Questioning the Legitimacy of 27 Rivers Lawmakers


The recent reference to the 27-member faction of the Rivers State House of Assembly as former lawmakers by an elder statesman and leader of South-south geopolitical zone, Chief Edwin Clark, citing Section 109 (1) (g) and 2 of the 1999 Constitution has again raised questions on the legitimacy of the state assembly and the laws and resolutions the lawmakers have passed in the past few months, Ejiofor Alike reports.

As the debate on the perceived illegitimacy of the 27- member faction of the Rivers State House of Assembly, who defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC) from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gets messier, the leader of the South-south geopolitical zone, Chief Edwin Clark, last week threw his weight behind the supporters of Governor Siminalayi Fubara, describing the defected assembly members as “former lawmakers.”


Section 68 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution also makes it explicitly clear that any lawmaker that defects to another party loses his seat.


Indeed, political analysts believe that with the express provisions in the 1999 Constitution and the position of the Supreme Court, the seats of the 25 lawmakers who defected to the APC are vacant.

Apart from these constitutional provisions, the Supreme Court had in 2016 extensively dealt with the issue of defection as it concerns the legislature when it decided the case between the Labour Party (LP) versus Ifedayo Abegunde, a member of the House of Representatives, who defected from the party to the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).

Apparently miffed by what many analysts perceived as the incessant actions of the lawmakers to make the state ungovernable for him, Fubara had late last month affirmed that he would not rule the state on his knees or from a position of submission, amidst what he described as ongoing efforts to destroy the soul of the state.


In a speech at the Ubima country home of a former governor of the state, Sir Celestine Omehia, in Ikwerre Local Government Area, Fubara reportedly said: “I will not; I repeat; I will not govern our dear state on my knees. If that was the purpose, I will not do that. I will stand to govern our dear state and stand continually on the side of right.”

Fubara, also last Monday, questioned the legitimacy of the 27 lawmakers loyal to the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nyesom Wike and led by Martin Amaewhule, saying the lawmakers no longer exist as legislators in the eyes of the law.


The governor made the assertions when he received on courtesy visit, a Bayelsa State delegation of political and traditional leaders, led by former governor of the state, Senator Henry Seriake Dickson, at Government House, Port Harcourt.


“Let me say it here, those group of men who claim that they are assembly members, they are not existing. I want it to be on record,” Fubara said.


Fubara added: “But I think it has gotten to a time when I need to make a statement on this thing, so that they understand that they are not existing.

“Their existence and whatever they have been doing is because I allowed them to do so. If I don’t recognise them, they are nowhere, that is the truth.”

The governor’s comments on the illegitimacy of the lawmakers had provoked the ire of the APC as the Chairman of the Caretaker Committee of the party in the state and Wike’s perceived lackey, Tony Okocha, on Tuesday, asked the “former” lawmakers to impeach the governor, insisting that the governor has no constitutional power to declare the members of the state assembly non-existent.


But in a swift response, Clark, in an open letter to the Inspector General of Police (IG), Kayode Egbetokun, also reiterated that the “25 former members of the Rivers State House of Assembly have automatically forfeited their seats in accordance with section 109 (1) (g) and 2 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended”.

Clark urged the IG to “stop these fraudulent former members of the Rivers State House of Assembly from parading themselves and issuing provocative statements to intimidate and increase tension in Rivers State which may one day burst into open conflagration.”


Fubara had also on Tuesday barred all heads and officials of the 23 local government areas in the state from appearing before the state House of Assembly, through a circular signed by the Director of Information and Communications for Chairman Local Government Service Commission, Ebirieneuket Nteile, and dated Tuesday, May 7, 2024.

However, Wike’s camp seems unrelenting as local government chairmen in the state, under the aegis of Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), Rivers State Chapter, also backed the impeachment plot against the governor.


In a press briefing held on Tuesday in Port Harcourt, the chairperson of the group, Allwell Ihunda, accused Fubara of withholding the statutory allocations meant for the 23 council areas in the state.


But the Rivers Elders and Leaders Forum (RELF), insisted that the 27 lawmakers no longer have the legal mandate to impeach Fubara.

Spokesman of the forum and National Coordinator of South-south Leadership Forum, High Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe, was quoted on Wednesday as saying that those parading themselves as lawmakers lost their seats following their defection from the PDP to the APC.


Addressing a press conference, the National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Debo Ologunagba, had also reminded the lawmakers that, just as the governor had said, they did not exist in the sight of the law.


On Wednesday, the five-member faction of the state lawmakers loyal to Fubara took the bull by the horns as they upstaged the speaker, Amaewhule, and elected Hon. Victor Oko-Jumbo as the new speaker.


This factional assembly, believed to be authentic, had earlier collapsed its structure following President Tinubu’s intervention in the crisis.

The new Assembly leadership declared all actions taken by members of the faction led by Amaewhule as void and a nullity in the eyes of the law.


It further called on Fubara to stop dealing with those it called former lawmakers, who had lost their seats following their defection.


The assembly’s Sergeant-at-Arms, Mr. David Wariboko, who was suspended by the Amaewhule-led factional assembly, was seen performing his duties with the new assembly leadership under Oko-Jumbo.


Addressing the assembly, the new speaker said his emergence was in pursuant to the resignation of Hon. Edison Ogerenya Ehie and in line with Section 92(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Oko-Jumbo stated that after the assembly last sat on December 13, 2023 and adjourned sine dine, there had been an avalanche of legislative rascality perpetrated by the 25 “former” members of the 10th Rivers State House of Assembly, led by the former speaker, Amaewhule.


He said following their defection from PDP to APC on December 11, 2023, Ehie, who then became the speaker on December 13, 2023, wrote to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), declaring the seats of the 25 lawmakers vacant in line with Section 109(1)(g) and (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.


Constitutional lawyers, including a human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), believe that the anti-Fubara lawmakers will not survive constitutional hurdles.

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