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Rivers: Protests as IG extends LG secretariats’ barricade

21st June 2024

Police convoy and IGP

The Inspector General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun on Thursday, stated that his officers would remain at the Rivers State Local Government secretariats until the court rules on the local government chairmen tenure extension crisis in the state.

A clash occurred on Tuesday in Port Harcourt, the state capital, over the tenure of Local Government Council Chairmen, resulting in the deaths of a police officer and a vigilante member.

The three-year terms of the 23 LG chairmen ended on Monday, but they insisted on staying in office, citing the Local Government Amendment Law 2024 enacted by the Martin Amaewhule-led House of Assembly.

This law, passed by 27 lawmakers loyal to the Minister of the Federal Capital, Nyesom Wike, allows the chairmen to remain in office for six more months due to the failure of Governor Siminalayi Fubara to hold local government elections.

On Wednesday, Fubara swore in 23 caretaker committee chairmen in Port Harcourt to man LGs. This was after protesting youths dislodged the LG chairmen whose tenure expired on Monday.

However, the police denied Fubara caretaker chairmen access to their offices across the LGAs.

This was following an announcement by the state police command on Tuesday that it had taken control of all LG council headquarters to prevent further bloodshed and maintain law and order.

Speaking during a meeting with commanders in Abuja, the IGP stated that the barricades would remain until the court reached a decision on the matter.

The IG noted that this was to prevent further loss of lives.

He said, “You are all aware that in what happened two, three days ago, we lost a police inspector. We are sad about that. We don’t want to lose more men.

“We don’t want to lose more Nigerians. We don’t want to lose more citizens of Rivers State. So, we have a duty to prevent the breakdown of law and order.

“And that’s why we have our men taking over the secretariat while we await the outcome of the case in court. As soon as the court makes its pronouncement, we will remove the barricade.”

Rivers not under siege –Fubara

But Rivers Governor, Fubara, insisted on Thursday that there was no crisis in the state.

He said the narrative that Rivers was enmeshed in crisis was untrue.

According to a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Nelson Chukwudi, Fubara spoke to some newsmen in Egbelu Community, shortly after inspecting the progress of work on the 14.6km Omodu-Eberi Road project in Omuma Local Government Area on Thursday.

He stated: “And to also tell Nigerians that Rivers State is peaceful. You can see that we are moving about inspecting projects as against what you see on the screens of your television sets that police are everywhere, that we don’t move about anymore, and that Rivers State is under siege.

“We are not under siege. Our State is free and peaceful. If at all there is any problem in any part of the state, I know quite well that Nigerians know where the problem is coming from, not from us.”

He added, “We are a peace-loving people. It is already written all over us. Our actions and our deeds have confirmed that we are peace-loving people.

“We will continue to maintain the peace that we promised everyone, for the betterment of the good people of Rivers State.”

NULGE, CSOs fume

    The President of the Ijaw National Congress, Prof. Benjamin Okaba, disagreed with the position of the IG that policemen would continue to man the LG secretariats.

    Okaba said  “The IG directive that the police should be there, well maybe from one point of view you could say that the police has no business barricading the place particularly now that the governor has put in place a caretaker committee, which, though not in the constitution is almost a norm in Nigeria; other states have done the same thing as an interim measure before elections are conducted into councils.

    “Yes, again this is why we have been talking about the independence of the police. The constitution says the governor is the Chief Security Officer of the place. The Commissioner of Police should have taken orders from the governor. Now he is taking orders from the IG which again defines the kind of democracy and separation of powers we operate in this country.

    “So, in all, it is a misnomer, which is almost becoming a norm in the country we find ourselves. I feel we should be very careful with what is going on.

    “It is very provocative if not properly managed can lead to bloodshed and all of that, and those are the things I have warned against. So it is now left for stakeholders at the state, federal levels to sit down together and look for a way out of all of this mess. I call it a very messy situation.

    “If you barricade the councils and all that, the governor can institute any place and make it an office of the council. He can even create council areas within the Government House. So this show of force does not stop the governor from going ahead to do what he wants to do.”

    Okaba called on the President to intervene in the Rivers crisis.

    Similarly,  the Chairman of the Rivers State Civil Society Organisation, Enefaa Georgewill, said the stance of the IG showed that “the police have already put themselves in the arena by trying to be an interpreter of court judgments.”

    He said, “Whether we like it or not, there is subsisting court judgment as of now by a high court that is yet to be reversed and the position of the high court is that the local government chairman’s tenure has expired and that the House of Assembly does not have the power to extend the constitutionally guaranteed tenure of LGA chairmen. That is the position of the court as of today, until it is reversed by any court.

    “Furthermore, beyond what a court has even said, our laws are equally very clear, that the Rivers State House of Assembly or any other House of Assembly, for that matter in Nigeria, lacks the power to stretch the three-year tenure of any local government area. So, you begin to wonder where the IG or the Commissioner of Police now got their own power to say that they are creating a stalemate?

    “We would want to warn that the police shouldn’t create situations where civil organisations like ours and other interest groups would have to move into the streets to demand that the police remove themselves from the political arena of Rivers state and obey a subsisting court judgment and equally respect our constitution that says that every local government chairman is supposed to stay for three years. Anything outside this, we will be left with no choice than to begin to mobilise our affiliates and other interest groups and to move to the streets of Port Harcourt and Abuja.”

    In a similar vein, the River State chapter of the National Union of Local Government Employees said it had issued a four-day ultimatum for the police to vacate the LGA secretariats, saying its members would be forced to take to the streets afterwards.

    The Rivers NULGE  President, Clifford Paul, who spoke to our correspondent on the telephone, said, “We have made a statement asking the Rivers State Police Command to reopen the gates for the workers because after the dissolution of the LG councils by the executive governor of the state, since then, all the gates of the 23 LG councils have been and there is no way my workers will be outside or will be absenting themselves from work.

    “So, we are requesting that the needful has to be done. They should vacate the gates so that we can access our premises. We are giving them a four-day ultimatum and after the four days, as a union, I will reserve that comment.”

    Also,  the Human Rights Advocacy Crusaders, on Thursday, called on law enforcement agents, particularly the Nigerian Police, not to get partisan in the Rivers situation.

    In a statement on Thursday by its Convener, Jerry Nicholas, the group said taking sides could lead to further violence and clashes between supporters of different parties, resulting in deaths and destruction of property.

     Nicholas said, “The law is clear: The 1999 Constitution and Section 9(1) of the Rivers State Local Government Law No 5 of 2018 provide for a three-year tenure for local government chairmen, with a possibility of a second term.

    “We hereby inform the security agents that Law No.2 of 2024, which attempted to extend the tenure of the outgoing chairmen by six months has been expunged from the laws of Rivers State by Justice D.G. Kio of the state high court.

    “This means that the outgoing chairmen cannot rely on a non-existent law to continue in office.

    “We reiterate that security agents must remain neutral and not take sides with any party. They must also prevent violence and maintain peace in Rivers State while allowing the democratic process to unfold, and ensuring that the rule of law is upheld.”

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