(THEIR ROLES IN SECURING LIVES OF RIVERS PEOPLE: – A BIRD- EYE VIEW OF AN INSIDER)
By EZE CHUKWUEMEKA EZE
Recently, there has been an ongoing debate in the social media on the administrations operated by the past and present governors of Rivers State of Nigeria, attempting to know which of these administrations positively or negatively touched the lives of the people of Rivers State and, by extension, Nigerians.
The three governors in question are Dr Peter Odili, who governed the State from 1999 to 2007; Rt. Hon. Dr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, who governed the State from 2007 to 2015; and the incumbent governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, who has been in the saddle of leadership since 2015 till date.
For proper assessment of the impact each of these administrations had on the life of Rivers State and her people, I intend to split this study into the following sectors – Agriculture, Security, Education, Health, Financial and prudent Management of the resources of Rivers State, General Development and any other sector that may crop up in the presentation of this treatise.
For a start, I will be using Security as a test tool to compare these great sons and leaders of Rivers State.
The fact remains that any sound and concern lover of Rivers state must be worried by the tales of woes and the level of insecurity facing the state at the moment. Every day it is either a bus conveying passengers is kidnapped or people are being killed and beheaded or that foreigners and investors are rushing out of the State in droves or the state is rated as the number one state in Nigeria that harbours the highest number of unemployed youths. This makes the need of this treatise to examine the parts the former and present Governors may have played in the present security challenge facing Rivers State.
Putting the insecurity situation in Rivers State in its proper perspective, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi erstwhile Governor of the State, incumbent Minister of Transportation and a key actor in the politics of Rivers State captured the situation in the State thus, “No doubt, our state has endured a tortuous political season, which saw political parties jostle and cajole Rivers people to make choices. Our state, which was known and respected as the Treasure Base of the nation, is now almost always in the news for the wrong reasons. This is not the Rivers State of our dreams. To me it is the responsibility of the government to provide security for the people”
Throwing more light on this study, another key player in the politics of Rivers State, Dr Dakuku Adol Peterside the NIMASA Director General explained, “Security, law and order are the major preoccupation of any government. Once a government gets this priority right, it has made the very first right step. Growing insecurity on the reverse side is the first sign of a failing state.” –
While to Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his thought about security in any given nation stated that, “The three great ends which a statesman ought to propose to himself in the government of a nation are 1. Security to possessors, 2. Facility to acquirers, 3. Hope to all”.
BRIEF ACCOUNT ON ODILI, AMAECHI AND WIKE
1. DR. PETER ODILI
Dr. Peter Otunuya Odili hails from Ogbaru clan of Ndoni community in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government area of Rivers State and of the ethnic Bloc called Orashi, one of the major ethnic Blocs in Rivers State. He is an alumnus of the Medical School of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and University of Liverpool, in the United Kingdom, specialising in Tropical Medicine. He is married to Mary Ukaego Odili, a justice of Nigeria’s Apex Court.
Politically, Odili had served as a member and leader of the Rivers State Delegates to the 1988/89 constituent assembly, Deputy Governor (1992-1993), member and Chairman, conference committee on state creation at the national constitutional conference, national secretary of the defunct Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN) and Governor of Rivers State (1999-2007).
Odili who is also a political godfather became one of the greatest victims of political godfatherism when former president Obasanjo taking the position of a god single-handedly killed the Presidential ambition of Dr.Odili who many had referred to then already as “President-in-waiting”..
Odili is one of those very few Nigerians who have Traditional and Religious Titles across the nooks and crannies of Nigeria and has been a steadfast member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, from 1999 till date unlike some of his contemporaries who have defected and redefected.
He is popularly called “The Golden Governor”, “Father Christmas”, and “Donatus” while in office due to His extravagant life style he exhibited in office and can be referred to as the political father of most of the present crop of key politicians currently pervading the political sphere of Rivers State principally Amaechi, Omehia, Wike, Abe and other key political leaders in today’s Rivers State are all products of his political school.
2.RT. HON. CHIBUIKE ROTIMI AMAECHI (OON)
Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi an indigene of Ubima Ikwerre in Rivers State. His rise to his present political status is as mysterious and miraculous as that of erstwhile President Jonathan. A Master’s Degree holder, Amaechi was the first Nigerian to be the Speaker of a State House of Assembly for a whopping eight years and later became the Chairman of Conference of Speakers Forum an umbrella body of all Speakers of the State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria. His assumption of office as the Governor of Rivers State, though his political party PDP dumped him after convincingly winning the ticket of the party during the primaries of the party until the Supreme Court restored him as the Governor of Rivers State still seems a mystery to many political watchers in the country. Rt. Hon. Dr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi a humanist, administrator par excellence, a visionary and egalitarian personality, radical, a pragmatist, an exemplary and respected leader; an alumnus of the University of Port Harcourt in Rivers State. Governor of Rivers State (Eight years 2007 – 2015), two time Chairman of the Governors’ Forum in Nigeria from 2011 to 2015. The first and only African to head a Presidential Campaign Organization on two occasions and on both occasions, won and saw to the unseating of a sitting President (Dr. Jonathan Goodluck of PDP in 2015) and the re-election of a sitting President (President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019).
Amaechi is the only Nigerian to have occupied the office of Minster of Transportation of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for two terms and winner of several awards including the Commander of the Order of the Niger, CON. A misunderstood but an amiable personality; his forthrightness and boldness to stand by the truth attracts so much enemies to him particularly those who can’t withstand his manner of approach to result oriented feats.
- CHIEF BARR. EZEBUNWO NYESOM WIKE
Chief Nyesom Wike an indigene of Rumuwike Ikwerre is a lawyer by profession, a political tactician of note and strategist of the first order. He was the National President of All Local Government of Nigeria from 2003 – 2006 (ALGON), the umbrella Forum through which all the 774 Local Government Council Chairmen in Nigeria interface and interact on issues affecting the Politics and policies of Nigeria, while from 1999-2007 he was the Executive Chairman of Obio-Akpor Local Government in Rivers State, an office he used to redefine and exhibit his special brand of governance. He constructed the Local Government Secretariat that stands out as one of the best in Nigeria and a great edifice to behold. His tenure witnessed various developmental initiatives in the local government and he is remembered most especially for empowering a lot of youths, elderly women and men, the physically challenged. An ardent hand at grassroots mobilization was appointed the Chief of Staff of Governor Amaechi from 2007 to 2011 and from 2011 appointed by President Jonathan as the Minister of State for Education and alter Acting Minister for Education of Federal Republic of Nigeria, a post he used to force himself into the Brick House. He was appointed to oversee the PDP Gubernatorial Primaries of Sokoto, Adamawa and Edo States a feat he performed most stupendous to the admiration of those that sent him.
He was elected the Executive Governor of Rivers State in 2015 and relected in 2019 for a second term.
THE SECURITY CHALLENGED RIVERS STATE THAT DR. PETER ODILI BEQUEATED:
According to records, Port Harcourt, the State capital of Rivers State that Dr. Odili bequeathed to Rivers State was more like a war zone or aptly put a jungle where the fittest determines the fate of the lesser animals. It sounds pretty surprising but not unexpected that the city of Port Harcourt, a once very glamorous city, was ranked among the three most dangerous cities in the world under the administration of Dr. Odili. The human resources unit of New York-based Marsh & McLennan Cos. had ranked Port Harcourt with Baghdad, Yemen’s capital of Sana’a and Khartoum in Sudan, as the world’s most dangerous cities. Going by the ranking published by Bloomberg, Port Harcourt ranked with Baghdad as one of the world’s most dangerous cities for foreign workers as criminal gangs and militia groups seeking greater control of energy revenue step up attacks.
Ahamefula Ogbu, a Journalist with Thisday Newspapers described one of the scenes in the State at this period in these words ‘Rambo could not have done better. With automatic rifles in their hands and hate, revenge and murder hanging around their necks, warring cultists took Port Harcourt, Rivers State, by storm yesterday for the second day running. Pandemonium broke out as residents ran for safety. It was sorrow, tears and blood. At the end of it all—or, more aptly, at the interval, for no one knows the end yet—15 persons had been dispatched to their early graves’ and true to this unsung prophet nobody knew the end as the next few days saw about eighty innocent souls wasted by an agitation uncommon to our people in the Niger Delta.
While to my late friend and brother, Mr. George Onah reporting for Vanguard Newspaper captured Port Harcourt before the assumption of office by Gov Amaechi in these words; “For many residents, the capital of Rivers State, hitherto the Garden City where life was lived to the fullest is no longer the place to live in as rivers of blood flow ceaselessly following an unending siege by militants, kidnappers, cultists, and criminals of other hue.
Violence in Port Harcourt, Rivers State has gone full circle and the guns are still booming. The casualties are pilling, even as blood of defenceless citizens’ flow endlessly. Neither the Police nor the government has answers to the brigandage. Security outfits do not have official figures, record or reliable estimates of casualties in the Rivers State orgy of killings.
Even the number of deaths during the Nigerian Civil War had a consensus of informed opinion on the number of deaths, on both sides, which hovered, realistically around 600,000 and below. But the rapidity of casualties in the onslaught by gunmen on Rivers State cannot simply be pigeonholed. The currency of killings is alarming and the growth of the economy of the state is heading for the deep”.
The pattern of the crime ranges from kidnapping of expatriates and children of wealthy parentage, to outright violent robbery. Cultism and political vices equally occupy a frightening position on the crime chart. The volatile atmosphere appears to have annulled whatever achievement of the peace and reconciliation committee of the government”.
As if both Ogbu and late Onah did not capture the picture correctly, Okey Ndibe, a respected opinion leader on national issues in Nigeria in his article during this period published by the Sahara Reporters one of the leading online media on Nigerian political activities titled ‘a blood soaked city’ described the happenings in Rivers State then in these words ‘That the once idyllic Port Harcourt was now a scarred place, a war zone, a city soaked in blood; the city under siege with thousands of citizens displaced; that its once quiescent boulevards and avenues were now ruled by marauding militiamen and by the fierce soldiers deployed to dislodge them. Sudden death by bullet was now a generalized hazard for the city’s trapped and hapless residents’.
Affirming the unfortunate state of Rivers State then, an icon and Prince of Niger Delta Politics, Prince Tonye Princewill in an interview during this period stated thus, “Rivers State, when Amaechi took over was a garrison state. Now that things have changed, people refer to him, like they do to Fashola as a performing governor though the only difference between the two is that Fashola had a foundation in Tinubu but in the case of Amaechi, it was not so!”.
In 2004 Dr Odili survived an assassination attempt as members of a dreaded cult group (in the state due to the general insecurity under his administration) attacked his convoy along the East-West Road in PortHarcourt killing a police man and one other.
With all fairness to Dr Odili the Rivers State he bequeathed to Nigeria if the above records are anything to go by was a disaster and nobody in his sound mind can be happy with such an insecure State described as a deadly place to live in then.
THE STRATEGIES ADOPTED BY AMAECHI TO ADDRESS THE MENACE OF INSECURITY HE INHERITED FROM DR ODILI
According to Amaechi, “When we took over the reins of governance in the State we met a situation where people were being given cash, but we decided to take the extreme position of not giving money to people, but doing projects that would impact positively on the lives of the majority of our people”. This stand of the Amaechi to stop the method which was the practice hitherto of sharing State funds to some seasoned politicians and groups who in turn use it to sponsor militia groups that constitute security challenges in the State.
To Rotimi Amaechi, “inability of elected leaders to provide adequate security for the citizenry is an impeachable offence. The first offence governors commit is when they are unable to provide adequate security for the people. This is because the first oath taken by elected leaders is to protect life and property. It is the responsibility of the government to provide security for the people.”
According to Noam Chomsky, “the U.S. international and security policy … has as its primary goal the preservation of what we might call “the Fifth Freedom,” understood crudely but with a fair degree of accuracy as the freedom to rob, to exploit and to dominate, to undertake any course of action to ensure that existing privilege is protected and advanced”. The fact remains that it seems that former Governor Amaechi on assumption of office adopted this US security policy in tackling the menace of insecurity in the State as he went out exploiting every means humanly possible to arrest this ugly trend. Apart from declaring war on all the militia groups in the State and refusing any form of dialogue or negotiations with them, he ensured that the security organs in the State were well motivated and trained to tackle the menace of insecurity in the State.
Explaining further on how former Governor Amaechi handled the security challenges of the State at this period, Dr Dakuku Peterside stated as follows, “When I had the privilege of serving in the government of Rivers State under the leadership of Governor Amaechi, I observed that he placed high premium on security because he believed that security was the foundation upon which progress in every other facet of development depends. This is aside from government’s proactive disposition which drew substantially from intelligence gathering, surveillance and the fact that law enforcement agents could reasonably predict potential crime with near perfect accuracy.
Another interesting aspect of the Rivers model is the deployment of technology. Without sounding immodest, I can confidently say that the state’s security network is driven by excellent modern technology. Rivers was the first state to acquire a mobile scanning van known as back scatter. Around the Port-Harcourt metropolis, there are Gantry Scanners at strategic entry locations in Onne- Eleme Road, East-West Road, Choba Road, Oyibo Road, Ikwere Road, Aba Road and Mbiama Road among others”.
Throwing more light on the postulations of Peterside, a security expert and CEO, MPD Security Systems, Engr. David Meyer stated as follows, “The first step we took in Rivers State was to raise capacity among selected police personnel, over 200, through local and overseas training in Israel and other parts of the world on modern crime fighting techniques and intelligence gathering,” Meyer explained. Working with modern gadgets and substantial logistics including an Israeli trained concealed weapon detecting dog, these crossbred police team had since been strategically placed at main outskirt check posts witnessing mass movement in and out of Port Harcourt City. Others lead a number of metro patrol teams responding to security emergencies around the town and environs. These are far as the public can see.
Beyond public view, as part of Rivers current long term vision of security, Meyer pointed to underground application of ICT aided security hardware and software helping the police to sense and react to security situations with dispatch. This network of technology managed by experts from a hub which Meyer would not disclose its location for security reasons, employs the C4I urban surveillance cameras watching over the city and active 24hrs of the day in Port Harcourt and environs.
The interactions between the seen and unseen infrastructures, according to Meyer, account for the recent security operatives swift bursting of some of failed organized crime operations, including an attempted raid of a bank in the Mile 4 area of the city last year. “These measures have been working well and while the public may not know, it has lead to several arrests and we have gained convictions against suspects on account of the improved network”, he emphasized.
Supporting the views of Hon. Chief Peterside and Engr. Meyer, His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Chibuike stated,. “We have done a lot about security. We are doing more. Before we came to office, kidnapping was a serious challenge. We have dealt with it substantially. We are finishing December, 2012 without a single report of kidnapping or armed robbery. We have specially trained policemen handling security. Barring any unforeseen circumstance, any moment from now, the Rivers State Government’s security web would be two surveillance helicopters stronger, laying foundation for a standing air wing to give the state 24-hour security coverage.. He said the helicopters; costing $30m (N4.5bn) with surveillance cameras to fly all over the city of Port Harcourt and other parts of the state would arrive at the end of December and commence operations in January, 2013. He stated that Rivers now has in place a technology reliable for tracking criminals and their hideouts. But sadly, Chief Nyesom Wike and former President Dr Jonathan ensured that these helicopters never arrived Rivers State.
The former Governor who is a major proponent of State Policing postulated, “If we have State Police, Rivers would be able to train its police the way it wants. It would not have suffered the loss of those 500 policemen it trained. Most states are spending a lot of money improving the police which are not under their control. States can use the same resources to fund their own police. Only those with something to hide are afraid of State Police”.
The impacts of the Rivers of Peace Under Amaechi
The results of the peaceful state of Rivers State under the watch of Gov Amaechi has resulted not only attraction of foreign investments but during this period Port Harcourt was the haven of both International and National championships. Apart from hosting one of the best organised National Sports Festival ever in Nigeria, the School Sports was hosted by the State including the Police Games. Port Harcourt apart from Abuja and probably Lagos was the only State to have hosted US-Nigeria bie National Conference. The city during this golden period hosted the Miss ECOWAS Beauty Pageant, Pan African Parliamentary; Garden City Literary Festival, hosted CARNRIV involving several foreign countries to showcase the rich culture, potentials and beauty of her people, the 2nd Dr Claude Ake Memorial Lecture, Rivers State Investment Forum and Governor’s Interactive Session with Rivers State Youths amongst several other meets the city has hosted to prove its acceptability as the most peaceful and progressive city in Nigeria.
Kudos of course must go to Alh, Suleiman Abba the then Commissioner of Police and former Inspector General of Police for his commitment and no nonsense approach to crime in the State; the then Brigade Commander, the Air force Commander, Director of SSS for their commitment in ensuring that Rivers State was recovered from the hands of these hoodlums! Kudos also goes to the then Secretary to the Rivers State Government now an ex-Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dist. Senator Magnus Abe whose office then was coordinating and spearheading this onslaught against insecurity in the State.
WIKE AND HIS OWN TYPE OF RIVERS STATE
A versatile public commentator, Uche Igwe, a doctoral research fellow at Sussex Centre for the Study of Corruption, University of Sussex, titled “Of Nyesom Wike And President Jonathan’s Conflict Entrepreneurs”, described Wike as ‘a tough and undiplomatic man with a thug-minded determination and a deep-pocket that thrives in a policy of vindictiveness.’Known as Eze Gburugburu by his admirers, the former Chairman of Obio/Akpor Local Government is acclaimed to be a brutal schemer who maximised his position as chief of staff in Brick House to stockpile enormous financial resources for himself. The bulkily framed politician is also someone who understands and believes in the power of money and readily deploys it as a political tool to achieve helpful and, most times, unhelpful political ends. Another former loyalist described him as ‘a merciless politician with a limitless capacity for mischief.’
Sam Nda-Isaiah, a frontline APC Presidential candidate and Publisher of Leadership Newspaper, in his reaction to WIke and Jonathan’s absurdity in Rivers State in an article published by TheScoop of August 12, 2013 titled, “Why does the President enjoy the company of gangsters? stated: ‘The Minister of State for Education, Mr Nyesom Wike, who is at the centre of the crisis in Rivers State with the clear support of the President, Goodluck Jonathan, and the co-president, Patience Jonathan, now operates above the law in the state. To worsen the joke, he has even declared for the governorship of the state. It is very hard to believe that a serving minister would make that kind of statement and still be kept in the cabinet by the President. But that has been our lot since Jonathan became President.’ Link: http://www.thescoopng.com/sam-nda-isaiah-why-does-the-president-enjoy-the-company-of-gangsters/
Before and during the March/April 2015 General Elections in Rivers State, it was reported that about 100 members of All Progressives Congress (APC) were slaughtered, with their local secretariats at Andoni and Okirika bombed. The live telecast by Channels TV during the shootings on the APC Rally at Okirika should be very visible on the minds of Nigerians.
During the 2016 rerun elections of April 2016, the APC’s National Working Committee, in a press statement, noted: “APC members in Rivers State are fast becoming [an] endangered species.” That was after scores of members were killed in recent weeks. The committee released a list of 32 party members it claimed had been killed by a variety of methods: “several were beheaded, others clubbed to death and one man burned alive.”
Kennedy Friday, a social commentator, in one of his presentations then stated thus: “They were killed and beheaded in Ula-Upata community in Ahoada East Local Government Area. After that, their corpses were set ablaze! In this 21st century, this bestiality happens every day in parts of Rivers State, almost unchallenged. Insecurity is at its most rampaging level. Oh God, what is happening to Rivers State? We have this very dire challenge and people look the other way and pretend that all is well. This barbarity happens every day in one part of the state or the other. When will these killings stop?”
In the words of Ibrahim Modibbo, a social commentator based in Abuja: “Not even under the evil and satanic regimes of Mobutu Sese Seko, Emperor Fidel Bokassa or legendary Idi Amin of Uganda did we see such a fascist regime that displays optimum barbarism and primitive parochialism as in Rivers. The state is currently buckling under the full weight of a heartlessly ravenous political brigand, where life has lost its meaning and value. A cabal that swims in obscene opulence has made political power to be so critical to its survival that any opposition that stands on its way, even if it’s a fly, must be crushed with a sledge hammer. I am, therefore, not surprised that opponents are now hunted like a game: with many beheaded, clubbed to death or buried alive like chickens.”
Jimitota Onoyume, Vanguard Newspaper Correspondent, reported on May 17, 2016, how 5 cops, 6 civilians were butchered in Rivers. According to him, “Mortal fear has seized the people of Rivers State since last week when armed marauders murdered five police officers, including a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Muhammadu Halidu, and six civilians at Okobe in Ahoada West Local Government Area. The rampaging gunmen laid ambush for the police officers, attached to the 30 Mobile Police Force, code-named 30 MPF, Bayelsa State, on their way back from a national assignment in Yobe State and stole their rifles, after snuffing the life out of them.”
Reacting to the ugly scenario, Senator Magnus Abe stated: “But the point I want to make is that there are reasons here in Rivers State why we should not and cannot celebrate democracy day. Just yesterday, somewhere in Ahoada, I hear over eight people were killed, including the oldest man in the village. As we speak now, in my own village, boys are going around with guns; nobody slept last night. I was told they even chased somebody to a church, and macheted him right there in a church, with people scampering for safety. As we talk now, in Luawii and Kapnyo, several people are dead, houses burnt… You know, all over… Yesterday, a friend of mine stopped at a fuel station at Rumoula to buy petrol, and while at the filling station, some people brought out guns and robbed everybody, right there in Rumuola. This is what is going on all over Rivers State.
In such circumstances, do we really have much to celebrate? The first responsibility of government is the maintenance of law and order. If people are free and safe, they can look for water, they can look for light, they can look for food. But they cannot look for security if they’re not safe. So, I think the governor should really do something to address the issue of security in this state. And until he does that, there is really nothing to celebrate in Rivers State.”
This is the Rivers State envisaged by Chief Nyesom Wike and Rivers State and the nation are yet to come out from this vision
The answer of who among Governors Odili, Amaechi and Wike impacted either negatively or positively in the lives of Rivers State and her people are now in your hand the reader to decide but before you conclude let me call Dr. Austin Tam-George a former Commissioner for Information, Rivers State under the administration of Governor Wike to assist us. According to this scholar of excellence in his article titled, Governor Wike’s toxic nativism published few weeks ago captured aptly insecurity as created by his former boss thus, “For instance, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Rivers State has the highest rate of unemployment in Nigeria, under Mr Wike’s watch. There are hundreds of thousands of brilliant and ambitious Ikwerre youth trapped in the jobless quagmire. The cancer of joblessness has metastasized into an outbreak of criminality across Rivers State, and our Ikwerre communities have not been spared. Today, Elele, Emohua, Choba, and other communities are like open graves patrolled daily by a merciless gang of kidnappers. Our so-called ‘Ikwerre governor ” has done nothing about this malignant cancer that destabilizes our communities, and threatens to drown an entire generation of young people in hopelessness. In the past four years, Governor Wike has refused to pay pensions and gratuities to retired civil servants in the State. Among them are thousands Ikwerre senior citizens devastated by the administration’s callous indifference to their plight”.
Let Prince Nnamdi Amadi conclude this series for us, he said “Comparing Amaechi to Wike is like comparing a Rolls Royce to a Keke Napep. Amaechi is on a different league please, except you want to talk about cultism and kidnapping, then that is where Wike thrives”.
EZE, a Media Consultant based in Port Harcourt and can be reached through email@example.com, 08022049770