MUHAMMED LAWAL examines the crisis that pits Governor Siminalayi Fubara of Rivers State and the Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike, against each other and how the moves to resolve this crisis have become a point of discourse
William Golding’s Lord of the Flies conceptualises the famous Darwinian Theory of ‘survival of the fittest’ as the belief that only the people with a strong wish to succeed and the knack to change as situations change will accomplish success. This piece becomes necessary in assessing the imminent rift between a supposedly ‘godfather’ and ‘son’ as they stylishly submit to Niccolo Machiavelli’s exitus ācta probat which means ‘the end justifies the means’.
The dispute continues to eat deep into the economic activities and governance in Rivers State. Therefore, there is a need for settlement to ensure that the people of the state enjoy the dividend of democracy through uninterrupted governance because when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.
The people of Rivers State have continuously been overlooked in this matter as they lament the ill-fated situation in the state. This is not to forget that the country is still in an economic quagmire where citizens find it hard to feed, shelter, or clothe.
Other state governments have in their capacities put measures into place to ensure that the yearnings of the people in these various states are met, but here comes Rivers State plummeting in an unnecessary brawl of superiority at the expense of the people who have chosen them as their representatives. By now, politicians should know that governance is not about them because they must focus on their primary assignment which is to better the country, state, and the people.
Money down the drain
In October 2023, the Rivers State House of Assembly complex was razed by fire and it was alleged that some suspected arsonists threw an explosive into the complex around 9.25pm. It was noted that the incident came as a result of alleged moves by some lawmakers to impeach Governor Fubara.
On December 6, 2023, bulldozers moved into the complex and began the demolition of the facility located along Moscow Road, Port Harcourt. The state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Joseph Johnson, explained in a statement issued that the fire that gutted the complex and destroyed property worth millions of naira rendered the facility unfit for use. Now, the state government has submitted to rebuilding the complex with a lot of money.
Loyalists in confusion
As other states presented their budgets, Rivers State remained blank as the brewing crisis barricaded the state’s progress. This was assumed to be caused by a division in the House, where there were two factional speakers. The state government moved to present an N800bn budget and there was the question about where the document of the year’s expenditure would be presented.
Meanwhile, the loyalists queued behind their masters; some lawmakers queued in line with Governor Siminalayi Fubara while the 27 lawmakers queued behind the immediate past governor of the state and the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom.
There was a twist when Wike’s loyalists who were 27 lawmakers defected from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress. This was seen by many as a move to ensure that the budget proposal for the state was not passed with the quorum required by the House of Assembly. However, this did not work as the governor presented the N800bn budget with four lawmakers present and Edison Ehie as the speaker. However, the crisis continues to hinder activities in the state.
PDP, APC intervene
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, in reaction to the defection of the 27 lawmakers to the APC, insisted that the party would write the Independent National Electoral Commission to demand fresh elections to replace them.
Also, President Bola Tinubu directed that all matters instituted in the courts by the governor and his team in respect of the political crisis be withdrawn, and all impeachment proceedings against the governor by the state House of Assembly should be immediately dropped.
Critical stakeholders present at the signing of the resolution aimed at resolving the crisis include Governor Fubara, Wike; National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu; Speaker, Rivers State Assembly, Martin Amaewhule; Rivers State PDP Chairman, Aaron Chukwuemeka; and the state APC Chairman, Tony Okocha.
It (resolution) partly read, “The leadership of the Rivers State House of Assembly as led by the Rt. Hon. Martin Amaewhule shall be recognised alongside the 27 members who resigned from the PDP.
“The remunerations and benefits of all members of the Rivers State House of Assembly and their staff must be reinstated immediately and the Governor of Rivers State shall henceforth not interfere with the full funding of the Rivers State House of Assembly.”
Now that there is a resolution, what would be the fate of the defected lawmakers?
Ex-govs disagree with successors
In 2014, Dr Peter Odili said he regretted supporting Mr Rotimi Amaechi to become the governor of the state in 2007. He accused Amaechi of breaking the structure of the PDP by defecting to the All Progressives Congress.
However, such disagreement between governors and their predecessors in the state was said to have begun with Odili. It was noted that he had a breaking relationship with Ada George, who was also a governor of the state at a point. The way Amaechi was against him, he (Odili) was said to have disagreed with those who brought him to power. Such disagreement between governors and their successors continued till today, as there is no love lost between Governor Fubara and Wike.
Acknowledging the restoration of peace in the state, the Chairman of the Caretaker Committee of the All Progressives Congress in Rivers State, Tony Okocha, said President Tinubu’s mediation was crucial, adding that it helped to restore peace in Rivers State.
He said, “Yes, President Tinubu’s intervention is valid. The president is a very busy person and he has no time to meddle in the affairs of states. However, there were many requests from the people of Rivers State and people outside the state urging the president to intervene in the political crisis that plagued the state. There was a time when the House of Assembly was razed by fire and this structure represented democracy in the state. This was going on and people were begging the president to intervene and he did. It was the president’s intervention that saved the day if not by now we would have been in a mess.
“The beneficiary of the president’s intervention is the governor of the state. Aside from restoring peace in the state. The intervention was timely and it was the solution. There can’t be development in a situation of war. We need peace in Rivers State.”
The National Deputy Youth Leader of PDP and member of Imo State Campaign Council, Timothy Osadolor, described the crisis in Rivers State as a shame, adding that the President did not have the right to issue directives to Governor Fubara.
“I think what is happening in Rivers State is a shame. I also believe that it is something that should not happen. I am surprised till now that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu, is issuing classroom and headmaster’s directives to Governor Fubara as if he is one of his appointees in Rivers State. It beats my imagination as to how no one could draw President Tinubu’s attention to know that his powers are not infinite or that of God.
“Whatever they have done is to put Governor Fubara on the spot; if you go Rivers State today, they say he is a man that has issues and that he had an agreement with Wike, even with the President which he has not honoured. For Governor Fubara whom I know personally, I do know that to ask a governor to go and represent a budget that he had ceremoniously signed into law is the best form of humiliation. He should reconsider commissioners who resigned on him; this is despicable, and it is something that should be condemned in its entirety. But let it be on record that members of the PDP are not happy, the leadership of the party is not sleeping, and Nigerians are watching.
“Whatever happens today, the good thing is that it has been documented on the internet and Nigerians can never forget it. That we cannot do anything today does not mean a whole lot will not be done against it. It is a question of when and how. I know that the PDP and Nigerians will rise to these questions. Whatever agreement that they have signed as gentlemen legally is binding, but why will they use that to unwind the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which is illegal in itself? For instance, the budget process is a constitutional issue; the House of Assembly seats that are now vacant is a constitutional issue.
“When did President Tinubu become the Supreme Court and judge of the Supreme Court all by himself where he decides cases to go to court and which ones should be dropped? I think Nigerians should say enough is enough; it is not about the PDP anymore; it is about the integrity of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the sanctity of the things we do in this country in the name of politics.”
Lending his voice to the issues in the state, the Chairman of the South-South United Action for Democracy and the Rivers State Civil Society Organisations, Enefaa Georgwill, stated that the resolution was not necessary as it was orchestrated to subvert Rivers State Government.
“The resolution of the purported meeting is a direct slap on Rivers State. We wonder if truly the resolution came from Mr President; a resolution that tended to put the state in the hands of the Minister of FCT. The state belongs to Rivers State and the governor. As of today, except for the court rules, the people voted for Fubara and he owes them the responsibility to administer resources, provide security, and other governmental functions—furthermore, the President has no power to adjudicate over a matter that is still in court.
“The court had okayed the removal of Martins Amaewhule and it remains so. It is only a court that can reverse a case by itself at the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court. I have not seen a president go ahead and adjudicate over a matter that is already in court. The PDP is a democratic party; it is not divided, and they have one national chairman. Our focus is very clear; what happens to a lawmaker who defected when his party is not divided? We all know that the PDP has one National Executive, and at the state level, they have one as well. On what basis did they defect? It is a question of law. So, the President cannot decide except we are going back to the time of military dictatorship.
“This is why we are saying that the government lacks constitutional power to interpret matters already before the court. If for political reasons, gladiators want to meet and interface, that is to that extent, but to the issue in Rivers State, the President lacks the constitutional power to interfere. So, we are saying the lawmakers should prepare for a rerun election or in the alternative, they should go to court to get a judicial pronouncement. Even the governor and the Speaker have no power to reverse themselves. If they agree to reverse anything, we will take issues with them and take them to court because they do not have such power; it is only the court that has it.
“The sole purpose of government is to function and dish out functions of governing which is termed dividend of democracy. Those who are distracting the governor should stop it and allow him to focus on governance. If he fails or derails, civil societies will call him to account to explain the resources at his disposal. For now, he just passed his budget which other governors are doing.
Recently, he just gave a N100,000 Christmas bonus to the workers. So, we call on him to pursue those probable programmes like payment of demurrage of teachers that the previous administration refused to pay for eight years, and the company closed by the previous government opened, and industries should be revived. If he refuses to ignore his distractions and he continues to attend frivolous meetings, within a short time, we are going to ask him questions. We will not be interested in such frivolities and those who are aggrieved should go to court and seek redress.”
Similarly, a political analyst and Chancellor of the International Society for Social Justice and Human Rights, Omenazu Jackson, said negotiation for peace was crucial but it must be done according to law.
“There is an absolute need for peace in Rivers State, but it should not be peace of the graveyard. The presidential intervention is good, but it lapses its power. Before the president gave such directives and mediation, the law required that one should go to court and seek the consent of the court to withdraw the matter when the court grants it. One will come back to say let us resolve and let us go and withdraw the matter finally if agreed. That President sits in the comfort of the office and gives directives that conflict with the constitution. The President cannot be the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Directing that the 27 lawmakers who had voluntarily left the party that sponsored them into the election to another to come back: under what premise? Section 109 is very clear and non-ambiguous. There is no crisis in the party. As of today, they have failed to be parliamentarians in the Rivers State House of Assembly which is the position of the law—asking them to go back and preside in which house, under which law. There is a court order declaring their seats vacant and the order has not been reviewed by an appellate court. The president should know this aside from the Attorney-General who should have advised him better.
“This emperor kind of politics should stop, democracy calls for negotiation and understanding, and people should not be bullied to respect the other. This political class has joined forces to use hunger as a lethal weapon for Nigerians otherwise, some of them are not worthy to be chairman of a family meeting,” he added.
Meanwhile, the nine commissioners-nominees who resigned at the peak of the crisis have been sworn in, a development which many see as one of the measures that can quell the political pressure in the state. Still, many believe that only time will tell if this action amounts to a wrong or right action.