Since the emergence of the All Progressives Congress in July 2013 and the defection 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 ex-president Goodluck Jonathan was practically run out the Peoples Democratic Party. He was constantly antagonised by his former Chief of Staff, Chief Nyesom Wike, who was then the Minister of State for Education but now the Rivers Governor. At some point under the former governor, now Minister of Transportation, 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 crises in Rivers judiciary. It will also be recalled that Amaechi had a running battle with the Rivers State Police Command 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 the APC, Rivers State used to be a de facto one party state though a de jure multi-party entity. The PDP ticket was the most fiercely contested for because whoever got it during the party primaries was almost assured of winning at the general elections. Before its current political crisis, the oil rich state had 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 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 our recommendations that all these cults should be proscribed.” 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 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 elections. Among the horrific killings before last year’s elections was the case of a former Chairman of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Council, Chief Christopher Adube, who was assassinated in his Obrikom home 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 elections held in Rivers State were so violent and a complete electoral heist that the judicial review of the process won the state a trophy for electoral infamy. The election petitions tribunals had to order re-runs 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 LGAs 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 elections, uneasy calm has enveloped the state. According to news reports, 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 the 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 Area, Ofinijite Amachree, aka KpomKpom, was killed and burnt, after clashes between the APC and the 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, Monday Eleanya, from the community was shot dead in Port Harcourt on February 11.
All these murders were a show of desperation by the political class in the state who are locked in a supremacy battle over who controls the levers of power in the oil producing state. The main culprits are the chieftains of the PDP and the APC within the state. While the PDP is trying to consolidate its hold on power, the APC is trying to wrest power in order to maintain some measure of relevance in the state as well as the South-South Zone. It is noteworthy that out of the six states in the geopolitical zone, only Edo State is being controlled by the APC. The party therefore wants to make an inroad into the state.
The oil resource of the state is also a major attraction. Rivers is one of the states with the highest oil revenue. The APC having lost the Bayelsa governorship election in January will like to reverse its electoral misfortunes in Rivers State. Truth be told, it will be an uphill task for the APC, though not insurmountable. The simple reason being that, the Rivers people may not have forgiven the 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-ordered re-runs, the security agencies need to be on top of their game. They need to be proactive by doing more of intelligence gathering, mop up operations and prevention of a 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 elections will stand integrity test to avoid another round of annulments at the tribunals in due course.
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