Between Friday and Saturday, DSS officials moved against judges in different parts of the country in a coordinated clampdown that has sent shock waves across the country, without first inviting them and without an arrest warrant.
For residents of Rivers state, the high-handed tactics by the Department of State Services (DSS) in attempting to arrest a judge by 1 AM on Saturday felt like the reenactment of a scene from their past.
September 2013. Rotimi Amaechi was governor of Rivers state but had become increasingly vocal against President Goodluck Jonathan. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) national convention which held on the last day of August 2013 ended in confusion as seven governors, including Amaechi, and a former vice president, stormed out of the venue and announced the formation of a New PDP (nPDP). They said the party had been hijacked and they wanted to salvage it.
On the day the nPDP was to open its secretariat in Port Harcourt, the Rivers capital, gun-toting policemen in several patrol vehicles stormed the venue throwing out everyone present and manhandling journalists in the process. “You can’t do this. We will not allow you,” said the police deputy commissioner, Sam Ogaora, who led the police team.
The secretariat was on number 38 in a street called Forces Avenue in the Old Government Residential Area (GRA) of Port Harcourt, a stone throw away from the Port Harcourt Club and the Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital and a short beeline to the Rivers Government House.
The next evening as the state governor, Rotimi Amaechi and a delegation were driving to the Government House, the police prevented them from proceeding, based on “orders from above.” Police pickup vans blocked the road from end to end. The governor’s attempts to convince them to let him pass fell on deaf ears. “How can I take orders from a civilian? I cannot take orders from a civilian,” a police officer reportedly said to him.
After more than 30 minutes on the spot, the governor and his entourage reversed and took the longer route to his residence.
The police spokesman released a statement the next day wondering why the incident was an issue. Tongues wagged for several days as the opposition referenced it as proof of Goodluck Jonathan’s dictatorial attitude while the former president’s supporters defended him..
Fast forward three years later. October 2016. Amaechi is now a minister after leading the campaign which saw the All progressives Congress (APC), his new party, defeat Goodluck Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the polls last year. Nyesom Wike, a former minister under Jonathan who led the federal onslaught against Amaechi, is now the governor of Rivers state.
On Saturday morning, around 1 AM, Gov. Wike reportedly helped foil an attempt by the DSS to abduct a federal high court judge.
The judge’s house is on Number 35 of Forces Avenue, a few buildings away from the former nPDP secretariat, scene of the police commando action three years ago. The governors and parties have changed but the impunity remains.
Speaking on the need for the rule of law to be obeyed over the matter, Wike said, “Not under my watch wiĺl I allow this kind of impunity to take place. That is why we are here. I don’t know which judge they were detailed to abduct. I didn’t bother myself to know which judge. All I am interested in is that, at this level, it is not allowed.
“He is not a criminal and he is not an armed robber. If the person has committed an offence, invite him. It is only when he refuses to honour the invitation that you can adopt this commando style.”
Wike claimed that security operatives threatened to shoot him for interfering. Sounding like his predecessor at the time when he too was not in the good books of the government in the centre, Wike said “Rivers is under siege,” but “residents will continue to resist.”
The DSS has not provided a statement on why it is moving against judges in this brazen manner. But for residents of Rivers state always in the eyes of the political storm, this is all too familiar. And all too sad.