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Fubara, lawmakers feud throws Rivers into turmoil

The crisis in Rivers State took a turn for the worse yesterday.

Three members of the House of Assembly loyal to Governor Siminialayi Fubara declared themselves as the authentic House of Assembly members.

They elected one of them, Victor Oko-Jumbo, representing Bonny Constituency, as Speaker.

This follows the governor’s declaration of 27 lawmakers who defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC) from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as illegitimate.

The election of Oko-Jumbo as speaker took place at about 10 am.

Thereafter, he declared: “All laws, plenary sessions and actions taken by the illegal House members are hereby declared void and a nullity in the eyes of the law.’’

Oko-Jumbo’s election by three Pro-Fubara lawmakers, was in spite of the peace deal brokered between the warring parties by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu late last year.

Since then, the Martin Amaewhule-led Assembly has continued to make laws for the state, overriding the assents of the governor, who continually vetoed the passed bills.

Other parties joined the crisis, instituting various suits at the state high court to challenge the actions of the lawmakers.

While the Amaewhule-led Assembly continued to threaten the governor with impeachment, the governor on Monday fired back.

Oko-Jumbo, in a statement, accepted his position and thanked the members for electing him.

He said: “This is in line with Section 92(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (CFRN 1999) as Amended.

“You will agree with me that after the House last sat on the 13th of December, 2023, and adjourned sine dine, there has been an avalanche of legislative rascality perpetrated by the 25 former members of the 10th Rivers State House of Assembly, led by the former Speaker, Rt. Hon. Martin Chike Amaewhule.

These former members, being fully aware of the provisions of Section 109(1)(g) of the CFRN 1999, defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Party (APC) on the 11th of December, 2023.

“My distinguished colleagues, there are a plethora of cases pending in our courts further to the defection of the former lawmakers.

“All laws, plenary sessions and actions taken by the illegal House members are hereby declared void and a nullity in the eyes of the law by virtue of the judgment of Lord Denning in the celebrated case of MacFoy v UAC (1961) 3 All ER 1169.

“You cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stay there. It will collapse.

“Furthermore, this House would want to most respectfully urge and call on His Excellency, the Governor of Rivers State, Sir Siminalayi Fubara, to desist forthwith from further dealings with the 25 former lawmakers, in whatever guise.

“Those members are merely floating and do not have any landing ground or anywhere to berth their ship since their defection to the APC on the 11th of December, 2023.

“We will sit again, and communicate our proceedings to the public and make sure that we are doing what we ought to do to ensure there is transparency and clarity of leadership of the 10th Legislative Assembly.”

Fubara is a threat to democracy, says Amaewhule

Also, yesterday, the Amaewhule-led House described Fubara as a threat to democracy.

A statement by the media aide to the Speaker, Martins Wachukwu, quoted members, who rose against the governor’s remarks as describing them as unguarded and a direct affront to the grundnorm of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“We will not join the governor in messy comments. We will continue to perform our constitutional functions as an institution and one of the tripods of democratic government”, the Speaker said.

At the sitting, the lawmakers were said to have consolidated the State Local Government Law No. 5 of 2018, the Rivers State Local Government (Amendment) Law of 2023, and the Rivers State Local Government (Amendment) Law No. 4 of 2024 to form a new Local Government Law that provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of the local government councils and other matters.

Another twist yesterday was the revelation by the local government chairmen that the governor was withholding allocation to some of the councils.

They warned of a likely breakdown of peace over the action.

On Tuesday, the Rivers chapter of the APC “directed” the 27 lawmakers to begin an impeachment process against Governor Fubara for misconduct.

But the government rejected the call, which it described as a smokescreen.

Elder statesman Edwin Clark urged Inspector General of Police Kayode Egbetokun to intervene quickly to prevent a looming crisis.

Insisting that the council chairmen distorted the information on allocation, the state government said the chairmen should prepare to vacate office on June 17.

This is contrary to the Bill passed into law by the House of Assembly after overriding the veto of Governor Fubara.

The chairmen said one of the councils last received its statutory allocation in February and two in March.

But the government said only one council, Emohua, had its fund withheld by the Local Government Service Commission “to save the dignity and rights’’ of its employees.

The government which also said that Fubara had no interest in council funds, advised the chairmen to prepare for their exit on June 17.

It also told them that no retroactive law by the state House of Assembly would save them from vacating office on the said date.

The Martin Amaehwule–led House which has since late last year been at loggerheads with the governor passed a local government amendment bill into law in April after Fubara declined his assent.

It had on March 13 amended the Rivers State Local Government Law No. 5 of 2018 and other matters connected thereto, to pave the way for the council chairmen to seek fresh terms.

Twenty-seven out of the 32 members of the House and the council chairmen are backing Federal Capital Territory Minister Nyesom Nwike in the feud between him and Fubara.

institutions in our state.

“We also call on all well-meaning Rivers people and Nigerians, in general, to join in condemning the unlawful withholding of local government funds by the Rivers State Government as undemocratic, unconstitutional and retrogressive.

“We have noticed that the Governor of Rivers State is seeking to proscribe the system of local government which is guaranteed under Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.

“This action is tantamount to an illegal proscription of the local government councils by a governor who had recently announced that the members of the Rivers State House of Assembly are non-existent or exist merely at his convenience/mercy.

“These are clear signs that Rivers State is on the verge of being plunged into the dark ages of totalitarianism and autocratic rule under His Excellency Sir Siminialayi Fubara.”

The state Information Commissioner,  Warisenibo Johnson, who said that only Emohua Local Government allocations were withheld, told the council chiefs to know that their tenures cannot be extended by any retrospective law.

Johnson explained that the allocations of three councils – Ikwerre, Ahoada East, and Emohua – were seized by the state’s Local Government Service Commission for sacking some of their workers in breach of the law.

Ikwerre and Ahoada council funds, according to him, were later released when they recalled the affected workers.

He said: “Emohua, Ahoada East, and Ikwerre local government areas chairmen were involved in an act beyond their constitutional powers.

“Local government chairmen have no right to sack any local government staff. The only body vested with that responsibility is the Local Government Service Commission. The three local government areas ran into murky waters.

“But Ahoada East and Ikwerre Local councils obeyed the directives of the commission but Emohua refused to do so and the commission was bent on doing the right thing.”

‘’That is why the money of Emohua is withheld. Nobody is holding their money. The governor is not interested in their money.”

The commissioner added that the chairmen should not nurse the idea of continuing in office beyond their three-year tenure because the 1999 Constitution prohibits retrospective laws.

Johnson said: “There is a prohibition on retrospective law. No law is made in retrospect. So, if a council chairman’s tenure is statutorily three years, no law can be made by any House of Assembly that can override the provisions of the 1999 Constitution on retrospective law.

“The local government chairmen will naturally sound the way they are sounding because there is something for them to benefit. What they are pursuing is a smokescreen, a fluke, and a mirage. It has no basis in law. Too many wrongs can never make one right.

It is a settled law that their tenure will expire on the 17th of June and by the 18th of June they will no longer be eligible to be called chairmen. It means their responsibilities have turned to what is called functus officio. They should stop deceiving Rivers people.”

PDP warns APC against forcible takeover of Rivers

The PDP warned that the call for Fubara’s impeachment by the APC was tantamount to an attempt to overthrow a democratic order in breach of the 1999 Constitution.

The party consequently urged the Inspector-General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, to urgently investigate “the subversive utterances” of the state APC Chairman, Mr. Tony Okocha.

National Publicity Secretary Debo Ologunagba, who spoke with reporters in Abuja, added that the call by Okocha indicated ‘’APC’s desperation to forcefully (forcibly) annexe’’ Rivers State.

He said: “Such reckless and unwarranted statement by the APC Chairman in Rivers State exposes the vile desperation of the APC, which is roundly rejected in Rivers State, to use violence, coercion, and bullying to undermine the will of the people and forcibly take over the State.

“The fact that the Rivers State APC Chairman, in his warped imagination, thinks he can direct impeachment proceeding against a duly elected state governor not only shows the level of APC’s arrogance and condescension for the people of Rivers State but also further confirms APC’s desperation to annex their democratic rights under the constitution forcefully.’’

According to Ologunagba, the PDP shares Fubara’s viewpoint that the 27 APC members in the House have no constitutional authority.

“In any event, the individuals that the Rivers State APC chairman directed to commence impeachment proceedings against Governor Fubara are not legally members of the Rivers State House of Assembly and cannot contemplate or exercise such powers under the law,’’ he said.

“The PDP draws the attention of the Inspector General of Police to the subversive utterances of the APC Chairman in Rivers State which are capable of triggering crisis and derailing the Democratic Order in the country.

“The APC must perish the thought of forcefully taking over Rivers State as such is a direct assault on the sensibility of the people which will be resisted firmly.’’

The party also advised Okocha to ‘’come to terms with the fact that Rivers State is home to PDP and that the people of Rivers State are not ready to put their destiny in the hands of a corrupt, oppressive and anti-people Special Purpose Vehicle like the APC.’’

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