• en

Armed Group Threatens To Force Out Rivers Local Government Chairmen Over Tenure Expiration

A showdown looms in Rivers State after an armed group vowed to eject council chairmen who insist on tenure elongation.

The controversy over the tenure of local government chairpersons in Rivers State on Monday took a fresh twist after some armed youths threatened to force out council heads found occupying their offices after the expiration of their constitutionally guaranteed terms by midnight of Tuesday.

But Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Mr Olatunji Disu, addressing journalists on Monday at the state police headquarters, warned troublemakers to shun any planned violence in the state. Disu said anyone found fomenting trouble will face the full wrath of the law.

Reacting to the dispute on Monday in Port Harcourt, as he celebrated Eid-el-Kabir, ex-armed agitators’ leader, Asari Dokubo, advised the chairmen of the 23 local government areas in the state to accept the end of their three years’ tenure in good faith and avoid creating a crisis.

However, a civil society group, Vanguard for Transparent Leadership and Democracy (VTLD), called on the National Assembly to intervene in the Rivers State council dispute by invoking the “Doctrine of Necessity” to stave off a looming anarchy. The group made the call in a statement by its National President, Mr. Igbini Emmanuel.

The council chairmen, who had threatened to remain in office after the end of their tenures, were banking on a law passed by the Martin Amaewhule-led Rivers State House of Assembly, which extended their tenures by six months, following the alleged failure of Governor Siminalayi Fubara to conduct fresh local council elections.

The drama unfolded as some youths occupied some of the local government headquarters in the state, and called on the chairmen to vacate their offices.

In Degema and Asari-Toru councils, youths took over the local government headquarters, vowing to occupy the secretariats till Wednesday, when work will resume after the two-day public holiday to mark the Muslim festivities. They said they were against elongation of the tenures of the council heads.

But the council chairmen continued to send mixed signals on Monday as to whether they were ready to leave or not. In Port Harcourt City Local Government Area (PHALGA) and Obio/Akpor, THISDAY observed that security was beefed up to forestall a breakdown of law and order.

In Emohua, the council chairman, Chidi Lloyd, announced via a press statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Bright Jossy, that the council will begin distribution of cutlasses and hoes to farmers from today, June 18, stressing that it is expected to last one week.

Likewise, in Khana, the local government chairman, Thomas Bariere, announced a one-week clean-up exercise in the council, which will commence today, while in Ikwerre, it was gathered that the chairman, Samuel Nwanosike, also announced a one-week cultural festival in the council area.

In Eleme, the council chairman, Barilormate Ollor, was seen in an online video warning people from the area to desist from coming close to the council headquarters or they would be made to meet their forefathers earlier than expected.

But the chairmen of Opobo/Nkoro and Bonny local government areas, who were not part of the disgruntled council heads, had already done their end-of-tenure thanksgiving at the weekend.

Nevertheless, in a five-minute video, trending on Monday, some armed men are seen crossing a creek, and expressing their readiness to “return sanity” to the councils.

Leader of the group, whose name could not be ascertained, is heard declaring in the video that they are back from the river ahead of Wednesday, prepared to deal with any resistance from council chairmen that would refuse to vacate office.

The leader, wearing a black top engraved with G. ASABUJA, says, “Today, is Saturday, June 15, I am back from the river, the creek; preparing and about to take over local government areas on Wednesday, because Monday and Tuesday are public holidays.

“We are back to take over all the 23 local government councils. So, the council chairmen should wait for us. We are coming.  We will ensure every council caretaker goes.

“It is my hobby and business to work with the government, to relate to the government to fight crime. Those who said government will not drink water and keep cup, we will join hands and follow them anyhow they want it.

“I work with the Joint Task Force; I am in charge of anti-bunkering in South-south. I have come back home. Half of my men are back. We are taking over all the local government areas.

“But, for now, we are enjoying, flexing, preparing for Wednesday. I am hosting my boys for Wednesday. So, let all the caretakers be prepared to host my boys on Wednesday, too.”

The leader specifically calls on the chairman of Ikwerre Local Government Area, Nwanosike, to prepare and wait for the group, vowing that he (the group leader) will be present at the council secretariat.

He declares, “Nwanosike Ishi, wait for us on Wednesday. I volunteer to come to Ikwerre LGA. I will be there. Wait for us, there is no problem. You will learn how to respect elders and authority.”

THISDAY gathered that Fubara had earlier sent names of a seven-man caretaker committee for the 23 councils to the House of Assembly led by Victor Oko-Jumbo for screening and confirmation.

The council chairmen and the House of Assembly members loyal to the Minister of the Federal Territory (FCT), Nyesom Wike, had been at loggerheads with the governor.

However, Disu warned against violence, saying culprits will face the full weight of the law. He gave the warning yesterday, when he spoke with journalists at the command’s headquarters, Moscow Road, Port Harcourt.

The police commissioner appealed to parents to caution their children against getting involved in the crisis, warning that they should not allow their wards to be used as “cannon fodder.”

He vowed to protect life and property in the state, and ensure a safe and secure environment for all.

Disu said, “My job as a police policeman is to protect lives and property. And that is what we have gone out to do since morning.

“We are aware of the crisis that has to do with the tenure of the local government chairmen and we have got one court order or the other, and the Court of Appeal has given an order for everybody to exercise restraints till the 20th of this month (June), just about three days away.

“So we expect everybody to respect it and not take laws into their hands and allow peace to continue as it is.”

The Commissioner of Police added, “Sincerely, you know our officers have been out for the past three days. I just finished addressing them and I thank them for the good job they have done; and because they have been out since 4am, and they just came back, we are not taking it lightly, we are ready to go.

“Our officers have been on a show of force and we have had additional men given to us from the headquarters, the equipment has been serviced and we are ready to go.

“This is just to assure members of the public that as far as we are concerned, we are ready to do our jobs of protecting lives and property.

“We have warned anybody who would want to take laws into their hands. I want to use this opportunity to talk to parents to call their children to order and talk to them so that their children will not be used as cannon fodder in this crisis.”

In his intervention, Dokubo advised the council chairmen to accept the end of their three years’ tenure in good faith and vacate their offices.

Speaking on Monday in Port Harcourt, while flanked by stakeholders of the Muslim community in the state as part of activities to mark the Eid-el-Kabir celebration, Dokubo said tenure elongation was an aberration

He stated that the chairmen, whose tenures expired on June 17, could not extend their time in office in contradiction of the oath of office they swore to.

Dokubo warned the chairmen not to invite the wrath of the “people’s power”.

He said, “Local government tenure has expired today (June 17, 2024). They should quietly go home. If they want to seek re-election in accordance with the constitution, they should go and seek re-election.

“But there is no tenure elongation in the constitution. Their position is tenure-bound, and that tenure has expired. Let them not cause unnecessary problem for the people of the state. And I want to advise young people, that look, don’t allow yourselves to be used.”

Similarly, a former Majority Leader of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Tamunosisi Gogo-Jaja, in an interview with Channels Television, said he was sure that the chairmen will not exceed Tuesday night in their offices.

Gogo-Jaja said, “There’s no tension. By my assessment, everything is under control.”

He alleged that there were rumours that some persons wanted to loot the properties of the council’s, which prompted the youth to lay siege to some council headquarters.

The former lawmaker said, “There’s nothing to resist because I can assure you that no council chairman will report to the local government secretariat on Wednesday.”

Gogo-Jaja stated that if by Tuesday or Wednesday the governor did not send a list of replacement for the outgoing council heads, he would be failing in his duty as leader of the state.

But a civil society organisation called on the National Assembly to wade in by invoking the “Doctrine of Necessity” to prevent an impending anarchy.

VTLD made the call in a statement made available to THISDAY.

The national president charged the National Assembly to “urgently invoke the ‘Doctrine of Necessity’ to save Rivers from a complete breakdown of law and order”.

Emmanuel said the group was worried about what would happen now that the three-year tenure of the 23 local government chairmen had ended. He said already, the political tension in the state had heightened between supporters of Fubara and his estranged political godfather, Wike.

Emmanuel said, “It is sadly an undeniable fact that the state is right now facing grave and imminent danger with both opposing political groups gearing for full blown war on June 17 and days after the takeover and control of the administration of the local government councils.”

He said with the conflicting court judgements and pending suits relating to the lawful members and leadership of the state legislature, there existed no legislative organ to make laws for peace, order and good governance of the state as stipulated by Section 4(6) of the Nigerian constitution.

The group implored the National Assembly  “to immediately invoke the doctrine of necessity in Rivers State, with a view to preventing the impending breakdown of law and order until such a time the state assembly was able to resume its functions”.

It further argued that by the express provisions of sections 4 and 11(4) of the 1999 Constitution, the National Assembly had the constitutional power to make laws for the peace, order, good government of the federation or any part thereof.

The group called for the setting up of a five-member interim management committee, made up of men and women drawn from the academia, judiciary, religious groups, including professional bodies and non-governmental organisations, for each council.

It recommended that members of the committee “must be indigenes of the respective local government areas, who are not members of any political party and not known to be supporters or close associates of the governor or his predecessor”.

The group also recommended that the committee should administer the councils for not more than three months during which local government elections should be conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Emmanuel Addeh, Chuks Okocha and Blessing Ibunge 

Follow us on: