Lawmaker flown to London
• Rivers Command denies shooting
The political crisis in Rivers State escalated Sunday morning as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), Senator Magnus Abe, was shot when the police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse members of Save Rivers Movement (SRM).
Unconfirmed reports also said two children who were going to church in the company of their mother were choked to death from an overdose of the tear gas.
Also two buildings located opposite Eligbam Junction along Rumuola Road were burnt.
But in a swift reaction, the Rivers State Police Command has denied shooting the senator, describing the reports emanating from the state as a “blatant lie”.
The Rivers State Government, nonetheless, introduced another dimension to the incident that took place in Port Harcourt, the state capital yesterday, when it stated that the state Governor, Chibuike Amaechi, and not Abe, was the target of the police.
Members of the SRM, a political group of supporters of Amaechi, had converged on the College of Arts and Science, Rumuola, Port Harcourt, to prepare for a rally scheduled for noon when the police came to disperse the crowd.
Abe, the Chief of Staff, Government House, Chief Tony Okocha, and other supporters of Amaechi were said to have gone to the venue to ensure that all was set for the afternoon rally.
However, the police stormed the venue at 8.30 am and used tear gas freely and barricaded all roads leading to the venue. Churches in the vicinity were also affected as their members scampered to safety.
Abe was said to have been hit twice in the chest and leg by rubber bullets fired by some policemen, who confronted the lawmaker as he was about to enter the venue of the rally.
Okocha and others were, however, lucky as they escaped unhurt but inhaled heavy doses of tear gas.
Journalists who rushed to the venue were also barred from getting close to the venue. The police hit some journalists with the butt of their guns. Some policemen thereafter also marched to Rumuokwuta Roundabout, about three kilometres from the venue, chanting war songs and harassing passers-by.
At the Rumuokwuta junction, the policemen started searching and harassing motorists and subjecting passers-by to thorough search.
Meanwhile, efforts by SRM to move the rally to Rumuigbo Civic Centre were not successful as the police also used tear gas to disperse its members.
After he was hit, Abe was rushed to a private hospital, Krisany Medical Services, at Agudama Street, D-Line, Port Harcourt.
When THISDAY visited the clinic at about 11am, Abe was lying on the bed critically ill, in shock and could not speak.
The Medical Director of the clinic, Dr. Mckay Anyanwu, said the senator was suffering from shock and internal bleeding, adding that the lawmaker would need to undergo haemorrhage tests.
According to Anyanwu, “The patient (Abe) was brought in a state of a shock, as evidenced by low blood pressure. He was restless and he couldn’t communicate or reason coherently.”
On the treatment administered on the lawmaker, Anyanwu said: “As first aid, we treated him for traumatic shock, because the implication of his state was that there was severe blood trauma and the amount of layers affected could not be detected immediately. This can only be done through the hemorrhoid tests.”
He also said: “We have administered oxygen treatment on him for resuscitation and primary medication, but we also detected severe internal bleeding and high level of hemorrhaging in him.
“Another bad news is that we also detected that the affected side is showing severe swelling, which led me to the conclusion that he must have been hit by a high calibre weapon and my fears were confirmed when I was told that he was shot with a rubber bullet.”
After initial treatment, Abe was moved to an undisclosed hospital for further treatment.
By evening, the Rivers State Government had made arrangement to fly him to London for proper medical attention.
The Rivers State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Ahmad Muhammad (DSP), however said the police stopped the rally because the political group did not apply for or get a police permit. He said the crowd was also dispersed for security reasons.
“They have not applied for police permit to hold a rally, so the police had to disperse them. They were telling lies about the application they said they made,” he said.
He also denied knowledge of any casualty in the incident.
“I am not aware that Senator Abe was injured or any other casualty. The police did not fire any ammunition,” he said.
But the Chairman of SRM, Agholu Okechukwu, insisted that the group applied to the state command for a permit.
He made available to journalists copies of the application for the permit dated January 7, 2014.
The letter, titled “Request for Police Safety” and signed by one Charles Agholu, was received by an officer on behalf of the state police command on same day.
The letter read in part: “I make these requests for security in order to maintain law and order during the programmes. I shall subsequently furnish you with detailed schedules for all the other local government areas of the state.”
In his account of the incident, Amaechi’s Chief of Staff said the group had applied for police permit and expressed surprise at the turn of events.
He accused the supervising Minister of Education, Chief Nyesom Wike, of using the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Joseph Mbu, to mobilise all police formations in the state to scuttle the SRM rally.
He decried the violence and said Abe might be flown overseas for treatment.
Okocha said: “As I talk to you, a Senator of the Federal Republic is lying critically ill in the hospital. I learnt arrangements are being made to fly him out of the country. We were together; he was even trying to make contacts with the IG when they shot him point blank. Senator Magnus Abe was shot in the chest with this their rubber bullet thing. My own was tear gas shells.
“If they were doing the right thing, they wouldn’t be shooting teargas and be picking the shells. So they knew they were doing the wrong thing. They brought in seven armoured personnel carriers inside the College of Arts and Sciences to kill common criminals? Are we criminals?
“These are defenceless citizens of Rivers State and Nigeria. We have our rights and we are not aware of any court order that has taken these rights away or restricted us from gathering.”
On his experience, he said: “I was smoked as if I was a rabbit: I ran into someone’s house and unfortunately the man has children. They were all suffocating, they were all dying. So we had to improvise: they said we should use coke, some said kerosene would work. We had to use all of that to ensure that the man’s children lived. That was what I saw; I was quarantined in somebody’s house.”
In its own reaction, the state government accused the police of planning to shoot Amaechi, who was billed to address the rally.
A statement issued by the state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, said: “Today Sunday January 12, 2014, Rivers State witnessed another senseless attack on innocent citizens in a continuous rape of democracy by the Joseph Mbu-led Rivers State Police Command.
“Today’s attack on members of the Save Rivers Movement, a non-governmental association at the College of Arts and Science, Rumuola, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, and especially the unprovoked shooting of Senator Magnus Ngei Abe, the senator representing Rivers South East senatorial district is cause for worry and an indication of the length that the PDP is willing to go to silence opposing views.
“The Rivers State Government has it on good authority that Senator Abe took the bullet originally meant for Governor Chibuike Amaechi who was billed to be present at the event. This is disconcerting especially in the light of recent revelations that the presidency may be training snipers ahead of the 2015 elections and that Governor Amaechi is top on the list of those to be eliminated.
“The Rivers State Government wishes to request the federal government and its agencies to respect the rules of democratic engagement in their misguided fight against the people of Rivers State and especially save our nation from the unnecessary chaos into which federal agents like Mbu want to plunge it ahead of the 2015 elections.
“The Rivers State Government therefore reiterates its call for the redeployment of CP Mbu from Rivers State before he turns the state into a graveyard because of his intolerance and unprofessional behaviour.
“The Government of Rivers State understands that Mr. Mbu would prefer to be a ‘policetician’ rather than a responsible police officer, but we request that he attempts to at least protect the lives and properties of the poor Rivers taxpayers who pay his salary, and who are the real employers of the officers and men of the Rivers State Police Command.”
Also in its reaction, the All Progressives Congress (APC) yesterday called on the president to urgently put an end to the worsening reign of impunity in Rivers State.
The party alleged that those behind the crisis in Rivers State were obviously acting to impress him and the First Lady Patience Jonathan.
In a statement issued in Lagos by its interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said the call was even more imperative following the irresponsible act of brigandage by the police, which stopped a peaceful and lawful rally billed for the Obio Akpor Local Government Area of the state by SRM.
The APC said there was no way a Commissioner of Police in any state would be so bold as to wage a war against an elected governor and his aides/supporters if he was not empowered to do so by higher authorities.
It said everyone knows that the impenitent Mbu believes he is now the de facto Governor of Rivers because he has the support of the presidency to exhibit impudence.
“Mbu, who is going down in Nigeria's history as a classic example of an officer of the law turned the biggest violator of the law, has not only defied the resolutions of the National Assembly, he has also thumbed his nose at the ultimatum issued by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).
“He is the alternate Inspector General of the Police who takes orders only from a conniving presidency,'' the party said.
Similarly, the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), Dakuku Peterside, blamed the police for the crisis in River State, adding that they have taken impunity to new heights.
Peterside condemned in totality the dispersing of the rally in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of the state.
He said the shooting of innocent citizens as well as the use of tear gas on APC members who gathered for legitimate party activities was condemnable.
The House member added that police in the state are now above the law and thus show no regard for the law of the land and rights of citizens.
He said: “Mbu has lost every sense of civility and decency and it is now obvious he has learnt nothing from history. Commissioner of Police Mbu has shown by his action that the PDP-controlled federal government has zero tolerance for opposition and the liberty of Nigerians to make their own choices.”