by Stanley Azuakola
It was an unpleasant spectacle at the Rivers state House of Assembly on Monday as some of the tension which had been simmering beneath the surface came into the open when the pro-Amaechi and anti-Amaechi legislators openly confronted themselves and traded blows with each other.
The Rivers assembly has 32 members and before Monday’s sitting, 27 had declared loyalty for Gov. Chibuike Amaechi, while 5 had been strongly opposed. Today’s sitting was convened to receive presentation by the state governor on amendments to the 2013 budget. The House was also reportedly supposed to pass a vote of no confidence on the state commissioner of police, Mbu Joseph.
Eight members of the House were present earlier in the day, including Otelemaba Amachree, the speaker; and Chidi Lloyd, the House leader. The five lawmakers opposed to the governor were also present.
During the exchange of pleasantries, trouble started when Michael Chinda went close to Chidi Lloyd and the two lawmakers reportedly exchanged words leading to Chinda punching Lloyd. Cameras in the assembly which beamed to the offices showed that Chidi Lloyd was repeatedly punched by Evans and the tripod used to mount a camera was also used freely on him, but he did not retaliate, at least initially.
When the three pro-Amaechi lawmakers, saw that they were overpowered in the House, they fled the premises. Meanwhile some thugs came into the chambers and were reportedly asking, “Where is the speaker? Where is the speaker?” By then the speaker, as well as Lloyd (who sustained some injuries) and the third pro-Amaechi lawmaker Azubuike Njoku, had left the chambers.
Lloyd told journalists reportedly from a sick bed that “Hon Evans Bipi came to me in full glare and rained punches on me. As his leader, I didn’t respond. Then he reached for the tripod and used it freely on me together with Hon. Chinda.”
Shortly afterwards, Kelechi Wogu brought out a mace (not the usual House mace, said an eyewitness) and Evans Bipi was made speaker pro tempore to superintend over the sitting. Immediately the sitting began, Hon. Martins Amaehule moved a motion for the impeachment of the speaker for ineptitude. It was carried by the five members allegedly present.
Shortly afterwards, Hon. Michael Chinda nominated Evans Bipi as speaker. His motion was carried by the five present and they immediately addressed the press, with Bipi thanking Rivers people for their solidarity and assuring them that henceforth there will be robust representation by the assembly.
But that was not the end of the matter.
The three lawmakers had gone to regroup and came back to the assembly together with other members of the assembly loyal to the governor. The governor also came along with them. At this time, the governor had called for protection from soldiers, even though Hon. Chidi Lloyd had written through the clerk of the House to the police commissioner for the intervention of the police. The police headquarters is situated just opposite the state assembly complex in Moscow Road, Port Harcourt.
The commissioner of police, Mbu Joseph, addressed the press this afternoon and confirmed that Hon. Lloyd had indeed requested the intervention of the police, and wondered why people were accusing the police of giving protection to the anti-Amaechi group when it was Lloyd who called for the police.
Mbu however said that when his men arrived, the assembly complex had been cordoned off by soldiers. He said, “Then the governor called me and said he was coming to the assembly and he complained that there was no police cover in the complex. Then I told him ‘but you have filled everywhere with security men from other places.’ Shortly after I heard a convoy approaching and saw the governor entering the complex through my window. Later I was told he was there while serious fighting was going on in the complex, and later he came out.”
The serious fighting which the commissioner spoke about, occurred when the governor arrived and there was a free for all between legislators loyal to both the pro and the anti Amaechi legislators as well as thugs in the complex. Assembly staff were ordered to vacate. One of the workers who spoke with The Scoop said, “We had to run for our lives. Thugs have taken over.”
Inside the complex, there was serious fighting. Chidi Lloyd who was earlier the victim, turned to an aggressor. He was caught on camera hitting Kelechi Wogu with the mace and chasing him through the hallowed chambers. The complex was a mess as computers, microphones and other items were vandalised by the legislators, soldiers and thugs.
After the fight, the 27 lawmakers loyal to the governor sat and the deputy governor, Tele Ikuru, of the state came and presented an amendment to the state’s 2013 budget, after which the House adjourned indefinitely. By this time, the governor had left the assembly. The deputy governor claimed in a statement that as he left the complex, thugs attacked and vandalised vehicles in his convoy. The Scoop cannot verify this.
Meanwhile, Evans Bipi, who was elected as speaker by his faction, has claimed that 15 members of the assembly voted for the impeachment of the speaker. Now, by law, 11 members must be present before a quorum can be formed for a sitting. Some eyewitnesses told The Scoop that only 8 members were present, which decreased to 5 after the first clash. However Bipi claimed that there were 25 members present, out of which 15 voted for the impeachment of the speaker.
Even if the claims of Bipi are accepted, Section 92, subsection 2(c) of the constitution says that, “The speaker or deputy speaker of the House of Assembly shall vacate his office if he is removed from office by a resolution of House of Assembly by votes of not less than two-third majority of members of the House.”
Since the Rivers assembly comprises of 32 members, it means that the impeachment of Otelemaba Dan Amachree as speaker could have only been possible with the support of 22 members, which is two-third. Bipi claimed that he got 15, which falls short of 22 by 7 members.
Meanwhile the Rivers state executive of the PDP led by Obuah has congratulated Evans Bipi over his emergence as speaker; while a faction led by the ousted chairman, G. U Ake has debunked news that Bipi is the new speaker, insisting that Amachree remains speaker.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this piece described Evans Bipi as a brother of the first lady. It has now been corrected. Bipi is a townsman but is not related to the first lady.