Rivers Crisis: Real reason behind defection of 25 lawmakers


Rivers Crisis: Real reason behind defection of 25 lawmakers

P/Harcourt: There is apprehension everywhere. People can’t discuss politics freely again for fear of victimization by opposing political camp. There is distrust among the citizens. Rivers State has a history of turning political rivalry to a potential street fight. With President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s peace accord collapsing, it is difficult to predict what becomes of the crisis.

Just last Wednesday, one of the signatory projects of former Governor Peter Odili administration, the House of Assembly Complex, chris tened “The Dome”, was brought down by the order of the state government. The excuse for the action was that the building had some structural defects and must be corrected to avoid possible disaster.

With the demolition of the Complex, it presupposes therefore that the faction of the lawmakers led by the Speaker, Rt. Hon Martins Chike Amaewhule cannot access the Chambers of the Complex to carry out any legislative function again.

But not wanting to play a weakling, Amaewhule and his men on Thursday found alternative location when they adopted a motion to convert the auditorium of the Assembly quarters to new hallowed chambers for their sitting.

The cliché that when two elephants fight, the grass suffers is a stark reality of what is currently playing out in Rivers state. Obviously, some sterling legacies of Dr. Peter Odili have either been touched or out rightly brought down whenever political gladiators in the state engage in political war of attrition or otherwise.

First, in 2013, the judiciary complex containing world-class buildings undertaken by Odili to give lawyers the needed comfort to carry out their legal responsibilities in the state was locked up for about two years and nobody could access the court for any legal matter.

Next was the sale of gas turbines built by the Odili government. Odili’s vision to build gas turbines in Omoku, Eleme and Trans-Amadi was to provide sufficient power to the state to boost the economy. That vision was frustrated on the slap of political interest when they were sold out and the money accrued diverted to politics. Today, the state is struggling with erratic power supply and partial blackout in some areas.

Now, watching the exquisite edifice that was the pride of the state, (House of Assembly complex), gone down in rubble, only brings a sad reflection of the Edo state government’s experience when a governor sent bulldozers to remove the roof of the state Assembly building.

In the course of the Rivers crisis, no fewer than three court orders had been issued by courts of competent jurisdiction to the effect that the two factions in the Assembly led by Martins Amaewhule and Rt Hon Edison Ehie should not access the Complex until all pending cases to that effect were resolved.

On November 30, 2023, a court order for interim injunction was granted restraining the National Assembly from taking over the legislative functions of the State House of Assembly and empowering a faction led by Amaewhule to start sitting to perform legislative functions pending the hearing and determination of a motion on notice also filed by Amaehule’s camp. This interim order was obtained at the Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial Division.

Before now, on November 9, 2023, the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt Judicial Division made an order stopping the two factions of the State Assembly from siting, pending the determination of a motion on notice also pending before the said court.

Again, another suit was pending before the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt Judicial Division. One of the prayers was for an order of the court directing the National Assembly to take over the legislative functions of the Assembly since the House has been fractionalized and unable to perform their legislative functions.

While the order of the court restraining both factions of the Rivers State House from performing any legislative functions was still pending, the faction led by Amaewhule quickly rushed to Abuja to obtain another order from the same Federal High Court empowering his own faction of the House to start sitting for legislative business.

Comrade Solomon Lenu, convener of Ogoni Development Drive, ODD, in his assessment described the attitude of these lawmakers as a direct affront to the Rule of Law. “Their action amounts to disobedience of court order”, he said.

Lenu whose group, ODD, had since commenced a constitutional process of recalling four indigenous Ogoni lawmakers from the Assembly for their role in the impeachment plot against Governor Fubara, observed that the judge who gave the order that came from the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court might have been misled and may not have known that there was a pending order from the same Federal High Court, Port Harcourt Judicial Division, restraining both factions from sitting for any legislative function.

The evolving drama in the state also saw yet another group of people who claimed to be members of the social democratic party, SDP and a faction of APC in Ahoada West local government area of state on Sunday declare their support for Governor Fubara. They also announced their defection to the PDP.

What most people crave to know is, can the independent national electoral commission, INEC, by the prompting of the PDP, declare the seats of the 26 defected lawmakers vacant? With the above conflicting orders coming from the court with the same constitutional powers, can Nigerians truly trust the judiciary to do the needful in this regards?

In March 2022, a Federal High court in Abuja sacked 20 members of the Cross River state House of Assembly for defecting from the PDP. PDP had instituted a suit against the lawmakers over their defection to the APC. The judgement was in a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/975/2021.

Ruling on the case, Taiwo Taiwo, the presiding judge, held that the lawmakers should vacate their seats, having abandoned the political party that sponsored them to power.

INEC, speaker of the House of Representatives, National Assembly, Clerk of the National Assembly, Cross River state House of Assembly, Clerk of the State House of Assembly and the APC were also joined as defendants in the suit. Mike Ozekhome, counsel to the 4th-25th defendants, had challenged the court’s jurisdiction to hear the suit.

Giving a legal insight into the matter, Barrister Shogbeye Eli, former spokesman of the Rivers state APC 2023 campaign council said “Section 109(1)(g) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended) forbids the defection of legislators elected on political party platforms to other parties before the expiration of their four-year term in office.

“The above constitutional provision has also received judicial ventilation by the Supreme Court in the case of Ifedayo Abegunde v. Labour Party where the Appellant who defected to another political party lost his seat. Abegunde had defected from Labour Party on whose ticket he ran for membership of Ondo State House of Assembly to another party.

“In the very recent past, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja towed the line of precedent set by the Supreme Court in dismissing former PDP members of the Cross River State House of Assembly loyal to former Governor Benedict Ayade for defection to the APC”.

Barrister Sogbeye, a staunch member of the APC in Rivers state described the defection of the lawmakers as “unlawful, unconstitutional and illegal”, he added that “lawmakers should not be lawbreakers. They should be custodians of the law”.

Meanwhile, a Rivers State High Court in Port Harcourt had since ordered the factional Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Edison Ehie, to preside over the activities of the legislative arm of the state pending the determination of a motion before it.

Justice M.W Danagogo, gave this order, Tuesday, in an Experte Motion, Suit No. PHC/3030/CS/2023 in which Rivers State House of Assembly is the 1st claimant and Rt. Hon. Edison Ehie, (Speaker, Rivers State House of Assembly, 2nd claimant and Rt. Hon. Martin Amaewhule, as 1st defendant while Rt. Hon. Dumle Maol, is the 2nd defendant.

But could the crisis between Wike and Governor Fubara be qualified as having any ethnic coloration? Professor Benjamin Okans is the President General of Ijaw National Congress, INC, a socio-political group that speaks for the Ijaw people worldwide. “INC is fully in support of Governor Fubara. We are also fighting impunity to sustain our democracy”.

Professor Okans noted that “it will not be palatable if the governor is impeached. People including the Ikwerres, the Etches and other ethnic nationalities are fed up with autocratic tendencies against the governor. Wike is over-ambitious. Ijaw people will come out to protect their own”.

Looking at it from any perspective, Fubara enjoys the solidarity of majority of Rivers people both indigenes and non -indigenes alike. What they want to see is a governor who is ready to take on his former godfather head-on.

“Governor Fubara should show that he is the governor of the state. He has what it takes to engage Wike power for power, money for money”, said Franklin Kim, a social commentator.

Nevertheless, Wike would not back down. He wanted to prove to the APC leadership, particularly President Tinubu that he still holds the political soul of the state. This prompted the defection of the 25 lawmakers followed by the resignation of key officers of the government.

So much money is said to have exchanged hands as the fight rages. Landed properties have also been promised those who will be loyal to end. Obviously, so much will unfold in the coming days, weeks and months.


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