Rivers boils as pro, anti Wike protesters clash

The tension in Rivers State occasioned by the non-conclusion of the governorship election heightened yesterday after a clash between supporters and antagonists of Governor Nyesom Wike in Port Harcourt, the state capital. Thousands of anti-Wike protesters, under the aegis of Amalgamation of Civil Society Organisations (A-CSOs) were confronted by Wike supporters in front of the Polo Club at new Government Reservation Area (GRA), Port Harcourt where they had gathered to commence a protest march to the nearby office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Members of A-CSOs were protesting alleged collaboration between some INEC officials and the state government.

They claimed that both sides planned to doctor results of the March 9 governorship and state assembly elections in favour of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The protest was in defiance of a ban slammed on protests and rallies by the state government. Leader of the A-CSOs Dr. Jackson Omenazu said the ban had no place in a democracy and was unconstitutional.

He called for the removal of the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mr. Obo Effanga, and the Administrative Secretary, Elder Etim Umoh, of INEC in Rivers state for openly taking sides with Wike and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But before they could move to the INEC office, PDP members, who were mobilised from the 23 local government areas of the state, including Jerry Needam, the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the state Chairman of the party (PDP), stormed the main gate of the expansive facility and confronted the anti-Wike protesters.

The protesters decided to change course, moving towards GRA Junction on Aba Road amidst abusive songs directed at Transportation Minister and All Progressives Congress (APC) leader in the state, Mr.Rotimi Amaechi, and the governorship candidate of African Action Congress (AAC), Biokpomabo Awara. A police team soon arrived the scene, blocked the protesters from advancing towards INEC office and fired teargas to disperse them. As the protesters scampered for their lives, they ran into the PDP supporters and a fight ensued. The policemen advanced on the Wike supporters too and fired teargas at them.

The teargas quickly spread to nearby houses, offices, schools and shops leaving innocent residents as victims. The state government announced the ban on protests and rallies on Thursday night, saying it was in the interest of public peace and order. But the state chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC), yesterday dismissed the order as an absurdity. The state Publicity Secretary of the APC, Chris Finebone in a reaction said: “We believe that Wike, who authorised the ban, is unaware that Rivers people and indeed Nigerians have an inalienable right to peaceful protests. “Perhaps, the Rivers governor should be reminded that Hon. Justice Adekeye (rtd.), then of the Supreme Court, once stated that: ‘A rally or placard-carrying demonstration has become a form of expression of views on current issues affecting government and the governed in a sovereign state.

It is a tread recognised and deeply entrenched in the system of governance in civilised countries. We must borrow a leaf from those who have trekked the rugged path of democracy and are now reaping the dividend of their experience.’ “Rivers State APC is wondering why Wike would fritter a good chunk of the commonwealth of Rivers people on frivolous protests and in less than 24 hours, after the last of those protests, pronounce a ban on protests. The reason can only be that those protesting on the opposite side are now providing Rivers people and Nigerians better perspectives on the happenings in Rivers.

The state governor is simply acting like someone with a weak and incoherent argument against the more coherent, sensible and logical argument of the opponent. “Another reason for the ineffectual ban is to scuttle further exposure of the ills and atrocities of the Rivers government under Wike, who believes that pensioners, civil servants, workers of Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA), Greater Port Harcourt City Development Authority and others may soon protest their abandonment and suffering by the governor, since he accidentally got to power on May 29, 2015.

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