The political crisis in Rivers State appears to be festering despite the peace deal brokered by President Bola Tinubu in December 2023.

While the two divides in the ongoing tussle have seemed to show commitment to fulfilling the demands of the eight-point resolution agreed upon under the guidance of Mr. President, the case appears to be like that of a lunatic of whom it is said that even if the lunacy is cured, he would never stop murmuring.

The latest in the crisis is the move by the Martin Amaewhule-led group to get Edison Ehie arrested, investigated and charged with arson and terrorism over allegations that he had been involved in burning down the House of Assembly Complex.

The ongoing crisis in Rivers State arose as a result of a clash of political interests between the state governor, Siminalayi Fubara, and his predecessor, Nyesom Wike, who currently serves as Minister of the FCT, over the control of the state’s affairs.

The rift quickly caused a split in the state House of Assembly where two factions emerged: one led by Edison Ehie as Speaker with three lawmakers loyal to Governor Fubara, and another under Martin Amaewhule as Speaker with 26 lawmakers (after the demise of one member) loyal to Wike.

Series of ugly incidents followed, such as the Amaewhule faction’s impeachment moves against Governor Fubara, defection of 27 Assembly members from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC), demolition of the Rivers State House of Assembly Complex, passage of the 2024 budget by the governor after presenting it to the four-member faction led by Ehie, among others.

On 18 December 2023, President Tinubu intervened and initiated an eight-point resolution which, it was projected, would ultimately end the tumultuous conflict in Rivers State and bring about peace between the warring factions.

After the peace accord was agreed upon and signed by the parties to the conflict, Governor Fubara, even though he faced criticisms, continually affirmed his willingness to abide by the terms of the peace accord, stating that he would sacrifice anything for the peace of the state. He also advocated for peace and urged all parties to the conflict to lay down their swords and unite in developing the state.

Thereafter, in line with the resolution, the governor re-submitted to the state assembly for approval the names of the commissioners who had resigned from his cabinet. The commissioner-nominees were re-screened and re-confirmed at the temporary chambers of the state assembly on Wednesday, 17 January, and then sworn in by the governor on Friday, 26 January 2024.

The nine commissioners had resigned from Governor Fubara’s administration on 16 December 2023 to show their support to Wike. They were the Commissioner for Education, Prof Chinedu Mmom; Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Zacchaeus Adangor (SAN); Commissioner for Social Welfare and Rehabilitation, Mrs Inime Aguma; Commissioner for Finance, Isaac Kamalu; Commissioner for Housing, Dr. Gift Worlu; Commissioner for Transport, Dr. Jacobson Nbina; Commissioner for Works, Dr Des George-Kelly; Commissioner for Environment, Austin Ben-Chioma, and Commissioner for Special Duties, Emeka Woke. Their offices had remained vacant until their reinstatement by the governor.

The resolution had also directed that Martin Amaewhule be recognised as the authentic Speaker of the State Assembly. Following this, Edison Ehie, who had led the four-member faction of the Rivers Assembly loyal to Governor Fubara, resigned from the Assembly on 29th December 2023. He was later appointed by Governor Fubara as Chief of Staff and sworn in on Monday, 29 January 2024.

The governor also recognized the 26 defected lawmakers as members of the Rivers State House of Assembly. He withdrew all court cases related to the political dispute as stated in the peace accord. He equally reinstated the local government administration and nullified the caretaker committees of local governments.

On their part, Speaker Amaewhule and the 26 legislators adhered to the peace resolution by terminating the impeachment proceedings against Governor Fubara, whom they had accused of gross misconduct, thus fulfilling a part of the resolution. This reduced the tension between all parties involved.

But one part of the resolution that has remained unresolved is the re-presentation of the 2024 budget to the full Assembly led by Amaewhule. The governor had, following a court order by the Rivers State High Court sitting at Isiokpo that restrained Amaewhule from parading himself as the speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly and the other 26 defected lawmakers from gaining access to the assembly complex, presented the 2024 Appropriation Bill to the Ehie faction and signed the bill into law 24 hours later.

On January 22, 2024, the Federal Court in Abuja nullified the budget. Furthermore, following an appeal filed by the State Assembly and Martin Amaewhule against the governor, National Assembly, and others, the court ruled that funds of the members and staff of the assembly will be reinstated. The court also restrained both the governor and National Assembly from interfering in State Assembly affairs.

Following the court’s nullification of the budget earlier signed by Governor Fubara, it was expected that the governor, having no more legal bottlenecks hindering him, and in the spirit of his avowed commitment to achieving peace in Rivers, would have resubmitted the budget to the Rivers State Assembly.

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However, recent events between the governor and the lawmakers suggest a different tone. The current crisis may undermine any previous efforts towards peace as there are speculations that impeachment proceedings against Governor Fubara might be initiated by the state House of Assembly if tensions continue to escalate.

On Friday, January 26th, 2024, the lawmakers overruled the governor by passing four bills into law that prohibit Governor Fubara from appointing caretaker chairmen for local governments in the state.

The four laws are Rivers Local Government Amendment Law; Rivers State Traditional Rulers Amendment Law; Rivers State Advertisement and Use of State-Owned Property Prohibition Repeal Law; and Rivers State Funds Management and Financial Autonomy Law. In overriding Governor Fubara’s assent, they invoked Section 100 Subsection 5 of the constitution.

Governor Fubara had earlier declined assent to the four bills that was passed by the lawmakers and had written to the lawmakers stating his reasons for declining, as the four bills aim to diminish the powers of the governor.

The governor had previously dissolved the local government administration in the wake of the political crisis and appointed the caretaker committee but President Tinubu’s eight-point resolution for peace nullified it.

Recently, Governor Fubara appointed Mr. GoodLife Ben as Acting Chairman of the Rivers State Local Government Service Commission, Dr. Mrs lne Briggs as Acting Director General of Bureau for Public Procurement, and Mr. Tonte Davies as Acting Administrator of New Cities Development Authority (NCDA).

However, at a plenary session held in the Assembly Quarters in Port Harcourt, members of the State Assembly claimed that these appointments should have been confirmed by them according to constitutional provisions and accused Fubara of tyranny. Speaker Amaewhule signed a letter calling for a withdrawal of such appointments.

The new phase of the crisis escalated when the group led by Amaewhule petitioned the police demanding that Edison Ehie be arrested, investigated and charged with arson and terrorism over allegations that he had been involved in burning down the House of Assembly Complex.

This development prompted two separate court orders that emerged last week as the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on Wednesday, 31st January 2024, ordered the arrest of the Chief of Staff to the Rivers State Governor, Edison Edie, over alleged burning of the State House of Assembly alongside Jinjiri Bala, Happy Benedict, Progress Joseph, Adokiye Oyagiri and Chibuike Peter, also known as Rambo.

In a ruling on an ex-parte plea that was filed by the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Kayode Egbetokun, placed before him, Justice Emeka Nwite issued the arrest order.

Mr Ehie and others are accused of being involved in the 29 October 2023 arson and terrorism at the Rivers House of Assembly complex, Port Harcourt, which occurred during an attempt by some lawmakers to initiate an impeachment proceeding against Governor Fubara.

The deputy commissioner of Police, Simon Lough, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) who was the mover, accused them of conspiracy, arson, terrorism, attempted murder and murder of a Superintendent of Police, Bako Agbashim, as well as five police informants, Charles Osu, Ogbonna Eja, Idaowuka Felix, Paul Victor Chibuogu and Saturday Edi, in Rivers State.

The same day, a Rivers State High Court sitting in Port Harcourt restrained the police from arresting Edison Edie. In an ex-parte application brought before him by Ehie, Justice Sika Aprioku issued an order restraining the police or other security forces from making an arrest, holding him, or harassing him.

After the judge, Sika Aprioku, granted the application, he adjourned the hearing until February 6.

In light of all this chaos, pundits say the peace accord initiated by President Tinubu may be in jeopardy. They say Governor Fubara’s next steps hold great significance in determining whether or not the political crisis in Rivers State can be brought to a final end so as to give the people of the state the good governance and development they direly yearn for.