The controversial two-day visit of wife of the President, Mrs. Patience Jonathan and her disagreement with her host, Governor Chibuike Amaechi over the planned demolition of some houses surrounding the school building under construction in Okrika, her community, in Okrika local Government area of Rivers State, has claimed its first victim.

Governor Chibuike Amaechi

According to a statement signed by Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, the state Commissioner for Information and Communications, “the Chairman of Okrika Local Government Area, Hon. Tamunokuro George Oba, has resigned his appointment with effect from Thursday, 26 August, 2010.

“In a letter addressed to the Governor of Rivers State, Rt. Hon Chibuike Amaechi, Hon Oba said he was resigning after due consultations with his family and associates.

“A statement from the Office of the Secretary to the State Government said that Governor Amaechi has accepted the Chairman’s resignation. Hon. Oba is therefore to hand over all council documents and property in his possession to the Vice Chairman, Hon James Aduko.

“While thanking the immediate past chairman for his service to the council and the state, the governor wished him well in his future endeavours.”

In a text message sent to media houses, the Chairman wrote: “In view of the recent events in my local government area and after due consultations with my family and associates, I have come to the realization that the interest and peace of Okrika is far above personal interest. I hereby resign as Chairman of Okrika Local Government Council effective today, Thursday 26 August, 2010. I do hope that my decision will bring peace and development in Okrika. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve my people. I also appreciate all the council staff and close associates who supported me while in office. Thank you for accepting my resignation.”

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However, less than 12 hours after he allegedly resigned, Hon. Oba was quoted on WAZOBIA FM Port Harcourt and Rhythm 93.7 Port Harcourt with insert of his voice claiming that he did not resign. He warned those peddling the rumour to desist.

The latest denial has brought about confusion and has set the state government on edge.

Informed sources close to Government House alleged that the Okrika chairman was allegedly summoned to the state executive council where he was upbraided for “organizing a civic reception for the President’s wife without the consent of the state government.”

It was at the “civic reception” that there was a public exchange of words over demolition of houses in OKrika, where Mrs. Jonathan told the governor not to always say “must…must when you are talking about demolishing people’s houses.”

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Mrs. Jonathan called for a one-on-one dialogue between the owners of the structures beside the primary school and the state government.

“I am not saying they should not demolish, but what I am saying is that the local Government Chairman has to seek the opinion of the owners of that compound, contact the village head, and let them come into agreement,” the First Lady said.

Continuing, she said: “I was overwhelmed to see that the primary school is almost completed,” and she encouraged the state government to “appeal to the owners of the property” so as to reach an agreement on the issue.

“It is by pleading, it is by appeal, you appeal to the owners of that compound,” Mrs. Jonathan said and urged the Okrika people to also show understanding.

“It is by dialogue, we have to dialogue with the government, we have to come into agreement, you understand, because when you dialogue you come to agreement and see how to solve it,” she said.

Earlier, Governor Amaechi had told the First Lady that before embarking on the building of any of the school projects, it is communities that provided land free of charge to the government, since government does not choose the site of the projects.

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According to him, everywhere schools are built, not just in Okrika, properties on school lands are demolished to provide a conducive environment for teaching and learning.

In his words, “you don’t mix education with family activities, because the children won’t concentrate, and you don’t need children to study in a rowdy environment.”

Governor Amaechi told the First Lady that the “responsibility of government is to ensure that we provide an environment conducive for the child to study in all our schools.”

Dr. Abiye Sekibo, former Secretary to State Government, SSG, in Dr. Peter Odili’s administration and later Minister of Transport, hails from Okrika Local Government .

He is the arrowhead of opposition to Amaechi’s government.

Observers believe that the resignation controversy is part of the bitter political rivalry between Amaechi and Dr. Sekibo.

—Okafor Ofiebor/Port Harcourt