Politics And The Resurgence Of Violence In Rivers State
In the last two weeks, four events have occurred in Rivers State to raise red flags relating to insecurity and electoral violence. The first was the slaughter of 24 persons in one day at Omoku in Ogba Egbema Ndoni LGA of Rivers State. The second was the attack on the military at Yeghe town in Gokana LGA by well-armed militant youths.
The third was the burning down of the campaign office of Senator Magnus Abe at Bori, Khana LGA by suspected political thugs. The last and perhaps most frightening was attack on a bank and the engagement of citizens and the Police by armed robbers at the new GRA axis of Port Harcourt, crisscrossing all the way to Ikwerre Road.
That robbery and the ensuing shootout lasted for several hours on Wednesday 24 February 2016. This renewed wave of violence is unprecedented in our recent history.
Like most states in Nigeria, Rivers State has always had some history of political violence since the 2003 general elections. Nevertheless, what we are witnessing today is a dimension taken too far, especially before, during, and after the 2015 general elections.
It would appear that support for political violence as a means to win elections in Rivers state became the official policy of the party at the centre then. It has become worse with the judgment of the Supreme Court on the Rivers State Governorship Election Petition. That judgment seems to have inadvertently but tacitly given approval to a credo of get victory at all costs.
A number of reasons may be advanced for why Rivers State is now a hot bed of political violence. However, two rank highest in the overall equation. The first reason is the socio-economic outlook of the State traceable to and sustained by the activities of oil exploration companies and the peculiar geographical terrain of the delta. The perception that government and the oil companies have been unfair to the people and the environment of the host communities inevitably drew a battle line of “them versus us”. Second, and more recently, violence in Rivers State has been provoked mainly by the quest for power. Among politicians, there is a group which obviously sees power as the only means of livelihood through access to the commonwealth. It is obvious that some of the political actors of the 2015 electoral era in Rivers State have actively sponsored, promoted and supported violence as a means to an end. The union of political violence and criminality has now gone full cycle in Rivers state.
It is regrettable but true that in many communities in Rivers State today cult gangs hold sway. They control the social and economic souls of the people, including traditional structures which have been rendered impotent. The cult gangs were armed by politicians in the build up to 2015 general elections. Like Frankenstein monsters, they are now too powerful to those who armed them and had enjoyed pyrrhic benefits from their activities. The situation has so degenerated that nobody, including those who created the monsters, feels safe anymore. The physical landscape of Rivers State communities is painted with boys armed to the teeth and walking about freely to the discomfort of citizens.
Loyalty by these criminals to some forces in the Rivers State Government has not helped matter. We are yet to feel the effect of any concrete action taken by Nyesom Wike- led Rivers State Government to stem this worsening insecurity. A town hall meeting which he held in Omoku on the urging of Rt. Hon. Andrew Uchendu degenerated into a display of power by way of suspending three Local Government Caretaker Committee chairmen and a strange order to security agents to kill suspected cultists . The aloofness of the state government has actively promoted the view in the public space that it is behind the prevailing insecurity and free reign of criminals in the state.
Nothing challenges a government more than to lose the moral right to fight criminality. When a government persistently fails in its primary duty of securing lives and property, and does not show that it is committed to fighting against those who threaten our peace, the despair of the citizenry can best be imagined.
Today the people of Rivers state are groaning under the unbearable weight of kidnapping, assassinations, armed robbery, political violence, gun running, harassment, and all forms of criminality. The general question is how long are we going to live like this? It is most likely going to get worse with the forth coming re- run elections for legislative houses coming up on 19 March, 2016.
The early warning signs are very obvious. Every day in Rivers State stories of security breach dominate conversation. In such a situation, how might creative people generate business and other socio-economic ideas, or have the energy and will to see such ideas through?
The security agencies have their hands full due to the magnitude of occurrences. It is time for the Rivers State Government to make her commitment.
Dr Dakuku Peterside is the APC Governorship candidate in the 2015 elections in Rivers State.