Rivers state reign of impunity

Legally speaking, impunity is the ability to act with exemption from punishments, losses, or other negative consequences. Democracy is not working in Nigeria because of impunity on the part of the legislature, executive, and judiciary and non adherence to rule of law. Democracy is the ceding of sovereignty to the people, from whom every government derives all its powers and authority, which the people exercise through free, fair, credible, and verifiable elections. The infringement on the right of the people to elect their local government councils is prevalent in Nigeria because this right is flouted by the legislature, executive, and judiciary, without any punishment. Almost 20 states out of 36 states are governed by unelected Caretaker Committees, instead of democratically elected local government councils.
There’s no other place that this scenario is exhibited with the highest impunity like it’s done in Rivers State. As we always warn, non adherence to rule of law leads to anarchy. As a result of lawlessness in Rivers State, resulting from the impunity in the handling of the issue of the local government councils, about four people, including some security operatives, have been reported killed. Their lives cut short because of the incompetence and corruption of their leaders.

• Wike

 

The root of the crisis is in the fall out of the struggle for supremacy between Nyesom Wike, former Governor of Rivers State and present Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, and his successor, Gov Sim Fubara. Wike believes that the political structure of Rivers State must not be altered by his successor, Fubara, whom he unilaterally chose and supported to succeed him. That meant that Fubara must accept Wike’s political enemies as his, just as he must take Wike’s friends as his. Fubara, disobeyed his oga, and made it clear that he wasn’t going to inherit Wike’s enemies and this meant that some of Wike’s enemies will find their way into Fubara’s government. Wike unleashed political attacks on his successor which led to Wike committing a very tactical political plunder in which his main political weapon to decimate Fubara – the House of Assembly (HOA) members defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and thus legally lost their seats, from where they launched an impeachment proceeding to remove Fubara from office. Fubara fought back and the HOA complex went up in flames. It was bombed. His loyalists formed a parallel House of Assembly led by Edison Ehie.

When Wike saw that his powers were waning, he deployed federal might, through the President, who summoned Fubara to instruct him to accept the Amaewhule-led and defected members. He accepted this to secure the removal of the impeachment sword on his neck, but more importantly, to stay in power until the verdict of the Supreme Court challenging his election in court. It must be pointed out that the President reached that decision unconstitutionally and one-sidedly to favour the side of his FCT Minister. Fubara was instructed to withdraw all litigations from court, represent his budget already passed by the Ehie faction. Fubara noted that it was a political solution and not a constitutional one. Ehie resigned from being the factional speaker and was re-employed to be the Chief of Staff of Fubara.

Both parties were not faithful to the terms and conditions of the agreement. The House of Assembly members did not withdraw their litigations as they went on to obtain a judgement from Omotosho’s court to safeguard their seats in the HOA. The Governor did not represent the budget which the Ehie-led HOA passed. Since everything about the agreement, both its institution and execution, were done in bad faith, it was only a matter of time that it will burst and it did. The Supreme Court gave verdict to Fubara in the election case and secured his seat. The HOA started making legislations intended to emasculate Governor Fubara, which the Governor refused to sign, and they touted impeaching the Governor. Indeed, APC in the state gave ultimatum to its members to commence impeachment proceeding on the Governor. One of the ill-advised laws they made was the illegal amendment of the Local Government Administration Law to extend the tenure of the elected local government councils by six months.

It’s argued by some legal and non legal experts that Section 135(3) of the 1999 Constitution, which states that “If the Federation is at war in which the territory of Nigeria is physically involved and the President considers that it is not practicable to hold elections, the National Assembly may by resolution extend the period of four years mentioned in subsection (2) of this section from time to time; but no such extension shall exceed a period of six months at any one time”, provides a backing, by analogy, to the amendment of the Rivers State LG Administration Law.

These two scenarios are not even related. One is related to the Federal Government, the President, and is talking about extension of tenure when it’s impossible to organise an election because of war. The constitutional provision of 4-year term is still intact and unamended. Note that it’s the executive, led by the President, who determines that it is not practicable to hold elections before the National Assembly intervenes to grant extension. In the other scenario, it was the HOA of Rivers State that decided that it is not practicable to organise LG elections in Rivers State, after 17th of June, 2024, and they decided unilaterally to amend the law to grant the existing local government councils six more months. They replaced the Governor with themselves, signifying that the whole idea of the amendment was self preservation and had nothing to do with the preservation of democracy in Rivers State. They, by the amendment, intended to actually replace a democratically elected local government council, with a Caretaker Committee, after 17th June, 2024, during which the tenure of the local government councils had expired. The Legislature does not have the unilateral power to extend the tenure of the executive by the amendment of any law. This will amount to the usurpation of the democratic right of the people of Nigeria to whom belong the sovereignty.

The whole reason for the extension recommended in Section 135(3) is to protect the right of the people to elect their leaders not to usurp it. This is because during war, it will be impossible for the people to vote, hence the extension. In Ukraine today, where Russia is occupying about 15% of the country through war, it will be impossible for the people of Ukraine to vote in any election. This is what our Constitution envisaged when the provision was made. It was not made to encourage an errant, power thirsty legislature to usurp the democratic right of the people to choose their leaders. The law, therefore, is illegal, unconstitutional and null and void.
Let us note that Gov Fubara, also has no right whatsoever in law to appoint a Caretaker Committee to govern Rivers State. Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution expressly provides that “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Government, of every state shall subject to section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.” The purpose of this provision is to restrict the state government’s power over local government by imposing a mandatory directive that a state government cannot conduct local government as it pleases; it is bound to conduct it through local government councils democratically elected. The Supreme Court has settled this principle in many cases, even as far back as the case of Adeniji-Adele & Others v. Governor of Lagos State & Others (1982). Replacing the lawlessness of the HOA with the lawlessness of the Governor, shows that the war is a selfish and personal war devoid of the interest of Rivers State people.

It’s important to note that any Governor who denies the people their right to elect local government councils has also lost his right to retain his seat as a democratically elected Governor. Section 1(2) of the 1999 Constitution is very clear that “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed, nor shall any persons or group of persons take control of the Government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution”. The Governors who appoint Caretaker Committees to administer the LGCs are engaging in treasonable felony by conspiring to govern and take control of a part of the FRN with a group of persons not in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. A treasonable felon is not qualified to be Governor. If the Governor removes a duly elected LGC and replace them with his own unelected Caretaker Committees, the President and FG, should have the same power to remove such Governor through a state of emergency and ensure the restoration of democratic governance at the LG tier of government, and after that, the Independent National Electoral Commission should conduct gubernatorial election to replace such a Governor, while he is tried for treasonable felony.

Fubara did not remove democratically elected LG, because their tenure elapsed, but he illegally appointed Caretaker Committees. He must be given ultimatum, with all other States that have Caretaker Committees, to organise LG elections or be removed from office through a state of emergency declaration and tried for treasonable felony. The Police have the right to prevent Caretaker Committees all over Nigeria from taking over LG Secretariats since they are illegal. Police must enforce the law. Allocation to undemocratically elected LGCs by the FG should stop. These are some of the ways impunity at that level can be curtailed. There must be negative consequences for breaking the law. Power belongs to the people and the people must exercise their power through elections.

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