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River Assembly Barks

Tony Etim, In Port Harcourt writes on the intrigues playing out among legislators hitherto loyal to Governor Amaechi of Rivers, few days to the end of their tenure.

Few days to the end of the current dispensation, legislators in Rivers State who had been at loggerheads for many years during which they offered no legislative function to the people of the state have suddenly found their voice, causing amusements among the citizenry. Curiously all of them are the majority that have been loyal to Governor Chibuike Amaechi since the bloody fight among them in July 2013, leading to the factionalisation of the House with Evans Bipi leading the minority members.

Up till now, that faction had stayed away from the recent reconvening, leaving the pro Amaechi group in this last minute manouvre. Though it is still unclear why this sudden volte face, there are speculations that many who had been speculated to be making their way to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, at the verge of the governorship poll alongside, Deputy Governor Tele Ikuru. But that did not materiaise. Even so Deputy Speaker who had been offered a ticket by the All Progressives Congress, APC, turned it down, leaving the people to wonder what is really amiss.

What appears to be playing out according to investigation is this: The Governor, who was Presidential Campaign Director, has got himself a bigger platform with the presidential victory of the party, while they, the legislators have nothing to fall back on. So, there is no longer any strings attached and politics of facing ones interests is playing out. And they are playing tough. Within two days thay have bared their fangs at Governor Amaechi and now, it is the turn of his Commissioners.

Yesterday, they warned commissioners and other political appointees who were summoned to appear before the legislators on Tuesday.

The Deputy Speaker, Rivers State House of Assembly, Hon. Leyii Kwanee, gave the warning during the sitting of the assembly on Tuesday.

He warned that the commissioners, and other appointees that the House summoned last Monday not to test the will of the House, stressing that members would do the needful on the issues concerning the state. Kwaneewasangrythatthreeoutofninecommissioners that were summoned appeared, said the House was out to serve the people of the state and nothing else, and urged those who could not make it to appear. The lawmakers had rigorously debated whether or not to question the three commissioners or adjourn till Thursday when other commissioners promised to be available. The commissioners that were present are: George Tolofari (Transport); Austine Wokocha (Power), and Tamuno Gogo (Budegt and Planning). The House adjourned till Thursday and Kwanee said: “Whatever I need to do to strengthen our democracy and put smiles on the faces of our people, I will do it. We will be remembered for what we did as lawmakers. “Nobody should attempt to try the will of the House… No matter how short the days are, we will continue to make laws until May 29, 2015. At the next sitting, the House would like to get all those invited present.” Kwanee stated that three commissioners, including that of Finance informed him why he could not appear before the House, an explanation that forced the House Leader, Hon. Chidi Lloyd to move for an adjournment on Thursday, explaining that the commissioners were on special assignment. But the Deputy House Leader, who originally moved the motion for the suspension of the three council bosses, and the summoning of the commissioners, wanted to know the kind of assignment that would prevent them from taking questions from the lawmakers.

He said: “I took pains to present these issues yesterday. There were salient issues I raised. If we want to screen people for positions and appointments, even if they are in America, they would rush down here. “What special assignment are other commissioners doing now? We should take on those that are present. We should ask them one or two questions instead of asking them to leave.

The ones that are not here should come and explain to Rivers people.” Earlier, the House adopted a petition filed against the suspended Caretaker Committee Chairman of Asari Toru Local Government Area, Ojukaye Flagg-Amachree, wherein he was accused of keeping to himself a huge sum of money meant for agricultural empowerment of the people. In the petition titled: “A case of fraud and outright denial of poverty beneficiary of the agricultural loan in Asalga,” Flagg-Amachree was accused of refusing to hand over the money to the members of the cooperative that were to use the money. Then on Monday they fired a query to the governor. They queried the inability of the state government to pay salaries and pension to workers and pensioners in the state for several months running.

The House made the inquiry in its sitting of Monday, May 11, 2015.

During the sitting the council also suspended three chairmen of Local Government Caretaker Committee in the state for alleged financial recklessness.

The suspended council chairmen are Cassidy Ikegbidi (Ahoada East), Ojukaye Flag-Amachree (Asari-Toru) and Derick Mene (Khana).

A motion on “The State of the Economy of Rivers State” moved by Deputy House Leader, Nname Ewor states that “workers and pensioners are owed their salaries and allowances for months, yet funds have been appropriated ad regular remittances made from internally generated revenue and the Federation Account ad others.

“Also, the House appears to be worried with the state of the state of economy of Rivers State. We are therefore tempted to as the question ‘is Rivers State broke?’

The Assembly resolved to summon nine commissioners, and four heads of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to appear before it today (Tuesday), by 10am prompt, over the alleged poor state of finance in Rivers in view of the conflicting reports making the rounds.

Those summoned to appear before the House included Commissioners for Finance, Agriculture, Power, Health, Tourism, Information, Budget, Works and Transport.

Heads of MDAs invited by the House were Accountant- General, Chairmen of Board of Internal Revenue, Rivers State Assembly Service Commission and Secondary School Management Board.

The two motions raised by the Deputy Leader of the House, Nname Ewor, representing Ahoada East Constituency 1 expressed grave concern about the security of the state leading to the unprecedented political killings and the inability of government to pay salaries of its staff for months.

The lawmaker expressed worry that, while the state government had claimed it had paid salaries of civil servants up to March, 2015, there were conflicting reports against that in the state with workers publicly protesting nonpayment of their salaries and other entitlements.

Ewor, had in the motion concerning suspension of the Local Government Area chairmen, pointed out that insecurity and financial recklessness were common in the three local government areas.

“In these three councils, human lives have been rendered insignificant and financial frugality has been jettisoned to the waste bin. The Local Government Areas are drifting to the Hobbesion State of Nature”, he said.

In his speech, the Deputy Speaker, Leyii Kwanee, who presided over the sitting, pointed out that their decisions were not meant to witch-hunt any individual or government, insisting that the Assembly merely wanted to be “on the same page with the executive”.

Hon Kwanee representing Khana Constituency II, stated that stories on the state’s economy was worrisome, and it was important that government officers were summoned over the matter to give cogent explanation to the true state of the state’s economy.

“As an arm of government, we are not out to witch-hunt the executive. They may have their challenges. But, we are out to strengthen things. You are aware the seventh Assembly is gradually coming to an end. I want to tell you that it is better started than never.

“We have been seeing a lot of conflicting reports. The other day, the Commissioner for Information (Mrs. Ibim Semenitari) was on air saying that workers have been paid up to March. So, we feel very embarrassed as an arm of government”.

The deputy speaker, while describing the motion on suspension of the CTC chairmen as timely, declared that the officers should be held accountable for whatever that happened in their areas.

Until tomorrow, Thursday when they are expected to engage the Commissioners and perhaps get a reply to their query from the governor, it is hard to see if the legislators can bite the fingers that had been feeding all the time the House was under lock and key and they were meeting in the governors’ chambers.

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