Buhari and the Death Horsemen of Rivers State.
style="text-align:justify">Outside the north east that is ravage by Boko Haram, Rivers State remains one of the most dangerous places to be in the country. Reports of killings and kidnappings are on a weekly basis. For those who know a little about the history of the state the current situation is a grim reminder of what things used to before Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi took over control of the state in 2007. Corporate life broke down as companies fled the state in droves. Social life disappeared as people retreated into the limited safety of their homes just before dusk. People walked on the streets in day time with white handkerchiefs and sometimes would raise their hands up as they crossed cultists and militants territories just to indicate their neutrality.
Four years into Amaechi's administration, the situation was substantially brought under control. A security outfit, C4i made up of Israeli trained Nigerian policemen worked closely with other security agencies to make Rivers state safe again.
River State has a long history of violence. What started as pockets of unrests in the 90s during the military era took on a life of its own at the beginning of the civilian government in 1999 when cultism became a conspicuous feature of university communities in the country.
By year 2000, the level of cultism had become alarming in the higher institutions in Rivers state as well as other parts of the country. However, cultist activities were mainly restricted to campuses. Following the return to democracy, politicians and conflict entrepreneurs started shopping for ‘tough boys’ who would assist them to get elected into various political offices. The self-styled ‘tough boys,’ in turn, engaged “street boys” who did their dirty work at the community level.
During the 2003 elections, cultism spilled into the streets of Rivers and became a mainstream feature of the political process. According to several civil societies’ reports, dodgy politicians recruited cultists, armed them and unleashed them on their opponents. Before long, cultists started street wars that endangered the lives of ordinary citizens and made the state extremely volatile. There were widely reported cases of thuggery, territorial wars, kidnapping, armed robbery, killings, drug peddling and oil bunkering. The cultists later merged with communal thugs to form local militias. These militias moved on to other vices after they had been ‘used and dumped’ by politicians. Between 2003 and 2007, the militias morphed into militant groups supposedly fighting for resources control on behalf of the Niger Delta region. Top among the militant groups were Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), led by Asari Dukobo, Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV), led by Ateke Tom and Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, MEND led by Henry Okah. The lure of easy money through kidnappings, bank robbery, oil bunkering facilitated the mushrooming of these militant groups in dozens of camps flung across the creeks of the Niger Delta.
These militant groups deployed propaganda in the local and international press to create a global profile for themselves and became notorious in blowing up oil pipelines and infrastructure. This development cost the country a lot in terms of oil revenue as export of crude oil from Nigeria plummeted precipitously. The Olusegun Obasanjo administration attempted to use force to crush the militants but this only drove them into more brazen acts of economic sabotage.
When Alhaji Musa Yar’Adua became President in 2007, an amnesty programme was proposed and accepted. Many militants came out of the creeks, gave up their arms and participated in the programme.
Thus, between 2007 and 2012, the activities of militants and cultists dropped principally due to the Federal Government’s amnesty programme and Governor Amaechi’s efforts at reworking the security apparatus in the state through a massive investment in surveillance and enforcement equipment.
However, when Governor Amaechi started having problems within the PDP and with the Presidency, the Federal Government controlled Police Force became uncooperative with the Rivers state government. The specially trained policemen who were supposed to remain in the state for an agreed period of time were suddenly transferred to other states. Commissioner of Police, Joseph Mbu, widely considered controversial, was deployed to the state. Instead of fighting crime, he turned his skills into fighting a verbal and street war with Governor Amaechi and consequently destabilized the security situation in the state. The militants and cultists whose activities had been severely limited by the state government’s tough stand on crime saw an opportunity to go back to their old ways once again, leading to a comeback and surge in kidnapping, extortion and politically motivated attacks and killings.
The 2015 elections spiked the already volatile situation in Rivers. Between November 2014 and April 2015, an average of 19 citizens of Rivers state were killed every month. In all, at least 275 different violations involving killings, injuries to persons or destruction of properties were reported. Of the 275 violations, 97 were of persons killed, 93 of persons injured and 83 of properties destroyed. These crimes were committed in broad daylight. Some of those who committed them are well known in their various communities. A commission setup by the Amaechi administration had 236 people identified and 120 named.
At the Rivers Black Day event held on November 30, surviving victims and relations of victims cried out to President Muhammadu demanding justice. The President is not unaware of what happened in Rivers state. In one of his visits to the state, some people who were on their way to welcome him were attacked. He visited some of them in a local hospital and promised to take action against who killed and maimed under the guise of politics. Rivers people are anxiously waiting for Mr President to keep his promise not just in that state but across the country. Our book on the elections, “Bloody March to Power” will be in a bookshop near you shortly.