RIVERS CRISIS: PDP moves to replace 27 pro-Wike Assembly defectors
12th December 2023
- Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis, Abdulrahman Zakariyau, Dennis Naku and Daniels Igoni
The Peoples Democratic Party, on Monday, said it would write the Independent National Election today (Tuesday) to demand fresh elections to replace its 27 members in the Rivers State House of Assembly who defected to the All Progressives Congress.
A total of 27 members of the House elected on the PDP platform on Monday, defected to the APC and threatened to reject the requests of the state Governor, Siminalayi Fubara, for approval.
The reason adduced for their defection, according to the letters written to the Speaker, Martin Amaewhule, and read on the floor of the House, was predicated on the division in the party as regards the tussle for the position of the National Secretary of the PDP, which had made communications channels difficult.
Prior to the 2023 governorship election in the state, Nyesom Wike, then governor of the state had reportedly bought forms for dozens of PDP stalwarts including Fubara as governorship aspirants.
But Wike was reported to have picked Fubara, who was then Accountant General of the state, a situation which created ripples among party leaders who said Fubara was not a politician and was not part of the struggle.
But Fubara and his predecessor fell apart a few months ago when lawmakers loyal to Wike moved to impeach the incumbent governor. Amidst the crisis, a section of the state House of Assembly was gutted by fire.
The moves to impeach the governor led to a division in the House, with Speaker, Amaewhule leading the majority while House Leader, Edison Ehie, led another faction.
Reacting to the defection of the lawmakers, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, in an interview with The PUNCH on Monday, revealed that the party would explore all options to reclaim its seats in the state House of Assembly.
Ologunagba, who described the PDP as a law-abiding party, said, “We will write to INEC tomorrow (Tuesday) to make our position known.”
When asked what the party would do if INEC failed to grant its request, the PDP publicity secretary replied, “You cannot pre-empt our steps and our party. We know the law and we understand it. We will take a state at a time. What I can assure you is that the PDP will explore all options.”
Earlier in a statement, Ologunagba declared that by defecting from the PDP, the seats of the respective 27 lawmakers had become vacant by virtue of the provision of Section 109 (1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
“For the avoidance of doubt, Section 109 (1) of the 1999 Constitution provides that “a member of a House of Assembly shall vacate his seat in the House if … (g) being a person whose election to the House of Assembly was sponsored by a political Party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected, the party added.’’
Ologunagba added that in the interpretation by the Supreme Court, the 27 defected members had vacated and lost their seats, rights, privileges, recognition, and obligations accruable to members of the Rivers State House of Assembly.
But the governor kept mum as the lawmakers defected to the APC.
The governor who presided over a state executive council meeting on Monday, where the N800bn budget estimate for 2024 was approved, did not say anything about the defection of the lawmakers from his party.
It was observed that during Monday’s plenary when the state legislators took the decision to defect, the session was held under heavy security provided by the police at about 8am.
Also during the sitting, the House gave a Second Reading to the Rivers State Local Government Law (Amendment) Bill, 2023, which was sponsored by the Leader of the House and Member representing Akuku Toru Constituency, Majority Jack.
Debating on the bill, members were in one accord that some sections of the principal law that were repugnant to democratic ethos should be amended to ensure that elected Local Government officials were not at the mercy or whims and caprices of any single individual.
The Speaker committed the bill to the House Committee on Local Government to conduct a public hearing and make further legislative inputs within two weeks.
Also, the House adopted a motion sponsored by 26 members and moved by the member representing Omuma constituency in the House, Sylvanus Nwankwo, to condemn the refusal of the state governor to hand over suspects that set fire on the hallowed Chamber of the Assembly to security agencies, and the seizure of funds for the management of the Assembly.
Adopting the prayers of the motion, the House in strong terms condemned the unlawful attack on members and the Rivers State Assembly as an institution.
They called on the state governor to without further delay hand over the factional Speaker, Edison Ehie, Chijioke Ihunwo, and others they termed suspects associated with the explosion at the Assembly.
While calling on the governor to immediately release funds meant for the management of the Assembly for the month of November 2023, they stressed that henceforth the House would decline requests from Fubara for approval, since his actions were no longer in tandem with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution as amended, and other extant laws of the state.
Reacting to the defection, the spokesman for the dissolved APC Executive Council in Rivers State, Darlington Nwauju, said the party had been vindicated by the defection of the PDP lawmakers.
Nwauju, while speaking to one of our correspondents on Monday, said the action of five executive members of the APC who went to court to suspend the now dissolved APC led by Emeka Beke and the party’s legal adviser, was done to frustrate the party and hand it over to Wike.
He said, “Now when we also said that everything that was happening was illegal and was orchestrated just to balkanize the APC in Rivers State and finally hand it over to the FCT Minister, people said it was a lie.’’
CSOs warn police
Meanwhile, the coalition of Rivers Civil Society Groups has warned state Commissioner of Police, Olatunji Disu, not to take sides in the political crisis of actors in the state.
A spokesman for the group, Solomon Lenu, while speaking to newsmen, urged Disu not to follow the path of a former CP who allegedly aligned with acts of lawlessness in the state in 2013.
He said, “The Commissioner of Police and his men should remain neutral and obey the court orders in this matter by not allowing any of the two factions to gain access to the Assembly complex.
“We want peace in Rivers State and not anarchy. We reiterate that Mr President should caution his minister to give peace a chance and allow Governor Fubara to attend to his responsibilities as a governor who was duly elected by the Rivers people.
“Wike’s action may push us to move to Abuja and occupy his office in protest. This should sound as a warning to him and his lawmakers in the state.”Lenu alleged that the FCT minister was hell-bent on throwing the state into anarchy by using lawless lawmakers in the state.
APC hails lawmakers
But the APC, on Monday, hailed the defection of 27 members of the 32-member House of Assembly from the ruling PDP in the state, describing it as a welcome development.
The applause came a few hours after the APC Caretaker Executive Committee in Rivers received the 27 new converts at its party secretariat.
In an exclusive phone chat with The PUNCH, the APC National Director of Publicity, Bala Ibrahim, attributed the move to the open door policy of the National Chairman of the party, Dr Abdullahi Ganduje, and the wind of political revolution going on in Rivers.
He said, “This is a state affair. But at the national level, we are watching. Since the arrival of the National Chairman of the APC, Dr Abdullahi Ganduje, he has made it clear to everyone who cares to listen that he is coming on board with an open-door policy.
“It is also his ambition to widen the scope of the APC in a way and manner that will make room for new entrants and consolidate the settlement of the old one.
“Ganduje has an agenda of extending an olive branch to all those that might still be feeling bitter about the affairs of the party to come on board under the Renewed Hope agenda of Mr President.
“So what is happening in Rivers State, I believe, is a kind of acceptance or appreciation of the offer put forward by the national chairman. I also think it will mark the beginning of a better thing to come to the party.
“But as earlier mentioned, this is a state affair. Whatever may be the reason for the defection, the APC as a progressive party will welcome new entrants provided they are coming to add value to the development of democracy in Nigeria.”
Ganduje’s media aide, Edwin Olofu, also told one of our correspondents that it was a testament to the revolution and reforms his principal had brought to the party.
“As a political party, we are always open to receiving more members. It is obvious people have been taking note of the good thing the President and the APC national chairman have been doing since they came into office,” he said.
In his acceptance speech at the secretariat in Port Harcourt, acting State Chairman of Rivers APC, Tony Okocha promised the party would accord the 27 lawmakers the same respect, treatment, and dignity enjoyed by every member in the state.
The Ijaw National Congress called on President Bola Tinubu to prevail on the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike, and his loyalists to stop their moves aimed at sacking the Rivers State Governor, Siminialayi Fubara.
This is as the INC condemned what it labelled as open support by security agencies for the Martins Amaewhule-led faction of the state lawmakers loyal to Wike.
The INC alleged that the police gave protection to the Wike loyalists to hold a sitting against a subsisting court order requiring all parties to maintain the status quo and to take no official actions until further notice.
INC, in a statement signed by its President, Prof Benjamin Okaba, on Monday, said it was curious that despite previous interventions of Tinubu and other critical stakeholders, Wike was bent on ensuring the impeachment of Fubara.“Mr President, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, we implore you once again to call Mr Wike and those Federal Government agencies and agents who are putting Rivers State at risk of anarchy, to order. Such elements are inimical to the stability of Nigeria sooner or later,” Okaba said.
Meanwhile, the Rivers State Executive Council on Monday deliberated and approved a budget estimate of N800bn for the government to spend in the 2024 fiscal year.
At the meeting, which was presided over by Fubara, at the Executive Chamber of Government House in Port Harcourt, the council also approved that the budget be christened, “Budget of Renewed Hope, Consolidation, and Continuity.”
Speaking to newsmen after the meeting, the state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Joseph Johnson, said N412bn was projected for capital expenditure while recurrent expenditure was N361 billion.
He stated, “We had the 5th council meeting of Rivers State. We deliberated on the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, which is usually a precursor to discussing the budget.
“An 83-page document was also presented, which has the budget estimate. The budget estimate for 2024 is N800 billion and it is tagged: “Budget of Renewed Hope, Consolidation, and Continuity.”
The Rivers State Government spokesman added, “Essentially, the budget is focused on some key areas with infrastructure taking the lead with N128 billion of the budget followed by Education, health and security.”
On his part, the Secretary to the Rivers State Government, Dr. Tammy Danagogo said the approved budget estimate is aimed at giving Rivers people a renewed hope that will guarantee the continual harvest of projects and human capital development.
Danagogo said, “We approved an estimated budget of N800,392,485,433.33 kobo, which we believe, by the time it gets to the state House of Assembly, the public will be able to see and understand all the projections and fundamentals.
“Basically, the essence of the budget is to give the people and residents of Rivers State the ‘Renewed Hope’ and to ensure that there is a consolidation and continuity in what has been happening in terms of the harvest of projects we have been having in the State and of course other areas, particularly in human capital development, security, investment drive and ease of doing business.”