BEFORE the countdown to the forthcoming general elections, indications were clear that Rivers, a state that prides itself as the “Treasure Base of the Nation,” has been one of the flashpoints for political violence in Nigeria.
The state did not just attain such unenviable status; the division in the Peoples Democratic Party that led to the departure of the governor, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, to the All Progressives Congress marked the beginning of a polity that was already overcharged.
Since the change of the state PDP executive from the one controlled by Amaechi through Chief Godpower Ake as the chairman to the current Rivers PDP controlled by the former Minister of State for Education and governorship candidate, Chief Nyesom Wike, through Chief Felix Obuah as chairman, it has been controversy all the way. The alteration in the leadership of the state PDP sparked controversies that have snowballed into a full blown crisis.
The crisis that hit the PDP in the state had its ripple effects on the State House of Assembly as the legislature became divided along party lines. While 25 members were on the side of the governor who eventually defected to the APC, five lawmakers remained in the PDP. The climax of the division in the House was a fracas that drew the attention of the world to the state. The fight, which took place in July 2015 became bloody when the leader of the House, Mr. Chidi Lloyd was caught on camera hitting a member of the House, Mr. Michael Chinda with a mace.
Today, the House cannot meet inside the assembly complex since the closure of the premises by the police. Apart from that, the bad blood between the opposing camps of lawmakers has created a fertile ground for violence. The majority of the lawmakers are planning a return to the House in the next dispensation, but violence on the campaign grounds appears to be a stumbling block to a hitch-free political rally.
While the general elections have been fixed for March 28 and April 11, 2015, the PDP and the APC in the state have been campaigning and jostling for the soul of the state. But the exercise has not been smooth. Campaigns have been characterised by unprovoked violence against party supporters.
One of the fiercest attacks in Rivers occurred when former Head of State and the presidential candidate of the APC, General Mohammadu Buhari, visited the state to begin his campaign. It was learnt that one person might have been killed and many seriously injured when two groups of armed youths shot at vehicles conveying the APC members from Asari-Toru and Khana Local Government Areas to the inaugural presidential campaign of their candidate. The twin-attack on the convoys of APC supporters was said to have occurred at the same time at about 5.30am as the party faithful made their way to the Adokiye Amasiemaka Stadium in the Ikwerre Local Government Area.
It was gathered that though nobody died in Khana Local Government Area after the attack along Bori-Saakpenwa Road, some of those who were attacked by the armed youths, alleged that the thugs were working for the PDP.
An eyewitness, who spoke with SUNDAY PUNCH in a telephone interview, accused a former militant leader from the area of being behind the attack on the APC supporters. The ex-militant leader is from Gokana Local Government Area of the state and a member of the PDP.
Mrs. Patience Jonathan
A source said five of the victims, who were shot in Khana, were rushed to a hospital in Port Harcourt where bullets were extracted from their bodies.
The APC chairman in Ward Six in Khana Local Government Area, Mr. Doole Adoonam, said the APC supporters were travelling in a convoy of three buses when they ran into the ambush of the gunmen.
Again, on August 13, 2014, at least, eight persons were shot and injured when supporters of the PDP and the APC clashed in Rumueprikom community, in the Obio/Akpor Local Government Area. Sporadic gunshots by the combatants forced traders to close their shops in the battle area, which is the hometown of Wike, the state PDP governorship candidate. Trouble started when the deposed paramount ruler of Oboi/Akpor Urebisi, Chief Anthony Uwabie, shot at a group of men at Wimpey Junction in the town.
The bullet, according to an eyewitness, hit the monarch’s son, Clement Uwabie, a strong member of the PDP. Uwabie’s son explained to journalists in the hospital, where he and the other injured persons were receiving treatment that his father shot him because he refused to join the APC. Some youths were said to have converged on Rumueprikom on the day of the incident in anticipation of the visit of Governor Amaechi who had been on tour of the local government areas.
Even the intervention of the police in arresting the monarch did not stop the orgy of violence that followed in the state. Also, the inability of the police to bring the masterminds of the political violence in Rivers to book simply made the situation uncontrollable as hoodlums suspected to have been sponsored by moneybags current engage in shooting, maiming and killing without shame.
Precisely on February 17, 2015, the APC governorship rally in Okrika came under intense attack as guns blazed while bombs exploded, leaving innocent supporters seriously injured. Others, including the governorship candidate, Dr. Dakuku Peterside scampered for safety. Suspected political thugs had emerged from the Okrika Cemetery and invaded the National School Field where the APC was campaigning. At the last count, a policeman was killed and over 50 persons were injured, including the Senior Correspondent of Channels Television, Mr. Charles Eruka. Since then, there have been accusations and counter-accusations among politicians as to who was responsible for the dastardly act. Unfortunately, it was the third time the attempt to hold a rally in Okrika was disrupted by thugs, even as the police had tried to find a way out to ensure a hitch-free campaign in the area.
The convener of the Doing Democracy Movement, Mr. Anyakee Nsimovu, described the continued political violence in Rivers State as a danger to the nation’s democracy.
Nsirimovu, who is a lawyer and a human rights activist, expressed shock that no arrest had been made since the attack on APC supporters in the state. He explained that the attack on the rally in Okrika by suspected supporters of the President’s wife, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, was unnecessary.
“Doing Democracy Movement wishes to unequivocally condemn the seizure of Okirika and Ogu/Bolo Local Government Areas of Rivers State, as personal fiefdom, contrary to the letters of the Nigerian Constitution, as further exemplified today by the siege laid against the liberty of the citizens, by alleged supporters of Mrs. Patience Jonathan, wife of the President of the Federal Republic.
“This very dangerous vehicle for tyranny must be stopped forthwith before it succeeds in silencing thousands of ordinary law abiding citizens of the area and beyond. Such violence as recorded in Okrika is a threat to our democracy.
“Our genuine fear is that there is no monopoly of the instruments of violence in the entire Niger Delta region, should the present situation escalate. The unpardonable failure of the Federal Government to act or condemn this heinous commissions overtime, continues to serve as motivation for further politically instigated criminal activities,” Nsirimovu cautioned.
Similarly, a Port Harcourt-based political analyst, Mr. Kelvin Ositadinma, accused the politicians of sponsoring violence in order to brighten their chances of winning the forthcoming elections. He, however, warned that the disposition of corrupt politicians to violence was inimical to the growth of the nation’s nascent democracy.
He added, “It is surprising that our politicians are sponsoring violence against the people they intend to lead. My fear is that if this continues, something terrible could happen and our democracy gone. The police should rise to the occasion, arrest and prosecute those behind the politically motivated violence that has taken over the state.”
Suggesting solutions to the wave of violence, the National Coordinator of the Niger Delta Youth Initiative, Mr. David Ato, expressed the need to reduce the perks of political offices and emphasise service in governance. He warned that innocent Nigerian would continue to die as a result of the desperation of politicians, whose aim is to remain in power and continue to earn jumbo pay without adding value to the country.
He said, “It is not possible to have peaceful campaigns when a national lawmaker earns over N20 million per month for doing nothing. The Petroleum Industry Bill has not been passed into law in order to better the lives of oil producing communities, but the lawmakers take home fat salaries. Consider the N18,000 minimum wage and the N19,500 monthly allowance being paid to members of the National Youth Service Corps and compare them with the over N20 million being paid to a senator, you will then see why the youth will always be available to be used by these politicians. All this must change for politically motivated violence to be a thing of the past.”