The face-off between President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers has assumed a new dimension with the presidency summoning the Rivers State Commissioner for Information, Ibim Semenitari, to Aso Rock for interrogation.
Presidency sources told PREMIUM TIMES Wednesday night that Mrs Semenitari has been ordered to appear before the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, to explain why she divulged details of purchase of two recently acquired security helicopters to the media.
“She has been asked to report unfailingly at noon on Thursday (today),” one of our sources said.
The invitation to appear at Aso Rock was reportedly sent to the Rivers commissioner by retired Colonel Bello Fadile, a man who once admitted to framing late Gen Musa Yar’Adua and ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo for coup to save his own life.
The alleged former coup leader now directs special investigations at the Office of the National Security Adviser, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
Our sources said the presidency is considering punishing Mrs Semenitari for making a disclosure it claimed could endanger national security, adding however that a decision has not been finalized on the nature of punishment that could be metted on the commissioner.
Presidential spokespersons, Reuben Abati and Doyin Okupe, did not answer or return calls seeking comments on the commissioner’s invitation.
Mrs Semenitari too did not answer or return calls from our reporter who wanted to know whether she planned to honour the invitation.
The altercation over the controversial helicopters began after an Abuja-based newspaper alleged that Mr. Amaechi had acquired four aircraft, two armoured helicopters and two private jets for $56million, for political campaign in the 2015 presidential elections.
In reaction, Governor Amaechi told State House correspondents that his state indeed bought two helicopters meant to help secure the state.
He described as “false and mischievous” the report that the Rivers Government acquired four aircraft in preparation for the 2015 election.
Mr. Amaechi dismissed the report, alleging that the newspaper was only trying to be popular by being mischievous.
He admitted that the State Government acquired the two helicopters for security surveillance and not for political reason.
He said the helicopters would be under the control of the Nigerian Air force for patrol of the state.
The governor added, “The truth is that, and the Federal Government is aware, they gave us approval to buy two helicopters to fly around the state for the purpose of security and we have done that, we bought and we paid.
“Up till now, they have not allowed the helicopter to come in. May be they are afraid that it is for 2015. Please help us beg them on behalf of the state that we need the aircraft to be able to secure the people of the state.”
However, on Monday, Mrs Semenitari made further clarifications about the helicopters, saying they were bought as part of the state government’s collaboration with the federal government and its support for the security agencies in the state.
“The total cost of the helicopters was 29 million USD. The Federal Government of Nigeria through the office of the National Security Adviser paid 15 million USD, while the Rivers State Government paid the balance. The Federal Government granted duty waiver,” Mrs Semenitari added.
Those disclosures have now angered the presidency, which now wants her to explain why she divulged details of the helicopters purchase in defence of her boss.
Mr. Amaechi has been having a running battle with the presidency and the national leadership of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, over his stance on major national issues, including the corruption in the petrol subsidy payments.
He is also said to be opposed to the re-election plan of President Goodluck Jonathan.
In anger, the presidency and the PDP moved February to dethrone the governor from his post as chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum.