Another big row broke out yesterday in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, between the government and the police, which smashed a ceremony for new teachers.
All was fine at the Liberation Stadium, where 13,000 teachers were set to collect their letters of engagement.
Suddenly, the police stormed the scene, teargassing and beating up the would-be teachers.
To Governor Rotimi Amaechi, the incident is a sign that the Niger Delta State is under police siege, with policemen on the orders of the Commissioner of Police, Mbu Joseph Mbu, attempting to make the state ungovernable.
Some of the teachers, who spoke with The Nation at the stadium, but pleaded not to be named for “security reasons”, said they were flogged by the policemen, who fired teargas canisters at them.
Many were injured in the stampede that followed.
The shocked teachers described their forcible dispersal as very unfortunate and least expected in a democracy.
The Permanent Secretary of the Rivers State Ministry of Education, Richard Ofuru, asked the teargassed teachers to return home, assuring them that the government would find an alternative way of giving them their posting letters this week. They are to resume duties on Monday.
To the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Felix Obuah, the gathering was a ploy by the Amaechi-led government to use the “frustrated” youths as protesters on the streets of Port Harcourt against President Goodluck Jonathan.
The five anti-Amaechi lawmakers of the House of Assembly, in a joint statement, wondered why 13,000 persons would gather without police permit. They alleged that the teachers were mobilised by Amaechi to protest against President Jonathan.
The five anti-Amaechi legislators — Michael Okechukwu Chinda (Obio/Akpor 11), Evans Bipi (Ogu/Bolo), Kelechi Nwogu (Omuma), Martins Amaewhule (Obio/Akpor I) and Victor Ihunwo (Port Harcourt III) —are supporters of the Minister of State for Education, Chief Nyesom Wike, who is the grand patron of the Grassroots Development Initiative (GDI). Wike is interested in succeeding Amaechi, who insists that another ethnic group should be given a chance. Amaechi and Wike are from Ikwerre.
The Rivers Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, described the police’s action as “impunity” and the action of retrogressive forces against development.
There had been announcements on radio and television stations by the Ministry of Education, inviting the teachers to the Liberation Stadium for a briefing and collection of their letters from 9 am. They started gathering inside the stadium as early as 7:30 am.
Policemen, in over 20 Toyota Hilux patrol vans, stormed the stadium around 8:30 am and chased out the teachers.
With the teachers out of the stadium, the main gate was locked. The policemen positioned their patrol vans in front of the gate and adjourning roads in Elekahia to prevent the teachers from regrouping.
The teachers, at 11:30 am, still gathered on the other side of the dualised road, directly opposite the stadium, discussing in groups.
Amaechi, who spoke through the Chief of Staff, Government House, Chief Tony Okocha, said Mbu and his men wanted to hold Rivers people to ransom.
The Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) chairman wondered how 13,000 newly-recruited teachers, who wanted to collect their posting letters, would be tagged potential protesters against President Jonathan. He described the police action as a “crude display of federal might, senseless, barbaric, shameful and the height of desperation”.
The governor said: “It is crass display of naked power. It is amazing that the government and the good people of Rivers State live under the siege of the police.
“The preponderance of that population is women. Imagine women falling over one another, because of the hot chase and canisters of teargas freely deployed by the police. This is barbaric. The CP (Mbu) ought to apply some tact, even in his mission to destroy Rivers State.”
Semenitari said: “Virtually, this is the impunity we have been talking about in Rivers State. It is clear to Rivers people that this is the action of retrogressive forces that are totally against development, because this is the first time that any government, whether state or federal, is employing 13,000 teachers at once.
“They are afraid and worried that the people will actually see that work is going on. Otherwise, why do they want to cut short people’s smile? These are people who have been unemployed.
“Nigeria is crying about unemployment, education system is in a mess and a government employs 13,00 teachers, trains them, wants to feed them into the system and somebody chooses to treat this with levity and to tear-gas the teachers and gives a very stupid excuse, saying that the teachers were there to protest against President Jonathan.
“What is the correlation between getting their employment letters and President Jonathan? Why do people continually want to drag President Jonathan’s name into everything? Is there something they are telling Rivers people that we do not know?”
Obuah said: “Wednesday’s gathering of teaching applicants at the Liberation Stadium, Port Harcourt for the purported collection of employment letters was a ploy by the Amaechi-led government to use the frustrated youths as protesters on the streets of Port Harcourt against President Goodluck Jonathan.
“Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi is cashing in on the misfortune of hundreds of thousands of unemployed youths in the state to play politics.
“The applicants have long been interviewed, screened and employment letters given for the long-vaulted 13,000 teaching jobs by Governor Amaechi. We wonder why the helpless applicants were asked to again gather at the Liberation Stadium, Port Harcourt, if not for a sinister motive.
“Drawing from intelligence reports available, the only reason for the unnecessary gathering of the job hopefuls was to use them as tools to whip up sentiments against President Goodluck Jonathan, in sympathy with Governor Amaechi, in the feud between them and/or political crisis he is persistently and unrepentantly fueling and which is threatening the prevailing fragile peace in the state.
“While providing employment to our numerous qualified, but unemployed youths, whether for teaching in schools or elsewhere, is a welcome development, in the light of huge resources accruing to the state, but we believe that the recruitment could be done without subjecting these applicants to further suffering and danger by mobilising them from all across the state to gather at the Liberation Stadium unattended to.
“The best method to reach or communicate with the prospective employees by the relevant authorities is online transmission through the ICT, which is easier, cheaper and hitch-free for both parties. Anything less is suspect and poses danger and challenge to the law enforcement agents.”
The Rivers PDP chairman then lauded the police for their action.
Just on September 20, Mbu’s policemen harassed over 500 youths, aged between 14 and 21, who were on tour of projects in Port Harcourt with Amaechi, an initiative of Rotary International, District 9140, for young future leaders.
Three police vans with armed policemen were also detailed to follow the young persons everywhere they went with the governor.
The new police spokesman, Ahmad Kidaya Muhammad, said the government “failed” to inform the command about the gathering.
Muhammad, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), also a former police spokesman of Taraba and Gombe commands, said: “The Rivers State Government failed to inform the Rivers State Police Command of the event. It was deemed an illegal gathering. Police got intelligence report that there was going to be a breakdown of law and order.”
The Permanent Secretary of the Rivers Ministry of Education, Richard Ofuru, said announcements for the collection of letters had been on radio and television stations for some days. He wondered what information the police needed again.
It was gathered yesterday evening that the teachers had been directed to be checking their postings online, with some of them complaining of network challenge by the service providers.
Chairman, House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) Dakuku Peterside, who represent Andoni/Opobo-Nkoro Federal Constituency described the police action as the height of impunity and lawlessness.
He said: “It is now clear to everyone that Mbu by his actions and words is endangering our hard earned democracy and his command has also taken lawlessness to new heights.”
“I am very sure that Mbu is determined to make Rivers State ungovernable to impress his masters but I know that after all said and done, he will not succeed and he will surely occupy an infamous place in Nigeria’s history.
“What is most disturbing and disappointing is federal government’s silence on this police action in Rivers State despite its potential national security implications. And I really do not know for how long Rivers people will leave with this nightmare. Again, our people, almost on a daily basis these days, are reminded of how low we have sunk under Commissioner Mbu who is not even sparing our teachers”.