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Chaos In Rivers, As Attempt To Impeach Speaker Fails

By Daniel Abia (Port Harcourt), Sola Shittu (Abuja), Temidayo Akinsuyi and Akinwunmi King (Lagos)
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It was a free-for-all in the main bowl of the Rivers State House of Assembly on Tuesday, as the lawmakers turned the hallowed chambers into a boxing ring.

It all started when some lawmakers alleged to be loyal to Minister of State for Education, Nyesom Wike, attempted to impeach Speaker of the Assembly, Otelemaba Dan Amachree, leading to a free-for-all between the two camps in the Assembly.

Five members of the Assembly who got the blessing of the state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) under the leadership of Felix Obuah initiated the move to remove the Speaker.

They are the only lawmakers in the Assembly that were not suspended by the party.

The 27 others who are loyal to the state Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, have been suspended by the state PDP chapter.

At Tuesday's sitting, the five lawmakers had announced “impeachment” of Amachree and asked Evans Bipi, representing Ogu/Bolo Constituency to take over the seat of Speaker.

The process which began as early as 9.00 a.m. lasted for just few minutes.

State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, had to come into the Assembly premises with his security details to rescue the lawmakers when the policemen present turned the other way while fracas was going on.

Trouble started when Bipi and Victor Ihunwo, member representing Port Harcourt Constituency III, started attacking other members of the Assembly, believed to be supporters of the Governor by hitting them with video camera stands and other objects they could lay their hands on.

Over 29 computer sets in the chambers were damaged in the process.

Leader of the Assembly, Chidi Iloyd, who represents Emohua Constituency, was seriously injured in the fight. Two other lawmakers from Wike's camp were equally battered in the fracas.

All of them are receiving treatment in private hospitals in the state capital.

Policemen who were on ground at the time of the incident did not do enough to prevent the free-for-all.

Two trucks belonging to Rivers State Fire Service Department were stationed within the premises of the Assembly in case there was an attempt to burn down the complex by some irate youths who stormed the Assembly in their hundreds.

Apart from the Assembly Leader, others who were injured in the imbroglio were the Speaker, and the two members representing Obio/Akpor I and Obio/Akpor II Constituencies, Michael Okechukwu Chinda and Martins Amaewhule respectively.

Few hours after the fracas, the embattled Speaker, Amachree, upon his discharge from hospital, returned to the Assembly complex at about 11.00 a.m. and presided over the plenary, which was attended by 23 lawmakers, where a request by the Governor was deliberated upon.

“I remain the authentic Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly”, Amachree boasted.

“There is no way five lawmakers can impeach a Speaker. Twenty-seven legislators are solidly behind Amaechi (Governor) and there is nothing anybody can do about that. Those people merely came to disrupt the proceeding, but they were over powered,” the Speaker said.

After turning back from the Assembly twice, apparently because of the pandemonium, the Governor later sent his deputy, Tele Ikuru, to present the 2013 budget for a minor amendment.

The amendment was to effect a minor change in some over-heads and this was granted by the lawmakers, who voted 23 in favour and none against.

Speaking while presenting the request on the floor of the Assembly, Ikuru said the minor amendment became necessary to enable the state government continue to deliver dividends of democracy to the people.

He stated that the minor amendment, if approved would not reduce or increase the N490,220 billion budgeted in the 2013 Appropriation Act, but will only affect the capital expenditure.

Meanwhile, one of the five rebellious lawmakers, Evans Bipi, was seen at about 12.00 p.m. storming the Assembly chambers again with some fearful looking youths who were poised to attack people in the premises. They sang war songs and caused pandemonium.

Recounting his bitter experience on the sick bay, Chidi Lloyd noted that the Speaker had directed that the Assembly be reconvened to consider an amendment to the 2013 appropriation law, which the Governor had communicated to him via a letter.

“And as if Mr. Speaker saw what was going to happen today (yesterday), he wrote a letter through the Clerk of the House to the Commissioner of Police to provide security for today's sitting and he also wrote to the Commander of 2 Amphibious Brigade who also doubles as the head of the internal JTF.

“So, when we got to work this morning, we saw policemen numbering over 50 and we thought that this was in response to Mr. Speaker's request.

“Shortly thereafter, I noticed that the five anti-Amaechi members were discussing and calling on their boys to come in.

“Initially, the policemen were searching everybody who came into the premises. I had to even come down at the gate and trekked into the premises.

“After a while, we learnt that there were phone calls and the Commissioner of Police personally called the man in charge to allow everybody in.

“We went in as members who have not seen ourselves for sometime because of the crisis in the state. I was on my seat, without provocation, Hon. Evans Bipi came to me in the full glare of everybody on camera and started raining punches on me.

“As his leader, I did not react because I felt that it was something we could settle, whatever it is, maybe I didn't greet him or so.

“The Speaker intervened and said, hah, what's happening? Then he reached out for the tripod that stands the camera, used it freely on me, himself and Michael Okechukwu Chinda.

“They flogged me to their satisfaction, and I didn't just utter a word until Hon. Ihunwo graciously asked me to run for my dear life because they had brought people with guns and of course when I looked at the gallery they were shouting 'who is Chidi Lloyd, who is Chidi Lloyd.'

“I'm sure somebody may have reached out to the Governor who came in with his own security because these other policemen were there standing helplessly, watching what was going on.

“So he came and rescued members out of the place. Then after a while we heard that they had sat, that they were meeting, they were trying to meet, they had procured a fake mace; so we went back and I took the mace where they were sitting, then I sustained injury as a result of the violence by Michael Chinda and Evans Bipi,” Iloyd narrated.

Reacting to the crisis, House of Representatives on Tuesday urged politicians in Rivers State to sheath their sword and embrace peace.

The House also mandated its ad hoc committee investigating the crisis to expedite action and submit its report next Tuesday.

Deputy Speaker of the House, Emeka Ihedioha, who gave the directive, warned politicians to remember the price paid by Nigerians to achieve the present democracy.

He lamented that most politicians had forgotten so soon how the present democracy was achieved.

“It does appear some of us have forgotten how we got this democracy. I'm going to direct the Chief Whip and House Leader to work with the ad hoc, which we inaugurated last week to investigate this matter immediately and submit their report latest next Tuesday.”

Senator representing Rivers South-East, Magnus Abe, described the attack on the Speaker and Leader of the Rivers State House of Assembly “under the watchful eyes of the police” as “a shame and slap on democracy.”

Lagos based Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Ladi Rotimi-Williams, also called for suspension of the five lawmakers who attempted to forcefully remove Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly on Tuesday.

Rotimi-Williams, who described the event as unfortunate, said it bears semblance to the crisis that rocked the Western Region in the 1960s which later resulted in “monumental breakdown of law and order” in the region.

“What happened in the Rivers State House of Assembly is very, very unfortunate. It reminds me of the Western Regional crisis of the 60s, when somebody broke the mace, jumped up and started shouting 'fire on the mountain.”

In his reaction, another Lagos lawyer, Festus Keyamo, described the crisis as the height of indiscipline and lawlessness on the part of the Federal Government.

Keyamo, who stopped short of accusing the Federal Government of being involved in the crisis, wondered why the Speaker of the House could be beaten up without the police doing anything to protect him.

While calling for urgent redeployment of the Rivers State Police Commissioner, Joseph Mbu, over his failure to address the growing insecurity in the state, he added that the development if not urgently addressed can constitute a threat to Nigeria's democracy.