Ikuinyi Ibani’s return: Tension mounts over RSHA Speakership FeaturedWritten by Joseph ASOMEJI & Kelechi Esogwa-Amadi
...Some Assembly members panic
...Power brokers in Okrika, Andoni set for battle
The victory of former Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly (RSHA), Rt. Hon. Ikuinyi-Owaji Ibani, in penultimate Saturday’s rerun legislative election, may not be a totally good omen for some members of the Rivers State House of Assembly.
This is because Ibani’s return to the hallowed chambers opens up the possibility of him reclaiming the Speakership of the Assembly, a development being dreaded by a select group of Assembly members. The Neighbourhood gathered that these Assembly members see Ibani as a high-handed, strict and a petite dictator who did not allow them to freely express themselves in the House while he lasted as Speaker.
According to sources, Ibani had, many a time, during his brief stint as Speaker, embarrassed some of the semi-literate Assembly members by pointing out grammatical errors in their speeches and asking them to correct themselves, thereby exposing them to ridicule and sometimes provoking laughter from people in the hallowed chambers.
Such embarrassing situations, we gathered, never went down well with the affected Assembly members, hence the panic that has now gripped them following the return of Ibani to the House.
They are said to be opposed to his returning to the Speakership position and will do everything possible to stop it.
Another reason for the mounting tension in the Rivers State House of Assembly is the former Speaker’s alleged strictness in the handling of the Assembly funds.
Unofficial sources claim that Ibani, during his time as Speaker, found it difficult to release funds to members for constituency projects and made sure that everything about finance was under his control, a development bemoaned by some of the Assembly members who felt that such funds should be shared to members. But this could not be confirmed as at press time.
We gathered that on many occasions, these anti-Ibani embittered Assembly members had complained to PDP chieftains who usually calmed them down.
However, the annulment of Ibani’s election by the Court of Appeal provided the opportunity to replace him with another Speaker, in the person of Rt. Hon. Dabotorudima Adams, who hails from Okrika.
Although Adams has carried the business of the Assembly maturely since taking over from Ibani, apprehension is rife that Ibani will set his eyes on the Speakership seat as he returns to the Assembly.
While leaving the House following the Appeal Court’s annulment of his election, he was said to have declared to the House and to the PDP chieftains and whoever cared to listen that he was only ‘stepping aside’ and not vacating his Speakership seat.
In Nigerian parlance, the phrase, ‘stepping aside,’ which was popularised by the nation’s former military president, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, is understood to mean ‘temporary vacation with a possibility of return.’
Thus, Ikuinyi Ibani, who knows the full import of his statement, may have been nursing the intention of coming back to reclaim his Speakership position.
Although Rt. Hon. Ikuinyi Ibani may be thinking that reclaiming his once coveted Speakership position will be an easy task, there are indications that what awaits him is, on the contrary, a herculean task. This is because the Speakership position is characterised by many ethno-political interests. Even while he was Speaker, it is possible that other members could be eyeing the seat. Political power has, for some years now, rotated between the upland and riverine blocs in the state and the Speakership position is not excluded. The upland held it for 8 years - 1999 to 2007 - while the riverine block occupied the Speakership position from 2007 to 2015, another 8 years. Naturally, it should go back to the upland but perhaps because of the fact that the governor is of the upland, the Speakership is still being retained by the riverine. The implication of this is that Okrika, being a riverine area, whose son is presently occupying the position, may claim to have the same right Andoni has to produce the Speaker of the Assembly. They may therefore ask their son, Dabotorudima Adams, not to vacate the seat for Ikuinyi Ibani, irrespective of whatever agreement they may have entered into before he took over.
Sources say that power brokers in both Okrika and Andoni local government areas are now working round the clock to ensure that their interests pertaining to the Speakership position are protected.
According to the sources, the only stumbling block to the Okrikans is the fact that the Speakership appears to have been zoned to the Rivers South-East senatorial district, which majorly paved way for Ibani, an Andoni indigene, to emerge.
Andoni is part of the Rivers South-East senatorial district while Okrika is of the Rivers East senatorial district.
But the power brokers from Okrika are said to be of the view that since nature has allowed them to be at the helm of affairs of the Assembly, they should be allowed to complete the 8th Assembly, citing the fact that the number one citizen of the state is also a beneficiary of the same natural circumstance.
However, the people of Andoni will likely hinge their argument on the fact that the governor cannot come from the same senatorial district as the Speaker.
There are reports that Rt Hon. Ikuinyi Ibani agreed to step down only for the interest of his party, PDP. Following the widespread court judgment that annulled the election of most PDP lawmakers, there was fear among party chieftains that they could lose the Speakership to the opposition party should Ibani lose the rerun election, unless they replace him with another member whose election was not annulled. To secure that position, they replaced Ibani with Dabotorudima Adams, pending the outcome of the rerun election. Now that Ibani has won, many believe that PDP chieftains should allow him to return to his former position given his experience and the sacrifice he made that enabled the PDP to secure the position.
With these factors in view, there is no doubt that the Rivers State House of Assembly is in for another serious battle over who occupies its prestigious apex position.