The embattled governor of Rivers state, Rotimi Amaechi, has raised the alarm about his safety after military authorities abruptly withdrew soldiers detailed to the Rivers State Government House on Wednesday in a new twist to the political tumult that has enveloped the state.
Mr. Amaechi told PREMIUM TIMES late Wednesday that while police and State Security Service operatives remained with him, he could not predict how things might turn out within the next hours in an utterly fast-paced set of events unfolding in the state since Tuesday.
“Although I feel safe at this time, you never can tell what may happen even this night,” the governor said Wednesday night in response to a PREMIUM TIMES telephone enquiry.
His fears resonated as the over more than two dozens soldiers attached to his office and residence were suddenly withdrawn on Wednesday, leaving behind a police detachment that has been accused of indifference, or even complicity, in the series of crises bedeviling the state for months.
The soldiers were reportedly asked to leave on the orders of the state Brigade Commander. It is not clear who ordered the commander to withdraw the officers.
Army spokesperson, Brigadier General Bolaji Koleoso, did not comment when reached by PREMIUM TIMES. A man who answered our call on his behalf said Mr. Koleoso was away and would respond to our enquiries on his return. He is yet to return our call.
The withdrawal of the soldiers came several hours after federal lawmakers at the Senate and the House of Representatives spent the entire legislative sessions Wednesday discussing the crisis that began after five members of the state House of Assembly, opposed to Mr. Amaechi, moved to impeach the Speaker who enjoys the backing of 27 members.
The Speaker, Mr. Otelemaba Amachree, survived the plot. But the impeachment call by lawmakers led by Evans Bipi, who himself sought to take over the office, only manifested months of repressed acrimony; and the violence that followed left four lawmakers hospitalized.
At the centre of the crisis is the spat between Mr. Amaechi and President Goodluck Jonathan over the 2015 election. The renegade legislators are said to be backed by a faction of the state Peoples Democratic Party supported by the president.
An infuriated National Assembly passed separate motions sternly condemning the turn of events, especially how only five lawmakers could claim to have impeached a speaker, and how the state police commissioner failed to stem the violence in the chamber.
The House asked for the immediate redeployment of the police chief, Joseph Mbu; and invoked its constitutional powers to assume the legislative functions of the crisis-ridden state assembly.
The Senate said it needed further investigation to be certain of an appropriate response, but warned of tougher actions and a willingness to defend the constitution “even if it means sacrificing” members’ blood.
As the deliberations held, reports of gunfire near the state government house in Port Harcourt emerged, stoking fears of a large-scale breakdown of law and order- a concern the House of Representatives cited as reason for what some view as a hasty takeover by the House.
That decision, meanwhile, will require the concurrence of the Senate to be effective.
But hours after the vote, Mr. Amaechi and other state officials told PREMIUM TIMES the soldiers were recalled from their posts and the Armoured Personnel Carrier positioned closed to the Government House driving away. As commander-in-chief, Mr. Jonathan receives briefing on such decisions, but it is not clear whether he is privy to the actions taken by the Brigade Commander in Port Harcourt
The president, who is away on a state visit to China, has not sent in a comment on the events 48 hours after.
But after an opposition party, Action Congress of Nigeria, accused the president of having a hand in the crisis, calling for his impeachment, a presidential spokesperson, Doyin Okupe, scrambled a response, denying Mr. Jonathan’s culpability.
“The President is not, has not and will never engineer any act that can cause disaffection between Governor Rotimi Amaechi or any other Governor and the state legislature or any other institution of government,” Mr. Okupe said.
Meanwhile, a security source in the state said the violence in the state might worsen in the days ahead if urgent steps were not taken to check the influx of cultists and militants into Port Harcourt.
He said information at his disposal suggested that 10 flying boats and four busloads of fully armed militants had invaded the city in the past 24 hours and might wreck havoc if not checked.
PREMIUM TIMES was unable to independently confirm the claim.
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