Since 1999 when Nigeria returned to democratic rule, Rivers State has always witnessed violence during elections, through the activities of political thugs, who kill and maim seeming opponents of their principals and snatching of ballot boxes.
The 2015 election in the state, which extended up to December 10, 2016 with a rerun election in parts of Rivers South-East senatorial district, was not an exception.
With just about two months to the 2019 general election, violence associated with politics are gradually coming up in parts of Rivers State. Few weeks ago, unknown gunmen kidnapped the Organising Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ikwerre local government area of the state, Hon. Samuel Wanjoku and another stalwart of the party, Moses Mba, along Ubima-Omuanwa Road in the area.
The decomposing corpse of Wanjoku was discovered at Ubima forest about one week after he was kidnapped while Mba was later rescued alive by men of the Nigerian Police.
Within that same period, unknown gunmen attacked a gathering of chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at Ipo community in Ikwerre local government area of the state.
Few days later, unknown gunmen attacked the governorship candidate of the APC in the state, Pastor Tonye Cole and his campaign team at Ogurama community in Degema local government area of the state.
The leadership of both PDP and APC accused each other of being responsible for each of the attacks.
Few days ago, soldiers from 340 Artillery Regiment, Nigerian Army, Elele in Ikwerre local government area, shot and killed a notorious cultist, Christian Lucky Kenjika, popularly called “School Boy” and one of his lieutenants during an encounter at Ubima community in Ikwerre local government area of Rivers State.
School Boy and his gang were believed to be behind series of kidnappings and other criminal activities around Ubima-Omuanwa-Ipo-Omerelu axis of the state, including the attack on PDP chieftains at Ipo community.
On November 29, 2019, the 6 Division, Nigerian Army said it discovered an illegal militia training camp inside the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Orientation Camp at Nonwa-Gbam community in Tai local government area of the state.
A statement issued in Port Harcourt by the Deputy Army Public Relations, 6 Division, Colonel Aminu Illiasu, said the soldiers met over 100 recruits undergoing military type of training at the camp.
The statement reads in part: “Troops of 6 Division Nigerian Army (NA) today the 29th November 2018 while on a routine surveillance at Nonwa Gbam, (NYSC Orientation Camp) in Tai local government area of Rivers State, discovered an illegal militia training camp. The troops met over 100 recruits undergoing military type of training.
“Preliminary investigations into the discovery has commenced in conjunction with sister security agencies in the state to fish out the sponsors of the militia and the training camp.
Recall that similar illegal militia training camps were discovered and disbanded in Benue and Taraba States earlier in the year and measures were promptly taken to forestall breach of security and safety of citizens.”
But, the Rivers State government insisted that those undergoing training at the NYSC Orientation Camp were not militias but members of the newly established Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency.
According to Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, the disruption of the training of the Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency training programme by the Nigerian Army is the worst act of irresponsibility, aimed at instigating insecurity in the state.
Wike, who declared that the Nigerian Army has been transformed into a political weapon that has abandoned her security responsibilities, said: “The Army is not concerned about the killing of soldiers in Borno.
“They are only interested in creating insecurity in Rivers State. If you don’t want Rivers State to be safe, then Nigeria will not be safe. They want to use their guns against us.”
The governor stated that Zamfara and Kogi States have vigilante outfits which were commissioned by the Nigerian Army and the APC-led Federal Government.
He wondered why the Nigerian Army would stoop so low to disrupt a legal training exercise, saying: “Zamfara and Kogi States have vigilante groups. They commissioned them and the Chief of Army Staff did nothing.
“The House of Assembly passed a law approving the Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency. The Chief of Army did not challenge the law in court, but today he sent troops to invade the training camp.”
“The Army is the agency causing insecurity mainly to attract more security votes. They collected $1Billion from our excess crude account, yet our soldiers were killed.
“All they are doing is to intimidate people for political reasons. When you fight a state blessed by God, you will crumble. Nobody can intimidate us in Rivers State”.
Wike stated that the state government worked with the Police, the Department of State Services (DSS) and other federal agencies to ensure that only law-abiding citizens are recruited by the Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency.
The governor said: “We did not hire boys for political reasons. This has been a transparent process and that is why the personnel are trained at the NYSC Orientation Camp at Nonwa.
“We involved the Police and the DSS to ensure that the trainees are profiled for the good of the society. The main aim of this agency assist the security agencies with intelligence and information, since there is a lacuna in this regard.”
He declared that the state government will continue with the training, saying all the antics of the Nigerian Army will not deter the government and people of Rivers State.
Wike said: “No one man has been a Chief of Army Staff forever. Every job has an expiry date. When Buratai leaves office, he will be held to account for his illegal actions. If they stop the training elsewhere, personnel of the Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency will be trained at the Government House Port Harcourt.”
Few days before the Nigerian Army invaded the training camp of the Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency, Wike had raised the alarm over alleged plot by the APC-led Federal Government is plotting to plant 800 guns in the state.
Wike, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt by his media aide, Simeon Nwakaudu, said the main objective of the Federal Government is to destabilise the state.
The governor, who said the APC-led Federal Government resolved to implement the plot during her last security meeting, stated that the intelligence came from credible sources that were privy to the ugly plot against Rivers State.
He called on the international community to take note of the proposed illegal action of the Federal Government, which is aimed at creating crisis in the state.
Wike, who regretted that the Federal Government has continued to work deliberately to compromise the security of Rivers State, urged the people of the state to remain calm, but vigilant.
The governor that the evil machinations of the Federal Government will not distract the state from delivering on her constitutional responsibilities to Rivers people.
But, in swift reaction, the leadership of APC in the state, accused Wike of raising false alarm in order to discredit Nigeria’s security agencies ahead of the 2019 general election.
APC Publicity Secretary, Chris Finebone, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt, alleged that there was distribution of arms to leaders of PDP in the state.
The statement reads in part: “When Governor Nyesom Wike raised a false alarm, alleging a plan by the Federal Government to plant 800 guns in Rivers State, we told Rivers people, Nigerians and the world that the governor was merely distracting from his real actions.
“Today we have been vindicated. We can authoritatively state that our intelligence has uncovered an ongoing distribution of illegally acquired arms to some PDP leaders in the various local government areas of the state.
“We can confirm that the false alarm by Governor Wike is to prepare grounds to discredit security agents should his plans be exposed in future and of course his plans will soon be exposed.
“He wants to simply claim that those his illegal arms were planted by security agents of the Federal Government in line with his earlier alarm.
“Following in his familiar pattern, Governor Wike today raised another obviously false alarm alleging plans by the federal government to disrupt and rig the 2019 general elections in Rivers State. We know that in a matter of hours, we will uncover Governor Wike’s real actions and intentions.
“We urge the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and security agencies not to be deceived or demoralised by Governor Wike’s antics. They must be prepared and see beyond the governors pedestrian fictional pranks.
“We are aware that he is seriously haunted by the sins of his past and we cannot help him just as we cannot follow the same insidious path of his that has defined him and his politics.
“Tonye Cole represents the new Rivers State and a new paradigm in politics that essentially espouses rebuilding, reconciliation and peace. Rivers people deserve even much more!”
Apparently worried by this signs of possible violence in the 2019 elections in the state, international community, including the European Union (EU), United Kingdom, Netherlands and the United States of America, have focussed their attention on Rivers State.
This development is indicated in the number of visits by envoys of the international community to the state and meetings with Wike as well as leaders of PDP and APC.
Speaking in Port Harcourt after one of such meetings, the United States Consul General, Mr. John Gray noted that the United States government is committed to ensuring credible elections where the will of the people will prevail.
Gray said: “What we talking about today is that all we are looking for as we enter the election season is free, fair, credible and peaceful elections.
“The United States government does not support any candidate. United States Government supports a clean fair process in which the choices of the Nigerian citizens come through.”
Speaking after another meeting, the Netherlands Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Robert Petri assured that the European Union will closely monitor the forthcoming elections to ensure they are credible.
“We are getting closer to the General Elections which are very important . We need free and fair elections conducted under a peaceful environment.
“The European Union, which we are part of, will be sending monitors for the Presidential and Governorship Elections. It is important that the elections are conducted in a friendly environment.”
However, a chieftain of the APC in the state, Prince Tonye Princewill, said interventions by the international community, including making political parties to sign peace accord before elections, have not yielded any meaningful result in the state in the past elections.
Princewill said: “Let me remind the international community, particularly the US, UK and EU ambassadors, that previous attempts at halting violence did not work because none of your governments had any teeth.
“Known candidates engaged in known violence and nothing came out of it. No travel bans, no targeted sanctions and no withdrawal of support. I was there. Every step of the way. It’s that impotence that provides a cover for no consequence.
“The result is a recurring cycle of violence. If we want to stop getting what we are getting, you have to stop doing what you’ve been doing. Friends should tell each other the truth.
“While we appreciate a lot of the good work both you and the security agencies are doing, it is clearly not enough in Rivers state and the cost of failure is too high. It’s measured in people’s lives. Condolences, shuttle diplomacy and speeches are simply not going to be enough.”