Friday, March 18, 2016

March 19 re-runs and battle for supremacy in Rivers

Since the emergence of All Progressives Congress in July 2013 and the decampment of former Governor Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi to the party with many of his commissioners and members of the state house of assembly in 2014, the political landscape in Rivers State has dramatically changed. Amaechi who hitherto had been having a running battle with the ex-president Goodluck Jonathan’s presidency was practically ran out the Peoples Democratic Party. He was constantly being antagonised by his former Chief of Staff, Chief Nyesom Wike who was then the Minister of State for Education now the Governor of the State. At some point under the former governor, now Minister of Transport, all the three arms of government were in crises.

The state House of Assembly had to be shut down after the emergence of two factions in the assembly with both claiming leadership. Also, Amaechi’s appointment of the President of the Customary Court of Appeal, Justice Peter Agumagu as the Chief Judge of Rivers State pitched him against the National Judicial Council who opted for Justice Daisy Okocha for the position. Eventually the judicial arm, just like the legislative arm of the state was shut down. In fact, the incumbent governor was sworn in by the Chief Judge of Bayelsa State, Justice Kate Abiri on May 29, 2015 because of the protracted crisis in Rivers judiciary. It will also be recalled that the former governor had a running battle with the Rivers State police particularly under the leadership of Mbu Joseph Mbu as the Commissioner of Police in the state.

It needs be understood that prior to the emergence of APC, Rivers State used to be a de facto one party state though a de jure multi party entity. The PDP ticket is the most fiercely contested for because whoever got it during the party primaries is almost assured of winning at the general elections. Before its current political crisis, the oil rich state has a long history of militancy and cultism. Before the Federal Government amnesty programme of 2009, a lot of kidnappings for ransom, oil vandalism, illegal bunkering and allied economic crimes were the order of the day.

According to former Justice Kayode Esho’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission while submitting its report to former governor Rotimi Amaechi on March 11, 2009, “Rivers State is saturated with cults and cultism. The Government itself acknowledged the existence of 100 cults, we listed additional 16 cults, and it is one of or recommendations that all these cults should be proscribed”, said Esho, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria while presenting a 572 page report of the Commission to the Rivers State Governor.  It is an open secret that these cult groups were never disbanded largely because they were creation of the River State political elite who arm them to deal with their political enemies.

The proliferation of cult groups as well as arms and ammunition are what has made the state volatile for some time now.  These armed bandits became useful ahead of the 2015 General Elections where politicians across the political divides in the state used them to unleash terror on the state. It was alleged that no fewer than 100 persons were killed in election related violence ahead of the last general elections. Among the horrific killings before last year’s elections was the case of a former Chairman of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Council of Rivers state, Chief Christopher Adube, who was assassinated in his Obrikom home in the LGA on April 3, 2015. He was murdered along with three of his biological children: Lucky, Joy and John, as well as a family friend, Mr. Iyke Ogarabe, and his driver, Samuel Chukwunonye.

The 2015 General Elections held in Rivers State was so violent and a complete electoral heist that the judicial review of the process won the state a trophy for electoral infamy. The election petition tribunals had to order re-run of the entire three Senatorial districts, 12 Federal Constituencies and 22 State House of Assembly elections. The governor was only saved by the Supreme Court after the tribunal and court of appeal had nullified his election. According to the Independent National Electoral Commission, the Rivers state re-run elections will hold in 22 out of the 23 Local Government Areas and in a total of 4,442 Polling Units across the state with a total of 2,538,535 registered voters. INEC is deploying a total of 26,402 poll workers to conduct the elections.

Ahead of the next Saturday’s re-run election, uneasy calm envelope the state. According to news report, no fewer than 32 persons had been murdered in the state ahead of the coming elections. In Omoku on February 12 this year, no fewer than 24 APC members were allegedly killed. Most gruesome was the March 5 murder of APC Ward Chairman, Franklin Obi who was beheaded. He was murdered alongside his wife and 18-year-old son, Bestman, at his residence on Rutachi Street, Omoku. On March 7, in Buguma, Asari-Toru Local Government of Rivers State, Ofinijite Amachree, aka Kpom Kpom, was killed and burnt, after clashes between APC and PDP supporters. In the same town, Godstime Ifuroiyala was shot dead and his remains set ablaze. A former lawmaker in the fifth House of Assembly and member of the APC, Hon Monday Eleanya from the community was shot dead in Port Harcourt on February 11.

All these murders were show of desperation by political class in Rivers State who are locked in supremacy battle over who controls the levers of power in the oil producing state. The main culprits are the chieftains of PDP and APC within the state. While PDP is trying to consolidate its hold on power, APC is trying to wrestle power in order to maintain some measure of relevance in the state as well as the South-South region. It is noteworthy that out of the six states in the region, only Edo State is being controlled by the APC. The party therefore wants to make inroad into the state. The oil resource of the state is also a major attraction. Rivers is one of the states with highest oil revenue. APC having lost the Bayelsa gubernatorial election in January this year would like to reverse its electoral misfortunes in Rivers State. Truth be told, it will be an uphill task for APC, though not insurmountable. The simple reason being that, the Rivers people may not have forgiven APC for dislodging their son-in-law, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan from the presidential seat last year. 

As Rivers people file out next Saturday for the court re-runs, the security agencies need to be on top of their game. They need to be pro-active by doing more of intelligence gathering, mop up operations and prevention of breakdown of law and order before, during and after the polls. Those murderers already apprehended must be duly prosecuted in the courts. INEC must also be very impartial and ensure that next Saturday’s election will stand integrity test to avoid another round of annulments at the tribunals in due course.

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