Omololu Ogunmade, Chuks Okocha, in Abuja, Eromosele Abiodun, Nume Ekeghe in Lagos and Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
There was a mild drama at the Port Harcourt, Rivers State, residence of a former interim Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Ms. Joy Nunieh, as the state Governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike, foiled a bid by the police to arrest her.
A contingent of policemen said to have been deployed in the state from the Force Headquarters, Abuja, had in the wee hours of yesterday invaded Nunieh’s house to arrest her.
The invasion elicited outrage from Wike; a former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, and a lawyer and human rights activist, Ms. Esther Uzoma, who condemned the invasion, with the governor calling on the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, to probe what he described as an abduction.
The armed policemen besieged her residence on a day she was billed to travel to Abuja to testify before an ad-hoc committee of the House of Representatives investigating alleged corruption in the NDDC.
Nunieh has been engaged in a running battle, leading to recriminations between her and Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, over alleged corruption and mismanagement of resources at the commission.
The armed policemen, who reportedly came in their dozens as early as 4 am yesterday, were said to have surrounded the house and attempted to forcibly gain entrance into the main building.
Nunieh said she had to call the governor when the policemen told her they came to arrest her but could not produce the warrant of arrest.
Wike, who had earlier warned against harm coming the way of Nunieh, rushed to Nunieh’s residence to rescue her.
A video clip of the incident showed security details of Wike escorting Nunieh into the governor’s official car in which she was driven out of her residence.
The armed policemen, who took strategic positions in the compound, were also seen helplessly watching the incident while the governor ordered them to go away.
Nunieh said over 15 policemen surrounded the house and questioned their motive since she said they had no warrant to arrest her.
The Rivers State Police Command, however, denied deploying its personnel in Nunieh’s house. Its Public Relations Officer, Mr. Nnamdi Omoni, a deputy superintendent of police (DSP), told THISDAY that the command had no comment on the incident since the contingent came from the Force Headquarters.
Efforts to get the reaction of the Police High Command yesterday failed as calls and text messages to the cell phone of the Force Public Relations Officer, Mr. Frank Mba, a deputy commissioner of police (DCP), were unanswered at press time.
Recounting her ordeal in the hands of the police, Nunieh alleged that they wanted to grab her like a common criminal but vowed that she would not be cowed by the experience.
She spoke at Government House, Port Harcourt after her rescue by Wike.
She said: “Early this morning around 4 am, I learnt that people were around my gate. I made some calls and I tried to reach the state governor because he told me that if I see any strange movement that I should alert him because he had issued a statement.
“I tried to reach him but his phones were off. Then, I called some people and they said they may not be real policemen, so I should stay. They said they came to take me away and I said for what? So, I asked if they have a warrant of arrest and they said no warrant of arrest. So, I left it.
“At 6 a.m., they broke the gate. Then, Senator Magnus Abe now called me and said he has reached the Commissioner of Police; he said he doesn’t know anything about it. The CP (Commissioner of Police) called me, I sent him my address and he came. They told me the CP was downstairs, but the CP wasn’t down. I think it was the Deputy Commissioner of Police. So, I opened the door and they wanted to grab me; I now pushed back the door, locked it, and went upstairs. I got through to my governor. They tried to break the backdoor, it is a security door and they kept hitting it for over one hour but they couldn’t get access.
“So, my governor came and asked them for the warrant of arrest and why couldn’t they invite me to the police station, as I would have come, instead of coming to take a woman like a common criminal. The governor took me in his car and I am here ‘refugeeing’ in Government House.
“I want to thank His Excellency for keeping to his word that nothing should happen to the daughter of Rivers State. So, here I am in the Government House. I am supposed to be going today to Abuja to make my submissions before the House of Representatives Committee. I am sure it is about that.
“The man that harassed me is at home; the man who stole the money is at home; the man who stole government files is at home; the man who took the money is at home; the man who said I should go and take an oath is at home. It is a criminal offence, it is life imprisonment to take oaths, to even offer me an oath is liable.
“I am sure my lawyers will be working on my next step as we speak. I don’t think that Akpabio can kill me; definitely, he can’t.
But, why do people think that he has a monopoly on violence? I think Akpabio wanted to stop me from giving my submissions before the House of Representatives Committee today. He succeeded but I am sure the House of Representatives will give me another date. Nigerians will hear more.”
Reacting to the incident, Wike said he rescued Nunieh from an attempted abduction and called on the IG to investigate the circumstances that led to the invasion.
Wike said he was on the ground to frustrate the attempted abduction, and berated the ‘self-styled’ armed policemen who claimed to be members of the Inspector-General Monitoring Unit.
The governor said under a civilised society, the proper thing to do was to invite her to answer any allegation.
He added that to storm her residence at such an unholy hour suggested some sinister motive that should not be tolerated.
Wike said: “What has happened today is a disgrace. Who knows what would have happened to her if they had gained access to her main room. I went there personally to see things for myself and rescued her.
“She is supposed to testify before the House of Representatives Committee and here we are having armed men wanting to abduct her.
“We came out to protect our daughter and we will do so to every Rivers citizen. That is the oath of office I swore to. It doesn’t matter the political affiliation. We will not allow anybody to destroy Rivers State.
“It is so unfortunate and I cry for this country concerning the way things are going. They didn’t have a warrant of arrest, but would storm somebody’s house? In fact, the state Commissioner of Police is not aware.
“So, tell me how something will happen in a state and the Commissioner of Police is not aware? They said it’s the Inspector-General Monitoring Unit. So, we have such a unit taking over the responsibility of crime-fighting in a state and the Commissioner of Police is not aware? I can also assume too that the Inspector-General of Police is not aware. He should investigate it.”
The governor also called on governors of states that make up the NDDC to ensure that their citizens do not have a hand in the planned abduction of Nunieh.
Wike stated further: “If there is any allegation of crime against her, I will not back her. But you can’t kill her for no established crime. I don’t know who’s responsible, but whoever is behind it should not take Rivers State for granted because we will fight back.
“From what has happened now, I want to say that Rivers State is fully out. Anybody who is responsible for this attempted abduction of our daughter should know that enough is enough.
“They can’t treat her like a common criminal. I am sure that President Muhammadu Buhari is not aware of this,” he added.
Fani-Kayode also described the siege by policemen at the Nunieh’s residence as cowardly and shameful.
Fani-Kayode commended Wike for arriving at Nunieh’s residence on time to take her to safety, adding that what the governor did reminded him of what former Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayo Fayose, did to save his wife and son when armed men in police uniform conducted an illegal operation against them in Ado Ekiti four years ago.
He said: “I have been reliably informed that the police raid on Joy’s house at 4.00 am was yet another illegal operation and was not backed by a search or arrest warrant or authorised by the Commissioner of Police of Rivers State or the Inspector General of Police.
“It was simply an attempt to abduct her, take her away, and possibly kill her…”
Also, reacting to the incident during an interview on ARISE NEWS Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers, a renowned lawyer and human rights activist, Ms. Esther Uzoma, said any attempt to embarrass, intimidate or gag a Nigerian woman and any citizen of this country is despicable.
She said: “If Joy Nunieh is scheduled to appear before the House this morning and the Nigerian police have surrounded her house, and indeed made entry therein, it is worrisome. The Nigerian Senate is also exercising their constitutional duty of inquest into ongoing affairs in NDDC. Perhaps this would appear that there is a clash of constitutional function. The Nigerian police are also well within their right to arrest and investigate any citizen who they feel is in breach of the law or about to breach the law.
“However, what we have on hand is the inquest by the National Assembly and the arrest by the police. We see that there are two conflicting constitutional agencies of state carrying out their constitutional duties in collision with each other.
“That is deplorable and if anybody is looking for the sign by the agencies of state as we see them today function at cross purposes. This is a prima facie classic example that they do not function across purposes. They should be aware that Joy Nunieh is scheduled to appear before the House of Representatives it is despicable.”