Rivers State police commissioner, Joseph Mbu, on Friday snubbed the Nigerian Human Rights Commission in a preliminary hearing of his case against the Rivers State government.
The commission opened proceedings on the case of multiple human rights abuses by the police in Rivers state, following a strong worded lengthy petition by the state’s government.
The commission held a preliminary hearing with the state’s governor, Rotimi Amaechi and was expected to hear Mr. Mbu later that day. But the police commissioner neither showed up nor did he send a note to explain his absence.
The 56-page petition against Mr. Mbu by the government contains allegations of gross violations of rights to freedom of expression, lawful assembly, disregard for judicial authorities and immediate danger to lives of citizens of Rivers state.
Both the Human Rights Commission and the Rivers state police command could not fully account for Mr. Mbu’s boycott of the private hearings.
Ahmed Kidaya, Spokesperson of the Rivers state command waved inquiries saying he was on “casual leave” of absence. No other official of the police command could speak in his stead, Mr. Kadiya said.
Mr. Mbu could not be reached on his private mobiles lines.
The Executive Secretary of the commission, Bem Angwe, a professor of law, thanked Mr. Amaechi for taking advantage of the services of the commission to resolve the situation in the state, and promised that the investigations and resolutions of the commission will be “transparent, fair, just, and in keeping with international norms and standards.”
Mr. Angwe warned against toying with the mandate of the commission. He said the commission could issue warrant of arrest on any party that refuses to show up for the case.
In plain terms, if the police chief snubs the commission’s invitation till after the preliminary investigation report is presented to the commission’s board, which meets on October 28, a warrant of arrest could be issued against Mr. Mbu.
Tending Patience Jonathan
Mr. Mbu was however on hand in Port Harcourt to help supervise security arrangements for Nigeria’s First Lady, Patience Jonathan trip to the Garden city. Mrs. Jonathan was in Port Harcourt on Friday ahead of the burial of her late foster mother.
Mr. Amaechi tried to make a veiled case of the commissioner’s absence, pointing to a tradition the police chief has honed of receiving orders from the First Lady.
“He holds state Security Council meetings with the wife of the president and take orders from her,” Mr. Amaechi, said after appearing before the commission.
Political pundits blame the First Lady for the political crises that has rocked the state for months. Mr Amaechi made national history as the first seating governor to drag an agency of government, this time the police and vicariously the federal government, before the Human Rights Commission.
Once, a member of the state’s House of Assembly, Evans Bipi, justified a brutal clash with his colleagues as a fight for the First Lady.
Mr. Amaechi’s petition beamed a harsh light on the police chief, accusing Mr. Mbu of compromising the democratic structures and practices necessary for the protection of human rights in the state; of an unprecedented disregard for the sanctity of judicial authority and orders; as well as of the refusal of police authorities to call Mr. Mbu to orders.
As a result of all this, Mr. Amaechi suggested that there is now an “immediate danger to lives in Rivers State under an ongoing siege orchestrated by the commissioner of police, Rivers State.”
Amaechi’s case against Mbu
Mr. Amaechi said under Mr. Mbu’s watch, a tall list of atrocities had occurred in the state among which includes how:
“The House of Assembly of Rivers State has been shut down and the exercise of critical legislative functions needed to secure good government for the people of Rivers State transferred to the National Assembly.”
He also pointed to how on May 6th, 2013, according to the governor, “a group of hired thugs and ex-militants invaded the Rivers State House of Assembly with dangerous weapons and sacked the legislators from the House of Assembly under the watchful eye of policemen posted to the Assembly by Mr. Mbu.”
The governor said police operatives acting under the directive of Mr. Mbu sealed off the Obio/Akpor Local Government Area which was set up under the supervisory powers given to the Rivers State House of Assembly by the Constitution and the provisions of the Rivers State Local Government Law of 1999
Mr. Amaech said on the orders of the Police Commissioner, security details of principal officers of the state were withdrawn without observing any of the basic protocols applicable to such acts.
He also complained that basic constitutional freedoms of thoughts and expression of citizens – including the Governor of Rivers State and other principal members of government – are being assaulted under Mr. Mbu suggesting that the Police in Rivers State is pursuing partisan considerations.
“For instance,” the governor said, when the Chairman of Okirika Local Government, Tamuno Williams appeared on Channels Television, in Lagos, to talk about political developments in the State…the Commissioner of Police arbitrarily ordered the withdrawal of the Mobile Policemen attached to the Okirika Local Government Council as well as the Police orderly attached directly to the Chairman.
Mr. Amaechi said on May 22nd, 2013, Mr. Mbu “gave licence to a sponsored protest by over 5,000 ex-militants and other criminal elements brandishing dangerous weapons under the leadership of the notorious Ateke Tom and Soboma Jackreeece to completely take over and parade the streets of Port Harcourt thereby creating fear and an atmosphere reminiscent of pre-amnesty siege in the minds of right-thinking residents. “
He added that “Curiously, bus-loads of ex-militants from neighbouring Akwa Ibom State, Bayelsa and Delta State were cleared to join in the unlawful procession by the Police with their dangerous weapons and paraphernalia of secret cult membership.”
With respect to the sanctity of judicial authority, the governor cited the Abuja High Court case effecting change in the Chairmanship of the Rivers State Branch of the People’s Democratic Party. Even before the Police was served with the court order by the FCT based court, Mr. Mbu dispatched five (5) troopers and over 25 Policemen to take over, seal off and prevent entry into the building by the judicially “ousted” Chairman in purported enforcement of a court order it was yet to receive.
The case of a sacred cow
In spite of the well-documented allegations of abuse of office, Mr. Amaechi regretted that the hierarchy of the Nigerian Police has not deemed it fit to subject the activities of Mr. Mbu to any form of review.
He cited the calls of two leading human rights organization – the Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (IHRHL) and the Human Rights Alliance demanding for the removal of Mr. Joseph Mbu as the Commissioner of Police, for betraying the conditions necessary for the protection and promotion of Human rights in the State – and for trying to intimidate members of the Nigerian press from their constitutional duty of holding the Nigerian police and other relevant authorities accountable to their responsibilities.
Their demand has not been heeded, he complained, as well as the resolution of the Nigeria Labour Congress, the senate, and the House of Representative asking for the redeployment of Mr. Mbu.
He wondered why the Inspector General of Police of the Federation made a public statement – without conducting any of the formal review– in which he said: “The situation in Rivers State is okay. We are not politicians; we cannot be brought into the politics of this country”.
The governor said there is an “ongoing siege against the people of Rivers State through the unprovoked, unlawful and disproportionate use of violence by police on the directives of the State Police Commissioner –Mr. Joseph Mbu – on any pretext whatsoever. The NHRC is invited to note that the degree of impunity being used to perpetuate the siege knows no bound.
“To forestall a complete breakdown of law, order, socio-cultural and economic relations and effective government in the State,”
Mr. Amaechi urged the National Human Rights Commission to urgently intervene in the Rivers State situation so that “Rivers people and their state must never again be used as a theatre of senseless wars or conflicts which do not advance their lot in any way.