In this report, ANAYO ONUKWUGHA writes on the politics that played out on 30th December, last year, on the floor of Rivers State House of Assembly, leading to the emergence of a new Speaker for the house.
On December 30, 2016, members of the Rivers State House of Assembly elected former Speaker of the House and member representing Andoni Constituency, Rt. Hon. Ikuinyi-Owaji Ibani as the new Speaker of the House.
Ibani, who was re-elected into the House during the December 10, 2016 legislative rerun election in the state on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was unanimously returned as Speaker following the resignation of the former Speaker, Rt. Hon. Dabotorudima Adams.
Adams, who represents Okrika Constituency in the House was elected Speaker in December 2015, when Ibani resigned from office following the nullification of his election by the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja.
In his resignation speech, the former Speaker, who presided over the passage of the 2017 Appropriation Bill into law, less than 48 hours after the governor presented it on the floor of the House, thanked lawmakers for giving him the leadership role and for supporting him while he was speaker.
In his acceptance speech, the new Speaker, Ibani thanked God for his victory at the polls. He also thanked his constituents and members of the state Assembly for standing by him during his travails.
He said: “First let me thank God for his providence and grace. Without him I wouldn’t have made it here. Today, Adams has shown that as a man who represents his people, Okirika, he can be trusted beyond Okirika and Rivers State.
“For members of the Assembly, having exited this Assembly one year ago you stood by me. As I ascend this throne today, it is not a private estate. My knowledge is limited, whatever you will do to make this institution successful, we are always willing to learn.
“If in course of my dealings I have offended you in any way, I seek forgiveness. I will continue to do good to all manner of people. For Rivers State, we will continue to support all arms of government and legislate for the good of all.
“To my colleagues who have just been inaugurated with me, we have to join our hands not minding party affiliations because the interest of the state is greater than a political party. It is my hope, with all sense of responsibility, that we work in peace and harmony that our constituents, our people can experience peace and development”
immediately after administering the oath of office on Ibani and 11 other lawmakers, who were either re-elected during the rerun election or were returned by the Court of Appeal.
Other lawmakers who were sworn-in on that day having been returned by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at the just concluded rerun election on the platform of the PDP the include, Hon. Granville Tekenari Wellington, representing Asari-Toru Constituency 1; Hon. Enemi Alabo-George, representing Asari-Toru Constituency II and Hon. Abinye Blessing Pepple, representing Bonny Constituency.
Those who were returned by INEC on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) during the rerun include, Hon. Mathew Dike, representing Tai Constituency; Hon. Josiah John Olu, representing Eleme Constituency; Hon. Innocent Barikor, representing Gokana Constituency; Hon. Friday Nkee, representing Khana Constituency II and Hon. Chikere Azubike Wanjoku, representing Ikwerre Constituency.
Those who were sworn-in after being confirmed by the Court included Hon. Doctor Farah Dagogo of the PDP, representing Degema Constituency; Hon. Adonye Diri of the PDP, representing Opobo/Nkoro Constituency and Hon. (Mrs) Victoria Nyeche of the APC representing Port Harcourt Constituency 1.
Prior to the December 30, swearing-in in ceremony for the returned lawmakers, there were unconfirmed reports that Wike and the leadership of the House were plotting to secretly swear-in only lawmakers elected on the platform of the PDP, thereby keeping those elected on the platform of APC stranded.
The development attracted reactions from leaders of the APC in the state, including the party’s governorship candidate in the 2015 election, Dr. Dakuku Adol Peterside and the senator representing Rivers South-East district in the National Assembly, Senator Magnus Ngei Abe, threatened that the party’s lawmakers-elect in the Rivers State House of Assembly will join other lawmakers to sit and perform their legislative duties, should the Speaker, Adams, fail to swear them in.
Peterside, who is also the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), called on the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Adams to respect the office he occupies by immediately swearing-in the elected members of the APC, insisting that nobody would stop the lawmakers from taking their seats in the Assembly.
He said, “The Speaker knows that he has no power under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria not to swear-in people who were duly elected and returned by INEC. Their people have elected them and they must be allowed to perform their constitutional duties.
“The era of impunity is gone for good. I want to assure that any day, anywhere and time the Rivers State House of Assembly decides to sit, elected members of the APC will be part of all deliberations. Rivers state belongs to all of us and no one is more Rivers than the other. We will challenge impunity in this state.”
On his part, Abe stated there is no constitutional requirement that said lawmakers-elect must be sworn in by the Speaker of the House of Assembly, saying that swearing-in is a ceremony which the Speaker may choose to perform or not.
He said, “Let me start with the most important question that you raised here, which is the fact that the leadership of the PDP under Governor Nyesom Wike has threatened not to swear in lawmakers duly elected and returned by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Rivers State and to say clearly that there is no constitutional requirements for swearing-in lawmakers in this country.
“It is a ceremony which the Speaker may perform if he chooses but it is not a constitutional requirement for any lawmaker to take his place in the Chambers of the state legislature. So, if the Speaker will not swear them in, they will march into the House of Assembly and take their place because they have been returned.”
“Let me say to Nigerians that the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Speaker of the House of Assembly are elected by lawmakers who have not been sworn in by anybody and that election is valid because the Constitution already recognises them as members of the House of Assembly, as members of the Federal House of Representatives, as senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria based upon their return in their elections.
“So, after the Speaker or President of the Senate, whoever is elected, then swears in the other members but they are already members before he swore them in. So, if he chooses not to swear them in, that does not any way illegitimize their membership of the House of Assembly.
“So, the Speaker has a choice, he can swear them in, which is what he is expected to do as Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly or he can refuse and they will go into the House of Assembly and take their seats without his permission because he has no right to seat as a tribunal over the return of any legislator. So, if they don’t swear them in, they will take their seats in the Rivers State House of Assembly.
“This kind of impunity and rascality that we are witnessing in Rivers State will not be allowed and will not be tolerated. So, I want to say it loud and clear that if they are not sworn-in, they will take their seats on the floor of the Rivers State House of Assembly and they will participate in all deliberations of the Rivers State House of Assembly without being sworn-in.
“So, the Speaker has a choice, he can either swear them in or he may refuse to do so, they will still take their seats. Their election is not in any way different from the election of the Speaker. He was not sworn-in by anybody before he was elected Speaker by people who were also not sworn-in.
“Having been elected Speaker, he cannot then use his own position to upturn the election of other legislators who are legitimately elected by their own constituents. It is not envisaged that that is the position of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and we will not allow it in Rivers State.”
However, with the swearing-in of the returned lawmakers, analysts believe that the Rivers State House of Assembly should brace up for a balanced legislative duties with a formidable opposition from the APC, which has seven lawmakers in the 30- member PDP-controlled House.
To Allwell Ene, chairman of South-South zone of the Parliamentary Correspondents’ Association of Nigeria (PACAN), newly sworn-in lawmakers in the State House of Assembly should to see themselves more as Rivers people than members of the PDP or APC.
Ene, who urged the lawmakers to ensure they make laws that would benefit the generality of Rivers people, advised them not to place their party’s interest above the interest of the state but advised them to place the interest of the state above their personal interest and that of their political leaders.
He said, If they do so they would be able to concentrate on the interest of the state with the intention of making laws that would benefit the generality of Rivers people. I wish, and it is my utmost desire, that they all would come together, see themselves as Rivers people and not members of political parties, so that they would be able to make laws, that would benefit the generality of Rivers people.