The police in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, Wednesday used tear gas to disperse about 13,000 newly recruited primary and secondary school teachers by the Rivers State government who had gathered at the Liberation Stadium in the city, to collect their letters of deployment.
In dispersing them, the police accused them of planning to demonstrate against President Goodluck Jonathan.
The teachers had converged on the stadium early in the morning on the directives of the Permanent Secretary of the state Ministry of Education, Dr. Richard Ofuru, to receive their letters of posting to various schools in the state when about nine police patrol vehicles swooped on them.
Efforts by the teachers to explain their mission fell on deaf ears, as the policemen said they had “orders from above” to disperse them as they were planning to take off from the stadium to protest against the president.
One of the riot policemen, who did not want to be named, said intelligence reports had shown that the teachers were being mobilised by the Rivers State Governor Chibuike Amaechi to protest against Jonathan.
He said the policemen had instructions to disperse the teachers and ensure that they did not proceed on the protest.
A senior police officer, who led the operation, told journalists on the condition of anonymity, that they were at the stadium based on orders from above, because it was alleged that the crowd had gathered to embark on a demonstration against the Jonathan administration.
When the tear gas was released on them, the teachers took to their heels and in the process many got injured. They however shunned requests to speak to journalists for fear of their jobs.
But reacting to the incident, Amaechi said the police action was a “crass display of naked power”, adding that the people of the state were under police siege.
A statement from the Chief of Staff, Government House, Chief Tony Okocha, said: “It is amazing that the government and good people of Rivers State live under the siege of the police force.
“As you are aware, the Rivers State Government recently engaged 13,000 teachers for primary and secondary schools. They were invited to collect their posting letters today at the stadium. But alas, (the Police Commissioner) Mr. Mbu Joseph Mbu deployed his men to disperse them on the suspicion that they were there to demonstrate against the president. What a shame!
“The preponderance of that population was 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 ought to apply some tact even in his mission to destroy Rivers State.”
In her own reaction, the state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs. Ibim Seminitari, said: “This is the impunity we have been talking about in Rivers State. And it is clear to Rivers people that this is the action of retrogressive forces who are totally against development, because it is the first time any government, whether state or federal, is employing 13,000 teachers at once.
“And I think that people are afraid and worried that the people will actually see that work is going on. Otherwise, tell me why people want to cut short other people’s smile.
“These are people who have been unemployed. Nigeria is crying about unemployment; the education system is in a mess, and a government employs 13,000 teachers, trains them and wants to feed them into the system, and somebody chooses to treat them this way – with levity and to tear gas the teachers and then 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 don’t know?
“I think that this is unacceptable and Rivers people need to fight and ensure that this reign of impunity stops.
“It is clear that CP Mbu has an agenda to destroy Rivers State and Rivers people have to ensure that does not happen.”
However, the state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said the police was right in dispersing the teachers, insisting that Amaechi was cashing-in on the misfortune of thousands unemployed youths in the state to play politics.
The party alleged that Amaechi wanted to use the teachers to protest against Jonathan in the state.
A statement signed by the Special Adviser, Media to the Chief Felix Obuah-led PDP, Mr. Jerry Needam, noted that the teachers had long been interviewed and appointment letters issued to them and wondered why they had to converge again on the stadium.
The statement said: “The party notes that the applicants have long been interviewed, screened and employment letters given for the long vaulted 13,000 teaching jobs by Governor Amaechi. So why are the helpless applicants being asked to gather again at the Liberation Stadium, if not for a sinister motive?
“Drawing from intelligence reports available to it, the party maintains that 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.
“Or it was in furtherance of the political crisis the governor persistently and unrepentantly fuels, 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, more so, in the light of the huge resources accruing to the state, the PDP believes 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 party commended the police for “rising to challenges of insecurity in the state created by Amaechi’s over-ambition.”
In its reaction to the incident, the Rivers State Police Command said it acted on intelligence reports at its disposal when it dispersed the teachers that gathered at the stadium.
The new state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Ahmad Muhammad (DSP), said intelligence reports had revealed that the crowd intended to embark on a public protest in the state capital, adding that the state government did not get permission from the police before gathering the teachers.
Mohammed said: “Intelligence reports at our disposal revealed that those who gathered at the Liberation Stadium intended to embark on a public protest. As required, the Rivers State government is supposed to inform the police about such gathering, as you know, but they never did.
“So we sent our men to stop the gathering to avoid a breakdown of law and order. Let me use this medium to remind members of the public that the ban on public protest is still in force. Please note that we acted based on intelligence reports.”