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Rivers Rerun: Evolving Stand-off Between Wike, Police

ANAYO ONUKWUGHA, chronicles the intrigues over the sack of six policemen attached to the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, over their involvement in the recent rerun elections in the state.

On January 6, 2017, the Police High Command announced the dismissal of six policemen attached to the Rivers State Governor, Chief Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike over the roles they allegedly played during the just concluded legislative rerun election in Rivers State.

The affected policemen include Ex-Inspctor Eyong Victor, Ex-Sergeant Peter Ekpo, Ex-Sergeant Oguni Goodluck, Ex-Sergeant Orji Nwoke, Ex-Sergeant Okpe Ezekiel and Ex-Sergeant Tanko Akor.

The Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), Don Awunah, a deputy commissioner of Police (DCP), who paraded the dismissed policemen before newsmen in Abuja, said they misused the firearms in their possession during the December 10, 2016 rerun election, contrary to the provisions of Force Order 237.

Awunah said, “In the case of the recent parliamentary election in Rivers State, the Inspector-General of Police’s resolve to secure the process, was reciprocated with the unethical conduct of some bad eggs within the Force.

“Inspite of strict warnings and instructions from the IGP that all Police personnel on election duty should be of good conduct and desist from escorting their principals, notably public office holders and politicians to polling units throughout the period of the election, some recalcitrant police personnel were still found blatantly breaching these directives. This is unacceptable by all standards in the Force.

“Therefore, in the course of discreet investigations into the above misconduct, the following personnel of the Force were found to have in total disrespect to orders and directives, compromised, engaged in unprofessional acts and other unbecoming conduct

“These acts, if not checked can be inimical to discipline and proper administration of the Force.”

He continued “The Service personnel became overzealous, took laws into their hands and opened fire, causing panic in the crowd. They joined in storming the Port Harcourt City Council Secretariat and prevented the movement of election results of Emouha polling unit to the appropriate collation centre designated by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in flagrant disregard and disobedience to senior Police officers present at the venue.

“The six (6) Police officers, after the conclusion of investigation into this public mischief, were subjected to internal disciplinary measures, found guilty and consequently dismissed from the Force. They will be prosecuted under the Electoral Act to serve as a deterrent to others.”

The sack the six policemen expectedly sparked a lots of reactions, in the face of how contentious the rerun elections turned out to be.

In the build up to the December 10 polls, the major actors, the PDP and APC as encapsulated by Governor Wike and Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, had talked tough and traded blames over the palpable tension in the state.

On the day of the election, the violence that trailed the polls were as horrid as they were, perhaps, not unexpected. The lowest point in the course of the election was the killing of a Deputy Superintendent of Police, DSP,  Alkali Mohammed and his orderly. Both men were beheaded at Uju community in Ogba Egbema Ndoni Local Government Area.

While the INEC chairman, Prof Mahmoud Yakubu, decried the level of violence and has declared to help in a probe to uncover what happened, the complicity of security agencies in the rerun polls was clearly a cause for concern.

However, before long the whole process of instituting a probe became utterly politicized creating an intense stand-off between the two political parties on the one hand, and governor Wike and the police on the other.

Reacting to the sack of the six policemen, the Rivers State government, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt by the commissioner for Information and Communication, Dr. Austin Tam-George, described the dismissal of the officers as a “sad day for the Nigerian Police Force.”

Tam-George revealed that the police officers were subjected to a secret and unfair trial, on totally fictitious charges of professional misconduct, during the rerun elections in Rivers State on the 10th of December 2016.

“This is a tragic day for professionalism and the respect for human rights in the Nigeria Police Force. The dismissed officers committed no crime, other than foil a carefully orchestrated electoral heist by officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in collusion with the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Nigeria Police Force.

“The claim by the Police that the affected officers misused their firearms while in the convoy of Governor Wike on the 10th of December 2016, is a wrong and cruel fabrication. Governor Wike did not depart from his official premises on the day of the election, and therefore had no use for an armed convoy.

“Two days after the elections, on the 12th of December 2016, thousands of Rivers people, led by Governor Wike, resisted an invasion by the police on the premises of the Port Harcourt City local government council, in a brazen attempt to rig the elections in favour of the APC. The Port Harcourt City Council was the Election Collation Centre for the Rivers East Senatorial District.

“Throughout the period of the stand off between the invading police officers and the thousands of citizens who resisted them, Governor Wike and the officers around him conducted themselves with utmost restraint. The dismissed officers are therefore the  latest victims of the medieval dictatorship of the APC government. A government that seems to lurch blindly in the miasma of its own incompetence and intolerance.

“We urge Nigerians to demand the immediate reinstatement of these officers, and for the Inspector General of Police to allow an independent inquiry. The APC government has never hidden it’s desperation to overrun Rivers State, “colonize’’ its people  and loot the treasury of the State. But the Rivers people will continue to resist all attempts to enslave them.”

But in a swift reaction, the leadership of APC in the state, described the dismissal of the six policemen attached to Wike as an indictment on the side of the outspoken governor.

According to the publicity secretary of APC in the state, Senibo Chris Finebone, “The dismissal of those six policemen is a clear indictment of Governor Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike over his violation of electoral regulations in the Dec 10 rerun elections in Rovers State.

“We believe that it is just a tip of the iceberg of what will be unravelled that were perpetrated by the governor. Nigerians are waiting for the IGP Panel report that will seal the fate of Governor Wike and his accomplices within the INEC.”

To the man at the centre of the controversy, Wike, the government and people of Rivers State will stand with the six unfortunate policemen, as their sack was politically-motivated because they committed no crime known to law.

The governor, who spoke at Ahoada Town, headquarters of Ahoada-East local government area of the state, during a reception for a chieftain of the APC, who decamped to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), noted that the government  and people of Rivers State will pursue the matter through laid down legal processes to its logical conclusion.

He said, “They gave me policemen for my protection, but before I knew it, they have dismissed them. They think they are punishing them, but Rivers State will stand with them forever.

“By the time we finished, they will realise that they have favoured the so-called dismissed policemen. In Rivers State, we don’t abandon people. No amount of intimidation, will make me abandon these innocent policemen.

“The dismissed policemen committed no offence. Simply because they followed their boss, they said they should be dismissed. They want to  discourage policemen from protecting me. For me, I am not worried. I am a village man and a grassroots politician. Before you kill me, you would have killed so many people.”

Wike, who stated that PDP is on ground in the state because it delivers projects to the people, noted that Rivers people will continue to protect their votes despite the evil machinations of the APC.

The governor said, “Nobody will intimidate me to change my mind. If you like bug my  phone. As far as I will never plan coup, I will never be afraid. A man with the people will never beg those who are bent on intimidating us.

“The blood pressure  of APC leaders is extremely  high. I will continue to make their blood pressure grow higher. From now on, I have changed my name from high tension to Mr Project.”

To Chief Felix Obuah, chairman of PDP in the state, the dismissal of the six policemen  showed that the police authorities acted the script of the APC, who he alleged were not favored by the outcome of the Re-run Election.

The PDP chairman, challenged the Inspector-General of Police to explain to Nigerians the status of the legion of policemen, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and Army officers who accompanied Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, Dr. Dakuku Adol Peterside, Senator Magnus Ngei Abe, Dr.Barry Mpigi, Mr. Derrick Mene and other APC chieftains, including Akin Fakorede and other policemen caught on video at Collation Centers.

Obuah argued that the statement of the IGP in justifying the sack of the six police officers does not stand the test of reason, wondering why those policemen, soldiers and SARS personnel who accompanied Amaechi and Peterside to the same Port Harcourt City local government secretariat have not been sacked and tried for professional misconduct.

Also, the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led faction of the PDP demanded the immediate reinstatement of the sacked policemen by the authorities of the Force, adding that the sacking of the officers without opportunity to openly defend themselves, was against their basic human rights.

A statement by its spokesman, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, said the police officers were being punished for failing to do the bidding of the APC who planned to use the security agents to manipulate the re-run election.

The statement “This is unacceptable and the dismissed officers should be reinstated immediately in the interest of professionalism, justice, equity, and fair play. This call for their immediate re-instatement is equally in the interest of the Nigerian Police to save the battered image of the Force.

“Otherwise, this action will be further understood to mean that the Police surelNever have we had a governor who is so unsure of himself and what he says.

“Not too long ago, he told Rivers people not to participate in the probe panel set up by Inspector General of Police, but the same governor is now crying to Police IG to reveal those behind the killing of two policemen during the rerun election.

“Same man who vowed not to fund security agencies in the state again is now the one saying he is ready to support them. How do you assRivers East Senatorial District Collation by Akin Fakorede and his SARS personnel.

He also wondered  why the Police has refused  to  make public  how DSP  Alkali  was killed, simply because  the person indicted was a commissioner under the  Minister of Transportation.

He said: “The same Akin Fakorede who was caught  on  video after he invaded the Rivers East Senatorial is the one who is arranging witnesses for the panel set up by the Inspector-General of Police.

“Nobody  is investigating the case of Rivers APC printing fake result  sheets which the police  is trying  to  sweep  under the carpet.  “

He wondered why the Inspector General of Police set up a panel, when he had already made conclusions as enunciated in his letter to the Rivers State Governor.

“We believe  that  the Panel  has already taken  a decision.  We are  convinced  that the essence of the panel  is to witch-hunt our people and we have evidence  to show. We cannot because  of  one man’s  interest, destroy the state.

“Already, you have dismissed policemen attached to me without even hearing from me. This is the same panel that claims  it is investigating the  conduct of all policemen  during the rerun legislative elections “.

Chairman of the Nigerian Police Special Joint Investigation Panel on Rivers Rerun, Mr Damian Okoro, had said the panel was in the state to interface  with the governor on what transpired before, during and after the rerun elections.

He added that the  panel will also examine the role of security  personnel during  the  rerun legislative elections.

While the intrigues continue to mount, there is no telling how far the stalemate will go.