IT is somewhat odd that President Muhammadu Buhari should describe Rivers as the most deadly state in Nigeria. With due respect, Buhari’s description was an overstatement. It was also a misrepresentation of the state.
Addressing the first National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abuja last week, Buhari expressed his concerns about the deteriorating state of law and order in some states. He said: “I think that more Nigerians are killed or killed themselves in Rivers than in any particular state. At this stage of our political development, to remain brutal is shameful and as a government, I promise we will do something by the next general election.”
If Buhari was referring to violence in general, he was wrong to confer that dishonour on Rivers State because no state comes near Borno as the deadliest state in the country at the moment, in light of the endless callous killings by Boko Haram terrorists. Clearly, in terms of the magnitude of unprecedented violence and the frequency of bloodshed in any state in the country, Borno State stands unquestionably as the deadliest state in Nigeria.
For many years, Nigeria has been described as an unstable or volatile country. That is an apt depiction. The description applies as much to the state of politics as it does to the state of the economy. There is instability in the north and in the south. The situation in some northern states and now in Rivers State gives the impression there is no effective government in those states. This is perhaps why Buhari was quick to misrepresent Rivers as the most deadly state.
Buhari’s description clearly overlooked the situation in some northern states that have experienced worse violence over the past five years. If Buhari is truly concerned about the growing political killings and associated violence in Rivers State, he must stand up and do something. He must say enough is enough. But he must go beyond speechifying. He must demonstrate by practical actions his commitment to restore law and order not just in Rivers State but also in other explosive states in which the citizens have experienced no form of government but extreme violence.
More specifically, Buhari should send a strong message to the two main bitter political warriors in Rivers – Governor Nyesom Wike and former Governor Rotimi Amaechi – and their followers that people who encourage violence or commit crime can expect to be arrested, tried, and jailed. Politics is not about eliminating your political opponents but about rational and open debate and scholarly struggle for better ideas and programmes. Buhari must implement a programme that will lead to an immediate end to the political assassinations that are ongoing in Rivers State. As president, Buhari must reassure everyone through concrete action that murderers will be apprehended, convicted and put in jail where they belong.
The growing political violence in Rivers State indicates quite simply the disintegration of the police as a law and order institution established to protect the lives and property of citizens. In Rivers State, the capacity of the police to detect and prevent crime has been undermined by the deadly nature of the politics that is playing out there. Events in the state suggest the police have been caught one step behind the murderers and criminal groups that have been implementing thoughtlessly the macabre objectives of self-centred politicians.
In Rivers State, human life has no value. People go out to vote during election and they are not sure they would return home alive or disfigured or dead. The same situation persists even before Election Day. In various parts of the state, people go to sleep at night but they worry about whether they would be killed while asleep. This violent situation in Rivers mocks the essence of elections in democratic societies.
It is obvious that law and order has collapsed in Rivers State and civil society has no idea whom it should turn to for protection. The growing instability in parts of Rivers State would naturally suggest the Federal Government lacks the capacity to defend the lives and property of ordinary citizens. Therefore, when people refer to Nigeria as a failed state, they point to the slaughters in Rivers State and other northern states, as evidence to support their claim.
All this is not to suggest that northern states have enjoyed a long period of peace. That is far from the truth.
Ever since Boko Haram occupied Borno and some other states in the north through a bloody and senseless war on innocent citizens, Borno has become not only a victim of Boko Haram’s terror but also an open space used by the terrorist group to advance their wacky ideology. Through regular, planned, and widespread bombings in most northern states, Boko Haram has demonstrated its capacity to strike effortlessly at anytime and wherever it considers a target within the Nigerian state.
In Borno, for example, murderous Boko Haram militant groups wander the streets, shooting pointlessly at citizens, exploding bombs, slashing the throats of their victims, setting fire on residential and government property, including churches and police stations, and making life frightening for everyone. In the states that have suffered Boko Haram’s bomb explosions and abductions, life has become nasty and dangerous.
Owing to their successful bombing runs and raids, even in places manned by armed forces, Boko Haram has managed to mystify political, military and police authorities. The evil organisation has effectively avoided the most detailed plans intended to ensnare their leaders. One other reason the government has not been able to deal decisively with Boko Haram is not only their ability to reach out to, and recruit from, disaffected youths roaming the streets of many countries but also the fact that Boko Haram has too many pretenders, claiming to be the authentic leader of the organisation.
Boko Haram’s war against Nigeria remains a national tragedy. Prior to his election as president, Buhari swore to eliminate the group and their sponsors within months of coming into office. It is nearly one year since he was sworn into office but Buhari has not really smashed Boko Haram’s spirit or diminished its capacity to inflict pain on citizens through cold-blooded killings. Surely, Buhari and his advisers have a major challenge confronting them – that is, how to resolve by force or negotiated settlement this irritation that Boko Haram constitutes to our national psyche.
Buhari needs to frame an urgent policy that recognises the key issues in the conflict, a comprehension of the conflict, the operational methods used by Boko Haram, the factors that led to the emergence of the violent group, the views of religious and community leaders on how to resolve the quagmire, and more significantly, why the youth are attracted to the deadly group. A policy that aims to put an end to Boko Haram violence must consider these points if the government is aiming to achieve sustained peace in the region where Boko Haram has built its fortress.
In light of the increasing deaths and disasters that Boko Haram has brought to some northern states, was Buhari right to describe Rivers as the most deadly state in Nigeria? I would argue it was an exaggerated depiction.
Some people have argued that Buhari’s portrayal of Rivers State was intended to prepare the ground for the president to declare a state of emergency in the state. I am not persuaded by that argument. If a state of emergency would curb the gruesome massacres that have continued in Rivers State all in the name of democratic elections, I would support it. If that happens, Buhari will not be the first president to declare a state of emergency. There are historical instances. During his time as president, Olusegun Obasanjo declared a state of emergency in Plateau in May 2004. Two years later, Obasanjo also imposed a state of emergency in Ekiti in October 2006. That action followed the impeachment of Governor Ayo Fayose.
So, any suggestion that a state of emergency in Rivers would amount to an illegal action by Buhari is not supported by historical facts. While a state of emergency should be avoided by all means, if deadly violence continued with much intensity, and if the state government failed to check rampant killings of citizens, the president would be left with no option but to step in.
Rivers State shot into negative publicity in recent years owing to two main reasons. The first is the underground activities of the Niger Delta militants, who adopted indiscriminate kidnappings of men and women, young and old, as a means to make their point about environmental damage to their land by oil exploration and production. The second reason Rivers State has been on the violent behaviour radar is because of the do-or-die struggle by politicians to win elections in the state. As you would imagine, this form of violence manifests mostly during election time. It would appear this was the violence Buhari referred to when he categorised Rivers as the most deadly state in Nigeria.
Everyone knows that during election time, crooked politicians transform Rivers State into an unparalleled, dishonourable and reprehensible breeding ground for violence and arguably the headquarters of reckless killings. Buhari would have been right or closer to the truth if he had restricted his description of Rivers to what occurs in the state during election time. It is, therefore, not quite right for the president to describe Rivers with such a blanket tar brush that is perforated with errors.
To end, let me reinforce my argument. Buhari’s description of Rivers as an extremely violent state was inaccurate and at odds with violence of greater magnitude that takes place in other states, particularly some northern states.