Rivers State Commissioner of Police Mbu Joseph Mbu has got an order to immediately release the six aides to two politicians who were arrested on Friday by Joint Task Force (JTF) operatives and handed over to the police.
It was also gathered yesterday in Port Harcourt that the JTF and the police clashed over how information on the arrest of the suspects leaked to the media.
The suspects are said to be aides of Senator George Sekibo, who represents Rivers East Senatorial District and the self-acclaimed Speaker of the Rivers House of Assembly, Evans Bipi. Both politicians have denied knowing them.
Also yesterday, a witness, who pleaded not want to be named, spoke of how the suspects were arrested. He said Sunday Elisha, Uche Jenikachi, Ibinabo Lawson, Okechukwu Okoro, Jerry Tonye and Daniel Ibito-Anga were allies of Sekibo and Bipi, who represents Ogu/Bolo Constituency.
The six persons, according to JTF spokesman Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, were arrested during a routine patrol at Ogu, headquarters of Ogu/Bolo Local Government Area, with seven AK-47 rifles, 164 rounds of ammunition and six locally made canon launchers.
Col. Nwachukwu said the six suspects were on Friday handed over to the police, for alleged illegal possession of firearms and not for any reason of political or social affiliation.
Police spokesman Ahmad Muhammad, on Saturday night, said he had not been briefed about the suspects’ handover to the police.
When Muhammad was again contacted at 5:54 pm yesterday, on the directive to release the suspects, he said: “As said earlier, I have not been briefed of the handover, if any, let alone talking about their (suspects’) release.”
Muhammad’s claim was, however, faulted by a source who insisted that Mbu got the order.
The source also commented on the crisis of confidence between the soldiers and the police on how the arrest of the thugs leaked to the media.
Said the source: “Mbu complained that the story must have been leaked to the media by the Army/JTF. Mbu also lamented that the other security agencies (Army, Navy, Air Force, State Security Service) in Rivers State are not helping him and the police at all, in the fight against Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi.
“He (Mbu) cited the arrest and the subsequent leakage of it to the media, as an example and that if it was the Rivers State Police Command that made the arrest, the media would not have heard about it.”
According to the source, a JTF/Army officer dismissed Mbu’s claims and described them as “ridiculous and preposterous”, maintaining that the Army does not get involved in politics and certainly does not take sides in political fights.
The source also admonished Mbu to look inside the police on how the story got to the media, reiterating that it was after the army handed over the suspects to the police for prosecution, that the story went public.
The witness, at the scene of the arrest of the six suspects, said: “At 8:30 am on January 3, 2014 (Friday), I was leaving Eteo to meet with my cousins in Ogu when a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) sped past me. I had to slow down momentarily; because the speed with which it passed me was too much.
“Not long, some JTF patrol vans that were coming from Ogu flashed their headlights to stop the jeep. It stopped. On noticing the JTF men, one of the occupants of the Sport-Utility Vehicle (SUV) quickly rushed into the nearby bush, with a bag containing arms.
“He wanted to hide it from the JTF operatives, but they noticed him and cordoned off the area, searched and found the bag containing arms and rifles. As soon as the soldiers saw the arms, they pulled them from the car and started asking them questions.
“The JTF men were led by Capt. Yusuf. The boys (arrested suspects) even wanted to take on the soldiers, but when they saw that they were more in number, they obeyed their instruction.
“As the soldiers were asking them questions, they were answering. They were telling the JTF men their names. Then, the fat one among them started begging. He said he was SA (Special Assistant) to Senator George Sekibo. He said he was a humble person. Then, one soldier asked him if humble people carry weapons. He said he was only obeying his master.
“He begged the soldiers to conceal the news from the public and especially the Rivers State Government and promised to give them any amount of money, if they can stop the news from spreading.
“At that point, the JTF men asked them to stand up. They marched them into one of their vehicles. Some of them were taken to Bori Camp in Port Harcourt, but one was taken to Ogu. I do not know what they went there to do. It was at this point that I left. I do not know what happened after.”
Reacting yesterday in Port Harcourt on behalf of himself and Sekibo, Bipi claimed that the six suspects were not known to them.
The self-acclaimed speaker said: “I want to state categorically that none of the six persons arrested is my supporter or supporter of the senator. We have no dealing or link with any of them.
“It is also worthy to note that none of those arrested made any confessional statement linking me or the senator to them. The statement by the JTF that the suspects have no political or social affiliation whatsoever vindicates me.
“I strongly believe that the report which linked me and Senator George Sekibo to the suspects was a calculated attempt by the Rivers State Government and the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC) in Rivers State to damage our political career and tarnish our reputation.
“We also believe that it is an attempt by the Rivers State Government to divert attention from the murder case involving Chidi Lloyd (arrested and detained Leader of the Rivers House of Assembly, a lawyer, who represents Emohua Constituency).
“Let me state clearly that as the ‘Speaker’ of the Rivers State House of Assembly that I am law abiding. I have not armed any one or group. I do not have any intention to do so any day. Senator George Sekibo and I have no link whatsoever with any arm-bearing group or person.”
Bipi also urged the good people of Rivers State and Nigeria to discountenance the report as a dangerous political gimmick, targeted at the political opponents of the NGF chairman.
Meanwhile, the Deputy Speaker of the Rivers House of Assembly, Leyii Kwanee, a lawyer, has cautioned the police to stop overheating the polity.
Kwanee, speaking to reporters yesterday at the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, shortly after arriving from Lagos, where he went for a church’s retreat, said that it was wrong for the police to arrest the leader of the Rivers Assembly (Chidi Lloyd), in a case of accident, where he was not the driver, but a passenger.
He maintained that there was no traffic offence that made a passenger culpable, even if there was a case of manslaughter or reckless driving, insisting that it was the driver who might be the offender and not the passenger.
The deputy speaker wondered what aspect of the law that the police were invoking, if not a show of partisanship and vendetta.
He said: “By my training as a lawyer, I know that Section 36 (5) of the 1999 Constitution guarantees presumption of innocence, in favour of an accused. Facts made available to me show that the leader (Lloyd), who is still physically weak, was not driving the car, as at the time the accident occurred.
“That the leader was himself injured in the unfortunate accident. That the driver of the vehicle has since reported to the police and cooperating with the police. The question is why arrest the leader, when he was not the driver of the vehicle?”
Kwanee, who is also the Chairman, Parliamentary Exchange and Mentorship Programme of the Pan African Parliament, said it was because police in Rivers were taking sides that Nigerians had been calling for Mbu’s redeployment.
The deputy speaker noted that the development was a calculated attempt to drag Amaechi’s name in the mud and demonise the leader of the Rivers House of Assembly.
He said: “The development portends danger for our democracy. I wish to advise the police to be professional and shun any attempt by anyone to use them to cause disorder and chaos in Rivers State in order to declare a state of emergency, which is intended to give the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) an advantage before the 2015 general elections.
“The police should not overheat the polity with any sensational report likely to mislead the good people of Rivers State.”
Kwanee also admonished the teeming supporters of the Rivers governor not to be deterred by what he called the antics of the police and the PDP, assuring them that truth would prevail.