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18.02.2009 Feature Article

What Militants & Kidnappers Owe Amaechi

Government corruption is rife in Nigeria. And it has become the bane of the social, political and economic growth of Nigeria. Political violence and uniform-men torture is not new in Nigeria. The citizens are always abused and are denied their basic needs and human rights. Elections in Nigeria are marred by fraud by government actors, not only the politicians and their thugs, but the government organized forces like the police force and the military. Nigeria has earned huge revenues from government controlled resources, but there could be 70% of Nigerians whose only way of survival is by always consulting the divine intervention because the Nigeria state has failed their hope. Nigeria is a place where those who stand accused are let to go because they are “connected”. Rarely do “big men” who stand accused of serious crimes and human rights abuses are brought to book.

When on 25th October 2007 Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi was declared winner of the April 2007 governorship election in Rivers State by a court of law and the Joint Task Force (JTF) which was introduced by the ousted Governor Celestine Omehia became severe on combating the rave of militancy and cultists wars in Rivers State , the JTF has succeeded in restoring what many in different quarters characterized as a fragile peace to the streets of Port Harcourt.

One report said: “That achievement already stands threatened, however – a limited wave of violence and kidnappings broke across Port Harcourt in the first three months of 2008, including the kidnapping of three young children. Many local residents told Human Rights Watch that they were terrified of what will happen when JTF forces withdraw their presence on the streets. As one local resident put it, "the JTF has restored sanity within the area. Before we were living with fear…[Now] we are sleeping freely with our two eyes closed." But few had faith in the ability or willingness of the police and state government officials to prevent the gangs from returning to the streets. Even fewer had confidence the government would address the root causes of the violence.”

While the eyes of the men of the JTF perhaps are on the creeks when the speed-boat millitants could come, the streets of Port Harcourt have been taken by kidnappers who have made the two eyes that were closed while sleeping to be opened at all hours in the recent times. The root of this, according to a human rights reports says, “High-ranking state and local government officials in Rivers State have been directly implicated in arming the very gangs the JTF is now tasked with combating. Rivers State police have consistently turned a blind eye not only to the criminal and politically motivated violence, but also to the political sponsorship of gang violence – a problem that has continued to the present. Ultimately, no effort to combat gang violence in Rivers State can succeed unless it holds to account the politicians behind those committing the crimes.”

Amaechi is trying very assiduously to stem this ugly development, but Nigerians can't say that Celestine Omehia-led administration did nothing to check the rising violence in the state. The only way Amaechi is gaining credence in the battle against the ugly scourge of cultism and kidnapping is his approach to sever the links between government officials and criminal gangs. But his predecessor, Governor Peter Odili, had been accused as the person who established the cultists for the appropriation of his mandate in 1999-2007. What has the government done to him?

The JTF is busy and serious arresting and killing those with the “tag” militants and criminals, but the government can't sware by any African gods that there are not more criminals and militants among politicians than there are among the alleged militants, criminals or cultists.

In a report, Human Rights Watch interviewed a Okey Wali, then-attorney general under the Omehia government. Wali was said was responsible for pursuing criminal prosecutions against gang members in Rivers State, among its major tasks, as the attorney general's office.

According to the repport, “In October 2007, Wali acknowledged that no such prosecutions were underway or even planned. Wali also claimed that he was powerless to build prosecutions against politicians who sponsored armed gangs unless the police presented him with all of the evidence needed to go to court. Asked why the state government had not urged the police to arrest Soboma George at any point after he escaped from prison in 2005, Wali responded, "I do not know the facts of what happened before we came [into office]." He also claimed that, "I do not have any records indicating that Soboma George was charged to court"-despite the fact that Soboma George was facing murder charges when he escaped from prison. Wali then added, "This is not the time to cry over spilt milk."

Like Wali, many public office holders only sit in the office and enjoy the money and field the general public with unprecedented lies. From the report: “The Omehia administration included politicians with ties to cult gangs, sending a clear signal that those gangs and the politicians who sponsored them were an integral part of politics under its watch. Omehia's secretary to the state government (SSG), Gabriel Pidomson, was one of the chief sponsors of gangs involved in the devastation of Pidomson's home community of Bodo. Pidomson had also been speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly during the Odili government. As one resident of Bodo complained to Human Rights Watch, "The first person to bring gun here was Pidomson. And yet they have made him state house of assembly and then SSG.”

Apart from the alleged weapons the militants had, which was said that even the military men do not have that, the question is who gave that kind of guns to the militants? Is government not afraid and never wants to do anything because it is involved? Government is in power, but are the militants controlling the power? Can the government stop the militants if it wants to? Have numerous powerful ruling party politicians not been implicated in mobilizing armed gangs responsible for election-related violence and also in orchestrating the open rigging of the 2007 elections? But was there any investigation been undertaken? If there is, what was the outcome? Has the federal authorities taken any action to ensure accountability for past atrocities such as the Nigerian military's complete destruction of the Bayelsa State town of Odi in 1999 or its massacre of several hundred civilians in Benue state in 2001?

However, Rivers State needs peace now. All and sundry should tell each other the truth. Nigerians know that security forces have generally failed, especially “to prevent or suppress political violence, most notably before and during the April elections, a period that witnessed well over 100 incidents of election-related violence that left some 300 people dead. When voters were driven away from polling areas by gangs of thugs employed by politicians, the police very often turned a blind eye.”

The alleged kidnappers and militants should give peace a chance in Rivers State. Peace and security should be restored in Rivers State. Killings and living with the past are not the best for Rivers State. Amaechi is out to put the Rivers State on the track of development and civilization, from what his-led government is out to do in Rivers State. The alleged militants or cultists or kidnappers owe him a chance to work, so that the Rivers State will be a home for all, as Port Harcourt was once the Garden City of Nigeria. Why make it a Garden of Blood?

Odimegwu Onwumere is the Founder of Poet Against Child Abuse (PACA), Rivers State. 08032552855. [email protected]

Odimegwu Onwumere
Odimegwu Onwumere, © 2009

This author has authored 586 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: OdimegwuOnwumere

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