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RIVERS: Violence, Fear As State Decides



Rotimi Amaechi

RIVERS State experienced a political tremor occasioned by the defection of the Deputy Governor, Tele Ikuru, from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) barely six days to the presidential and National Assembly elections.

Ikuru, who alleged that he was deceived to join the APC, which he described a “party of rebels, insurgents and anarchists, who are clothed in robes of pretense and deceit”, pledged his loyalty to President Jonathan and his initial party, the PDP, which he reluctantly joined in December 2013.

Electoral violence is gradually reaching an alarming proportion in Rivers State, as disturbances ranging from arson, maiming and killings are now committed at will. Hardly does a day pass by, without records of at least five deaths resulting from political violence alone. Hotbeds of these orgies are, Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Council, Khana, Gokana, Obio/Akpor, Port Harcourt, Abuloma, Amadi-Ama, Borokiri, Wimpey (Rumuepirikom), Iwofe (Rumuolumeni) and Rumueme.

On Tuesday, unknown gunmen in military gear attacked the residence of the Rivers State Commissioner of Power, Augustine Wokocha, killed his cousin and burnt down the house of his personal assistant.

The gunmen stormed the residence of the commissioner at Okposi in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government area, riddling the building with bullets. An aide to the commissioner, who was identified as Samson, was shot dead during the attack. The commissioner was in Port Harcourt when the gunmen stormed his country home.

Wokocha’s relation, who pleaded anonymity, told The Guardian that the attack was politically motivated, and aimed at scaring the commissioner from returning home to mobilise his supporters for the elections.

The gunmen also went to Omoku, a neighbouring community and attacked the residence of the special adviser on chieftaincy affairs to the Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government area chairman.

Just last Friday, the convoy of the state governor, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, was attacked at Rumuolumeni, and an officer of the state’s traffic management authority (TIMARIV) was also shot dead at Wimpey Junction, Port Harcourt.

This is one out of the many violent incidents in the state, prior the national elections, and to avoid being victims, residents have begun to stay indoor, while some others have travelled back to their villages.

A visit to some public functions and hospitals in the city on Friday revealed a very poor turn out. At the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, most of the units like the antenatal and immunisation departments that usually experience huge crowd did not have up to 15 patients.

Speaking on the development, a matron at the clinic described it as unusual, stressing that people are afraid to come out for fear of being hit by stray bullets. Parties and weekly activities in most churches in the state capital equally recorded poor turnout during the week, as people were skeptical of going out. Consequently, several security awareness programmes were held to educate citizens on responsible political conducts.

Facilitated by the Real Strikers Security Service Limited (RSSSL), the programme was geared towards a safe society and the survival of democracy in the country. At the event, participants were urged to speak with one voice against political violence.

The Managing Director of RSSSL, Dr. Joseph Ameh, said: “It is possible for Nigerians to have a general election and transition of government free from violence and bloodletting.”

He said that the seminar, which has as theme, There is life after Election. It is your life, save it for another election, was targeted at achieving a zero election-related violence this year and beyond.

Similarly, the Nigerian Security Civil Corps in the state said it is ready to ensure total peace and security through out the election period and beyond.

The state’s director of the corps, Helen Amaku, said that for the country to remain one after the elections, there is need to ensure maximum security, adding that her staff have been deployed to all the polling units across the state.

Also, the Nigerian Navy, on Monday, kicked off a series of proficiency drills on waterways. The Commander NNS Pathfinder, Port Harcourt, Commodore Godwin Ochai, said, the exercise was in-line with its bid to providing maritime security for election officials, materials and the people to ensure the elections are conducted peacefully in Riverine communities.

Meanwhile, the National Orientation Agency (NOA) in the state has urged residents to do the right thing to avoid falling into troubles. The state director, Mr. Oliver Wolugbom, said, security is everybody’s business, adding that everybody needs to work towards ensuring a peaceful environment.

As part of its readiness for the polls, the Nigerian Navy on Monday kicked off a series of proficiency drills on waterways.

The INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mrs. Gesila Khan, said a total of 2,491,341, voter cards were received by the commission, which has distributed 2,156,371, while a balance of 300,313 cards were yet to be collected before expiration of the deadline.

Khan, while explaining the preparedness of the commission for the presidential and National Assembly elections, said the commission received 6,818 card readers and each one would be deployed to the 5,838 polling units and voting points in the state.

In order to ensure early arrival of electoral materials on the election dates, Khan said the commission devised a means of reducing, to the barest, incidence of late arrival of personnel and materials to polling units. This is through the creation of registration centres from where officials would proceed to their various polling units. This, she pointed out, would ensure timely arrival of officials and materials before 8am. According to her, a total of 76 registration centres were created to easy logistics on election day.

She explained that the commission is conscious of security in conducting effective, free, fair and credible elections; hence, the formation of an inter-agency consultative committee on election security. The body is made up of all military and para-military agencies in the state, including the commission. According to her, about 12,228 security personnel would be required for the general elections in the state.

In a bid to boost security, the Commander NNS Pathfinder, Port Harcourt, organized a drill to provide maritime security during the elections.

Commodore Godwin Ochai, speaking during the drill at Onne, explained that the exercise was aimed at showcasing the Navy’s preparedness for the elections, particularly on movement of electoral materials to riverine communities of the state and ensuring the security of life and property in the areas.

“This operation is a confidence building exercise that seeks to instill confidence in sea farers and the electorate, so as to be able to exercise their rights along the waterways. Additionally, this drill is a demonstration of our readiness to assist the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with security on our waterways and creeks during the elections. Our gun boats and personnel are strategically positioned at different parts of the waterways and creeks for rapid response, when called upon,” Ochai said.

The Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Dan Bature, said the police envisaged there would be violence during the polls and was prepared to ensure enforcement of the law. To this end, policemen were deployed to the three senatorial districts of the state to provide security during the election. They also raided some areas considered to be criminal hideouts, like Eleme, were some traders of northern extraction were arrested.

The chairman of Yam Dealers’ Association in Eleme Local Government Area, Abdullahi Awaje, said a combined team of police, army, air force and civil defense personnel rounded up their members and whisked them away.

Awaje said: “We saw some buses loaded with security men. They came and ordered us to kneel down. They asked us why we are still in Rivers. We said we live here. We don’t want to go back to the North because it’s time to vote. We want to cast our votes here because we registered in Rivers.”

The chairman of Eleme Local Government Area, Orji Ngofa, said he was shocked at the development, describing the directive to northerners in Eleme to vacate Rivers State during the election period as preposterous.

“First and foremost, these people are Nigerians, and they have a constitutional right to do business and reside anywhere and vote where they registered. We don’t think it’s right for them to be forced to go home,” he said.

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