nature and style. Rather, he said they should be law-abiding as they took full control of the local government councils.

According to Fubara, “Whatever happened yesterday (Tuesday), I know and the world knows that it is not from you people. Some persons caused it. So, let us not give them the opportunity to continue to make our state look bad in the comity of states.

“So, when you go back, if there is any situation, you should be law-abiding. I don’t want any confrontation.

“You can operate from anywhere for now. But the most important thing is that you have the control of the local lovernment today.”

Fubara, who expressed worry about the negative media portrayal of the state as a place ridden with crisis. He urged the caretakers to work to change such negative narrative.

He further urged them to compute and pay the outstanding financial benefits and entitlements, including salaries of the outgone chairmen, vice-chairmen and councillors, stressing that there must be no breakdown of law and order in their various council areas.

APC, Commissioner Tackle Each Other

The chairman of the caretaker committee of APC in the state, Tony Okocha, while briefing journalists on the situation of Rivers State, yesterday, said the call for state of emergency became necessary to stop the crisis from further escalation.

Okocha accused Fubara of being responsible for the crisis.

He stated, “Rivers State is at war as at today and who are the dramatis personae? They are Governor Siminalayi Fubara.

“Because we are in a state of war, because the governor does not listen to counsel, even the counsel of Mr. President, APC Rivers State is demanding for state of emergency. It is the way out so that we can live in peace, because it would be too late to cry when the head is cut off.

“Let the army be deployed to takeover strategic places, let this moribund government be sent to the abyss and let Rivers State heave a sigh of relief, otherwise, we’ll be crying when the head is off.”

Okocha said the federal government should act fast, stating that considering the strategic role of Rivers State in the country’s economy, if the state goes aflame, Nigeria’s economy will suffer.

On the swearing in of council caretakers, Okocha alleged that Fubara was undercutting the judiciary by “rushing to institute caretaker committees when a matter concerning local government autonomy is pending before the Supreme Court and another judgement expected by the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt on Thursday”.

But the Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mr Joe Johnson, said Okocha had no basis to call for emergency rule.

Johnson said, “I think the time has come for us to ignore calls from Tony Okocha, because his calls are usually baseless without foundation.

“The same Tony Okocha who said he was going to tell his Assembly members to commence the impeachment of the governor, today where is that call?

“He is one man who came and said there was cholera outbreak in one of the Kalabari communities. Health people ran there and discovered that it was not true.

“So, Tony Okocha is entertaining himself if you ask me, because what should be his primary assignment is what to bring to the table to the Rivers people as representative of the state in the board of NDDC.”

PDP Sues for Calm, Cautions Ex-LG Chairs

PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, said the three years tenure of the former council chairmen expired by the effluxion of time under the relevant state law establishing the Rivers State local government council administration.

PDP counselled the former chairmen to desist from any action that might disrupt local government administration in the state.

The party called on the people of Rivers State to remain calm and law-abiding, and continue to work together for the continued stability, peace and delivery of democracy dividends in Rivers State.

As the Court of Appeal in sitting in Port Harcourt decides the fate of the 27 lawmakers that defected to APC, PDP declared that nothing would make it change its position on the vacation of seats by the state lawmakers.

Ologunagba, in an interview with THISDAY, said, “The party also clarifies that it is not under pressure from any quarter to compromise its position in court wherein it had already clearly stated that the former Rivers State lawmakers are no longer members of the Rivers State House of Assembly from December 11, 2023, when they publicly announced their defection from the PDP to the APC.

“This clarification is a refutal to a mischievous report in a section of the social media falsely claiming that there are plots to compromise the party’s position and provide an unattainable lifeline to the former members of the Rivers State House of Assembly to return to their seats, which they have constitutionally vacated.

“Our party, therefore, stands by its position that the affected members have since lost their seats in the Rivers State House of Assembly, having arrogantly committed an unpardonable constitutional breach.”

Ologunagba told APC to bury the thoughts of a state of emergency in Rivers State, saying it is a mere hallucination.

He stated, “The press conference by the APC in Rivers State calling for a state of emergency in Rivers State is  yet another hallucinating press conference by the Rivers State caretaker chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Tony Okocha, wherein he again fantasised that the will of the people of Rivers State, as expressed in the governorship election, which produced Governor Siminalayi Fubara, can be upturned by the imagination of the APC.

“This reckless outburst by Tony Okocha further exposes the sinister plot by the APC in Rivers State, which has been seeking ways to instigate crisis, forcefully overthrow a democratic order, and impose an anti-democratic regime in Rivers State in clear violation of Section 1 sub-section 2 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).

“The use of the word ‘war’ by Mr. Okocha in his thoughtless statement clearly shows an evil intention, which has been firmly resisted and will continue to be resisted by the people of Rivers State.”

Concerned Elders Call for Caution

Former Deputy Governor of Rivers State, and one of the concerned citizens, Sir Gabriel T.B. Toby, warned those opposing the establishment of caretaker committees at the local government level to be careful not to cause chaos in the state.

Toby, who spoke yesterday on the Morning Show of ARISE NEWS Channel, said, “What is going on in Rivers State local government councils is quite unfortunate. We, the elders, and everyone of goodwill desire peace, and we have always had peace in this state.

“The issue at hand, involving chairmen whose tenures have expired and those seeking to extend their terms, is perplexing. The governor has made his position clear, and we must recognise the authority of our governor.”

He emphasised the importance of adhering to legal processes, saying, “If anyone believes the governor’s directives are wrong, they should not take the law into their own hands.”

But, in a contrary view, a lawyer and human rights activist, Liborous Oshoma, while addressing the broader implications of the position of the Rivers State governor, criticised the use of caretaker committees by governors, describing it as an illegal form of tenure extension.

Oshoma, who also spoke yesterday on the Morning Show of ARISE NEWS Channels, underscored the democratic deficiencies and legal issues stemming from the absence of local government elections.

He said, “You can’t put something on nothing and expect it to stand. The crisis in Rivers State could have been avoided if local government elections were conducted on time. The struggle for expired positions wouldn’t exist.”

Oshoma said added, “The governors should be willing to facilitate elections at the local government level, similar to those at the federal level.” He said any attempt to extend local government officers’ tenures was unconstitutional.

Former National Publicity Secretary of the defunct New Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP) and chieftain of APC, Chief Eze Chukwuemeka Eze, admonished the embattled council chairmen not to allow themselves to be used as tools to perpetuate the political crisis in the state.

The APC chief, in a statement, said reports from reliable sources had brought to light surreptitious plots to use the former council chairmen to perpetrate the controversy over the status of the politically stranded 27 former Rivers lawmakers.

Eze alleged that the plot was sealed over the weekend when each of the former chairmen was handed a script to play beginning from June 18, a day after the due date for their exit, in a bid to sustain hostilities and reduce the state into a theatre of war.

IG Decries Crisis, Calls for Investigation

The Inspector General (IG) of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, yesterday, condemned the recent outbreak of violence and subsequent breakdown of law and order at various local government council secretariats in Rivers State.

The crisis followed a clash between supporters of two political factions over the tenure of local government council chairmen. This led to the death of a police officer, Inspector David Mgbada, and Samuel Nwigwe, a vigilante member at Eberi-Omuma in Omuma Local Government Area.

In a statement in Port Harcourt, yesterday, the Force Public Relations Officer, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, said, “The Inspector General of Police,  Kayode Egbetokun, condemns in the strongest terms the recent outbreak of violence and subsequent breakdown of law and order at various local government council secretariats in Rivers State, where supporters of two political factions clashed over the tenure of local government council chairmen, which, unfortunately, led to the tragic deaths of a police officer, Inspector David Mgbada, and Samuel Nwigwe, a vigilante member at Eberi-Omuma in Omuma LGA.

“In response to these heinous acts, the IGP has directed the Commissioner of Police in Rivers State, Olatunji Disu, to heighten security measures across the state and institute thorough investigations into the killing of the police officer and the vigilante operative, as well as the general violence, which erupted in the state.

“The IGP has specifically deployed operatives of the Force Intelligence Response Team (IRT) to assist the Rivers State Command in apprehending the killers of the police officer and the vigilante member.

“The IGP seriously warns individuals and groups of people, who have a penchant for senseless attacks and mindless killings of police officers and other security operatives across the country, to desist forthwith as the fullest force of the law will be meted on them.”

Meanwhile, the Rivers State Police Public Relations Officer, Superintendent of Police Grace Iringe-Koko, confirmed the killing of one Endwell Awunze along Ula-Pata, Ahoada town on Tuesday, by suspected cultists.

The police spokesperson, who said the victim was killed by unknown gunmen, said investigation was ongoing to unravel the cause of the attack and arrest the perpetrators.

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