RIVERS CRISIS: Assembly factions flex muscles

December 15, 2023

By Henry Umoru, Omeiza Ajayi & Davies Iheamnachor

The two factions of the Rivers State House of Assembly flexed muscles yesterday, with both holding parallel sittings and passing bills.

The group of 27 lawmakers, who defected from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to the All Progressives Congress, APC, yesterday, fought against the declaration of their seats as vacant by holding a parallel sitting.

No fewer than 25 of the legislators led by Martin Amaewhule met at the auditorium of the House of Assembly Quarters on Aba Road, Port Harcourt, sequel to the demolition of the Assembly building by the state government, passed some bills into law and condemned the demolition of the Assembly by Governor Siminalayi Fubara.

Two members of the G-27 reportedly returned to the PDP and the G-4 House before its sitting on Wednesday. However, one of them denied reneging on his defection.

On the same day, the Speaker Edison Ehie State Government-recognised G-4 House, whose membership had risen to five, passed within 24 hours, the Rivers State N800.3 billion 2024 budget that Governor Fubara presented, on Wednesday.

This came as the APC, which crowned Chief Nyesom Wike as the dean of Nigeria’s politics, said that Fubara’s presentation of the state’s 2024 budget to four lawmakers was contrary to the provisions of the law.

Amid the crisis, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Zacchaeus Adango, SAN, resigned his office on personal principles. Three other commissioners also resigned.

Parallel Assembly sits, passes Financial Autonomy bill, others
Holding what it called its 88th Legislative sitting, the Amaewhule-led House passed the Rivers State House of Assembly Funds Management (Financial Autonomy) Bill, 2023 after debating the Report of the House Committee on Public Accounts presented by Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Major Jack, who was recently elected leader of the factional House.

Commenting on the report of the committee, Speaker Amaewhule said that the Bill would provide for the management of funds accruing to the Rivers State House of Assembly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the state, adding the law would ensure accountability and efficient utilisation of funds.

The House also okayed the Rivers State Local Government Law, No. 5 of 2018 (Amendment) Bill, 2023 after a robust debate on the Report of the House Committee on Local Government presented by the Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Ignatius Onwuka.

Amaewhule said that with the passage of the amended Bill, elected LGA chairmen and councilors would be liberated from arbitrary removals and suspensions.

The legislators, via a motion, converted the Auditorium of the House of Assembly Quarters as their Chamber, and described the demolition of the Assembly building as heartless, adding that the state governor acted without approval and knowledge of the House.

The House, in a motion sponsored by 26 members and moved by Mr. Ofiks Kabang, representing Andoni Constituency, drew the attention of the Federal Government, the Inspector-General of Police and the International community, to Governor Fubara’s alleged constant attack on the Legislature of Rivers State.

Amaewhule said that the House would write to the United Nations and governments of other well known democracies on the actions of the governor against the legislature, stressing that no amount of harassment, intimidation and mindless attacks against them would make them shy away from their constitutional duties.

We gave due diligence to the budget — lawmakers
Meanwhile, the state House of Assembly, said they carried out due diligence before approving the 2024 budget.

The leader of the House, Mr. Adolphus Orubienimigha, who spoke while presenting the budget to Governor Fubara for assent, said members diligently deliberated on each item, and did careful consideration of the projects before passing the budget, and urged the governor to remain resolute in discharging the duties of his office.

Speaker Ehie noted that the budget figures and items as articulated were in line with current realities and demonstrated the resolve of Governor Fubara to provide more infrastructure, strengthen sectors such as education, health, youth empowerment and the economy to deliver optimal services.

Ehie promised that the legislature would continue to stand with Governor Fubara, by providing the required support that would secure success for the administration.

Fubara signs appropriation bill into law
An elated Governor Fubara signed the appropriation bill into law at Government House, Port Harcourt, yesterday, saying that with the budget providing a framework for spending in 2024, his administration would undertake notable critical road projects that would connect more communities across several local governments in the state.

Christened “Budget of Renewed Hope, Consolidation and Continuity,” Fubara said: “This budget shows that we have a plan for our dear state. One of the reasons our budget is in the volume of N800 billion is that we intend, not just by desire, to ensure that one key request of our dear state is met. God being our helper, we will commence immediately, by next year, flagging off the actual and main Trans-Kalabari road project phase 2.

“We have also, in our budget, provided to take care of the Elele-Omoku road project, a road that cuts through Ikwerre, Emohua and Ogba-Egbema-Ndoni Local Government Areas. We are also taking that project as one of our cardinal achievements of this administration. We are not going back on it.”

Fubara vowed that no effort would be spared in implementing in full the planned-out quality projects and services captured in the 2024 appropriation.

He emphasised that the budget would be driven in a manner that would make a positive impact on the lives of all residents of the state, adding that people of the state would see and feel development at their doorsteps.

“I want to assure you that this administration has the best interest of our people. It is an administration that wants everyone to have hope. We have keyed into the renewed hope agenda of our dear President Bola Tinubu to continue to assure our people of hope. The best of us will be seen by everyone.

“We will continue to protect the interest of our people, do the best for everyone, not minding your position or class. Our government is responsive and inclusive. Our eyes and ears are open to the needs of our people. We will not disappoint you.”

The governor commended the legislative arm of the state for its support for his administration, adding that God has continued to guide the lawmakers out of the challenges that have continually befallen them.

APC faults presentation of budget to four lawmakers
However, the APC has said that the presentation of the state’s 2024 budget to four lawmakers by Governor Fubara was contrary to the provisions of the law.

The Caretaker Committee Chairman of the APC in the state, Tony Okocha, in a statement in Port Harcourt, stressed that the governor’s action was unconstitutional.

Citing Section 120(2) of the Constitution, Okocha stated that no money shall be spent unless it is appropriated by the Rivers House of Assembly.

He warned that any expenditure made by the state government on the outcome of such a presentation was an infringement on the constitution and, as such, sufficient grounds to commence impeachment.

Okocha said: “The presentation of a bill to four suspended members of the House of Assembly does not fulfill the requirements of the constitution for all the reasons stated.”

He added that Section 92(2)C of the constitution provided that a speaker can be removed by a two-third majority of the House of Assembly, adding that there was no evidence to show that Mr Martins Amaewhule, the Speaker of the House, had been removed legally.

“Amaewhule remains the speaker of the House of Assembly. The lawmakers passed a vote of confidence in him. One-third of 31 minus the deceased member is clearly 11, and as such, four members can never form a quorum.

“Section 99 states that any member who sits or votes in a House of Assembly of a state, knowing or having reasonable grounds for knowing that he is not entitled to do so, commits an offense and is liable on conviction to such punishment as shall be prescribed in a law of the House of Assembly.

“Section 101 gives the House of Assembly the power to regulate its procedures, including summons and recess of the House. Section 105(3) also defines the role of the governor of the state. The governor shall have power to issue a proclamation for the holding of the first session of the Assembly.”

…crowns Wike Nigeria’s dean of politics
Describing the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory FCT, Nyesom Wike, as Nigeria’s Dean of Politics, Okocha blamed Fubara for the political crisis in Rivers.

Accusing the governor of fomenting trouble in the state, Okocha also defended the 27 Rivers Assembly members who recently defected to the APC, saying despite the governor’s demolition of the Assembly chambers, the majority lawmakers were free to sit anywhere and conduct their businesses.

He said: “You cannot place something on nothing and you expect it to stand. An illegality is an illegality. Let me also let you know that what makes an Assembly is not the structure but the human beings in that assembly.

“So, an Assembly can be moved anywhere provided the mace which is the symbol of authority is there. As of Wednesday, about 27 members sat and took far-reaching decisions on state matters. You will see all of them signed underneath those decisions.

“But, I tell you a thing, I read a philosopher called Frantz Fanon, he said the gift you give to an intransigent government is civil disobedience. So, there is a case of anarchy and it is within the ambit of the PDP.

“It is not like we have a breakdown of law and order but this is an internal wrangling in PDP. That they are moving and being allowed to be taken to the centre stage. I had warned the governor or rather advised him. I told him ‘you are opening your flanks to fifth columnists and they will feast.’ Today, he has left governance completely and began to chase shadows.”

On Wike, the APC chairman said: “I have wooed him personally. We have told him publicly to come over to Macedonia and help us. He is a political juggernaut and the Dean of Politics in Nigeria currently, not just in Rivers but in Nigeria at large. He is a force and that is why we won the presidential election after losing the three senatorial seats and all the state House of Assembly members.”

Adango resigns citing personal principles
While the Rivers Assembly crisis was heating up, a commissioner was quitting his job. The Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Adango, in a resignation letter dated December 14, he forwarded to the office of the state governor of the state, noted that his resignation was based on personal principles.

He thanked the governor for the privilege to serve in his administration, adding that he and his family were indebted to the governor.

The letter read: “ I hereby give your excellency notice of my resignation as the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Rivers State with effect from the date of this letter.

“For the avoidance of doubt, my resignation from the said office is based purely on personal principles. I wish to thank your excellency for the opportunity and privilege granted me to serve in your administration asa member of the cabinet. My family and I are indebted to your excellency in gratitude. I wish your Excellency a successful tenure.”

Alabo, Chinwenwo-Aguma, Woke also resign
Also, in the wake of the Rivers Assembly crisis, the Commissioner for Works, Dr. George-Kelly Alabo and the Commissioner for Social Welfare and Rehabilitation, Mrs Inime Chinwenwo-Aguma have resigned their appointments

The letter of resignation from Alabo sighted by Vanguard was dated December 14, and addressed to Governor Fubara through the Secretary to the State Government, SSG.

According to Alabo, his resignation was anchored on his conscience, personal philosophy and professional ethics, adding that the decision was taken after deep introspection.

“My decision to resign is anchored on my conscience, personal philosophy, and professional ethics. This decision was taken after deep introspection,” he said.

In her resignation letter, Aguma said her decision to resign was personal and based on other pressing commitments.

Also, the state Commissioner for Special Duties, Emeka Woke, tendered his resignation yesterday.

Woke, who was Chief of Staff under the former governor Nyesom Wike, confirmed his resignation yesterday.

He said: “Yes, I have resigned as the Commissioner for Special Duties today.”

Asked if there was any reason for his resignation, he said: “When you get the soft copy of my letter of resignation, you will get the reason.”

Save our democracy, end crisis in Rivers, ASAF begs Tinubu
Meanwhile, a group, the All Progressives Congress, APC, State Assembly Forum, ASAF, has urged President Tinubu to, as a matter of urgency, intervene and return peace to the warring factions of the Rivers State House of Assembly.

ASAF, in a statement by its Director General, Ambassador Fubara Dagogo, expressed concern over the development in the state, and called on President Tinubu “to call the principal actors in the crisis to order” and return peace in the state.

The forum in a statement at the end of its end of year Consultative engagement meeting, noted that President Tinubu needed an absolute peace in Rivers State to actualise his renewed hope agenda.

According to ASAF, the Rivers State Assembly crisis must not be allowed to fester, and degenerate to a state of anarchy which could extend to other states of the federation, and deal a heavy blow to the nation’s democracy.

ASAF is a forum of serving members of state Houses of Assembly, elected on the platform of the APC in the country.

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