Peterside: Violence now commoditised, charlatans control political contestations



What’s responsible for the recent spate of killing in Rivers State?

There are several factors responsible for that. First, it is a clear demonstration that the amnesty programme failed to actually mop up guns in circulation, because wherever you see that kind of programme in place, there must be a mechanism and a framework for mopping up small arms and large weapons in circulation. But with the resurgence of violence, it just shows that the amnesty programme failed in that respect of mopping up guns in circulation. There is a study, which I had the privilege of leading in the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Port Harcourt. Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme funded it. That study focused on post amnesty Niger Delta conflict management framework. In that study, it was found that politics is likely to be one of those causes or escalators of violence in the post-amnesty period in the Niger Delta and what you see unfolding in Rivers State is part of the confirmation of the findings of that study. Part of the problem in the region and the state is the manner in which politics is being played and pursued.

We are actually operating a democracy without democrats. We so much place emphasis on power and that power is not perceived in our own context to be a mechanism and instrument to bring happiness to the greatest number of people. Rather, it has become an instrument of primitive accumulation. And so, those who have power have early access to resources, and those who do not have it, will fight, deploy all mechanism at their disposal, even if it means killing, to actually get power.

So, on the road to the recently concluded general election, we began to see the situation that occurred in the past of how armed wings with political support resurrected. Whether that is actually going to die down, is a matter for us to actually see. There is also another part of the cause, there is this whole question of lack of access to employment or what I can call development breakdown, where people are living in poverty in the midst of plenty, particularly the people of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni, ONELGA, in whose communities you have oil companies located. Therefore, there is the struggle here for access and control of benefits derived from the oil industry and the way that benefit is shared and the way that benefit is distributed generates its own internal crisis.

And if you recall, there was a time when youth activities were banned in the area. And if this youth activity was a platform that actually gave the young people voice, providing the opportunity to be heard, when you ban such organisations, what happens to those voices that have been driven underground? And when you have bottled up anger and there is no process to ventilate that anger, what you see is the explosion and that has become part of the problem. And of course, this whole question of gang culture is also a very key matter in Rivers state.

The impression seems to be created that those matters have died down. Even if there are people who had signed on to the amnesty programme, the way the amnesty programme was created and designed, it could not have achieved much. The impression seems to have been created that it is only when young people carry arms that they are going to be recognised.

So, what we are seeing is the tendency for more groups to emerge and also thinking that it will provide them the opportunity to be heard by the state. What that means is providing them access to resources generated from the state. We can see how ex-militants have suddenly become wealthy and are also flaunting this wealth and that creates the impression that violence pays. More groups are emerging. Splinter groups are also coalescing to also draw attention.

In Ogoni axis, the whole question of political contestation is responsible for the crisis there. The political elite refuse to play to the rule and observe the rule more in the breach. And studies have shown that those who have control over the instrument of violence in this area and the state in terms of political contestation process also have control to power eventually. So, what you see is a resurgence of a kind of movement of militia appendages of the political parties. None of the political parties can claim it is innocent and that it does not have its own pseudo-armed wing that drives its own agenda to intimidate and kill people to submission for its own political agenda. That is what you see that is happening of the political process.

These are private armies of the political elite deployed actually in the process of political contestation and those who have them know that if they prevail, at the end, they will have access to control state resources. It is going to be worse in the coming week because that is when we are going to see the extent to which the political process is actually militarised. Violence has been commoditised. It is a commodity priced in the political market and the merchants are the politicians and the militant wings of these political parties.

Are you attributing the recent spates of killings to politics?

Honestly, politics needs to be blamed in certain respect. Like I said earlier, and I stand to be contradicted, those involved in the killings are militant wings of the political parties. Politics here is about intimidation.

Those who have control over the instrument of violence eventually have control over the democratic and electoral processes. That is what you see. And again, the absence of internal party democracy necessitates the movement of people from one party to another, thus, escalating the problem. Because those who have moved to wherever they have moved to and those remaining are all determined to score a goal to demonstrate that they are in charge. And in the process of demonstrating that they are in charge, every mechanism at their disposal are deployed.

At that point, it is a show of strength and show of power. Again, the situation became worse when the legitimate security forces, often times, legitimise the illegitimate use of this kind of force. When state security forces will turn their eyes the other way and these young people who are the appendages of political parties unleash terror on the people, they legitimise violence.

If the State security forces had been firm and non-partisan, the crisis wouldn’t have escalated the way it had gone. I agree that there is need to raid some places. I agree there are so many guns in circulation and need to be mopped up. But what is problematic is the timing of this kind of operation and the manner they are undertaken. What’s problematic is the unguided political utterances by politicians on both sides of the divide.

The timing is the problem because the impression seems to be created that the political clique that has the upper hand in terms of control of the state security forces is the reason why this operation is going on.

The other people feel it was necessary to mop up the guns so that the forthcoming rerun elections in Rivers State will be violent free. But I am afraid if that is going to actually happen because the politics is already heated. To a very great extent, politics is there, it is part of the problem, while also the fight for access and control of resources, particularly in ONELGA is also part of the problem.

During then Governor Chibuike Amaechi’s reign, there was a firm resolve to rid the state of these marauding criminals. Has the incumbent government demonstrated similar zeal by your estimation?

You have to look at the political climate and what is playing out politically. Remember that time Amaechi came, he was a member of a political party that was at the centre and so it was quite easy for the Federal Government to support that agenda. The circumstance now is quite different. It is also very likely that the governor of the state might be very much interested in actually arresting this problem.

But bear in mind that the security forces take directives from the Commander-in-Chief, so, that is part of the problem. The control of the security apparatus and where the order for these actions are coming from and to the extent the governor can be heard as the chief security officer of the state is also part of the problem.

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