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Rivers State: A return to the state of nature

Rivers people protest police and military siege in the state

Rivers people protest police and military siege in the state

• Sorrow, Tears And Blood Flow In Rivulets
• Political Elite In Macabre Dance of savagery

Rivers State appears to be descending to Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature, where the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. People now live in fear and are in danger of violent deaths.

Peace and stability in the state are under threat of politically motivated violence and other forms of criminality, and this is best explained by the gruesome murder of a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Franklin Obi, his wife and son in Omoku. Equally murdered was Mr. Ofinijite Amachree, who was burnt alive in Buguma, Rivers State.

Similarly, Mr. Isaac Ikechukwu Chinedu, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chairman in Obite and Chinedu Saidey, Ward 9 PDP Assistant Secretary from Oboburu community both in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Council, were also gruesomely murdered last week, according to the State PDP chairman, Felix Obuah.

Though Rivers State has had a long history of politically motivated violence, gangsterism and kidnappings, however, the dark river of brutality and savagery that runs through its recent experience now leaves many in shock and disbelief.

Unknown gunmen, who for months now, have terrorised the community, murdered Obi, who was the APC ward 4 chairman in Omoku, in his home. In fact, a source in the community, who craved anonymity, told The Guardian that gunmen had invaded Obi’s residence at about 9:30 pm Saturday night and inflicted on him several machete cuts and eventually, decapitated him, alongside his wife Iheoma and his 18-year old son, Bestman.

A statement, which Obi’s 16-year daughter corroborated, saying that from her hiding place, she watched the gunmen brutally murder her parents and elder brother in cold blood. “I was inside when I heard my mum crying. We heard the sound of a gunshot somewhere in the room. I opened the curtain of my room and I saw the men cutting off my father’s head. They then came to our room and ordered me and my brother to come out and as we were coming, my brother was moving slowly and they shot him. They then left with my father’s head.”

The incident spurred the visit of Rivers State Police Commissioner, Mr. Musa Kimo, to the community to assess the situation. Kimo was saddened by the fact that those who allegedly saw the gunmen when they invaded the residence of the late Obi failed to alert police or other security agents in the town.

In a related development, Obuah regretted the situation, where, rather than join in the state government’s fight against crime and insecurity, some chieftains of the APC have used recent killings to play politics.

Two weeks before Obi was murdered, some armed men had invaded Omoku at about 7: 30 pm and held the entire community hostage till about 11 pm. Amid the sporadic shootings, which forced residents indoors, gunmen moved from house to house, slaughtering some targeted persons, most of whom were decapitated. Most of the killings occurred in the Odieti, Usomini and Obakata quarters of the town and they brought back memories of the bad horrible days of mindless murders.

The Guardian gathered that the bloodletting in Omoku is a product of the bitter rivalry between gangs aligned to the PDP and APC in the state. Sequel to the killings, the Commander of 2nd Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Brig.-Gen. Stevenson Olabanji disclosed that seven suspects, who purportedly masterminded the dastardly act, had been arrested.

Similarly, last week, Mr. Tubotamuno Wariso, an alleged APC member in Opobo, was attacked and beaten to death by known gang members. While one Gabriel Cookey was allegedly clubbed to death also in Opobo. Another chieftain of APC in the Yeghe community, Mr. Pabby Koryene, was abducted and buried alive, while four others were killed in Obibi, Etche Council.

When he spoke with this newspaper, the APC chairman in Rivers State, Davis Ikanya, blamed the killings in Omoku on suspected members of gangs, who they picked on selected houses of APC members and murdered some of the occupants. He noted that on January 14, 2016, the APC had warned of a plan to commence the killing of APC members in ONELGA.

“Our evidence was that following security operations carried out by the military on 11/1/2016 at the house of one Igwe Ejima Dibia alias Don Wannie at Aligu Village in ONELGA, members of Icelander cult group and their PDP collaborators held a meeting at 11pm at Obohia in Omoku and concluded that prominent members of the APC will be eliminated irrespective of whether they live in ONELGA or Port Harcourt and other locations in the state as long as they are of ONELGA origin. They alleged that it is the prominent leaders of APC of the LGA that masterminded the raid by the military and the alleged destruction of Don Wannie’s house,” he said.

But Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, has dismissed the APC’s claim that the killings in the state were politically motivated, saying it was despicable and morally outrageous for a political party to play politics with security in the state, by claiming that victims of cult-related violence as their members, simply because they want to gain political mileage.

“We are doing everything in partnership with the security agencies to resolve the cult related security challenges in some communities in the state. Kidnapping is a national issue, but the reportage on the situation in Rivers State is over-blown. What we have in Rivers State is cult -related violence, which the government and security agencies are resolving. Those who beheaded members of a family in Omoku have been arrested and they are cultists,” the governor said.

He added, “nobody is happy. I am not happy. The service Commanders are not happy. These cultists and criminals are not from Lagos, Kaduna or Ebony. They are indigenes of these communities and the people know them. Therefore, everyone must cooperate with the security agencies to resolve these security challenges.”

Wike explained that the state government is supporting the police and the Department of State Services, DSS, to tackle the cult-related violence in some communities in the state.

Due to prevailing atmosphere of heinous act of violence in some parts of the State, Wike recently banned the operation of commercial motorcyclists, which the assailants often use in their dastardly act in Abua/Odual, Ahoada East, Ahoada West and Ogba/Egbema /Ndoni (ONELGA), which has Omoku as its headquarters.

The four councils have witnessed series of gang war-related killings in recent times. The worst affected has been ONELGA, where over 400 youths have been killed since 2013. The spate of killings in some parts of the state had necessitated a military offensive aimed at flushing out perceived criminals. However, this operation has further deepened the political bitterness between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the major opposition, All Progressives Congress (APC).

The military offensive, which has been spontaneous in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni, Khana and Gokana Local Government Areas, has been precipitated by the mass murder of at least 20 persons about three weeks ago in Omoku.

But the military offensive in the Goony axis of the state has elicited mixed reactions due to the political insinuation that has been attributed to the operation. The area had recently become a crime haven due to a mix of the economic disadvantage of the area fuelling youth unemployment and poverty that scar most Goony communities.

Before the military offensive in Ogoni, the liaison officer of the APC candidate in the Rivers South East senatorial district re-run election, Magnus Abe, was attacked by gunmen at Bori, headquarters of Khana Local Council.

Abe’s spokesperson, Parry Saroh Benson, said armed men clad in army uniform and carrying sophisticated weapons threw dynamites into the liaison office. The explosives damaged a part of the building, forcing staff and visitors to run for safety.

It was this attack that forced the military, according to Olabanji, to storm Yeghe, Bori and Wiyakara Communities in Khana and Gokana councils of the state. He said at about 12 noon on Monday, Abe’s office was attacked, and by the time the military received reports of gunfire in Yeghe community, it immediately dispatched a commanding officer to investigate the incident.

According to him, when military personnel reached the house of an alleged PDP chieftain and ex-militant, Mr. Solomon Ndigbara, popularly called ‘Osama Bin Ladin’, who had been declared wanted by the army for gun running, some hoodlums fired at the commanding officer (with intent to kill). “The attack on the commanding officer led to a gun battle between our forces and hoodlums, which resulted to them (hoodlums) being chased out from the community.”

Olabanji also accused supporters of Ndigbara, who has been on the run, for burning down Abe’s campaign liaison office in Bori. “We learnt that the hoodlums, who fled Yeghe later went to Bori in Khana Council and burnt down a campaign office belonging to APC. We have accessed the situation in Bori community and currently conducting a stabilisation operation with focus to arrest criminals who committed that heinous crime. No soldier was killed or sustained gunshot injury, nor was there anybody (civilian) killed during the operation,” he said.

The army chief denied allegations and accusations that some powerful individuals to advance their political inclination in the state were using the army.

Governor Wike has said it was disturbing for the military to embark on an intensive military operation in Rivers State without his notice, even as the constitutionally recognised chief security officer of the state. He accused some politicians of deliberately instigating crisis in the state to create room for the declaration of state of emergency.

Governor Wike noted that he has always advised the military to arrest criminals and hand them over to the police for prosecution in line with the rules of engagement and not to take actions that would harm innocent citizens.

Meanwhile, Ndigbara has accused Abe and some other Ogoni politicians of using the army, police and the DSS to hound him. He claimed that the deployment of soldiers to his Yeghe and other Ogoni communities was purely political, as the APC was using ‘federal might’ to create a situation of insecurity in a futile bid order to thwart the forthcoming State and National Assemblies rerun election.

“For the third time this year (February 22), my residence was invaded and destroyed and several people were killed by Nigerian soldiers for reasons that are best known to them. The army had severally plotted to frame me up by attempting to plant arms in my house so that they can justify their frivolous allegations against me that I am involved in gun running” he stated, adding that these allegations were baseless and ‘a set up,” he said.

Abe, while reacting to Ndigbara’s allegation, said the crisis arising from the military’s attempt to affect the latter’s arrest at Yeghe, led to the hoodlums burning down his Senatorial Liaison Office in Bori.

“But the person, who stands to be blamed squarely for the crisis is Ndigbara and his group, who chose to engage the military in a shootout. However, information available to me points to the fact that there was a deliberate attempt by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to incite the people against my person and the All Progressives Congress (APC). PDP knows pretty well that we are innocent but in their desperate attempt to exploit the situation for their political gain; they want to hang it on us. It is sad that this type of politics is being played by people who hold responsible positions,” Abe said.

The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and the Civil Liberties Organisation have both placed a question mark over the military offensive.

MOSOP’s spokesperson, Fegalo Nsuke, accused the military of shooting indiscriminately around Bori and advancing into adjoining communities, including Zaakpon. He alleged that the shooting had sadly seen to the cold blooded murder of innocent persons, infliction of serious gunshot injuries on others, paralysis of activities in the Ogoni capital and its environs, as well as, arbitrary arrests thereby forcing natives and residents to flee to safety.

“The soldiers had on February 22 violently invaded Yeghe community in Gokana local government area of Ogoni, Rivers State occasioning the killing of three innocent natives including Saturday Gbarazia, inflicted severe gunshot injuries on other victims, whose health conditions are said to be very critical; destroyed properties and made arbitrary arrests,” he said.

MOSOP had urged the military to tread cautiously and maintain its independence and professionalism, as well as, resist attempts by desperate politicians to drag them into the murky waters of politics, including being used to commit human rights abuses.

In statement issued in Port Harcourt, CLO Zonal Chairman, Mr. Chinedu Uchegbu, said the group is opposed to any form of sponsored militarization of the Niger Delta and the unjustified politically motivated invasion of Rivers communities by armed forces.

“We are becoming increasingly worried over the rising spate of insecurity in Rivers State and the failure of security operatives to guarantee security, it is curious that senseless killings have increased mostly in communities like Omoku where soldiers have been deployed by the Federal Government,” he said.

He observed that rather than being deployed to provide security for the communities, the soldiers and other security operatives may have been deployed to intimidate and subdue the communities in order to give some known political interest an undue advantage during the forthcoming re-run elections.

A university don, Dr. Sofiri Peterside, also blamed the recent killings in Rivers State on the whole question of political contestation. He accused the major political parties of deploying their private armies called cult groups to intimidate and harass their opponents in a bid to gain upper hand in the process of political contestation.

The Executive Director, Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Anyakwee Nsirimovu, offers a series of insights about the chaotic, catastrophic political violence that has been endemic in Rivers State since the 1999 transition to civil rule. He observed that the relative peace and security that existed in the state in recent times has disappeared, consumed by unhealthy political wrangling. He, therefore, condemned the recent killings that have claimed innocent lives by political thugs, sometimes referred to as cultists in some parts of the state.

He insisted that the main, if not the only key driver to violent political conflict in Rivers state, is political power attained through guns, rather than votes. According to him, the extremely divisive character of the political elite occasioned by their willingness to do whatever is unproductively possible to win and gain patronage, rather than engage in issues-based activities, had been the bane of the state.

Nsirimovu, thus, urged the state government to solidly support the security forces to assure security for citizens and their property, by fishing out, for prosecution, those responsible for making the state most inhospitable, especially, the instigators – the ultimate beneficiaries of these violent behaviours. In addition, he suggested that the government should deliberately pursue a bipartisan policy to end the pursuit of power through violence in the state.

“Make citizens of the state to strongly believe that violence to gain political power is illegitimate, unacceptable: might does not make right. Those ballots, not bullets should pave the route to legitimate political power; and actively promote them as universal standards of effective representative democracy. Rivers State should not continue to be remembered or referred to globally as ‘that violent place’ nor a place where it is impossible to do any meaningful business investment by reason of poor governance, extreme violence,” he added.

On his part, APC governorship candidate in the 2015 elections in Rivers State, Dr. Dagogo Peterside, observed that though Rivers State has had some history of political violence since the 2003 general elections, nevertheless, what it is witnessing today is a dimension taken too far, especially, before, during, and after the 2015 general elections.

His words: “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 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 Niger 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’.

Peterside continued: “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.”

He said it is regrettable but true that in many communities in Rivers State today cult gangs hold sway. These groups, he stressed control the social and economic souls of the people, including traditional structures, which have been rendered impotent.

According to him, the cult gangs were armed by politicians in the build up to 2015 general elections and like Frankenstein monsters, they are now too powerful to those who armed them and had enjoyed pyrrhic benefits from their activities.

“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 March 19, 2016. The early warning signs are very obvious. Every day in Rivers State stories of security breach dominates 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?” said Peterside.



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