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Rivers and Rivers politics: Our lingering shame

Dr Ugoji Egbujo
In the end, Rivers is our shame. A political culture of violence unlimited.

People shout slogans and carry placards to protest against the suspension of governorship elections in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on March 11, 2019. – Several thousand people on Monday protested against the suspension of governorship elections in Nigeria’s volatile Rivers state following widespread disruption to the vote. The All Progressives Congress and African Action Congress marched with civil society groups in the state capital, Port Harcourt, calling for results to be announced. (Photo AFP)

Every election is decided by brigandage and theft. And that has been since the second republic. They don’t just steal votes. They use guns. They spill blood.

They have made it a culture. All their political leaders, past and present.  All of them. They are same political DNA , same political  family. Though some are much more violent than others. Perhaps the truly sane ones never thrived,  will never thrive.

They are all culpable. They make everywhere tense.  They emit unhealthy rivalry and anger. They steal electoral materials . They falsify figures rampantly. Elections in Rivers are  international jokes. International observers have grown weary. They have seen outrageous absurdities ,  time and time again.

The extremely violent ones amongst them give the impression they can  slaughter electoral officials whom they can’t bribe.  Stubborn opponents have been beheaded by teenagers who roam around as cultists. It’s wicked, but it now seems even mundane.  The politicians boys and their boys  appear undeterred by the heinousness of  these acts.

But who can blame them? It has become the system. Nobody has ever  been punished. People have become lords simply by passing violence around. And the more violent you are, the more valuable you are during elections, it seems.

So who can stop them? Where are the adults in Rivers state?

Unfortunately, even the Bishops and traditional rulers have become part of the crises. They have all become patently partisan. Some of them contribute to the violence by actively by endorsing militancy  and belligerent politics. And some of the militants have  even been made kings.

What sort of politicians depend on the military and militants to win elections?  The answer is here. They are normal politicians. Normal  politicians in Rivers state. They play by the  prevailing rules. The rules in Rivers are unfortunately different.

In 2015, no elections held in Rivers. The military and militants were used to scare away the opposition then. International observers fled. Some persons benefited from the armed robbery. And that reinforced that culture.

The opposition party at the federal level  was prevented by militants and cultists from campaigning in home of the then First Lady.  The police swore to protect them They trusted the police and tried again. Twice they were battered and shot at, thrice they ran away. They  were chased away by hooligans in broad daylight. Children watched and shook their heads. Everyone knows those who perpetrated those atrocities. Rather than reap retribution, they reaped handsome electoral dividends .

After 2015, cultists took over the state. And grounded whole local governments. Two Local government chairmen, shamelessly , relocated to Port Harcourt.  But there was really nothing to be ashamed of. They didn’t want to die before their time.

And would you blame the thugs? It was all too natural. Where were the thugs and cultists  supposed to work after their election duties?  After they had been used and perhaps dumped by politicians. They became  simply self employed.

The military was brought in to restore some peace. All repeat elections that held since 2015 have been utterly farcical. The politicians  had switched seats at both local and federal levels. The maltreated federal  opposition had gained power at the centre. They didn’t need any new scripts. They started winning too.

Those who had lost control of the military knew they must not lose the  control of the militants. So they gave the thugs buttered bread. And will go everywhere to preach that military should not be involved in the conduct of elections in that state.

But  military is the soul of the everyday security architecture of Rivers.

We always pretend not to know. Without the military Rivers would have long become a gangland. People once paid ransoms to  conduct funerals  in some parts of the state. The military was all the people had left.

In 2019, no real elections have held in in Rivers.

People  simply laid their hands on all instruments of violence and subterfuge they could find. But they were only  playing by the  established rules. They followed laid down tradition.

Security agents  and militants were  freely used like mercenaries.  Thugs learnt to wear military and police uniforms and how to mingle too.  Militants own the streets.  So those who own them  will always want monopoly of ownership of instrument of violence. So they will always  protest the militarization of politics and elections.  It’s all barefaced hypocrisy.

So 2019, has seen violence. But it’s customary violence.

Militants shot the opponents of their principals. People’s homes were searched at will by soldiers. Soldiers and policemen roamed the streets like buccaneers. The politicians called themselves the champions of democracy. Politicians accused one another of desecrating democracy.

What sort of politicians are these? They are not demonic.  They would have been different if they were in Lagos. That’s the truth. Lagos has more money than Rivers. But Lagos politics is not decided by naked gangsterism and  vicious cultism.

Look at the contest in Kano. Look at that in even volatile Plateau. Look at that in Oyo. Why is Rivers exceptionally violent?

Violence is bred and reared by Rivers politics. And violence decides, significantly, Rivers politics. Thuggery happens everywhere in Nigerian politics. And influences electoral outcomes sometimes.  But the fundamental difference is  the  thuggery and mayhem are  the soul of Rivers politics.

But how can Rivers and it’s politics be detoxified?

The military has no business supervising  elections and arresting electoral offenders. But how can elections be conducted in a gang land where the police generally  fear to thread? If the military is removed from the Rivers equation today , only the owners of militants and cultists will win elections there. The police are incapable of withstanding the militants. Ask the oil companies and their workers.

So first things first: Rivers must be cleared of all traces of active and latent militancy. The Rivers state  society must be reset.  There are too many  political wasps and bees. It’s true that no one who regards politics as community service will kill or maim to win an election. But does that then mean that  men of goodwill  should abandon Rivers politics until  it’s sanitized?

My answer is no. The Church , civil society and  Federal Government must join hands to radically excise the cancer of  electoral violence  in Rivers.

The level  of violence in Rivers will deter serious investors. And that would further impoverish the people. And push many into the thuggery industry.

But why do people cheer and support these buccaneers masquerading as politicians? Why is there no real  and sustained moral outrage on the streets?

Well, perhaps  they have accepted the system. Perhaps they are riled but hey can’t shake off inertia. Perhaps  they are not fed up yet.

It’s our collective shame. Rivers is a reproach. And we must not let it spread and contaminate the whole.

 

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