Last week, the wave of official impunity continued in Rivers State unabated. On the directives of the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Joseph Mbu, a detachment of the police prevented the embattled Governor, Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi from gaining entrance to his official lodge on Wednesday, September 11, 2013. Since the governor and his guests eventually entered the lodge through another route, the purport of the provocative police action was designed to unleash a psychological war on the Governor. Apart from the usual jejune denial, no official explanation has been adduced to justify the illegal infringement of the fundamental rights of the Governor to personal liberty and freedom of movement.
A couple of months ago, Governor Amaechi and four of his colleagues who visited the state to pay him a solidarity visit also had their freedom of movement abused when their movement was restricted to the airport by a wild mob with the connivance of the police. Unlike protests organised by the pro-Amaechi group which had been prohibited by the state police commissioner the violent demonstration against the five governors was monitored by the police. Although the Inspector-General of Police had to intervene on that occasion before the governors were allowed to enter the town, the Rivers State Police Command claimed that the unruly crowd had gathered at the airport to receive the Minister of State, Mr. Wike who was coming home from Abuja!
In the wake of the political crisis, President Goodluck Jonathan had cautioned the warring parties in the state to comply with the provisions of the Constitution in resolving the "family affair". But the Commissioner of Police has not been called to order by relevant authorities despite his consistent disdain for the Constitution and unapologetic contempt for the rule of law. In fact, his decision to provide security for the gang of five legislators to conduct illegal proceedings of the State House of Assembly and remove the elected leadership of the Rivers State House of Assembly and the denial of security for the group of 27 legislators precipitated recent free for all fight that occurred in the chambers of the house to the embarrassment of the nation. But for the timely intervention of the National Assembly which resolved to take over the legislative duties of the Rivers state legislators pro tempore, the political crisis would have led to a complete state of anarchy.
In spite of the error of judgment on that occasion and other glaring evidence of partisanship on the part of Mr. Mbu which had threatened law and order in the State the Police Authorities have turned deaf ears to the resolutions of both chambers of the National Assembly and the several calls made by well meaning individuals and groups that the Police commissioner be redeployed. Hence, Mr. Mbu has the temerity to subject an elected governor to psychological harassment and physical intimidation. In fact, the Inspector General of Police has commended the professional policing style of Mr. Mbu. Having once declared Governor Amaechi to be "a dictator" without being called to order Mr. Mbu appears to have decided to purge his political opponent of his 'dictatorial' tendencies.
However, it ought to be pointed out that since the President, Vice-President, governors and deputy governors cannot be arrested or detained by virtue of section 308 of the Constitution, the prevention of Mr. Amaechi from gaining entrance to the Governor's lodge cannot be justified in law. In CHIEF D.S. P. ALAMIESIGHA v TEIWA (2001) 33 WRN 144 it was held by the Court of Appeal that a governor as a citizen of the country is entitled to secure the enforcement of his fundamental rights while in office.
To that extent, the action of the Police violated Governor Amaechi's fundamental rights to personal liberty and freedom of movement guaranteed by sections 35 and 41 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Articles 3 and 12 of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Cap A9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. In DIRECTOR, STATE SECURITY SERVICE v AGBAKOBA (1999) 3 NWLR (PT 595)314 the Supreme Court held that every Nigerian is entitled to move freely and reside freely in any part of the country in exercise of their fundamental right to freedom of movement. Governor Amaechi ought to challenge the serial violations of his fundamental rights by the police and security personnel and other highly placed persons who have threatened to make the state ungovernable for him.
Last week, an Anglican Communion Archbishop and his wife were kidnapped in Port Harcourt. Although the wife was immediately released the Archbishop's whereabouts remain unknown. It has since been reported that there has been an upsurge in the nefarious business of kidnapping and other violent crimes in Rivers state. This is not unexpected given the animosity between the governor and the Police Commissioner. Since the Police Commissioner is a member of the Rivers State Security Council chaired by the Governor, the Police Authorities ought to redeploy Mr. Mbu in the interest of law and order in the state. Should the authorities decide to maintain the status quo in Rivers State to the detriment of the collective security of the people let the attention of Mr. Mbu be drawn to the case of the ATTORNEY GENERAL OF ANAMBRA STATE v ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION (2005) 9 NWLR (PT 931) 572 at 616 where it was held that the governor has the power to give lawful directives to a state commissioner "in connection with securing public safety and order in the state". To that extent, Mr. Mbu's disregard of Governor Amaechi's directives with respect to the maintenance of law and order in the Rivers State is illegal and unconstitutional. It is high time such official impunity was stopped.
Falana SAN is human rights lawyer and a past recipient of the Bernard Simmonds Award of the International Bar Association