FROM CHRIS ANUCHA, AND TONY JOHN, PORT HARCOURT
THE people of Rivers State will come out in their numbers today, to cast their votes for their preferred candidates in the rerun elections into the national and state assemblies. This followed the nullification of the election of some of the honourable members, by the Court Appeal sitting in Abuja. In today’s election, three Senatorial seats are being contested for. Twelve out of 13 House of Representatives seats are also in contention, while 32 State Assembly seats are being fought for.
The 2015 general elections in Rivers State attracted more attention, than any other state in the country. Meanwhile, the reasons are not far-fetched. The state was privileged to have produced the Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) in the person of Rt. Honourable Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, who literarily rose against his ‘brother’ and former President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and his wife, Dame Patience. Like in other parts of the Niger Delta, the ‘rebellion,’ spearheaded by Amaechi, which helped to truncate Jonathan’s second tenure bid, did not go down well with some chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stock. They demonstrated their anger by ensuring that he (Amaechi), was forced out of the then ruling party.
The political crises in Rivers State lingered for a very long time, such that its escalation adversely affected the Judiciary even as the gladiators were enmeshed in supremacy war. For instance, the Courts and Rivers State House of Assembly gates were locked for over one year. The aftermath of the political intolerance in Rivers had been rising tension, insecurity, political killings, high rate of unemployment, lack of development, compared to the resource the state is endowed with, among others.
Politically-motivated killings in the state, which are sometimes, tagged, cult killings, have continued unabated, such that some journalists and writers now prefer to describe the state, as “Rivers of blood”.
When the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) blew the whistle for political campaigns in 2105, political thugs and ex-militants were let loose. They brought out their sophisticated arms and ammunition from their armoury, and went on killing and maiming spree. It is therefore, not an understatement that Rivers State is one of the states that recorded the highest politically-motivated killings and electoral fraud in the 2015 general elections.
But when the Supreme Court, presided over by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, on Wednesday, January 27, 2016, upheld the election of Governor Nyesom Ezebunwo Wike, many people in the state heaved a sigh of relief, while the political temperature of the state returned to normal. Some, especially non-indigenes, who planned to escape from the state, in the event of the governor losing at the Supreme Court, discarded the thought as soon as the ruling was in his favour . It was not for fun that they planned to leave the state, perhaps, to return after the anticipated governorship rerun. In their thinking, and rightly too, political violence and killings would have tripled, had Wike lost at the Supreme court and a rerun ordered by the court .
Even the governor admitted this, during a thanksgiving service in Port Harcourt, to celebrate his Supreme Court victory .There, he told the congregation how he called a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Austin Oparah, and the Deputy National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, on phone and told them that he was not ready for a re-run , should the Supreme Court nullify his election. According to him, the state would have witnessed the worst political crises that would have resulted in shedding of innocent blood. Like former President Jonathan, his personal political ambition does not worth the blood of residents of the State.
After the affirmation of his victory by the Supreme Court, excited and fear-stricken residents began to give thanks to God for not allowing a governorship rerun in the state.
They went a step further, to appeal to the governorship candidate of the APC, Dr Dakuku Peterside, to grab the olive branch extended to him by the governor, that he should work with him, in the interest of the state, having earlier congratulated Governor Wike on his Supreme Court victory, and promised to work with him, in order to move the state forward.
However, the ‘peace accord’ broke down on the thanksgiving day, when the governor advised Peterside not to consider himself a ‘political orphan’, but offered to be his father. “Come, I am your father, you are not an orphan, you can’t have me and say you are an orphan, I am your father,” Governor Wike told the congregation, amid deafening ovation.
Recent political developments in the state have shown that the politicians are not prepared to sheath their swords, and work together in the interest of the state. People are being killed and their heads cut off, husbands, wives and children are being sent to their early graves. Both APC and PDP members are being killed and tagged cultists, hate campaigns/verbal attacks are still the order of the day . In fact, undemocratic practices and activities many people thought belong to the past, still prevail in the state.
Until recently, following the loss of the governorship seat by APC, PDP dominated the political space in the state, using the “Supreme Court Victory thanksgiving” as platform to campaign and canvass for votes. Members of the APC, who were dazed by the Supreme Court judgment and were yet to recover from the shock, appeared discouraged. Their situation got worse, when the man (Amaechi), whom they look up to as their political leader, ‘failed’ to visit the state after the Supreme Court judgment. To say the least, APC members in the state were like political orphans or sheep without shepherd. But Amaechi took the state, including PDP members by surprise, when he stormed the capital city, and during his appearances on radio programmes, responded to the governor’s criticisms of him and his party, as well as used the platform to campaign for the candidates of APC, who perhaps, lacked the finance to do so. Expectedly, his action opened the old wound, as the two political foes went back to the trenches, hauling verbal missiles at each other, promoting hate campaigns and mud-slinging.
Addressing his supporters recently at Elele, in Ikwerre Local Government Area, Governor Wike allegedly instructed them to beat up the minister, if he tried to visit polling booths in the local government area. “Let him move about and see what the governor will do to him. Amaechi doesn’t know he is no longer the governor,” he fumed.
The tension, created by the actions of the minister and the governor, including the wanton killings, were said to have compelled the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, to send the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) in charge of Operations, Sotonye Wakama, to Rivers to use brotherly tone, being an indigene of the state and talk to the politicians.
At the stakeholders meeting, held at the Officers Mess, Port Harcourt, the visibly angry DIG didn’t mince words, as he threatened to deal decisively, with politicians, responsible for the lingering crises in Rivers State. Allegations and counter allegations by politicians did not move him an inch, as he looked straight into their faces and issued warnings, after warnings and later warned them not to visit him at the end of the meeting.
Amaechi and Wike have also been divided on, deployment of soldiers to the state for the rerun election. While the minister is favourably disposed to the deployment of soldiers to the state, the governor is not. In fact, the state government, last Thursday, secured an order of the court, restraining the military from deploying soldiers to the state during rerun election.
Sadly, however, like in 2015 general elections, where some security men lost their lives in the state, the rerun election has already recorded some casualties. Two soldiers including an Army Major were killed and others injured, in Abonnema area of the state. The soldiers were said to be on patrol in the area before they werte ambushed by gunmen.
Just yesterday, there was a heavy shootout in Egi community in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area (ONELGA) of Rivers State.
The shootout, which lasted for hours, was said to be between criminals and security operatives.
The 2 Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, has confirmed that unknown gunmen attacked a joint patrol team in Egi community in ONELGA, which claimed a soul.
Assistant Director of Army Public Relations, 2 Brigade, Port Harcourt, Captain Eli Lazarus, in a statement he issued yesterday, said the shootout lasted for several hours.
He said: “A joint security team consisting of the Army, Police and DSS, while conducting patrol today (Friday), at Egi in Omoku Community of Ogba/Ndoni/Egbema Local Government Area of Rivers State, were attacked by unknown gunmen.
“The criminals engaged the security team for several hours before they were eventually dislodged.
“Sadly, a security agent lost his life in the unfortunate incident. Reinforcement has been sent to beef up security in the area and normalcy has been restored.
The 2 Brigade has urged members of the public to remain calm and be law abiding throughout the “election period and beyond, as security agents will continue to work assiduously to ensure security of lives and property”.