Rivers state used to be known as a peace loving state, but with the current security landscape, it is hard to imagine that was once true. Crime in Rivers state has reached an alarming level, with assassinations, kidnapping, rape, extortion, armed robbery and murder being carried out on a seemingly daily basis. To make matters worse, when it is election season, the criminal activity significantly worsens.
As the Rivers re-run Election Day drew closer, more and more lives were needlessly taken, the most gruesome being the 5th March murder of the APC Ward Chairman, Franklin Obi, who was decapitated alongside his wife and 18-year-old son, Bestman, at his residence on Rutachi Street, Omoku.
It appeared that those being killed were overwhelmingly members of the opposition party APC. APC members argued that in order for elections to be free and fair in Rivers state, there would have to be ample security. The ruling party members PDP agreed that there needed to be adequate security, but they were extremely suspicious of the presence of security personnel especially the Nigerian Army for fear that they will help APC rig the elections in their favor.
Regardless of the fears of PDP on compromised security personnel one thing almost everyone could agree on was that the level of politically related killings were alarming and therefore security within the state needed to be beefed up. The police force relocated an Assistant Inspector-General of Police and three Commissioners of Police to Port Harcourt, and deployed an additional 6,000 policemen and 14 units of Police Mobile Force personnel to Rivers state to complement the personnel of the Rivers State Command during the election. The Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), also approved the deployment of an Assistant Commandant General (ACG), four Commandants and 2,000 personnel for the re-run elections in Rivers.
In addition to the security personnel reinforcement, there were restrictions of non-essential vehicular movements around the state on Election Day from 6:00a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Bans were placed on tricycles, motorcycles and engine speed boats with capacity of 200 horsepower and above, during the election weekend.
The Rivers state governor and PDP insisted that the military be kept away from Rivers claiming that they were going to be used as instruments in rigging the elections in favor of APC (the Federal ruling party). To reiterate this concern, the River’s state governor Wike wrote letters to 52 countries and even paid a visit to the Army Headquarters to discuss the security issues in the state. PDP went further and filed a law suit with the Rivers state High Court requesting that the military be restrained from deploying troops to conduct monitor and supervise the elections on that day. The anti-military comments constantly made by PDP encouraged attacks against military and other security personnel.
Rivers State Election Day Security
Despite the increase in security personnel within the state, the re-run elections were still wrought with pockets of violence and poor turnout. THE Independent National Electoral Commssion, INEC, said it was unable to carry out a conclusive election and has since announced that it would not return to Rivers until the state is more secure and conducive to conduct elections.
Some policemen who had been deployed to Rivers got involved in an accident in Rivers state when a truck conveying about 100 policemen collided with another truck transporting cattle along the same road. A vehicle conveying journalists covering the National and State Assembly rerun election, was smashed by hoodlums.
Two soldiers who were on patrol, were attacked and killed by gunmen suspected to be sea pirates at Abonnema in Degema Local Council of Rivers State. Another set of “unknown gunmen” also killed a DSS operative in Omaku, Ogba/Ndoni/Egbema Local Government Area of the state, during a joint operation carried out by the army, police and DSS.
An immigration officer was shot dead at a registration centre at Abalama in Asari Toru Local Government Area (LGA). A skirmish had ensued, following attempt by All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members. The Director General of NIMASA, Dakuku Peterside escaped an assassination attempt. Eight individuals wearing fake military uniforms were arrested in Khana Local government area of Rivers state along with the Governor’s Special Adviser on Special projects who was found with large wads of cash. The Police reported four deaths and the arrest of 22 people, although other sources put the casualty numbers higher than that.
Why the Violence
Politics in Rivers state is a do or die affair because most of the politicians are vying for power over the oil resource of the state which has one of the highest oil revenue in the country. This political wrangling encourages the use of political thugs and the use of violence to gain power. These thugs are said to be funded and armed by politicians to silence political rivals during election season, and off season, their allegiance is to their various gang or cult groups who carryout crimes against members of the community and citizens of the state.
A report written by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2009 stated that “Rivers State is saturated with cults and cultism. The Government itself acknowledged the existence of 100 cults; we listed additional 16 cults”. So the presence of heavily armed thugs across the state is known information, none of it is new.
In fact, when getting ready to deploy policemen for the Rivers re-run election, the IGP stated that “the intelligence unit of the Nigeria police has conducted a comprehensive security analysis of Rivers state. The areas likely to present major security threat as well as individuals who are poised to make themselves available as political thugs to threaten the peaceful conduct of the electoral process have been identified. Trouble makers will not be picked for now but the individuals have been placed under watch and will be apprehended when they cross the threshold set for them.
In other words, the Police Force was saying yes we know all the problem areas and the people causing the problems but we’re not going to rid the state of them. We are simply going to carry guns and watch them. If they shoot, we will shoot back. If they behave themselves, we will leave them, and they can carry on with their crime after the elections are over.
Democracy with no Diplomacy
|We heard Amaechi will be moving from polling booth to polling booth. Let him try it. I will show him that I am the Governor of Rivers State. I challenge him to move around. If he dares come to anybody’s polling booth and you see him, beat him thoroughly.”||“Left to me, ordinarily I would have just voted at my polling unit on Saturday and go back to my hotel room but to show him I’m more powerful, I will visit his ward. I will visit his ward and call him Nyesom Wike.|
|“All those who plan to swap result sheets, may their souls rest in peace. Anybody who thinks Amaechi will give them result sheets to swap should be ready to swap their dead bodies.||Wike is so desperate that he can sell his mother. On the day of the re-run, I am ready for Wike, they should come out with their guns, we are ready for them,” he said.|
|Anyone remotely interested in the link between politics and psychiatric disorder may have to study the Amaechi administration in Rivers State.||“One clear message I will send to Nyesom Wike is, I will come to his village on Friday; I’ll be in the night club because I’m sure we will win.”|
Leaders within the PDP and APC have been making provocative remarks that only continue to fan the flames of violence within Rivers state. Wike the Rivers state governor and PDP member made comments such as “All those who plan to swap result sheets, May their souls rest in peace. Anybody who thinks Amaechi will give them result sheets to swap should be ready to swap their dead bodies”.
Amechi on the other hand who is the Minister of Transportation and former governor of Rivers state and an APC member made comments such as: Wike is so desperate that he can sell his mother! On the day of the re-run, I am ready for Wike, they should come out with their guns, we are ready for them,” Both of these comments without a doubt continue to encourage violence.
The insecurity in Rivers has to do with the unwillingness of political leaders within the state to put an end to cults and gangs because they are being used as political weapons to put down their opponents. The new dates for the Rivers election have not been announced, but in the meantime, the security personnel can take more proactive measures in preventing illicit weapons from getting into the arms of these known “trouble makers”. The known areas of trouble should be tackled and the individuals causing the issues should be removed from the peaceful society.