Suspected loyalists of All Progressives Congress (APC) on Friday stormed Rivers State High Court in Port-Harcourt, killing at least two persons and destroying court property estimated in millions of naira.
The attackers breached the court security around 11 a.m. in violent bid to stop a judge from sitting on an interlocutory motion brought by a faction of the party in the state, witnesses said.
The injunction was sought by the faction said to be loyal to Mr Magnus Abe, a serving APC senator from the state. Abe’s faction has been sparring with the faction believed loyal to Mr Rotimi Amaechi, minister of transport and immediate-past governor of the state, for the control of the party’s political structure.
Amaechi’s faction is said to be in favour of allowing the party congresses proceed as scheduled for Saturday. But Abe’s group was against this arrangement and sought a court order to overturn it.
Preliminary hearing on the injunction was slated for Friday morning, and Amaechi’s loyalists reportedly got wind of the proceeding and decided to take a protest to the court.
Properties worth millions were believed to have been destroyed in a fracas that ensued after hoodlums from both sides clashed at the court’s premises.
Pictures circulated in the aftermath of the attack showed damaged vehicles and buildings.
The violence, however, failed to stop Mrs Chiwendu Nworgu, the presiding judge, from granting the injunction forbidding the congress from holding today.
Mr Chris Finebone, a spokesperson for APC in the state, blamed Abe’s faction for the violence and said the injunction would not stand.
“It is legally untenable for anyone to stop an action that is ongoing,” Finebone said Friday evening about the scheduled exercise. “On that basis, principally, that injunction cannot stand.”
“We’re going ahead with the local government congresses”, he emphasised.
Finebone said Abe’s loyalists were supported by members of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to maximise the damage inflicted on the court and its officials.
Members loyal to Amaechi “were at the court to register their displeasure at the way and manner the case was being handled,” the spokesperson said.
“Someone who has been suspended from the state working committee went to employ lawyers for the party and took a matter to court without the consent of the party chairman.
“Our men later got wind of the plan and went to court to protest the travesty of justice that happened.
“It was when our members were protesting that loyalists of Magnus Abe and some PDP thugs went to cause fracas,” he said.
Abe could not be immediately reached for comments Friday night.
Rivers police spokesperson, Mr Omoni Nnamdi, said the attack was largely curbed by the police, and some of those responsible have been identified.
“Our men were alerted and the commissioner immediately sent officers out to restore normalcy,” Nnamdi, a Deputy Superintendent of Police, said. “Some persons have been identified in connection to the attack.”
He, however, said “no arrest has been made” as at 6 p.m. Friday.
‘A complete coup’
Governor Nyesom Wike quickly categorised the incident as an attempt to subvert existing democratic system in the state when he visited the court premises Friday afternoon, saying the police were involved in the violence.
“This is very unfortunate,” the governor said in a statement issued by his office. “Do not trivialise this invasion by saying ‘it is just an attack by APC on the judiciary.'”
“This is a complete coup by Nigerian Police and APC to overthrow the Rivers State Government,” he said. “We have said it before and we have been vindicated by this callous joint invasion of Rivers State Judiciary.
“We cannot continue to rely on the police to defend us. We must all stand up to defend democracy. What has happened is a sign of what APC and Police have planned,” he added.
‘Unfounded, unrealistic’ — Police
Nnamdi dismissed the governor’s comments as baseless and spurious when asked to respond to them Friday evening.
“That is unfounded, unrealistic and not verifiable as a matter of fact,” Nnamdi said.
He explained that the police were reluctant to use live ammunition against the hoodlums when they first stormed the court, but that the reinforcement took charge of the situation and brought it under control.
“Not that we were overwhelmed, but there are ways to handle this kind of situation instead of shooting to kill,” he said. “Use of firearms was a last resort and we were tactical in our response to the crisis.”
The spokesperson said many of the officers who responded to the attack would remain stationed at the court premises for the next few days until all threats have been neutralised.