Lawyers and labour leaders rose up in unison Wednesday to criticise the rising tension in Rivers State occasioned by the plot to oust the governor, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, and warned against allowing the situation to lead to a breakdown of law and order.
Constitutional lawyer, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), as well as human rights lawyers – Fred Agbaje and Bamidele Aturu – the state chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and President, Trade Union Congress (TUC), Mr. Peter Esele, warned that the situation in Rivers portends a grave danger to democracy and urged the presidency, which they accused of tacit complicity in the political crisis in the state, to back off.
Sagay and others spoke against the backdrop of the allegation that the factional chairman of the state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Felix Obuah, was plotting to smuggle a fake mace into the state with a view to using five members of the state House of Assembly loyal to him to impeach Amaechi.
But Obuah, in his reaction yesterday, a day after the speaker of the state assembly, Hon. Otelemaba Amachree, who was suspended from the party along with 27 lawmakers in the assembly levelled the allegation, disclaimed it, saying the party has no plans to impeach the governor.
Also yesterday, it was gathered that the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) faulted the documentation of the Rivers State Government’s aircraft that was grounded following the discovery that its documentation had expired.
The grounding of the airplane has elicited allegations of political persecution of Amaechi, who was flying in the plane with his entourage when it was first delayed at the Akure aiport on Saturday before it was finally grounded.
The allegation has been triggered by the perceived frosty relationship between Amaechi and President Goodluck Jonathan.
But the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) refuted the allegation, saying the plane was delayed in Akure because of the pilot’s failure to promptly file the mandatory documents to enable authorities clear it for take-off.
Reacting to Amaechi’s travails, Sagay, in an interview, accused Jonathan of being behind the ongoing crisis in the state.
He warned that the presidential interference in Rivers could endanger democracy and federalism.
He said he was “alarmed about what President Jonathan is doing. We know he is the one behind it, despite his pretence. But he is endangering democracy and federalism through his actions.”
According to him, the crisis in Rivers was a reflection of politicians’ poor tutelage in governance.
“Most of our politicians don’t seem to be aware that the man at the state and the one at the centre are two autonomous people. They were elected independently. But they don’t seem to know that because of lack of education in political science.
“That’s why they are carrying on as if Jonathan is president-general. He is endangering both federalism and democracy and I am just hoping that this will not end up like the First Republic and consume everyone.
“Jonathan has no authority over the state and has to tread with caution, otherwise, he is endangering the entire federation,” he said.
Also condemning the development, Agbaje linked the governor’s ordeals to the speculation on his intention to run as a presidential running mate in the 2015 general election.
“Why is the federal government so jittery about the rising political influence of Amaechi? Is Amaechi not a Nigerian citizen who can aspire to any political office in Nigeria? Political sovereignty constitutionally lies with the people of Nigeria not our political rulers.
“Therefore, the federal government should allow the people of Nigeria decide who will govern them instead of the present approach aimed at silencing opposition.
“The recent involvement of PDP in the internal affairs of the Rivers State House of Assembly is both constitutionally heretical, an unpardonably gratuitous intrusion on the integrity and independence of that hallowed assembly and a sacrilegious violation of the principles of separation of powers in a democracy,” he said.
On his part, Aturu said: “I think that the politicians have shown that they have not learnt anything. The president is exhibiting authoritarian tendencies that are a throwback to the dark days of military despotism. This is anathema in a country that operates a democracy.
“If this democracy is imperilled, they’ll have themselves to blame for it. They are the cause of this crisis. Intolerance and high-handed relationship with the governors is unacceptable in a federal system and I condemn it unreservedly. You cannot use the constitution to harass and intimidate any component of democracy.”
Esele also expressed concern at the turn of events and urged the two parties to sheathe their swords and face governance.
“They were elected to deliver on good governance. My appeal is they sheathe their swords. Nigeria is tired of this drama because they are distractions from the real issues facing Nigeria and Nigerians,” he said.
NLC chairman in the state, Mr. Chris Oruge, and his TUC counterpart, Mr. Chika Onuegbu, declared the support of the workers for the Amaechi administration, which they commended for improving security in the state.
Oruge, while delivering his speech at the May Day rally in Port Harcourt, said: “Labour wishes to advise politicians in Rivers State to take it easy and allow the citizens of the state breathe the fresh air of peace.
“Organised labour in the state would not fold its hands and watch some disgruntled politicians destroy the peaceful atmosphere already enjoyed by Rivers citizens. Politics is all about loyalty and every individual should wait for his turn.”
Onuegbu, in his speech, urged the governor to remain steadfast and focused despite several emerging distractions.
Obuah also yesterday took up the speaker of the state assembly over the impeachment plot, saying it was false.
He told reporters in Port Harcourt that he had at no time nurtured such a thought.
“My intention is not to create a problem in this state in any form or shape. Like I said in my inaugural speech, I have maintained that my aim is to bring everybody together, to form a united front to fight for our elections that are up coming.
“I am a state chairman of PDP and that does not give me the power to impeach a serving governor that is a product of my party, PDP,” he said.
He said he was ready to work with Amaechi and would never do anything that would undermine his administration.
Meanwhile, a letter from NCAA dated April 29 to the Minister of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah, has faulted the claim by the state government that the plane was given to Caverton Helicopters to operate for the government, pending the approval of the importation licence by the minister.
In the letter signed by NCAA acting Director General, Joyce Nkemakolam, the regulatory body said Caverton Helicopters when invited for a meeting on April 29, denied having any dealings with the aircraft.
The letter also revealed that after the Akure incident, NCAA was prompted to investigate the aircraft’s background and discovered that it had been operating into and out of Nigeria on an ad hoc basis, which meant that it never had proper documentation for it to actually operate in the country.
The investigation, according to NCAA, revealed that “the only name on the passenger manifest for all the flight clearance is Rotimi Amaechi, which implies that other passengers were illegally on board.”
Another aviation agency, FAAN, reacting to the allegation of political persecution of the governor, said the decision on the aircraft was not motivated by politics.
FAAN, in a statement by the General Manager, Corporate Communications, Yakubu Dati, said: “We maintain that the aircraft’s pilot erred by not filing mandatory documents, that is the manifesto as and when due, at an airport that was not certified for night flight operations.
“Whenever an aircraft stays beyond 6.00 pm, authorisation must be gotten from the appropriate authorities before the aircraft is cleared for take-off, hence the slight delay in the departure of the aircraft.
“As at Friday (April 26), the parent company (BUT) had not regularised its status to continue to fly in the Nigeria airspace, neither had it been given a flight operation clearance certificate.”
A former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Chibudom Nwuche, also dispelled the allegation of political persecution of the governor and advised his supporters to leave Jonathan and wife, Patience, out of Amaechi’s ordeal.
Nwuche, who was reacting to statements credited to members of the Rivers PDP caucus in the National Assembly, said the crisis in the party in the state was an internal affair caused primarily by a clique of persons who had usurped the structure and affairs of the party to the total exclusion of major stakeholders.
JD:These professional bodies should leave the politicians to sort themselves out whilst they concentrate on their statutory functions.It is amazing that the TUC has a voice when they feel Amaechi is being cheated when they have gone to bed whilst their members are being decimated daily by the ruling class. Amaechi’s palava has blames on all sides,and in any case none has any bearing whatsoever on the plight of the common man.What ,for example is Amaechi doing using public funds of 50 million dollars to buy a plane and getting it registered in such an untidy manner.And as for the Jonathan people we had already analysed that they are not likely to take prisoners in their quest to stay beyond 2015.All’s fair in political war in Nigeria,they are the same ten and tenpence,and we really shouldn’t loose any sleep if they “start their power show”!