After the battle of the Rivers
•Residents Count Cost Of Violent Re-run Polls, As Calm Returns Gradually
•Medical Expert Warns Of ‘Rivers Election Disease’
There was relief on the faces of people who do business around the Rivers State House of Assembly, last week. The legislative complex had been a shadow of its former self, since an Appeal court nullified the election of 22 members of the House. But for an emergency sitting by the remaining nine members of the House, last month, when they confirmed the appointment of the Chief Judge of the State, activities in the place had been very dull.
But now, the traders are expressing hope that with the re-run, the Assembly complex could bounce back to life, as trade flourishes again. One Mrs. Silverline Woke, who owns a shop near the premises, told The Guardian: “Business had returned after two years of the Assembly being shut down due to the former crisis. But few months after the boom we enjoyed, the Appeal court nullified the election of most of the lawmakers. The complex became dry again, as there were no sittings. This, however, is the election we have been waiting for earnestly, so that normalcy will return and our businesses will move again.”
Calm is currently strolling uneasily through the nooks and crannies of the state, following the violent March 19, 2016 re-run polls, which, freely and fairly, should have produced 22 House of Assembly and 12 House of Representatives members and three senators.
The vote-for-us campaigns of the two dominant political parties: the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), led by Governor Nyesom Wike; and All Progressives Congress (APC), led by the Minister of Transportation and former governor of the state, Chibuike Amaechi, had played out under a tense atmosphere. Though neither was a candidate, each had chosen to man his party’s campaign artillery: both were combative, pugnacious, stridently critical of each other’s administration, and created the impression that politics in the state equaled war.
The weeks leading up to the exercise had been particularly fraught with bloodletting in places, like Omoku, Yeghe, Buguma, Ahoada, Opobo and Port Harcourt, sparking fear that D-Day could snowball into an orgy of unprecedented killings.
Some residents, like Mr. Chris Ndu, who lives at the Diobu axis of Port Harcourt, said they are thankful to God that despite the killings, they are still alive.
“My family and I did not come out at all on the election day. We bought all that we would eat the previous day. With the threats from the various political parties, we thought Rivers State would be on fire or cease to exist after the election,” said Mr. Ndu.
From a medical point of view, the Chief Medical Director of Oasis Children Specialist Hospital, Dr. Josiah Appolous, told The Guardian the recent election raises the risk of psychosomatic disorder.
“It’s a disorder of both mind and body, where physical symptoms develop from mental factors. Severe cases can grow from depression, anxiety or stress and manifest into severe physical symptoms or diseases. It can also cause smaller symptoms, like headaches, the shakes or chest pain. While medical doctors should be consulted for the physical symptoms, it’s important to visit a psychiatrist to find the root of the issue.” (www.telegraph.co.uk)
Days to the polls, many families, out of fear the elections could turn violent, had fled Omoku and other flashpoints. By 7pm, on the eve of the exercise, the streets of Port Harcourt and Obio-Akpor Local Government Areas were strangely quiet. This was particularly noticeable along Sani Abacha and Woji Roads in GRA Port Harcourt, where many of the city’s nightclubs, bars and restaurants are located. Also, very few shops and business premises dared open their doors two days to the polls.
A taxi driver, Mr. Fred Okoro, told The Guardian: “I was really scared the election might turn violent. There were threats. But I thank God that the entire process went well in part of Port Harcourt where I live. I have lived in this city for 40 years. This election was the one that almost made me to send my family home. My wife lost her relations, as they fled Lagos to Aba during crisis that followed the June 12, 1993 election. She insisted she was not leaving Port Harcourt. I am happy that I can, at least, return to my business safe and sound.”
Two days to the elections, Governor Wike had abruptly declared a public holiday, which forced all banks to shut down. Last week, however, customers heaved a sigh of relief as they trooped to the halls to make pending transactions.
Mr. Nduka Ahamefula, who sells automobile parts along Olu-Obasanjo Road in Port Harcourt, said he was excited the elections are now history and people can return to their businesses. According to him, sale of spare parts fell significantly, as people, unsure what the future held, cut down on their spending.
“As a businessman, I am happy the elections are over, but the political leadership in the state must ensure it restores the state’s reputation as a viable business hub,” he said.
The manager of a nightclub along Abacha Road in Port Harcourt, who pleaded anonymity, told The Guardian that though shops, eateries and hotels are open, creating the illusion that all is well, businesses like his are yet to yield good returns because many people are still scared to venture out at night.
He recalled that four years ago, his premises thrived but that the situation changed in 2013 when political strife between the Peoples Democratic Party and the then newly formed All Progressives Congress raised tension in the state.
“Though we had pockets of violence, here and there, during the last elections, we still thank God that the process is almost concluded. Businesses like ours are dying due to the heat in the political space. I grew up in this town, and I can tell you that nightlife is not what it used to be. Rivers’ people like nightlife and something must be done to address this key issue,” the manager said.
With the polls over, Port Harcourt Mall and other entertainment centres are bracing up for Easter festivities. Out of apprehension, the management of the Mall had directed its shop attendants to close early on the eve of the polls and stay closed until the skies were clear.
When The Guardian visited the place, a staff explained that business is thriving again after the anxiety generated by the polls. She explained that the management directed workers to stay at home because it did not want to put anyone’s life at risk.
“You can see that the mall is filled once more with people and the park is clogged with cars, which was not the case two days to the election. Everywhere was dry. We are happy that businesses are back. I honestly wish politicians would realise that their aggressive utterances are not good for business. We need peace in Rivers State, so that the economy can grow. The state needs investments,” she harped.
In Omoku, a flashpoint, heavily armed military and police personnel remained deployed. The manager of a hospital in the town, Mr. Jude Madu, said contrary to expectation, the elections in Omoku were peaceful. According to him, people of the community just want to move on with their lives.
“After the election, peace has continued to prevail in Omoku. There is no tension now. We are living peacefully and going about our businesses. It is our sincere prayer that the prevailing calm will be sustained. We are, at least, happy that the situation is stable and peaceful at the moment,” he said.
According to the Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (IHRHL), Anyankwe Nsirimovu, the attitude of political elites in giving no quarters to the opposition and wanting to remain predominant has earned the state the reputation of a place where power is attained through guns, rather than votes.
“Recent killings and decapitations in their numbers in Omoku, Ogba-Egbema-Ndoni Local Government Area; the latest killings and destruction of property in the Ogoni Local Government Area of the state and the general sense of insecurity, occasioned by rising kidnapping, armed robbery and general intolerance of political opponents, is causing unbearable hardship on the citizens,” said Nsirimovu.
Rivers State people, meanwhile, are anxiously waiting for INEC to conclude polls in the eight local government areas were the process was suspended, so that they can get on with their lives till 2019 when the next general elections will come up.