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For violence-free polls in Rivers State ahead 2019

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The need for equity in political representation, participation, and national cohesion creates an opportunity for the electorate to make informed choices on those they wish to represent them in a democracy and carry on the mantle of leadership. This task, however, has taken various twists and turns with the coming of each election year, as reports of cases of violence during elections become rampant. The recent All Progressives Congress’ ward and state congresses are indications of political immaturity still prevalent in the country, where contests for offices result in blood and tears for some.

As preparations for the 2019 general elections in Nigeria take steam, feelings of panic, which are an accumulation of past experiences, sit still in the hearts of many Nigerians. Intractable electoral malpractices, gruesome killings and maiming, kidnapping and threat to life have become an inseparable part of elections in Nigeria. The South-South of Nigeria has acquired notoriety in terms of frequent cases of electoral violence over the years and Rivers State is chief among the states that bear the tag of theatre of election violence.

In the words of the first Baron Acton of Aldenham, renown English Catholic historian, politician, and philosopher, John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, “The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.” This mirrors the prevailing precarious social condition of the people of Rivers State, as recent developments in the state show.

In 2013, the Rivers State House of Assembly was in tumult, which saw lawmakers engage in physical combat on the floor of the house. The show of shame by the state lawmakers over party disagreement and power tussle in the state chapter of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led to injury of some legislators and supporters of both rival groups, as they took turns to settle their political differences with fisticuffs.

The ugly scenario created room for hate politics and animosity, which is now rooted in the hearts of party faithful, spanning many years. This has led to serious rivalry and counter-clashes between members of opposition parties. As such youth leaders and  supporters have been made to bear the brunt of these scuffles.

It was recently reported that the governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Wike, had, in an event in Buguma, the traditional headquarters of Kalabari Kingdom where the Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly, Otelemaba Dan Amachree, hails, urged his supporters to be ready to fight against those he described as outsiders in his party and equally put up opposition against members of the opposition party. Wike’s recent allegations that certain elements want to assassinate him are not helpful at all in dousing the volatile political situation in the state. Abuja must also be seen not to take undue sides with its party so as not to plunge the state into needless confusion and violence.

In a recent development, there was a reported case of a popular businessman and political enthusiast in Abulomma area of Port Harcourt City Local Government Area (PHALGA), Mr. Festus Alagoa, whose life was  threatened owning to his refusal to pitch tent with an opposition party. In his words: “I have lived among these people since I was a child and done business here for about two decades. I have become popular around here and also shown my interest in political participation, but my choice of which party to support is threatening to displace me. I think politics should not be a do-or-die affair. People should be allowed to freely support who they want.”

In a more recent development, intra-party rivalry within the All Progressives Congress (APC) became another nightmare for politicians and supporters alike in the state. The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, who doubles as the leader of the party in Rivers State, and Senator Magnus Abe, a governorship aspirant in the party, are feuding over political supremacy in the party. This has led to threats of suspension of party leaders who support senator Abe’s gubernatorial bid. The stance of the two gladiators within the same party will further drive the state chaos, as supports were yet to learn the art of civility as core political virtue.

Dame Patience Jonathan, Nigeria’s former First Lady and a daughter of Rivers State, noted that the poor and average people, including women and children, always bear the backwash of such political rivalry in the state. In a statement issued to the people of Rivers State, where she addressed party rivalry, which has been recurring in the state since 2013, she said: “This office wishes to call on all feuding parties in Rivers State to spare a thought for the social, political and economic costs of the crisis, and consider an urgent way to resolve all political differences. It is our position that the greater consequences of the impasse is, as usual, reserved for the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, especially women and children, who are usually innocent bystanders in all these. This derives naturally from the saying that when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.

“On a larger scale, we subscribe to the fact that conflicts and violence are the most lethal threats to peace, which itself is the irreducible minimum condition for development. The situation must therefore not be allowed to degenerate to a level that can be hijacked by miscreants and hoodlums, thus exposing everyone to insecurity from which there may be no easy escape. We therefore call on elders of the state to position themselves appropriately in the circumstances, and continue to seek the highest good of Rivers State and its people, by stone-walling the activities of the few who would rather fan little embers into a consuming inferno.”

In reaction to the ugliness of violence, Mr. Peter Negedu, a political analyst, observes, “The state of anarchy, oppression, victimisation and anomie is indeed here with us in Rivers State. This is just a dress rehearsal for 2015 general elections. The royal rumble continues with personal ambition superseding the will of the people. The outcome of setting a dry bush on fire can never be predicted.”

True to his observation, there were many reported cases of political killings in Rivers State before, during, and after the 2015 general elections. The legislative rerun elections of March 19 in the state revealed the tense nature of the political atmosphere in the state.

While preparations for the elections went on, reports of several people who got beheaded and buried alive in different parts of the state were given.

In 2016, at least 24 persons were feared dead in Omoku in one day and another 20 persons were killed in February of that year in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area. Akali Mohammed, a deputy superintendent of police, was also killed in 2016.

On the morning of New Year 2018, about 20 people were killed and another 12 injured on their way back from church services. The bloodbath was alleged to be linked to the 2019 gubernatorial elections in the state. The probable truth in the allegation has increased fear in the minds of Rivers State people.

While speaking to newsmen in Port Harcourt, the caretaker committee chairman of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area (ONELGA) of Rivers State noted that cult activities and violence sponsored by individuals continued to cripple the economy of the state. He, therefore, charged security operatives to investigate and arrest politicians and individuals who advocate violence.

All of these events and other accounts of violence culminate in what makes the state’s political terrain toxic for ordinary people, who are unduly exposed to manipulations of the political class, who are only looking interested in their ambition to occupy political offices irrespective of the cost to lives of those they claim they want to serve. What will be the point of such political service, when their actions lead to the decimation of those they wish to lead? This is where commonsense must prevail among the political actors for ordinary people of Rivers State can enjoy the dividends of democracy in peace, not in pieces of tears!

Nsude, a journalist and MA student of English at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, wrote in from Enugu.


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