Interrogating the implications of Tinubu’s intervention in Rivers political crisis

Bola Tinubu

In this report, Ise-Oluwa Ige traces the background facts surrounding the on-going political crisis in Rivers State, identifies the political cum legal measures taken so far to address the situation with a survey of top lawyers on the constitutionality of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s recent intervention at a time several trial law courts are seized of the facts of the case.


By a state-wide broadcast, Rivers State Governor, Siminalayi Fubara, last Monday declared his determination to implement an eight-point resolution brokered by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to resolve the lingering crisis between him and his predecessor, Nyesom Wike.

The crisis which started like a child play about two months ago between the two actors had shattered the peace in the state and made mockery of constitutional democracy in the oil rich state.

Although the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on whose back Fubara rode to Rivers State Government House warned against the implementation of the controversial peace pact, the governor on the Christmas day vowed to go ahead with it, having realized that its execution would ensure lasting peace in the state.

President Tinubu at a meeting with governors had applauded Governor Fubara for running with the resolution.

But before the political solution was provided by President Tinubu, not less than four separate lawsuits had been instituted before different courts on the issue while another class action suit was filed by five senior citizens to interrogate the constitutionality of Tinubu’s political solution.

How it all started

By a landslide victory, Fubara, the anointed candidate of the immediate past Governor of Rivers State and current Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nyesom Wike, won the last gubernatorial election which held in Rivers’ state on March 18, 2023 with 302,614 votes to beat the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate, Pastor Tonye Cole, who came second with 95,274 votes and others.

Fubara, in the election, won all the 23 local government areas of the state.

Wike who was elated by the emergence of his candidate formally handed over the baton of governance in the state to Fubara on May 29, 2023.

Although Wike was appointed a Federal minister, he still retains more than a passive interest in his state.

Indeed, like an headmaster, Wike was overseeing Fubara in the running of the state as he was instrumental in the appointment of most of the governor’s aides, including commissioners and the Chief Security Officer which his godson was not happy with.

Notwithstanding, both of them (Wike and Fubara) were at peace with each other until sometimes in October when crisis started brewing over purported overbearing influence of the godfather on the godson.

Although the details of the issues between them were not immediately clear, the disagreement between the two grew so worse that it created tension and division in the state with an attempt by state lawmakers to impeach the sitting state governor.

The crisis

But four of the 32 state lawmakers loyal to Governor Fubara, made frantic efforts to frustrate the process.

As soon as it became apparent that the state lawmakers were after Fubara’s job, the state legislature also began to suffer some attacks which some pundits traced to the executive ostensibly to frustrate the impeachment process against the governor.

For instance, on October 29, 2023, some arsonists bombed the House of Assembly Complex, destroying a section of the complex.

Wike who was resident in Abuja fingered Fubara as the mastermind of the incident, saying he took the step after learning about the impeachment attempt against him.

Less than 24 hours after the unknown arsonists set the state House of Assembly ablaze, the lawmakers perceived as the loyalists to Wike held a sitting in a Committee Room on October 30, 2023, and removed the Assembly leader, Edison Ehie, one of the four lawmakers backing Fubara and who had in the past, opposed and blocked avenues to impeach the governor.

Ehie’s sin, according to the Rivers State House of Assembly Speaker, Martins Amaewhule, was that he was not attending the assembly’s sittings regularly.

At a time when plots to remove the governor at all costs became thicker, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu had to intervene in the crisis bringing about a graveyard peace in the state.

However, the details of the resolution at the peace meeting between Tinubu and the warring parties in Rivers state were not made public.

But barely a month after Tinubu’s intervention, the fragile peace in the state suffered a major setback following the purported inability of Governor Fubara to meet what a source described as unfulfillable demands by ex-Governor Wike.

Specifically, 27 of the 32 lawmakers in the state House of Assembly decamped from the PDP to APC, preparatory to impeaching the governor.

The defected lawmakers sat under tight security at the entrance of the Assembly complex along Moscow Road in Port Harcourt to take the decision, citing division within the PDP as the primary reason for defecting to the APC.

But the decision by the majority of the state lawmakers to decamp was roundly condemned on the account that the division envisaged by the constitution in the political party was non-existent.

Following the decampment, Ehi with three other lawmakers in the state House of Assembly also sat and elected Ehie as the new Speaker.

The four-member House of Assembly also got an order of the state high court sitting in Port-Harcourt stopping the 27 other lawmakers from parading themselves as members of the state’s House of  Assembly and empowering them to carry out the state legislative business without any interference.

Indeed, the four-member House of Assembly passed the state budget within 48 hours.

While the political gymnastics were on-going, the two factions of the state House of Assembly were meeting at different locations in the state, with those in the majority whose seats had been declared vacant strategizing on how to remove the governor at all cost.

That was the situation when as early as 6am on December 13, 2023, agents of Rivers Government moved about five excavators to the State House of Assembly Complex in Port-Harcourt and demolished it under the guise that the exercise was part of efforts to carry out renovation works at the facility following the bombing of a section of the complex in October.

Causes of the crisis

Although the causes of the political crisis were not in the public domain, a lawyer and Pan-Africanist, Chetam Thierry Nwala, alleged on a national TV that the political unrest in the state was as a result of an unfulfillable demands by Wike.

Nwala specifically alleged that the refusal of Governor Fubara to remit 25 per cent of the State’s allocation to Wike, his immediate predecessor, caused the face-off.

He claimed that Wike had demanded that 25 percent of all allocations to Rivers State should be given to him but that the governor conceded only 10% which the ex-governor did not like.

Nwala also claimed that Wike demanded N2 billion from the N5 billion recently disbursed by the Federal Government to the states as part of palliatives to cushion the effect of the fuel subsidy removal.

He also said the FCT Minister appointed most of the governor’s aides, including commissioners and the Chief Security Officer whose loyalties were to the ex-governor instead of their boss, adding that the governor was not happy with Wike

It is a lie—Wike

But Wike had dismissed the allegations by Nwala as untrue, saying his rift with Governor Fubara was purely political.

Wike specifically accused Governor Fubara of hobnobbing with some of their political opponents calculated to collapse his political structure and weaken his political relevance in the state which he said he was willing to resist with all he has.

It is a father and son problem—Fubara

Fubara who admitted that there were issues with his godfather however trivialized the crisis tearing the state apart describing it as a mere “father and son’ issue, adding “If we have an internal issue, it will be resolved, and everything will go back to normal.

“There is nothing wrong if a father and a son have a problem if there is any problem, but I don’t think there is anything; whatever it is, we will definitely resolve the issue,” the governor had said.

Although he fought his godfather with conscience, the support he received from within and without  the state encouraged him to dare Wike.

PDP asks INEC to organize fresh election to fill seats of 25 lawmakers

In the meantime, the PDP national leadership wrote a letter to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, demanding fresh elections in the state to replace the defected 27 lawmakers in the state.

The party said the seats of the defected lawmakers had become vacant, by virtue of the provisions of Section 109 (1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution.

Defected 27 lawmakers secure order stopping INEC conducting fresh election to replace them

But before INEC could act, the lawmakers whose seats were declared vacant had approached the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja to secure an order which stopped the electoral umpire from conducting by-elections for the replacement of the 27 defected PDP lawmakers.

In the ruling delivered on December 15, Justice Donatus Okorowo said the interim order would remain pending the determination of the substantive case.

The implication of the orders from the Rivers State high court and the Abuja Federal high court is that both factions of the lawmakers in the state are valid to perform legislative functions in the state, a situation not envisaged by the nation’s constitution

Tinubu wades in, reconcile Wike, Fubara

Before the matter would degenerate further, President Bola Tinubu, on December 18, 2023, held another peace meeting with Rivers State stakeholders at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, to resolve the political crisis in the state.

At the meeting were Governor Siminalayi Fubara, FCT Minister, Nyesom Wike, a former governor of the state, Peter Odili, Vice President Kashim Shettima, and the Rivers State deputy governor, Ngozi Odu. Others were Nuhu Ribadu, the National Security Adviser; PDP acting chairman in the state, Aaron Chukwuemeka; embattled Speaker of the House of Assembly, Martin Amaewhule; and chairman of the APC in the state.

The meeting agreed on an eight-point peace agreement including that all matters instituted in the courts by the Governor of Rivers State, Sir Fubara, and his team, in respect of the political crisis in Rivers State, shall be withdrawn immediately, all impeachment proceedings initiated against the Governor of Rivers State by the Rivers State House of Assembly should be dropped immediately, the leadership of the Rivers State House of Assembly as led by the Martin Amaewhule shall be recognised alongside the 27 members who resigned from the PDP while the remunerations and benefits of all members of the Rivers State House of Assembly and their staff must be reinstated immediately.

Others were that the Governor of Rivers State shall henceforth not interfere with the full funding of the Rivers State House of Assembly, the Rivers State House of Assembly shall choose where they want to sit and conduct their legislative business without interference and/or hindrance from the Executive arm of government, the Governor of Rivers State, Sir Fubara, shall re-present the state budget to a properly constituted Rivers State House of Assembly, the names of all commissioners in the Rivers State Executive Council who resigned their appointments because of the political crisis in the state should be resubmitted to the House of Assembly for approval and that there should not be a caretaker committee for the local governments in Rivers State as the dissolution of the Local Government administration is null and void and shall not be recognized.

The outcome of the meeting which appears to have settled all the issues submitted before the court  immediately brewed fresh controversy as some stakeholders in the state said the crisis was beyond what Tinubu or Fubara could handle politically.

It was their contention that the matter of defection of the 27 lawmakers had been submitted to the court and that it was beyond what the executive could resolve at a meeting.

Indeed, five senior citizens in the state had approached the court to stop Governor Fubara from implementing the Tinubu peace pact.

The development has set lawyers on a collision course with some commending Tinubu while others felt that he has no constitutional role to play in resolving the crisis.

I dont know who is misadvising Tinubu— Kayode Ajulo, SAN

According to a member of the inner bar, Dr Kayode Ajulo, SAN, “It’s worrying that the President, despite being a democrat and having a highly skilled lawyer as a chief legal advisor, appears to be disregarding the constitution.

“I’m curious to know who is advising him to overlook the clear and unambiguous provisions regarding party-switching by a member of a house or National Assembly and the consequent declaration of their seats vacant by the Speaker of the legislative house. A democrat must be guided by the rule of law and not rule of his fancies,” he said.

Nothing unconstitutional about Tinubu’s intervention—Kunle Adegoke, SAN

But a rights firebrand and silk, Mr Kunle Adegoke, SAN said “There is nothing unconstitutional about the intervention of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the crisis of Rivers State. The development in Rivers calls for sober reflection by anybody who is a patriotic Nigerian. It is a step that elders in Rivers could have taken to resolve the impasse between the governor and the former governor. And in a situation where the crisis could not be resolved like that, there is nothing unconstitutional for any other individual to seek to resolve the crisis.

“Those who are condemning the President, are they saying he should allow the entire state to go on fire before he would intervene? I believe that there are instances where people just go legalistic on matters that do not require any legalese. The crisis in the state is one that must be resolved and the intervention by the President is absolutely in order. I do not see any provision of the constitution that was contravened.

“I make bold to say that I do not see what is unreasonable in the step taken by the President. It is the duty of the President to do what he has done in such a situation. He did not issue a proclamation and neither did he pretend to be making a law to be binding on the state in this instance. What the president cannot do is to make law for the House of Assembly or usurp the powers of the state government.

“In a situation where the current state governor and the former governor are locked in a battle which is destructive on the interest of the state, what is required of the President is to call the parties to order. Some of us called on him to take that step and we are glad that he did.

“He shouldn’t just keep quiet. It would have been the situation under the former President Muhammadu Buhari that he would keep quiet and pretend that he was not aware anything was happening anywhere. Even if he was interviewed regarding his thoughts about the crisis in such a place, he would say: I’m not aware.

“And everybody was condemning him for his lukewarm and lackadaisical attitude. Now, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu did not allow that. I believe what he has done is right and I do not see any violation of the constitution in it,” he added.

Israel Olorundare, SAN

But another top lawyer and member of the inner bar, Mr Israel Olorundare told Vanguard, “I adopt the views expressed by Babatunde Fashola, SAN and Femi Falana, SAN on this issue to the effect that President Tinubu has no constitutional roles to play there.

“This scenario had played out in Enugu state during the time of Nnamani when some people defected supporting Jim Nwobodo. What happened there? The truth is that it is a constitutional crisis that is playing out. If they had allowed themselves to go by it, the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court would have decided it one way or the other.

“They have gone to court. Let them trash it out in court if they are still not satisfied by the agreement they reached with each other even though according to what Briggs was saying, Fubara was intimidated. I was just wondering that why didn’t he ask for time for him to consult with his lawyer before signing papers? Cant he say so that I’m alone here, I have my supporters, let me consult first? That desperation to become governor led him to be in that situation.

“Now when the problem brewed again, he didnt even say I have supporters who have been backing me, let them come along with me to this meeting; that I will consult with them before I sign papers. Was he hypnotized? They are in court. He had already gotten Wike. The moment those people said they decamped and the other four people now elected Speaker, they are constitutionally recognized. They are already running and the court has already given a support that those other ones should not convoke the assembly in any other place.

“If he were smart, he would have been running with those four people who approved his budget and he would have submitted another set of commissioners to them and they would have approved. While that case is going on, in fact, that case would have travelled to the Supreme Court.

“Since the Supreme Court has already made a pronouncement that once you decamp from your party and there is no crisis in your party, that is the end. My opinion is that what Fashola and Falana have said that Tinubu has no role is the true position of the law.

“That agreement, as far as I am concerned, is just for them to have a graveyard peace. This is because those people will eventually strike him again. They will strike back or they will not allow him to perform.

“It will be like the Second Republic when they impeached Balarabe Musa and they put Abba Rimi there. Rimi had to be dancing to the dictates of the NPN-dominated assembly while he was on the platform of PRP. So, it is not new. Tinubu has no role to play there,” he said.

Source: Vanguard

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