By Ken Meju
Aworkshop on prevention of mass atrocities was organized by Kebetkache Women Development and ResourceCenter with funding from OSIWA for at Sparklyn Hotel, Port Harcourt on April 5,2019. Objective was to address general increasing insecurity challenges and tofashion out how to make Rivers State habitable, particularly, in the face of prevalentmass atrocities as witnessed largely, in all parts of the state.
Deliveringan overview on mass atrocities, Kingsley Ozegbe, one of the resource personsdefined it as a deliberate attack on civilians. “It is a mass violence thatconcerns everyone”, Mrs. Dumka David, a lawyer added. Mass atrocities manifestin genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is the use of physicalforce to abuse, damage, destroy or inflict violence which can be self,interpersonal or collective.
Itwas described as an act of behavior that is extremely cruel and wicked, awidespread targeted attack which must be stopped to prevent further loss ordehumanization of society members.
RiversState has witnessed a wide range of mass atrocities committed by bothgovernment security agents and cult groups warranting the special attention.
Causesof this heightened abuse against humanity was traced to power dispute, fightfor political succession, chieftaincy struggles, which often lead to mayhem,ideological difference over superiority among cult groups, identity creation,noted injustice, marginalization, quest for political and oil and gas gains,greed and selfishness, manipulations and ignorance among the actors oroperatives, to mention but a few, that eventually culminates into the maimingof lives and mayhem on the masses sparked from the aforementioned
Themass atrocities are streamed and seen in the rape of democracy which impactmanifest s on dividends of democracy in such sectors as education, health andinfrastructure. Another attribute is a culture of fear from kidnappings,shooting and killings from a political perspectives and environmental crisisdue to exploration activities by the multinationals as witnessed in the variousbills of right evolved by the people to protect their land and selves as in theOgoni Bill of Rights, the Kaiama Declaration.
Thereis also the soot phenomenon characterized by the burning of boats and illegaloil drilling implements by the military, also an offshoot of environmentalcrises arising from failure of government to address the needs of the massiveyouth in the oil host communities who are majorly unemployed. Of interest isthe effect of appropriation and misappropriation of resources of state andrefusal by those in authority to honour accountability, considered a massatrocity against the people.
Thereis also the issue of vulnerability and abuse of human rights of citizensthrough trafficking of persons and children and associated rape as well as dragabuse with the nagging question of what are the sources, who are behind itand whattheir motives are. There is also the issue of cultism from drugs.
Finally,the proliferation of arms and light weapons that perpetuate mass violence insuch identified areas as Alu, Diobu, Rumuekini, Elekahia axis of Port Harcourt,Eleme, Ibaa, Emohua, Erema,Omoku, Abua, Gokana,Khana, to mention but a few.
Accordingto Inyingi of the Women Security and Protection Network, “Mass violence isspreading from the villages to the towns” and should be nipped in the bud whilea representative from the Ministry of Justice, Julie noted that there is abreakdown in the justice system .
Aquestion that arose was if there is existence in the state a legal frameworkfor dealing with mass atrocity. That question was addressed by Dumka David whohighlighted existing laws to tackle the atrocity menace. She listed RHODA2000,the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Law,VAPP, Child Right Act toprotect children as well as acts being pushed to be made law like theintroduction of the Family Court.
Dumka stressed the need for early prevention and enlightenment measures as well as attitudinal orientation to prevent the prevailing decadent state of mass atrocities. These she suggested should be done through responding and raising issues of atrocities before relevant authorities to de-emphasize the present culture of silence.
TheRivers State government she added, should develop policies that will tackleugly situations as she called for a strongly intensified awareness programmewhile institutionalized framework like the Nigerian Civil Defense and Security Commission, NCDSC, the Police,NDLEA, Rivers State Neighbourhood Agency, NAPTIP, Social Welfare Department,National Orientation Agency, NOA, Ministry of Women Affairs, Judiciary and health institutions giving family reportsshould synergize with NGOs and CBOs while paralegal empowerment should beenabled.
Alsospeaking on the way out of the menace, Young Ayotamuno said there is need tomove from mitigation to upstream mass sensitization and civic education fromthe primary schools, secondary through to universities for a period of at least13 years, to prevent further loss.
Inaddition, he said there should be networking, sharing of information andresources as well as the building of partnership with NGOs.
Ayotamunochallenged CSOs to think globally and act locally. “Create identity amongsocial organizations like Daughters of Charity who built their identityaddressing a particular need.”.
Massprotests noting role of women during the just held general elections was alsosuggested as a stemming tool.
Inyingistated, “Women face systematic atrocities so should put themselves together,develop an action plan, collect data to help develop interventions”. She called for gender justice reform.
NAWOJchairperson in Rivers State Dr Lilian Ogabu-Okonkwo said the media can helpprevent mass atrocities by educating, informing and creating awareness, byproviding advocacy, agenda setting and drawing needed attention to the menace.She urged all to partner with the media for positive result.
#GenderAccountability and Transparency Project (GAP)
ConstanceMeju is publisher of Port Harcourt based National Point Newspaper and Genderand Human Rights Justice advocate