By Constance Meju
PANDEF spokesperson Ken Robinson, Niger Delta Dialogue co-ordinator, Judith Asunni
The high level of violence in Rivers State has been traced to the nature of politics in the country and the struggle for oil by oil thieves and it is putting citizens of the state at risk.
This was part of revelations by a research on Rivers State commissioned by the Niger Delta Dialogue, NDD, a non-governmental body dedicated to promoting development in the Niger Delta, on the security situation in the six Niger Delta States of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta and Edo states. The research was provided by the European Union.
The report stated: “The problem of insecurity is a consequence of the interplay of a web of political, economic, social, and cultural conditions and processes which generate and sustain violent conflicts in the state. These conflicts may be on a small or large scale; they may occur within and among groups, communities or organizations; and may be triggered by ethnic, political or economic differences, or arise from differences in values, beliefs and attitudes regarding issues. Insecurity in Rivers State has manifested in diverse forms such as political violence, sea piracy, oil theft and artisanal refining, cultism and related crimes of kidnapping, armed robbery, arms and drug trafficking, as well as armed inter/intra community conflicts arising from chieftaincy tussles and competition for environmental resources’’.
Rivers State NDLEA (2nd right) Ogbungbada, Dr. Uche Mike Chukwuma, Rivers State Neighbourhood Watch
“Increasing political competition in the state and the criminalization of the Niger Delta struggle by militia capitalists created a violent economy where cultists, militants, criminal gangs thrive and perpetuate acts of criminality as well as state-sponsored violence for selfish economic and political gains…’’
According to the report, things are getting worse rather than improving because of lack of political will by those in authority to effectively tackle violence and as a result, communities are no longer safe with cultists having a leeway there.
It called for the enforcement of the Rivers State Anti-Cult and Related Law of 2004 to curb cultism and related offences, warning that there should be no sacred cow in the process.
According to the report, “The trend in the spate of armed political violence in the state as witnessed in the 2015 and 2019 general elections has earned the state an unenviable ‘Rivers of Blood’ tag in Nigeria’s public opinion space”, and thus, “a psycho-cultural reorientation, of the outlook of the state’s political class in particular is inevitable”.
Calling for reappraisal of the thinking in the country, the study called for a halt to the offering of incentives to criminals.
“The implication here is that we need to rehabilitate politics in Rivers State and Nigeria as a moral force for social change and social justice. In addition, the political class must demonstrate the political will to curb the menace of insecurity in the state by dismantling the economy of violence through a genuine effort at discontinuing all forms of rewards and incentives for violence and criminal actors while utilizing the instrumentality of the state to enforce strict sanctions and punishments on criminals, militants and cultists.
It called for a new approach to politics.
“Some of the sponsors of cult and electoral violence have been identified by state security agents yet, government has not deemed it necessary to bring them to book by charging them to court in accordance with the state’s Anti-Cult Law and other related statutory laws. There should be no sacred cows in the task of curbing armed violence in Rivers State. Hence, the government and security operatives must strive to be firm at all times and ensure that those found culpable are made to face the law”.
For the 2023 general elections, the report called on government to help shift election campaigns from the current disruptive role to a strengthening role by ensuring political parties develop and enforce an electoral code of conduct for party officials and candidates, especially in respect of electioneering campaigns.
While recommending increased sensitization on citizen rights and obligations in elections to engender public commitment and protection of the electoral process by both government and civil society, it advocated for electronic voting to quell rigging and the attendant violence during political elections.
The presentation of the report by Dr. Kialee Nyayiana and Ken Henshaw, was validated by stakeholders representing the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, the traditional leadership, women and youth. The occasion was chaired by Eze Gbaka Gbaka Oro Evo, 111, HRM Eze Leslie Eke who represented HRM King Dandeson Jaja, King of Opobo kingdom.