Thursday, July 11, 2013

Punch Editorial: Rivers Show of Shame

Rivers Assembly of shame

FIVE state legislators on Tuesday spearheaded a spectacular act of lawlessness in the Rivers State House of Assembly in the full glare of a bewildered world audience. The show of shame featured thugs, accompanied by policemen, launching a ferocious physical assault on other lawmakers and bystanders. But it was obvious that the wild men were emboldened by the support of the Presidency and the police. We condemn in very strong terms the misuse and deployment of instruments of state power in the service of personal interests.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who has ostentatiously travelled to China, deceives no one if he tries to disavow complicity in the brigandage in Port Harcourt as he has been doing lately.  It is rightly seen as part of the raging political disagreement between him and Governor Rotimi Amaechi in which the might of the Federal Government has been deployed against the governor. It is not surprising that throughout the three-hour violence by the five legislators and their thugs, the police proved ineffective in restoring order and some even joined in attacking the other legislators.

Television footage of the shameful scene showed a burly politician forcing his way into the house chamber; with him were his thugs and some armed policemen. What followed looked like a typical scene of lawless gangs attempting to lynch their victims. After chasing away some legislators, the five sat down, claiming to have impeached the Speaker, Otelemaba Amachree. Not content with the mayhem they had wrought at the parliament, the “honourable” thugs later attacked the state Deputy Governor, Tele Ikuru, and some journalists as they were leaving the complex.  They turned logic on its head by claiming to have suspended 15 other lawmakers.

There is much more to this story. The state Commissioner of Police, Joseph Mbu, has, for weeks, been openly engaged in a verbal war with the governor, whom he also called a “dictator” and a “tyrant.” This suggests a breakdown of confidence between the governor, whom the Constitution describes as the chief security officer of the state, and the CP, whom the same Constitution also authorises the governor to give “lawful instructions” to, for the security of the state.  But this is a Federal Government agency using the power of government to harass political opponents.

This insidious slide into anarchy orchestrated by a government and politicians that have scant regard for the Constitution and the rule of law should be condemned. It is shocking that 10 years after the traumatic brigandage unleashed on Anambra State by the Uba brothers, their allies and a complicit Presidency in 2003, we are once more seeing a joint operation by police and thugs hired by a political faction to wreak havoc on a state. But wrongs cannot have a legal reference in a functioning modern state.

Going by the abuse of state power enacted at the Rivers Assembly, it is evident that tyranny is not just lurking around the corner; it is already upon us. We have warned over and over again that Nigeria has been saddled with an exceedingly power-hungry but inept leadership, with no iota of respect for the Constitution or the rule of law. In May, Wole Soyinka, a Nobel Laureate,  had declared,  “There is an opportunity in Rivers State to break this spiralling culture of executive impunity – manifested in both subtle and crude ways – that is fast becoming the norm in a post-military dispensation that fitfully aspires to be called a democracy.” For him, “the increasing flashpoints in the nation have reached an unsustainable level, and responsible governance must accept that it is an urgent duty to diminish, not increase them.”

As Rivers State politically boils, Jonathan, who is being accused of stoking the fire, has forgotten recent history. Just to be clear, let us go back to 2010 when Jonathan himself was at the receiving end of a sickening abuse of state power and was a pitiable figure while the political logjam occasioned by the then President Umaru Yar’Adua’s ill-health lasted. While the cabal dithered about succumbing to public pressure to yield control of governance to him, the mass media and civil society groups insisted that the Constitution and the rule of law must be respected.

The Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, must partly bear responsibility for the mayhem. For how long will Nigerian policemen at the highest level continue to make the force available for unlawful actions and brutality against citizens? Abubakar needs no further proof of the partisanship of the CP in Rivers. Mbu should be recalled and disciplined. The police should move in quickly to arrest all those who took the law into their hands on Tuesday and prosecute them.  The lawmakers, all the wild-eyed thugs and the policemen who joined in the mayhem should be made to face the law. 

The National Assembly should not treat this episode with levity. As the 2015 general elections draw nearer, politicians will become more desperate and impunity will run riot. The collapse of the First Republic was triggered by a fracas in the defunct Western Region House of Assembly where lawless legislators broke the mace and the minority sought to impose its will on the majority. Then, as now, the minority faction was aided and abetted by a deviant Federal Government that deployed police in the service of a desperate political faction, which resulted in chilling consequences.

Getting the police to bring the culprits of the Tuesday of shame to justice will be a welcome reassurance by a President who appears to be at the zenith of his political power.

Source: Punch


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