Those Waterfronts in Brick House: By Idumange John

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I had elected for two reasons, not to lend a voice to the aggressive urban renewal programme of Governor Rotimi Amaechi, which has inflicted enormous pains on the poor, and the demolition spree we have witnessed for the past one year. First, the allegation that the waterfronts are safe havens for militants is as mendacious as it is unscientific. Mendacious because it is illogical to confine criminality to a geography. Secondly, free thinkers like me have been saved the agony of amnesia because I know as many people do that the militants are a creation of the present political class. The argument is unscientific because no research has been commissioned by the Executive Governor of Rivers State to find out which settlement in Port Harcourt has the highest criminality index.

The crops of politicians in our landscape are ready to masticate and swallow good conscience and shed their humane attributes for some strange veranda behavioural patterns. Vindictive politics of mudslinging and character assassination have held sway over the implementation of public people-oriented policies. Nigeria is perhaps the only country where elected representatives behave like demi-gods. Elected representative do not feel obliged to consult with the people because their votes do not count, and at every turn, the ballot box is desecrated with impunity.

When the second tenure hurricane started sweeping the political landscape, our eminent Professor of Virology Tam David-West warned the Odili led administration of the consequences of do or die politics. Many people who reaped enormous economic benefits from the system thought he was an alarmist. Professor Tam David West also warned against the recruitment of the youths to settle political scores because if a dog is trained to be wild, it could turn against the owner. The politicians placed power and money above the common good. They therefore adopted three strategies to recruit the hitherto harmless youths of the Niger Delta.

First, they paid them money to form cooperatives under the guise of providing soft loans to them. The cooperative societies later translated into political support groups. At that time they paid regular visits to Brick House to pick the crumbs of the emperor's largesse. But when elections drew near, the mafia class around the Machiavelli goaded him to recruit them to constitute campaign groups. From campaign groups, the political class began to transform them into monsters. This was easily accomplished because of the legion of unemployed youths. Government procured for them, AK-47 riffles and sent them after their perceived political foes.

To keep the goons happy and to condition their psyche, government introduced them to opulence and splendour. There is a mass of evidence that some militant leaders had their breakfasts in Brick House and their lunch at the Hotel Presidential under the payroll government. This sophisticated life style is a sharp contrast to the pervasive morass of poverty prevailing in the waterfronts. Given the exotic life styles of Asari Dokubo, Ateke Tom, Soboma George, and other repentant militant leaders and the sophisticated munitions they paraded, it was easily discernible that only government could have that volume of money to sponsor such large scale commando military operations and prodigality sustained by the militia groups.

Towards the end of the second tenure, the paymasters were not living up to the expectation of the youths. Some of them began to form splinter groups to vandalize pipelines as the bureaucrats domiciled in Abuja always reassured the youths that their economic rescue plan was situate in the pipeline. These splinter groups engaged in a supremacy contest and they in turn formed street gangsters. It was at this stage that the militia groups intensified their search for sophisticated weapons to transact illegal bunkering. The various political groups started to woo them to destroy their political opponents; real and imaginary. Even the Assembly and the Cabinet were divided, depending on their cultic inclinations. Some used ethnic platforms to advance their political interests. The mode of operation of ethnic militia is the same everywhere. In the advanced countries, militia groups usually fight for those who sponsor them, and because of their primordial attachment to their ethnic groups, they fight more effectively than the regular police or army. Thus the militants, in several cases had more sophisticated munitions and most often they outwitted the regular Joint Military Task Force (JTF).

During the same period, there were clannish and secret cult induced wars in Ogbakiri, Buguma, Tombia, Rumuekpe, Abua, Ogoni, Bile-Ke-Krarama and several other areas in Rivers State. These wars were not fought by gangsters at the Port Harcourt waterfronts. The waterfronts are not inhabited by monsters or demons but by people who have been pushed by the torrents of hardship for lack of a housing policy in Rivers State.

As a courageous and focused man, Governor Rotimi Amaechi would lavishly concede that even before the amnesty deal was brokered, some of the so called militants also provided personal security for those in government. Many spectators are not unaware of these facts and the earlier the Governor admits that the better for his image. The cult groups of various descriptions were then recruited to maim and kill everywhere. Recognizing that the militants were groomed and financed by the politicians, the same government is now scampering to look for a political solution called amnesty to rehabilitate the youths, whose psyche they have thoroughly battered.

The youths were recruited and empowered with big money, sophisticated weaponry and hard drugs. When the youths were recruited , Governor Amaechi , was the then generalissimo of the Rivers State House of Assembly, and the Golden Speaker was not on sabbaticals. He did not also cause the Assembly to make laws to outlaw such unorthodox means of winning elections because he also sought re-election. At the Justice Kayode Eso led Truth and Reconciliation Commission some of these revelations were made and that is why I sometimes wonder aloud why some people easily fall victim to the bogey of collective amnesia.

In Rivers State, Odili was so obsessed with his second tenure bid that River State witnessed several cases of politically motivated murders. The two most prominent of such murders are the felling of Dr. Marshall Harry and Chief A.K Dikibo. Frankly, the idea of second tenure is not evil in itself if it was borne out of altruism and the knack to render genuine service to the people, but the second tenure seekers in our clime are executive peculators, primitive accumulators and economic saboteurs. They seek power not to serve society but to serve themselves.

Governor Rotimi Amaechi should admit that he failed as a Speaker woefully because for as long as he remained Speaker, there was no virile opposition in the Rivers State House of Assembly. Simultaneously, criminality reigned supreme in Rivers State. Again, he worked kids in gloves with the Governor Peter Odili who dolled out a huge chunk of the taxpayers money and won his the exalted position of Golden Speaker. If I may ask, did the then Speaker become the best on the basis of meritocracy or was it because so much money was spent to buy the position?

In all humility and with due respect to his office, I should like Governor Rotimi Amaechi to apologize to Rivers People especially those they have impoverished to live in those shanties and makeshift batchers. As speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, the Governor could not initiate a legislation on a housing policy to accommodate the poor inhabiting the houses they demolish with voluptuous appetite. But why would government spend more money trying to compensate demolished structures than build new ones? How is the Rotimi Amaechi government operating the compensation scheme?. Are they paying the house owners what is stipulated in their official records?. Whereas I commend the Governor's massive road construction works, I fault his urban renewal paradigm, which has increased the misery index of most of the inhabitants of Port Harcourt.

In international best practice, urban renewal is supposed to be a holistic strategy that takes cognizance of housing, urban transport, urban waste disposal, land use, depending on the economies of scale and sustainability criteria. The urban renewal strategy adopted by the Amaechi administration is adhoc in nature – uncoordinated, unholistic and unsustainable. The demolition of shanty settlements at the waterfronts without first providing alternative settlements is at best punitive and this negates the essence of governance - which is public welfare. In fact, since the creation of Rivers State, no administration has inflicted so much hardship on Port Harcourt City dwellers than the present administration. That is why the Ijaws who are predominantly coastal, waterfront dwellers are perceiving the unpleasant aroma of ethnic agenda even though the Governors may not intend to execute an ethnic agenda. Any urban renewal programme that does not strike a balance between the triad of environmental sustainability, economic development and the peoples welfare is inherently punitive.

Successive administrations had contemplated the resettlement of those inhabiting the waterfronts but majority of those settling there are naturally the Ijaws, whose main occupation is fishing and other businesses related to the marine ecology. In fact most of the houses being demolished by the government were built on lands that took the owners several months to reclaim. This is why it is even difficult to quantify the monies and efforts of the owners in monetary terms.

Governor Amaechi should know that government under his estranged master has not exonerated itself from complicity in the series of communal crises in Ogakiri, Emohua, and Rumuji, Abua and several other communities. The House he presided over never made any laws that outlawed the recruitment of youths into cultism to protect their tenure in office. What did he say on the spate of assassination attempts on the life of Alabo Graham Douglas, Seargent Awuse, and several other highly placed Rivers people? Till date, there are ethnic killings in the Rumuekpe area, which is part of Ikwerre land. In the past three months, three prominent Ikwerre sons have been assassinated, and these dastardly acts were not committed in the waterfronts.

The desperation of the elites is also evident in the millions of naira they spend daily on the local and national media on propaganda while the masses continue to live in increasing poverty, misery and hopelessness. The waterfronts in Port Harcourt are associated more with poverty rather than crime. Crime itself is a consequence of acute governance deficit, breakdown of social norms and moral depravity for which Nigeria has acquired universal notoriety.

The claim that the waterfronts are associated with crime is a wretched propaganda to demonize the poor who inhabit those areas. On the contrary, what constitutes the real waterfronts in Rivers State are those in elevated political offices in government, those who see power as a do or die affair and those who engage in politics of calumny. It is criminal for government to demolish the property of the poor without due consideration to the ethnic sensibilities of the people. Governor Amaechi is aware that the Ijaws are the dominant occupants of those settlements. It is unconstitutional for government to destroy the property of individuals without full restitution as provided in the Constitution. While I do not subscribe to the ethnic agenda argument bandied about by some people, I find it difficult to agree with Governor Rotimi Amaechi – who was and is a staunch member of the Capo Regime to peddle the propaganda that the militants that were recruited by Brick House are now domiciled only in the waterfronts. I personally like the Governor for his doggedness, courage and foresight, but empathy does not seem to exist in his lexicon. Governance is not a college debate but a serious business. Governor Amaechi should not lavish the goodwill he has garnered already. Good governance only makes meaning when those in power administer with temperance, and the fear of God. Idumange John, wrote from Port Harcourt

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