The political feud between President Goodluck Jonathan and Rivers state governor, Chibuike Amaechi, spilled into a deadly clash Tuesday on the grounds of the Rivers state House of Assembly, between state lawmakers with ties to both sides, leaving at least four members injured.
Lawmakers known to back either the president or the governor clashed physically, fighting off each other with weapons that included a broken mace, after five anti-Amaechi members moved to sack the speaker, Otelemaba Amachree, an ally of the governor and replace him with Evans Bipi, a loyalist of the presidency.
Reports say the chamber rapidly erupted in violence on the first day of resumption from a forced break as “thugs” backing both sides allegedly teamed up to cause mayhem. There was bloodshed and some lawmakers were rushed to hospital.
Videos posted online show a member of the House smash a broken mace on another lawmaker, and later hunting him around the chamber before a policeman cornered the assaulted lawmaker and also attacked him.
Mr. Amaechi later arrived at the chamber amid the chaos as he sought to rally protection for lawmakers loyal to him, amid reports they were denied protection by the police.
By late Tuesday, Mr. Bipi, believed to be a relative of the president’s wife, Patience, whose wedding last week was witnessed by the First Lady, claimed he was the new speaker, “elected” by five members of the assembly out of 32.
The Amaechi faction rejected the claim, and made it clear Mr. Amachree remained in charge.
“As far as this Assembly is concerned, the leadership has not changed. I am the Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly and all the other officers and the Clerk are here with me. The leadership of the House is intact,” Mr. Amachree said after the crisis.
The numerical disadvantage notwithstanding, a faction of the state ruling Peoples Democratic Party, known to be against Mr. Amaechi, welcomed Mr. Bipi as the “new speaker”, in a sign of a far more complicated crisis that has apparently pitched the five lawmakers, the state police leadership, the PDP leadership apparently on one side; and Mr. Amaechi, and 27 lawmakers on the other end.
The faction, in a statement by its publicity secretary, Monday Onyenzeonwu, called the “election” of Mr. Bipi a “unanimous” one to bring the legislature back to business.
The clash marked a troubling new twist in the crisis that has gripped the chamber and the state for months, apparently over Mr. Amaechi’s feud with the president.
Mr.Amaechi’s has been embroiled in a long-drawn feud with the presidency over speculations the governor might team up with a northern candidate to challenge Mr. Jonathan for the presidential ticket of the PDP in 2015.
Amid the crisis, a court replaced the state’s former PDP leadership loyal to Mr. Amaechi. The present executive is supported by the presidency, and was met by Mr Jonathan in Abuja last week.
Tuesday’s fighting drew wide condemnation, and critics, mainly online, linked the president to the crisis despite his repeated denials of responsibility in past troubles in the state.
“I guess Mr. Reuben Abati, Mr. Reno Omokri, did not read about what happened in Rivers state today,” one Twitter commenter said. Many critics pointed at the police’s refusal to halt the chaos as well as Mr. Bipi’s ties with First Lady, Mrs Jonathan.
Mr. Jonathan arrived in China as the events unfolded. By early Wednesday, the presidency had issued no comments on the events.
The violence and the alleged impeachment of the state speaker drew even more condemnation, many concerned about its potential to return the nation to the dark days of blatant abuse of state powers.
Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, warned in a statement that any disregard for the sanctity of the constitution or due process in the removal of elected public office holders would seriously harm the nation’s democratic order.
“It is sad that those who are seeking to subvert our nascent democracy are some of those who never fought for what many laid down their lives for. These persons are advised to take heed to the festering crisis in Egypt following a forced change of leadership in that country,” Mr. Abubakar said.
“We can either dismiss what happened today in Port Harcourt as one more incident in the long line of impunity and constitution abuse, or we speak very strongly against it, sending thereby an unambiguous message to the powers-that-be that sweat and blood of fathers, mothers and children, which were used to nurture the tree of our democracy, must not go in vain.”