On September 1, 2016, Rivers State Governor, Chief Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike announced the dissolution of caretaker committees of 17, out of the 23 local government areas of the state.Anayo Onukwugha captures the intrigues.
The affected local government councils include, Abua/Odual, Akuku-Toru, Ahoada-East, Andoni, Bonny, Eleme, Emohua, Etche and Ikwerre.
Others are Obio/Akpor, Ogu/Bolo, Okrika, Ogba Egbema /Ndoni, Omuma, Oyigbo, Port Harcourt City and Tai.
Wike, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt by his special assistant on Electronic Media, Simeon Nwakaudu, noted that the dissolution of the caretaker committees takes immediate effect.
The statement informed that all the caretaker committee chairmen were to hand over to the most senior officials in their respective councils.
However, the caretaker committees of Ahoada-West, Degema, Opobo/Nkoro, Gokana, Khana and Asari-Toru local government councils, which were not inaugurated at the same time with others were not dissolved by the governor.
The dissolved caretaker committees of the 17 local government councils were inaugurated on May 9, 2016, by Wike at Government House, Port Harcourt, shortly after they were screened by the Rivers State House of Assembly.
The inauguration of the new caretaker committees came more than two weeks after all the 23 local government caretaker committees were dissolved.
In his charge, the governor directed chairmen of the caretaker committees to work with security agencies in their respective councils so as to fight insecurity.
He urged them to ensure regular payment of salaries of workers at all times, warning that under no circumstance should caretaker chairmen deduct their security votes before paying salaries.
On June 5, 2016, Wike inaugurated the caretaker committee chairmen of three local government areas, including Opobo/Nkoro, Khana and Gokana, with a charge to them to support ongoing security drive to rid the state of cultists.
Those inaugurated include: Hon. Gbara Erelo (Khana), Hon. Monday Dum-Iye (Gokana) and Hon Adonye Kelly Diri (Opobo-Nkoro).
The history of caretaker committees for local government councils in the life of the Wike-led administration in the state began on July 21, 2015, when Justice Lambo Akanbi of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, nullified the election of 22, out of 23 local government councils in the state.
The sacked council chairmen and their councillors, all members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) were products of a local government election organized on May 23, 2015, few days to the expiration of the tenure of former Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, by the then Professor Augustine Ahiazu-led Rivers State Independent Election Commission (RSIEC).
Delivering his judgement in a suit brought against RSIEC and the state government by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Akanbi averred that the conduct of the election that produced the 22 local government council chairmen is not only illegal but an affront on the court because the matter was pending in court.
He noted that RSIEC and the state government were directed not to go ahead with the election but the order of court was fragrantly disobeyed.
Immediately after the judgement was delivered, Wike sent names of chairmen and members of 22 local government councils, except Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni, which was not affected by the court judgement, to the Rivers State House of Assembly, who screened and confirmed all in less than one hour.
Inaugurating the caretaker committees on the night of that same July 21 at Government House, Port Harcourt, the governor said he vowed to respect the rule of law when he assumed office on May 29, stressing that it was why he did not dissolve what he termed the illegality put in place by the outgone government.
He said, “When we were inaugurated on 29, I said this administration will follow due process. We followed rule of law. Even if we know the last election was illegal we felt the rule of law and due process should take place.”
According to him, some state governors had gone ahead to dissolve local government councils when they came on board but he took time to allow due process.
Wike stated that he did not dissolve the twenty two local government areas, noting that it was the decision of the court, pointing out that the caretaker committees had to be sworn to avoid any vacuum in government.
On November 24, the governor, acting with the permission of the Rivers State House of Assembly, sacked the elected chairman of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government area, Hon. Austin Ahiamadu and his councillors, on the allegation that he was funding cult groups in the area.
In order not to allow a vacuum, Wike sent the names of chairman and members of the caretaker committee for Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni as well as that of Etche local government area to the House of Assembly for screening and confirmation, which was done within one hour.
The governor later that same day at Government House, Port Harcourt, swore in Prince Isaac Umejuru and Michael Amadi as chairmen of caretaker committees for Ogba/Egbema/ Ndoni and Etche local government councils, respectively.
Wike, who insisted that the state government cannot stand aloof and watch the total breakdown of law and order in any local government area, said security reports indicate that there was need to intervene and enthrone to rule of law in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni.
He said, “Caretaker committee of ONELGA, your priority should be to restore peace and security in your community. We must do everything humanly possible to improve security in the area. You have to collaborate with security agencies to fight crime and cultism in ONELGA.”
The governor charged the new chairman to avoid any links with cult groups like his predecessor, saying that if he is found to have a relationship with cultists he will be sacked.
To the APC, which is the leading opposition political party in the state, the September 1 dissolution of the caretaker committees of 17 local government areas in the state, has more to it than political undertone.
According to Senibo Chris Finebone, the state publicity secretary of the APC, Wike decided to dissolve the caretaker committees to divert attention from a week full of indictment from every quarter.
Finebone said, “It was from a page in the inglorious political playbook of Nyesom Wike essentially deployed to divert attention from a week of indictment from every quarter. He knows his guilt and he’s working so hard to conceal it to no avail. Yes, it has more than political undertone.”