Moves by 24 members of the Rivers State House of Assembly to impeach Governor Siminalayi Fubara resulted in turbulence in the state on Monday, as the governor’s loyalists stormed the assembly complex in protest against the plot.
This came after the bombing of the state House of Assembly located along Moscow Road in Port Harcourt by suspected arsonists on Sunday. A section of the chamber was damaged, and some properties were destroyed.
Sunday’s explosion at the assembly, it was gathered, was to prevent the lawmakers from carrying out their planned impeachment, but the men of the fire service successfully put out the fire.
The lawmakers, who were believed to be loyal to the immediate past Rivers State governor and Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike, had signed an impeachment notice against the embattled governor early Monday morning.
The development resulted in the deployment of security operatives in the assembly complex and other locations in Port Harcourt, the state capital, sparking tension and fear about a possible eruption of violence in the state.
Following the crisis, the state assembly was cordoned off by armed security personnel.
However, the cause of the crisis between Fubara and his godfather, Wike, could not be ascertained but the impeachment plot blew open the alleged cold war between the two men.
Wike had singlehandedly supported the election of Fubara against the will of some stakeholders of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in the state.
Wike could not be reached for comment on Monday as calls to his line indicated that it was switched off.
He had yet to respond to a text message seeking his reaction to the impeachment plot against his successor as of the time of filing this report.
The stage for the crisis was set late Sunday night with the alleged firebombing of a section of the assembly complex by unknown persons in a futile bid to prevent the anti-Fubara lawmakers from having their plenary on Monday.
But the attack failed to stop the legislators who met early Monday morning and signed an impeachment notice against the governor.
Led by the Speaker, Martin Amaewhule, the anti-Fubara lawmakers held a meeting at about 6am on Monday, where they signed the impeachment notice against Fubara.
The lawmakers also removed the House Leader, Edison Ehie, who was strongly opposed to the impeachment of the governor and suspended three other members said to be loyal to Fubara.
The suspended members include Sokari Goodboy Sokari, representing Ahoada West, Adolphus Oruibienimigha, representing Opobo/Nkoro and Victor Oko Jumbo, representing Bonny.
Presenting the notice of impeachment, the member representing Omuma constituency, Sylvanus Nwankwo stated that the notice was brought pursuant to section 188 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, adding that the impeachment notice was predicated on ‘’gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of the office of the governor.’’
The Speaker condemned the bombing of the House by those he described as ‘misfits’, stressing that the House would not condone any ‘indecorous, rascally and irresponsible’ conduct from any member.
He said the House would follow the constitutional provisions as enshrined in Section 188 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
The lawmakers thereafter left the assembly in a convoy accompanied by security operatives.
Shortly after, the governor accompanied by three Department of State Services operatives and supporters arrived at the assembly.
A viral video showed policemen firing gunshots, tear gas canisters and water cannons at the governor and scores of his supporters as they walked to the state assembly complex.
The governor and his loyalists were going to the assembly complex to assess the damage caused by the Sunday night arson attack at the complex when the incident occurred.
Our correspondent who was at the scene reports that the men of the Department of State Services attempted to shield the governor from being drenched by the high-velocity stream of water released by the police.
The DSS operatives were heard shouting at their colleagues, “Stop shooting, the governor is here.”
However, Fubara secured a temporary reprieve as he was able to swing some lawmakers to his side after having an emergency meeting with them at the Government House.
Following this sudden turn of events, the pro-Fubara house members announced the suspension of eight of their colleagues and the impeachment of Speaker Amaehwule.
Edison Ehie, who was earlier suspended as the leader of the House by the anti-Fubara lawmakers, was elected the factional speaker after the sitting held in the Government House.
The development came as part of efforts by pro-Fubara lawmakers to frustrate the bid to impeach the governor.
Addressing journalists at the Government House, Ehie said the House would give a fair hearing to the suspended members.
He stated, “As you can see, the House just rose from plenary and with all humility I must thank my colleagues, 26 assembly members, who have just elected me as the new speaker of the 10th Rivers State House of Assembly.
“My commitment to Rivers people is that I will be fair and just to all and sundry. And I will ensure that the rule of law takes its course.
“I will not betray my colleagues; I will not betray Rivers people, I will not betray my constituents.
“I will also ensure the Independence of the Rivers State House of Assembly is adhered to with mutual respect to the judiciary and the executive arm of government.’’
Speaking further, he noted, “The honourable members that have been suspended as has been published will also be given a fair hearing. The Committee on Information will publish their names and the House urged the House Committee on Petitions to give them a fair hearing.
“The House has also adjourned sine die because the Parliamentary Association has served us a notice of indefinite strike from Abuja. So, we can’t sit again.
“It, therefore, holds that any sitting after now will not hold water because an official notice has been received. I tell the people if they have any grievances, approach the court. That is the resolution of the House. “
Reacting to the attack on him at the assembly complex in a statement by his media Aide, Boniface Onyedi, the governor said he foiled an alleged attempt by some compromised police officers to assassinate him.
He specifically accused the Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of Operations of shooting directly at him.
The governor said this happened when he visited the state assembly to assess the extent of damage following the bombing of the complex by some hoodlums.
Fubara described as unfortunate the attempt by some disgruntled persons to forcefully take over the control of the assembly.
He also condemned the attack on a section of the parliamentary building.
Recalling a similar development that happened in the state nine years ago, the governor explained that he decided to visit the assembly after hearing about the arson attack.
The statement read, “I got the information last night and said I must come and see it myself. Everybody who knows me knows that I’m a peaceful person.
“I can never ever, even if I am aware that there is a plot to impeach me for whatever reason, be part of such destruction.
“I am worried that a facility like this that we used taxpayers’ money to build will be destroyed for selfish reasons just to please somebody.
“From what I have seen, even the security is compromised because they were shooting at me directly. The DC Operations was shooting at me.”
Fubara, who later addressed dozens of youths, including Ijaw Youth Council members at the Government House entrance, described as null and void the attempt to impeach him by some lawmakers.
He said it was an illegal legislative action.
The governor commended the youths for standing up to protect the interest of Rivers State and said he was not scared about the impeachment but such action had to be properly explained and justified.
“Let it be on record; whoever masterminded the attack at the Assembly is trying to divert attention.
“If Siminalayi Fubara is impeached, I won’t be the first, neither will I be the last. But what is important is that any attempt that is not justified will be resisted.
“Let them come out and tell Rivers people the offence that I have committed to warrant impeachment.
“But my happiness this morning is that the people of Rivers State represented by every one of you here are with us.
“I can go home and sleep. Let me assure Rivers people that we will continue to defend them, protect the people and ensure that they will enjoy the dividends of democracy,’’ he stated.
He expressed his readiness to die in defence of the state, saying, “They (police) were shooting at me directly. At the end of the day, somebody will die. So, when you hear the name Fubara, somebody will say somebody who died in the struggle.
“I am not planning anything against anybody. I hear some people gathered here to do whatever. But that is pure rubbish.
“You cannot sit when there is a problem and say you are doing anything. What are you doing? I’m the chief security officer. No other person should come and create an alternative place somewhere for the assembly to sit. “
Meanwhile, the Rivers State Police Command has assured residents that they would be launching an investigation into the incident at the House of Assembly.
In a post on its X page (formerly Twitter), the force stated, “We’re aware of the security situation at the Rivers State House of Assembly Complex. The Rivers State Police Command is actively addressing the matter.’’
The leadership of the PDP in the state called on both the legislative and executive arms of the government in the state to exercise restraint.
The state PDP Chairman, Amb. Desmond Akawor and Secretary, Benebo George in a statement said, “The leadership of the party, therefore, further calls on youths in the state to exercise caution and refuse to use the situation to embark on wanton destruction of state properties, rather continue to maintain the existing peace and tranquillity in the state, while calling on the good people of the state to remain calm and await the peaceful resolution of the situation.’’
Reacting to the development, the state All Progressives Congress condemned the bombing of the assembly, saying it was a destruction of public assets.
The party spokesman, Darlington Nwauju however warned political leaders not to truncate the fragile peace and security of the state because of their selfish interest and greed.
When contacted by The PUNCH, the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba noted, , “We have not been briefed, we are still studying the situation. So, when we get the details, we will speak.”
But the PDP Deputy National Youth Leader, Timothy Osadolor, asked the party’s National Working Committee to sanction ex-governor Wike for allegedly plotting to impeach Fubara.
Osadolor advised Fubara to ban the minister from visiting Rivers State.
He said, “The truth is that what is happening in Rivers State is unfortunate. All men of goodwill irrespective of the political divide should stand up and say no to Nyesom Wike and those behind the plot to impeach the governor of Rivers State.’’
Commenting on the situation, elder statesman and the leader of the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, Chief Edwin Clark, admonished President Bola Tinubu to call Wike and the security forces in Rivers State to order.
Clark said he was greatly disturbed by the political developments in the state in the last 24 hours.
The Ijaw leader said, “I have been reliably informed that there is a plot to unlawfully remove Governor Siminalaye Fubara of Rivers State, who has spent only about five months in office.
“I understand the sad episode is being orchestrated by the immediate past governor of Rivers State and the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mr Nyesom Wike.
“And that the intention is to remove the governor, force his deputy, Professor Ngozi Odu to resign, and install the Speaker of the House of Assembly, another Ikwerre person, as the governor of the state. Let me warn strongly, we won’t allow that to happen!
“President Bola Tinubu must call Nyesom Wike and the security agencies in Rivers State to order, to avert any untold crisis in Rivers State.
“Last night, the hallowed chamber of the Rivers State House of Assembly was burnt in what apparently is part of the plot to destabilize the state.
“The governor was tear-gassed and was even threatened with being shot at when he visited the assembly complex after the incident to assess the level of damage.
“We are not in a barbaric state where people can do whatever they like; we are in a democracy and the tenets of constitutional democracy must be upheld by all.’’
Warning against fomenting an avoidable crisis in the state which could have wider implications for the Niger Delta region, the elder statesman cautioned, “Rivers people have suffered enough political crises. The state should not be allowed to degenerate again into its dark past, and the Niger Delta region by extension.
“The consequences would be dire for the stability of the region and the national economy. What has Governor Fubara done wrong? Refusing to be further ‘remote controlled’?
“Mr Nyesom Wike was governor for eight years, nobody hassled him. He governed Rivers State like an emperor, he did not show any iota of respect and regard to anyone, not even those who imposed him on Rivers people in 2015.
“President Tinubu must act fast and avert the unfolding crisis in Rivers State in the interest of his administration, the nation’s democracy, and the country at large. A word is enough for the wise.”
A former Rivers State commissioner for special duties, Tonye Cookeygam, faulted the impeachment process, stating that Fubara did not deserve such a treatment.
He said Rivers people ‘’will not fold their arms and allow few persons that have an ulterior motive to take laws into their hands.’’
“I don’t understand what the problem is. The governor has been very loyal to the former governor of the state. The three arms of government should observe the doctrine of separation of power.
‘’Why should the legislative arm of the government without prompting initiate an impeachment process against a man who is barely seven months in office?
“You can see the level of development in the state as regards several projects initiated by the state government. I was expecting that the projects initiated by the state government lined up for commissioning would have started.
“The governor has done well within the period he is in power. He has carried out several projects so on what basis do you want to impeach the governor?
Also, a former acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Ibim Semenitari, condemned the attempt by some political actors to destabilise Rivers State.
While she noted that a crisis at this or any other time would be of no benefit to the state, Semenitari called for an immediate stop to the political upheaval in the state.
Semenitari, who noted that Rivers State had had too many political crises, said at no time was the state the ultimate beneficiary.
“This state has had too many political crises and was at no time the ultimate winner. At each time, the economy and the people suffered. We cannot continue to whirl in this sad cesspool while other states move up the political and economic ladder,” she added.
In condemning the impeachment moves against the governor, the former Rivers State information commissioner argued that it was outrageous that anyone would consider removing Fubara barely five months after taking office.
Madukwe B. Nwabuisi is an accomplished journalist renown for his fearless reporting style and extensive expertise in the field. He is an investigative journalist, who has established himself as a kamikaze reporter.