Rivers State: Who Will Rescue Democracy, Constitution from the Politicians?

Rivers State: Who Will Rescue Democracy, Constitution from the Politicians?

Rivers State’s political crisis was accentuated during the outgoing week by comments and actions by different actors. Governor Sim Fubara now talking tough, has taken the battle to the court of members of the State House of Assembly. This led to calls for his impeachment by the opposition APC. Then the emergence of a new

Rivers State’s political crisis was accentuated during the outgoing week by comments and actions by different actors. Governor Sim Fubara now talking tough, has taken the battle to the court of members of the State House of Assembly. This led to calls for his impeachment by the opposition APC. Then the emergence of a new Speaker by lawmakers loyal to the governor. The state is now a litmus test for democracy and the Nigerian constitution.

Without a doubt, Rivers State is in a political quagmire; where the Chief Executive does not enjoy the confidence and loyalty of the majority of his cabinet members because he never appointed them. That has weakened his control of the levers of power. Accepting to be made governor in the first instance, was like putting one’s head in the lion’s mouth. A Commissioner who resigned from his cabinet recently boasted: “I never applied to work for Governor Fubara; I was invited to serve under him. Even after my first resignation on the 14th of November, I never wanted to come back as a person but the President asked us to go back”.

While Fubara presides over the State as Governor, real power resides outside the State. He has been insulted and undermined severally by loyalists of the former governor, Nyesom Wike, now Minister of Federal Capital Territory and Fubara’s benefactor. He bought the nomination forms for all political office holders from the state. But the State cannot be governed by two persons simultaneously. No dog, no matter how skilful and dexterous can guard two houses at a time. There is a plethora of cases in Courts from Portharcourt to Abuja to test the law and ascertain who is right and wrong. Rivers State needs to be rescued before anarchy sets in.

There has been a change of tactics from Governor Fubara’s end; from defence to attack. A game-changer was the election of Rt. Hon. Victor Oko-Jumbo representing Bonny State on Wednesday, May 8, 2024, as Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly. The House subsequently declared all actions taken by the members of the factional Assembly led by Hon. Martin Amaewhule as void and nullity in the eyes of the law and further called on Gov. Siminalayi Fubara to stop dealing with the former lawmakers who are believed to have lost their seats following their defection.

There are contentious issues of both constitutional and democratic dimensions: Can the 27 lawmakers elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party who defected to another party, the All Progressives Congress be said to be legitimate members of the Assembly when the constitution says in article Section 109 (1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution (Amended) that: a member of a House of Assembly shall vacate his seat in the House if … (g) being a person whose election to the House of Assembly was sponsored by a political Party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected”. But this section needs the Speaker of the House of Assembly to be activated. This must have led to the emergence of a new Speaker aftermath of the defection of 27 members.

On the flip side, can the remaining three members be said to properly constitute a House of Assembly in a state where there should be 31 members? That is a constitutional issue for the Court to decide. The new Speaker, Rt. Hon. Oko-Jumbo said his emergence was a sequel to the resignation of Rt. Hon. Edison Ogerenya Ehie and in line with section 92 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended.

But the new Speaker thanked his colleagues for the confidence reposed in him assuring that he will continue to work with them to move the state forward. He declared: “All laws, plenary sessions, and actions taken by the illegal House are hereby declared void and a nullity in the eyes of the law by the judgment of Lord Denning in the celebrated case of MacFoy v UAC (1961) 3 All ER 1169, which held that “you cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand.” Oko-Jumbo explained further, “If an act is void, then it is in law a nullity. It is not only bad but incurably bad. There is no need for an order of court to set it aside. It is automatically null and void without much ado, though it is sometimes more convenient to have the court declare it to be so.

APC, PDP Trade Words
The Rivers State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) ordered its members in the state House of Assembly to commence impeachment proceedings against Governor Siminalayi Fubara. This call was shortly after Governor Fubara said the House of Assembly led by the Speaker, Rt Hon Martin Amaewhule, is not legally recognized.

Chairman of the APC in Rivers State, Chief Tony Okocha, at a press conference in Port Harcourt on Tuesday said that the impeachment process was necessary because the governor “has insulted the sensibility” of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who waded in to resolve the lingering crisis in the state.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on the other hand has asked the All Progressives Congress (APC) to perish the thought of impeaching Governor, Siminalayi Fubura, describing it as an invitation to anarchy. The party noted that Okocha’s call confirmed an alleged desperation by the ruling party to “forcefully annex” the democratic rights of the people under the constitution.

Fubara’s Tactical Change from War of Nerves to Action
Governor Fubara is primed to take his life into his own hands and has started asking questions and also taking action. Since falling out of line with Wike he’s been reticent to act. He also got entangled in a political solution brokered by President Bola Tinubu which has not worked in. Signing that agreement was like Fubara stewing in his juice.

Addressing a delegation of political and traditional leaders from Bayelsa State, recently, Fubara fired a salvo telling them that despite wielding state powers, he has continued to act as the big brother in the face of intimidation and unwarranted attacks. Shortly after, he flew off his handle and changed his political strategy from the war of nerves to practical actions; fighting on all fronts. He appears determined to roughen it out and make the best of a bad job; having graduated from the University of Hard Knocks.

Flying the Kite of Demolition of Assembly Quarters
While inspecting ongoing projects countdown to his first anniversary in office, the Governor said took time to visit the State Assembly Quarters to assess the state of the place. He said he did this “to see what we can do to make the Quarters more conducive”. This statement has triggered diverse responses including the possibility of a demolition.

The camp of the 27-member Assembly faction has since been thrown into panic mode. They quickly gathered and passed a resolution against the demolition explaining that the building was commissioned barely two years ago noting that they had not complained of any structural deficiencies in the building. Some of the proactive members of the group have, however, started evacuating their personal belongings out of the quarters.

Political pundits have opined that visiting the quarters was to fly a kite and rattle the ranks of the legislators; a show of strength that “I am in charge of everywhere in my state” said by action and few words.

Embroiling the Judiciary
The judiciary is expected to interpret the constitution and serve as arbiter in matters like this. But the judiciary is also usually the fall guy when it dabbles into the murky waters of politics. When all dusts are settled public blame is heaped on the judiciary.

On Friday, a Rivers State High Court gave a temporary order to stop the factional Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly loyal to Wike, Martin Amaewhule, and 24 others from parading as House of Assembly members. The case has been postponed until May 29th for further hearing. The court, however, barred Martin Amaewhule from convening plenary at the assembly premises.

The highest level of ethics is required from the judiciary when matters get muddled up like this. Already, there are allegations of judicial misconduct against Hon. Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court of Nigeria, before the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council on a matter closely related to this crisis in Rivers State. Yet, it is only the judiciary that has the capacity and could help to untangle all the knots and give meaning to the confused political state and true democracy in the state.

Heading Towards Total Political Logjam
The opposition has accused Governor Fubara of continuing to conduct the business of government unhinged, and in total contempt of the state legislature. “The Governor expends the state’s resources without regard to appropriation and public procurement laws. The Governor is alleged to have withheld local government funds as a punitive measure against perceived opponents.

Fubara seems to have more of the Rivers people on his side. In one year, he has breathed more life into the state reaching out directly to the civil servants with payment of salaries and introduction of new packages and special gifts at year-end. The common man who detests the role of godfathers and sees Fubara as an underdog has also sided with him.

Despite upbraiding President Tinubu for his political solution to the impasse, some analysts still beckon on him to play a fatherly role and prevent a state of anarchy. They argued that the President cannot fiddle while Rivers state burns.

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Ayo Aluko-Olokun
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