Battle of political warlords in Rivers

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• Rerun elections of bloodbath in East Senatorial District 

By SUNDAY ODIBASHI

THE build up to the Saturday, March 19, rerun elections in Rivers East Senatorial District turned that part of Rivers State into a theatre of war and unmitigated bloodbath. The incidence was not unconnected with the frustration, desperation and inordinate ambition for power by the various political leaders in the state both in the All Progressives Congress (APC) led by Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led by Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike. The callous pogrom that dominated political activities in the state into Saturday’s elections was mostly traceable to obsession for vengeance and unrestrained animosity.

There were indications that the killings in Rivers State preceding the last Saturday rerun elections were symptomatic of attempts by local militias to resist the coercive forces of the Federal Government – the Army, the Police, including the Department of Security Service (DSS) – alleged to be providing safe environment for APC leaders to rig the elections into the state and federal legislatures, respectively.

The Rivers State political violence was a seeming continuation of the violence in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area in Bayelsa State during the governorship election. Militants’ leaders were divided along political parties’ sentiments.

Michael Jonny, a former aide to Government Tompolo, was said to be leading General Ogun Boss and other militants in Bayelsa working for APC; Tompolo was said to be leading others, including Boyloaf, Asari Dokubo, working for PDP. Both ‘battalions’ made Southern Ijaw Local Government Area their battle field. The uncontrolled exchange of gunfire on Election Day compelled INEC to cancel elections in the local government till later date.
The youths and the militants leaders had vowed to resist attempts to use the Army and Police to rig the election. They had admonished that the will of the people of the state must be allowed to determine who governs them.

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The unwillingness of President Muhammadu Buhari to play himself into the power struggle in the interest of the APC saved the mayhem in Bayelsa. APC leaders who were relying on the federal might could not get the reinforcement that would stimulate further violent actions. Accordingly, the governorship election was concluded in Bayelsa State and the PDP governorship candidate won. The APC governorship candidate in Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva, was said to have the support of Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State, Rotimi Amaechi, Chief Tony Momoh and others. Governor Seriake Dickson of the PDP was supported by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, Governor Wike and others.
After the Bayelsa encounter, emphasis shifted to Rivers State.

At the time the APC won the governorship petition at the tribunal and later at the Court of Appeal, which annulled the election and ordered rerun, there were reports of joint military/Police invasion of communities in three local government areas in Rivers State.

The insinuation was that the security operatives were purportedly mobilized by APC leaders in the state to intimidate the rural population. It has always been a tradition of the opposition to attribute whatever the Army or Police do in any political environment to the interest of the political party controlling the federal government.

Governor Wike, had in a statement through his Special Assistant on Electronic Media, Simeon Nwakaudu, on January 14, 2016, raised alarm that three local government areas in the state were under military siege. He was of the view that the attacks in the communities were coming ahead of the State and National Assembly rerun elections in Rivers. He had said that politically motivated attacks by soldiers and policemen took place in Gokana, Asari-Toru and Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government areas.

The governor alleged that one Major Mustapha participated in the various attacks. Wike had disclosed that Mustapha, who he accused of being a pro-APC military officer, was the Rivers State APC star witness during hearings at the election petition tribunal in Abuja.

“At Asari-Toru Local Government Area, on 6th January, 2016, Major Mustapha and his team of soldiers and mobile policemen invaded the residence of the Caretaker Council Chairman, Ambassador Soboma Jackrich, destroying his homes and valuables before killing about five youths. They also abducted 50 youths and women, who were taken to Port Harcourt,” he alleged.

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The governor had maintained: “The same scenario played out in Bua Yeghe in Gokana Local Government Area, where Major Mustapha and his illegal politically motivated squad attacked the home of Chief Solomon Ndigbara, a former Niger Delta agitator. They burnt his home before abducting his wife and 70 other youths. The Major Mustapha illegal squad also attacked the home of Chief Ndigbara in Port Harcourt, damaging the facility.”

“On 13th January, 2016, the soldiers and mobile policemen were at ONELGA where they unleashed mayhem on lives and property. The residents of the area are still counting their losses,” he had alleged further.

Wike was said to have purported that Mustapha and his team were always accompanied by APC thugs.

The militants’ leaders had warned against the continuous military assault in local communities, threatening to regroup in Rivers to protect the vulnerable communities.
Ironically, rather than engage in mass campaign to mobilize support of voters, arson and killings became the political norms for election victory.

About 32 persons were said to be killed last week whom APC leaders claimed were their members.

APC National Working Committee had declared, inter alia, that “APC members in Rivers State are fast becoming endangered species.” The NWC had compiled a list of 32 party members claimed to have been killed through different means which include those said to be beheaded, others clubbed to death and one man burnt alive; and had warned: “APC will no longer fold its arms and watch our party members and supporters murdered daily in cold blood.”

APC Acting National Chairman, Segun Oni, had in a statement narrated: “On Saturday night, March 5, 2016, masked gunmen first shot dead Franklin Obi, APC Ward Chairman in Omoku, Headquarters of Ogab/Egbema/Ndoni Council, and thereafter, beheaded him. The gunmen went ahead and killed his wife and 18-year-old son, Bestman.”

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“The APC National Working Committee, NWC, also received reports that four APC members were recently killed in Obibi, Etche Local Government Areas of Rivers State.

Gabriel Cookey was clubbed to death in Opobo, Opobo/Nkoro councils. In the last two weeks, over 30 APC members have been killed in different parts of the state. On Monday, March 7, 2016 Ofinjite Amachree, an APC stalwart in Buguma, Asari-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State was beaten up and thereafter, set ablaze in continuation of the latest string of politically- motivated killings targeted at APC members in Rivers State,” Oni had declared.

PDP, on the other divide, refuted being responsible for the killings; the party attributed killings to cult clashes. Rivers PDP State Publicity Secretary, Austin Tam George, was said to have accused APC of being guilty of “reckless and false allegations” just to destabilize the State Government.

PDP supporters complained that the party members in Rivers were facing harassment, unlawful arrests and killings from both soldiers and hired Cultists by the APC. They listed the military hostilities to have spread from killings in Ogoni land to Onelga raiding to Asari-toru, Ahoada West and East destructions.

They insinuated that APC leaders in Rivers State have vowed to win the rerun elections by all means.

Like Bayelsa State conceived to be the headquarters of militants, Rivers State is widely conceived to be the headquarters of cultism in the Niger Delta.

ALSO SEE: Rerun Election: PDP uncovers plots by APC to militarize Rivers

Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari, in Malabo, vowed to deal with sponsors of electoral violence in Rivers State. Curiously, both APC and PDP leaders made accusations of politically motivated killings against each other, indicating that the violence is sponsored by politicians. Accordingly, Buhari had declared: “We will deal decisively with all sponsors of violence. I have given the security services clear directives in this regard. We will show that violence in any form will no longer be tolerated before, during or after elections.”

However, the security services that the President has given directives on the violence are already being accused of prejudices and working for the APC in Rivers State. Moreover, the Nigerian Army on Thursday confirmed the killing of two soldiers in Rivers State by suspected sea pirates in Abonema.

Captain Elli Lazarus, the Assistant Director, Army Public Relations, 2 Brigade, Port Harcourt, had acknowledged that a Major and ta soldier were killed after an exchange of gunfire with suspected sea pirates in Abonema, Akuku-Toru Local Government Area.

The Army statement indicated that, “at about 11 a.m. on Thursday, March 17, troops on patrol in Abonema, Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers, had a fierce encounter with a group of unknown gunmen suspected to be sea pirates.”

“We are currently in pursuit of the criminals and we will surely apprehend them,” Captain Lazarus had declared.

Unfortunately, the elections ended inconclusive in some local government areas.

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