With the rise of kidnapping, criminal activities and other insecurity challenges in Rivers State and with my many years in Rivers State, particularly during the golden era of Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, I intend in this write-up, to examine the causes of the recent rise in insecurity in the state under the watch of Chief Nyesom Wike vis-a-vis the revolutionary steps taken by Amaechi to arrest some of these challenges. I’ll then proffer suggestions on the way forward.
The human resources unit of New York-based Marsh & McLennan Cos had ranked Port Harcourt with Baghdad, Yemen’s capital of Sana’a and Khartoum in Sudan, as the world’s most dangerous cities. Going by the ranking published by Bloomberg, Port Harcourt ranked with Baghdad as one of the world’s most dangerous cities for foreign workers, as criminal gangs and militia groups seeking greater control of energy revenue step-up attacks.
Ahamefula Ogbu of THISDAY Newspaper described one of the scenes in the state at this period in these words: “Rambo could not have done better. With automatic rifles in their hands – and hate, revenge and murder hanging around their necks – warring cultists took Port Harcourt, Rivers State, by storm yesterday for the second day running. Pandemonium broke out as residents ran for safety. It was sorrow, tears and blood. At the end of it all – or, more aptly, at the interval, for no one knows the end yet – 15 persons had been dispatched to their early graves.” True to this unsung prophet, nobody knew the end as the next few days saw about 80 innocent souls wasted by an agitation uncommon to our people in the Niger Delta.
My late friend and brother, Mr. George Onah, reporting for Vanguard, captured Port Harcourt before the assumption of office by Amaechi in these words: “For many residents, the capital of Rivers State, hitherto the Garden City where life was lived to the fullest, is no longer the place to live in, as rivers of blood flow ceaselessly, following an unending siege by militants, kidnappers, cultists, and criminals of other hue.
“Violence in Port Harcourt has gone full circle, and the guns are still booming. The casualties are pilling, even as blood of defenceless citizens flow endlessly. Neither the Police nor the government has answers to the brigandage. Security outfits do not have official figures, record or reliable estimates of casualties in the Rivers State orgy of killings. Even the number of deaths during the Nigerian Civil war had a consensus of informed opinion on the number of deaths, on both sides: which hovered around 600,000 and below. But the rapidity of casualties in the onslaught by gunmen on Rivers State cannot simply be pigeonholed. The currency of killings is alarming, and the growth of the economy of the state is heading for the deep. The pattern of the crime ranges from kidnapping of expatriates and children of wealthy parentage, to outright violent robbery. Cultism and political vices equally occupy a frightening position on the crime chart. The volatile atmosphere appears to have annulled whatever achievement of the Peace and Reconciliation Committee of the government.”
As if both Ogbu and late Onah did not capture the picture correctly, Okey Ndibe, a respected opinion writer on national issues, in his article during this period published by Sahara Reporterstitled ‘A Blood-Soaked City’, described it as follows: “That the once idyllic Port Harcourt was now a scarred place, a war zone, a city soaked in blood; the city under siege with thousands of citizens displaced; that its once quiescent boulevards and avenues were now ruled by marauding militiamen and by the fierce soldiers deployed to dislodge them. Sudden death by bullet was now a generalised hazard for the city’s trapped and hapless residents.”
Renaissance of Insecurity, Foundation and Forces
The foundation of the current insecurity in Rivers State was laid in 2013 and captured aptly in a letter by the former Speaker, Rivers State House of Assembly to the former President of Nigeria. I start to wonder if we are about to go back to the era of 2007. Hon Otelemaba Dan Amachree, in an open letter titled ‘Disruption of Democracy and Rule of Law: Anarchy Looms in River State,’ dated May 11, 2013 and addressed to former President Goodluck Jonathan reads: “The situation in Rivers State has reached a fever-pitch, as there are strong indications that the governor, Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the legislators, and prominent government officials have been marked for assassination. To this end, 18 prominent robbers and kidnap kingpins presently in custody are to be released from detention to launch the planned mayhem at the government officials and innocent citizens and residents of the state.”
The Speaker added: “Since 15th of April 2013 when an Abuja High Court upturned the election of a legitimate and duly-elected state executive committee of the Peoples Democratic Party led by Chief G.U. Ake, all has not been well in Rivers State. It is important to note that since this development, Rivers State is witnessing – with unending shock and awe – the creeping fashion of daylight illegality and disorder. As stakeholders in the Nigeria democratic project and legitimate representatives of our people, as well as strong collaborators in Your Excellency’s emergence as President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, we seek to use this medium to intimate you with the developments, their implications for Rivers State and Nigeria as a whole, and pray your presidential intervention.”
Six days after the letter to the president, the ex-speaker reported: “Recall that I have earlier expressed my fears about plans to withdraw security operatives from the governor and top officials of the Rivers State Government, including me, making us vulnerable to attack by hoodlums. Now my fears are made worse by the recent murder of an aide to Chief G. U. Ake, Mr. Eric Ezenekwe, in his home town, Erema in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State.”
A report by the online news site, Sahara Reporters, quoted a source in Abuja as saying that the police and State Security Services “have been told to withdraw the security of the governor, Mr Rotimi Amaechi anytime from next week.”
THISDAY, in its edition of May 15, 2013, reported that dynamite was thrown into a building housing the generating set that supplied electricity to the secretariat of Obio/Akpor Local Government Council in Rivers State, a development that ignited the fire which razed the building; sending jitters across the state, as the crisis rocking the state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party deepens. I got more frightened when I read the international dimension to this new effort to reincarnate the evil past. According to the petition by the Centre for Advancement of Justice and Peace in Emerging Democracies (ICJAPED) to the UN, through the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), to investigate alleged Rivers State security siege. According to their petition signed by its Co-ordinator for the African Region, Dr. Stephen Briggs, and Secretary-General, Chike Nwokobia, the group urged the UN:
“For emphasis, the past three weeks has portrayed Rivers State as being in a season of societal lunacy and political deadlock with very embarrassing actions meted on the Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Amaechi, members of the Rivers State House of Assembly, political office holders and other officials of government. These actions are considered highly repressive and against the tenets of a true democracy. As a major civil society group, we resolutely and explicitly condemn the repressive actions and characters behind the Rivers State situation, as we believe that the present political deadlock in the state is already having devastating effect on many things, including business and social order.
“Also, we strongly believe that unless this deadlock is broken, Rivers State may witness serious breakdown of law and order, with a high probability of being another centre for violent crimes, which may be worse than the present Boko Haram terrorist activities in some Northern states of Nigeria. The alleged altercation between President Goodluck Jonathan, the Commander-in-Chief and elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Governor Chibuike Amaechi, the governor of Rivers State, began late last year, following rumours that Governor Amaechi would be seeking a higher political position. This, even though regarded as mere speculation, did not go down well with (the) presidency. Because, ever since, the Rivers State governor has, no doubt, witnessed a series of embarrassing castigations from mostly those loyal or sycophantic to the presidency. Consequently, to the above stated, we also seek the immediate intervention of the international community to investigate the above stated issues and call to order all erring persons for the preservation of Nigerian people, sustenance of Nigeria’s democracy and restoration of order.” Former president, Dr Jonathan, ignored all these warnings and outcries.
Second Stage of Insecurity Was Laid During the 2015 Electoral Process
Insecurity in Rivers State since the electoral campaigns became very worrisome, disturbing and challenging that a study of this monster becomes imperative. To demonstrate the high level of insecurity in the state, both the USA envoy and the European Community have paid a visit to leading candidates of the political parties involved in this year’s elections; and at a time brokered peace and caused the major candidates of PDP, APC and Labour to sign a peace accord, in order for them to have a peaceful and credible election. But, sadly, this intervention did not yield any positive result as tension, occasioned by the election, persisted in the state; because of the untoward politics of leadership of one of the political parties.
To the Rivers State All Progressives Congress, “The greatest obstacle to democratic consolidation in Nigeria is electoral violence. Pre-election violence particularly, is as a result of the rascally disposition of some desperate and greedy politicians who want to secure electoral victory by subverting the process and undermining the rule of law. Whilst the tendency for violence by the Peoples Democratic Party is commonplace, the progressive degeneracy of the situation in Rivers State has assumed an intolerable and, indeed, dangerous dimension. Apart from the fact that this phenomenon affects the credibility of the electoral process, the legitimacy of the election results and the rule of law; the nature, extent and magnitude of violence indicate unequivocally that it is a deliberate tool for intimidation and terror adopted as a policy, and backed by security institutions who are paid from our commonwealth to protect our citizens.
“Whilst election is an irreducible feature of democratic governance, democracy is a social system of administering a nation-state where political parties’ candidates compete for elective positions in a free and fair election atmosphere. And in which the citizens are legally empowered to choose those who will run the affairs of the state in a given period. Elections are supposed to be competitive, free and fair; both substantively and procedurally. Despite the legal framework that guides the electoral process, the PDP has opted to thread the path of terror, as an instrument of divesting the people of their constitutionally guaranteed power to freely cast their votes for their preferred leaders.
“Electoral violence is any random or organised act that seeks to determine, delay or otherwise influence an electoral process through threat, verbal intimidation, hate speech, disinformation, physical assault, forced protection, destruction of property or assassination. The aim of electoral violence is either to influence the outcome of the process or to disrupt the entire electoral process.”
Rivers APC on Current State of Insecurity
The party, in a petition sent to President Muhammadu Buhari and the security agencies captured the threat and present insecurity in Rivers and the lukewarm attitude of Chief Nyesom Wike over this sad situation. The petition titled, ‘The Case of 97 Murdered Citizens in Rivers State: A Call for Justice and Protection of the Lives of our Tribunal Witnesses’, said as follows:
“The Greater Together (new media) Organisation hereby draws the attention of the President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Inspector General of Police, the international community and security agencies, as well as the general public, to our observations:
“We are deeply worried that despite the series of local and international condemnations that followed the violent-ridden elections in Rivers State held on 28th March and 11th April respectively, the security agencies, to the best of our knowledge, are yet to investigate, arrest or prosecute anyone in respect to the atrocities of murder and arson unleashed on innocent Nigerians, whose only offence was to belong to and support a political party of their choice, as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution.
“Prominently, you may recall that an APC chieftain from Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni LGA, Chief Christopher Adube, whose entire household, including himself, wife and four children were gruesomely murdered on same day, leaving no soul behind in the entire family. This incident occurred in Obirikom community on 3rd April 2015. Furthermore, on 17th of February, during the APC campaign rally at Okrika, cultists and armed gangs, acting on ‘orders from above’ attacked the large congregation of APC supporters, using dangerous weapons like dynamites, machine guns and machetes. In the ensuing attack, a police officer, Cpl. Ifeanyi Okorie, was killed. Also, Mr. Charles Eruka, a senior Channels’ news correspondent was badly stabbed, and scores of APC supporters sustained various degrees of injuries while fleeing from the attackers. Moreso, several individually-owned cars, party campaign vehicles and the entire gadgets used to decorate the venue were set ablaze at Okrika same day.
“Mr President himself was a witness to the horrible attacks unleashed on Rivers APC supporters, who were on their way to his presidential campaign flag-off on 7th of January 2015, in which six APC members from ward 6, Kaani community in Khana LGA were ambushed and brutalised by gunmen said to be loyal to the PDP. Moved by the gruesomeness of the incidence, President Buhari was compelled to cut short his campaign itinerary to visit the victims in the hospital.
“Find below list of some victims that were murdered and maimed during the elections, serial number, name, LGA, date, description:
1. Mr Donatus Ikechi Dimkpa Ipo (Ward10)
Omuanwa Ward 7,
Ozuoha Ward 11,
2. Mr Chimene Chima Wagu, murdered
3. Mr Sampson Chinnah, murdered
4. Precious Dimiari Pepple, Opobo/Nkoro, murdered
5. Chief Reuben Adube, Ogba/Egbema
Idu Community, Ogba/Egbema
Krigene in Usomini South, murdered in cold blood with his two sons and his daughter.
6. Mr Clever Orukwuowu, murdered
7. Chief Hon Godspower Ihiaidu, murdered along with several of his friends.
8. Mr Miebaka Opuogulaya, Okrika, murdered in his rented house, body not found till date
9. Mr Saturday Wakama, murdered in his car, body and car also not found till date.
10. Mr Nweke Anthony, Ward 3 Omuma, they were both shot.
11. Mr Cosmos Ukulor
12. Mr Saturday Kirine Tai, 28th March 2015
13. Mr Chigba Appolos Abarikpo, Ward 13,
14. Mr Rogers Konye, shot dead.
15. Mr Kara Sideh
16. Mr Kara Sideh, Gwara community Ward 15, was shot though he didn’t die, he is now an amputee
17. Mr Lekae Adoo Adoo was shot on the leg by suspected gun men from Bien Gwara community. The gang invaded the venue of APC ward 15 congress meeting in Gwara.
18. Mr Christopher Eneji, March 28, 2015, was shot by thugs allegedly sent by Sen. Olaka Nwogu on the day of the Presidential /National Assembly elections.
“After so much public uproar and condemnation, including an online petition signed by several members of the public the state, of the crimes highlighted above, the immediate past governor, Hon Amaechi, graciously yielded to the people’s cry for justice by constituting the Professor Chidi Odinkalu Commission of Inquiry into the heinous crimes committed before, during and after the elections.
“However, on assumption of office, Wike procured a court judgment barring the constituted Chidi Odinkalu Commission of Inquiry. This desperate bid by Chief Wike and the PDP denied the people justice. Nevertheless, the Odinkalu commission had earlier in its findings unraveled 97 cases of murder, 278 incidents of persons with bodily harms, 83 cases of total destruction of properties, etc. This was gathered from the recorded testimonies of about 43 witnesses with written petitions, indicting Wike and his associates. Months after his inauguration, Governor Wike has carried on as if nothing happened. His government has not made any effort at bringing the perpetrators of these horrid crimes to book, perhaps because of the alleged involvement of his core supporters. For instance, Hon. Martins Mana, who is now representing Ahoada East Constituency 1 in the State House of Assembly, was arrested by security agents with AK 47 rifle on 11th of April, as confirmed by the subpoenaed police officer who testified at the ongoing election petition tribunal sitting in Abuja.
“In the light of the above, we are very disturbed over the persistent threats to the lives of our witnesses. Photos of the APC witnesses were posted on Facebook by a group known as The Youth Coalition for Good Governance. They held a demonstration and tagged our witnesses with all sorts of unprintable names and accused them of being saboteurs. Today, these men live in hiding and can no longer do their businesses freely to maintain their families.”
“1. We call on Mr President, His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, to make good the promise which he made to Rivers people. On May 13th, President Buhari vowed to revisit this issue when he said: ‘We will confront them with facts and figures. We will not forgive and we will not forget those who perpetrated killings and arson in Rivers State during the elections’
2. We demand that the Prof Chidi Odinkalu Commission of Inquiry report be revisited urgently.
3. We call on the Inspector-General of Police and all security agencies to take up necessary preventive measures so as to guarantee the safety of the witnesses testifying at the various election petition tribunals.
“Finally, we urge Rivers people to remain strong and steadfast as efforts are being made to guarantee a safe and secured future for our people and generations unborn as was the case in the recent past.”
Strategies to Curb Insecurity before Recurrence of Violence
According to Noam Chomsky, “The US International and Security Policy has as its primary goal the preservation of what we might call ‘the Fifth Freedom’ understood crudely but with a fair degree of accuracy as: the freedom to rob, to exploit and to dominate; to undertake any course of action to ensure that existing privilege is protected and advanced.” It seems that Amaechi, on assumption of office, adopted this US security policy in tackling the menace of insecurity in the state, as he went out exploiting every means humanly possible to arrest this ugly trend. Apart from declaring war on all the militia groups in the state and refusing any form of dialogue or negotiations with them, he ensured that the security organs in the state were well-motivated and trained to tackle the menace of insecurity.
Expatiating on how Amaechi handled the security challenges of the state at this period, Rivers APC governorship flag-bearer, Peterside, a former commissioner of Works and then a member of the House of Representatives, stated in an article on insecurity in Nigeria: “When I had the privilege of serving in the government of Rivers State under the leadership of Governor Amaechi, I observed that he placed high premium on security, because he believed that security was the foundation upon which progress in every other facet of development depends. This is aside from government’s proactive disposition which drew substantially from intelligence gathering, surveillance and the fact that law enforcement agents could reasonably predict potential crime with near perfect accuracy.
“Another interesting aspect of the Rivers’ model is the deployment of technology. Without sounding immodest, I can confidently say that the state’s security network is driven by excellent modern technology. Rivers was the first state to acquire a mobile scanning van known as Back Scatter. Around Port Harcourt metropolis, there are Gantry scanners at strategic entry locations in Onne – Eleme Road, East-West Road, Choba Road, Oyigbo Road, Ikwerre Road, Aba Road and Mbiama Road, among others.”
Throwing more light on Peterside’s postulation, a security expert and CEO of MPD Security Systems, Engr David Meyer, noted: “The first step we took in Rivers State was to raise capacity among selected police personnel; over 200, through local and overseas training in Israel and other parts of the world on modern crime fighting techniques and intelligence gathering.” Working with modern gadgets and substantial logistics, including an Israeli-trained, concealed weapon-detecting dog. This crossbred police team had since been strategically placed at main outskirt check-posts witnessing mass movement in and out of Port Harcourt city. Others lead a number of metro patrol teams, responding to security emergencies around the town and environs. These are as far as the public can see.”
Beyond public view, as part of Rivers current long-term vision of security, Meyer pointed to underground application of ICT-aided security hardware and software, helping the police to sense and react to security situations with despatch. This network of technology, managed by experts from a hub which Meyer would not disclose its location for security reasons, employed the C4I urban surveillance cameras watching over the city, and active 24 hours of the day in Port Harcourt and environs.
The interactions between seen and unseen infrastructures, according to Meyer, accounted for the recent security operatives’ swift bursting of some of the failed organised crime operations, including an attempted raid of a bank in the Mile 4 area of the city last year. “These measures have been working well and, while the public may not know, it has led to several arrests; and we have gained convictions against suspects on account of the improved network,”he said.
Supporting the foregoing, Amaechi recalled: “We have done a lot about security. We are doing more. Before we came to office, kidnapping was a serious challenge. We have dealt with it substantially. We are finishing December 2012 without a single report of kidnapping or armed robbery. We have specially trained policemen handling security. Barring any unforeseen circumstance, any moment from now, the Rivers State Government’s security web would be two surveillance helicopters stronger, laying foundation for a standing air wing to give the state 24-hour security coverage.” He said the helicopters – costing $30 million (N4.5 billion) with surveillance cameras to fly all over the city of Port Harcourt and other parts of the state – would arrive at the end of December and commence operations in January 2013. He added that Rivers now has in place a technology reliable for tracking criminals and their hideouts. Sadly both former President Jonathan and Wike ensured that these helicopters never got to Port Harcourt but thanks to President Buhari who have authorized that these helicopters be released to the Rivers State Government few weeks on assumption of office.
The governor, who is a major proponent of state police, postulated:”If we have State Police, Rivers would be able to train its police the way it wants. It would not have suffered the loss of those 500 policemen it trained. Most states are spending a lot of money improving the police which are not under their control. States can use the same resources to fund their own police. Only those with something to hide are afraid of state police.”
In conclusion, let me quote the recent statement credited to Dr Peterside, while rejoicing over the release of the famous Vanguard Columnist Donu Kogbara, who recently spent about two weeks in the hands of kidnappers: “I strongly denounce the rising rate of insecurity and constant threat to life in our beloved state in recent times. Security is critical to development, therefore, kidnapping and all forms of threat to society’s peaceful existence must be tackled head-on. For me, the starting point is the economy. We must rebuild our economy so as to pave way for employment opportunities for every idle hand, not just in the Niger Delta but in every part of the country. As a people and government, the security and well-being of our people should be the barometer for measuring our success. It is only when we have sufficiently addressed the issue of safety that we can confidently say that we are truly on course. For that reason, those in authority, particularly security agencies, must redouble their efforts towards tackling crime and its perpetrators. This prevailing climate of fear in some parts of our country must cease.”
With the present administration of President Buhari authorising the release of the Rivers State two armoured surveillance helicopters purchased by the administration of Amaechi, which was frustrated by the former president, Dr. Jonathan, Wike and enemies of Rivers State, I am convinced that if put into proper use, the fight against illegal oil-bunkering, pipeline vandalisation, terrorism, kidnapping, and piracy in Rivers State will be enhanced. Finally, seeing that Wike’s administration lacks what it takes to tackle this menace, the need of easing his administration, seeing his input in the rise of insecurity in Rivers State, need not be over-emphasised.