Rivers of tears, blood and gore

March 21, 2019
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•The virtual war that passes for “election” in Rivers State must be condemned by all

Even though the 2015 general elections in Nigeria were applauded as a positive watershed in the country’s electoral evolution, Rivers State proved a regrettable exception. The election that year, in Rivers State, was characteristically difficult to distinguish from war. Armed militias loyal to different political actors shot and killed innocent persons at will; while scores of people were routinely beheaded in an orgy of barbarism.

This year’s national and state elections held on February 23 and March 9 have been widely adjudged to be a marked improvement on the 2015 polls in terms of fairness, freeness, logistics, credibility and security. While there were isolated incidents of violence in some polling units in parts of the country, these were nipped in the bud and most Nigerians were able to exercise their civic rights in safety. Much more importantly, their votes counted.

Yet again, however, Rivers State has been the notorious exception.

For example, the governorship and House of Assembly elections in Rivers simply hang in a limbo since collation of results was suspended as a result of the widespread violence and unremitting bloodshed that marred the polls despite heavy security presence in the state.

In a full page advert in this newspaper on March 19, six eminent indigenes of Rivers State, namely, Atedo Peterside, George Etomi, Tein George, Emmanuel T. Georgewill, John Azuta Mbata, O.C.J. Okocha and Herbert Wigwe, expressed alarm and concern at the prevalent situation in their state.

Aptly titled ‘Rivers Lives Also Matter’, the advert strongly condemned the violence that characterized the elections in Rivers both on February 23 and March 19, stressing that “These violent deaths have led to the needless loss of so many lives, especially youths in various communities. We do not believe that elections which are designed to enable the people choose their leaders should lead to their death instead. Therefore, every single death must be investigated and the culprits brought to justice”.

The advert expressed concern at the role of the military engaged in election duties in the state and called for a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to undertake a “thorough, professional and unbiased” investigation into the issue.

Incidentally, another newspaper advert published yesterday, signed by another group of no less eminent Rivers indigenes, put the blame for the electoral crisis and political disharmony in the state squarely on the shoulders of the Rivers state INEC and colluding political actors.

The advert, however, commended the professionalism with which the military conducted itself in the state during the elections. Signees of this advert were a former governor of the state, Mr. Rufus Ada George and other statesmen – Chief Alabo T.O. Graham-Douglas, HRH Alabo Prof. D.M.J. Fubara, Chief Sampson Agbaru, Rear Admiral O. Fingesi and Group Captain J.I. Ben -Kalio (rtd).

It is our view that seeking to blame the military or INEC for the unsavory situation in Rivers State is absolutely misplaced. After all, Rivers is not the only state where functionaries of these agencies operated during the elections. Rather, what we have on our hands is an entrenched culture of impunity, intolerance, arrogance and lack of respect for human lives among a broad spectrum of Rivers political elite transcending partisan boundaries. The hazardous terrain, entrenched culture of militancy and too much money in the hands of criminal gangs makes Rivers the electoral umpires nightmare.

The ‘Rivers Lives Also Matter’ advert struck the nail on the head when it stated that “We are deeply troubled by the inability of the political leaders in our State to manage their rivalries and differences within acceptable norms of a civilized society as has been done in several other States in Nigeria”.

For Rivers, therefore, charity must begin at home. These adverts by key Rivers elite are a starting point. The next step is to begin to take concrete steps to mobilize both the elite and the masses against the prevalent political imbecility that makes Rivers a national laughing stock.

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