What Happens If Rivers Lawmaker, Michael Chinda Dies? By Azuka Onwuka
The political crisis in Rivers State has reached a frightening height. Last week’s free-for-all by members of the state House of Assembly was not only shameful but scary. The result of that show of shame was that a member of the House, Honourable (if any of them still deserves that appellation) Michael Chinda was flown abroad for medical treatment as a result of the injuries he sustained. He was reported to have slipped in and out of coma.
Chinda, one of the lawmakers against Governor Chibuike Amaechi, was seen on TV being pummelled viciously with the mace of the House by a colleague, Chidi Lloyd, said to be loyal to the Amaechi camp. Wearing a white caftan and a red cap, Lloyd was seen repeatedly hitting him with a mace, while a man dressed in police uniform was seen lending him a hand.
In another scene of that national embarrassment, Evans Bipi, purported to have been bizarrely “elected” as the new Speaker by five members in a House of 32 members, was seen outside the chamber felling a man with a punch. By the time the fracas was over, the legislative chamber was not just a shambles, the floor and walls were painted in blood.
Legislators in most parts of the world are known for occasionally resorting to fights during heated debates. The reason is simple: Legislators are equals, elected by their respective constituencies to represent their interests, with the members electing one of their colleagues to preside over their deliberations as the Speaker or President, who is not their boss but just a first among equals. Therefore, at times of crisis, even though the legislature has a leader and other officers who maintain order, it is difficult to control members. The situation is worsened by the fact that police officers are not usually allowed to come into the House to maintain peace when there is a crisis. Legislators always believe that since they are an independent arm of government, they should be allowed to settle their issues their own way without any interference from the executive arm of government whom they are meant to make laws for and have oversight powers over.
Therefore, even when they fight and injure one another or destroy things in the House, none of them is usually arrested. It is seen as their internal matter. If there is a need to penalise erring members, the House uses its internal mechanism to mete out such penalties without the interference of the police or law courts.
However, will it still be regarded as an internal matter if a member of a House uses a weapon on another member that causes death? It is not likely that such will be treated as an internal legislative matter. The only time I can recall when a Nigerian legislator died during a fracas in the House was on October 17, 2007 during the crisis that led to the resignation of Mrs. Patricia Etteh as Speaker of the House of Representatives. But fortunately, the deceased, Dr Aminu Safana, did not die as a result of physical contact or injury: it was reported that his blood pressure shot up during the row and he was rushed to the hospital where he died.
The Rivers State crisis has been allowed to fester like a bad sore for too long. Interestingly, both Amaechi and Mr. Nyesom Wike, the Minister of State for Education, who is fingered to be fronting for President Goodluck Jonathan in the crisis, both claim to be the victim. The loser is governance which is either abandoned or neglected while the crisis goes on.
But there is enough blame to go round all the actors in this crisis. Some point at the removal of the Chairman of Obio/Akpor Local Government Area as the root of the crisis, while some point at the clash of political interest between Jonathan and Amaechi over the 2015 elections as the root of the crisis. Jonathan with his wife has repeatedly washed his hands off the crisis, but it will be very difficult to convince most Nigerians that he has no hand in it. He has a right to protect his interest and work against the interest of anyone who is plotting against his. But a line needs to be drawn between politics and intimidation. The more this crisis lingers, the more it hurts Jonathan’s image. It is therefore in his interest that he gets it resolved fast.
On his part, Amaechi has every right to seek to be President or Vice-President in 2015 against the ambition of the incumbent. Even if he has no political ambition of his own for 2015, he has a right not to support Jonathan’s ambition. But he should not be applauded for working against the political interest of his party man. He still has two years to govern Rivers State, but he seems to be paying more attention to this crisis than the job for which he was elected. Secondly, one of the problems in Rivers State that has worsened this crisis is the removal of the Chairman of the Obio/Akpor Local Government Area. Amaechi has smartly been insisting that it was the House of Assembly that removed the chairman. But he is merely trying to be smart by half, for it is clear that the action of the House was like the biblical hand of Esau but the voice of Jacob. The state House of Assembly has not hidden the fact that it is a puppet of the governor. Amaechi should therefore stop hiding behind the House. Just as he is complaining about the Presidency oppressing him for his contrary views, he should also stop oppressing the Chairman of Obio/Akpor LGA for his contrary views. It is said that he who comes into equity must come with clean hands.
In addition, going to the House with his security aides on the day of the crisis showed how meddlesome he is in the affairs of the House. He represents the executive arm of government, while the House represents the legislative arm, with the judiciary completing the tripod. The governor had no business going there. All reports received on the matter as well as the video evidence showed that his going to the House helped to aggravate the crisis.
The third party to this crisis is Wike. It is shameful that at a time the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics and the Academic Staff Union of Universities are both on a strike action, the Minister of State for Education is more concerned about power tussle in his home state. His choice of words, as well as his tone, mien and body language any time he speaks on the crisis or Amaechi usually lack decorum. He needs to carry himself with more dignity in line with his office.
Similarly, the anti-Amaechi lawmakers were reckless in their purported impeachment of the Speaker. Five members cannot impeach or elect a Speaker in a House of 32 legislators. We only witnessed such a mockery of democracy during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure when the Mallam Nuhu Ribadu-led Economic and Financial Crimes Commission used state legislators in such a manner to remove governors, whom the law courts subsequently returned to office.
Also, the police have been accused by Amaechi of being partisan in the crisis, a claim the state Commissioner of Police, Joseph Mbu, has denied. If indeed the police are biased, it is unjustifiable. Even though the police are run by the Federal Government, they are not meant to be biased, especially against the state governor, who is identified as the number one security officer of his state.
Finally, the country’s image has been battered by many acts of public and private individuals. Engaging in a crisis of personal interest at a time the nation is crying out for more attention is synonymous with the story of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.
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