Rivers’ New Year bloodbath – Punch

Rivers State residents woke up on New Year’s Day with trepidation following the killing of about 22 people by gun-wielding bandits in the Omoku area. About 52 others were reportedly injured. Most of the victims were returning from a church service that usually marks the new dawn. This is one heinous crime too many.

It is, however, cheery that the underworld master, Igwedibia Johnson, aka Don Waney, and two others have been killed by the Army in their hideout in Enugu. The General Officer Commanding, 6 Division, Enobong Udoh, a Major-General, said that those behind the killings were led by one Ikechukwu, “the second-in-command.” He vowed that the security agencies would not rest until all of them were brought to book.

Media reports allege that the Omoku carnage was masterminded by Waney’s loyalists. He had been a fugitive since November 6, 2017, when 6 Division, Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, raided his camp and shrine. The Army said he was “a notorious kidnapper, militant, cultist and ardent illegal oil bunkerer.”

Governor Nyesom Wike immediately visited the families of the victims and that of the wanted criminal kingpin. One of the bereaved, Comfort Ordu, told the governor that her husband and three children were filed out from their house and shot dead. A worried Wike placed a bounty of N200 million on the chief suspect for relevant information that could lead to his arrest and all those involved in the dastardly act. “We have mobilised the security agencies to take the battle to the perpetrators,” the governor said. He was accompanied with the high commands of the Police, Army and State Security Service.

Peace in the Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area, and the entire state cannot be assured, if all the hoodlums are not rounded up, and made to face the law. Indeed, the blood of the innocent victims is baying for justice.

However, nobody should be surprised at the rivers of blood that periodically flow in the state. Whether the perpetrators are tagged militants, kidnappers, thugs or cultists, they are creations of vile politicians; and the failure of the state to deal with the phenomenon as the law dictates. Politicians recruit and equip them with arms, ammunition and cash, to intimidate, kill and maim political opponents before and during elections in their desperation for power. After the election, the situation assumes a monstrosity that is beyond control. This is what is playing out in the state and others where gangsterism has become a security concern. Some have argued that it is the cradle of militancy in the Niger Delta and Boko Haram in the North-East.

A former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, gave an insight into this macabre nuance of politicking in the Hausa Service broadcast of the BBC in 2013, fingering the governors. He said, “I met and told them that if they used them and after winning the election, they failed to provide them with jobs, they would rise against the people in their states.” Evidently, it has become an invidious trademark of the contest for political power in Nigeria since 1999.

Since the Omoku New Year mayhem, other killings occurred on January 4 near Ahoada and Egbeda, in Emohua LGA, with 11 persons reported as victims. But mindless killings should not be a way of life in the state. Nothing legitimises arms in wrong hands, more so when they are used to challenge the authority of the state. A few governors have attempted to deal with this menace, but they adopted a wrong strategy by granting amnesty to confessed criminals upon the return of tokens of arms in their possession.

Wike is a major culprit. About 2,000 of the bandits were granted amnesty after they surrendered 911 arms, including AK 47 rifles, pump action guns and 7,369 rounds of ammunition on October 22, 2016, to the Kenneth Chinda-chaired State Amnesty Committee. That the gesture never achieved its intended objective was evident in the beheading of two police officers in December, after their van was ambushed in Ujju, in the same Ogba/Egbema Ndoni LGA.

The truth is that the so-called repentant gangsters, sooner than later, return to their malevolent lifestyle, as it seems rewarding in Nigeria with apparent government’s incapacity to enforce its writ. It is only a change of this policy of appeasement that will contain this scourge. As it was bloody in Rivers on January 1, so was it in Kaduna State. Yet, no world leader has sent condolences to President Muhammadu Buhari as he sent to France, Turkey, UK and Egypt in their tragic moments even when their horrors sometimes pale in comparison with the bloodletting here. Indeed, life is cheap in Nigeria.

To get a handle on the situation, the security agencies should articulate an effective strategy to mop up illegal weapons in the society and to check their inflow through our sea and land borders. The alarm bell has been ringing since 2012, when the then Chief of Army Standards and Evaluation, Shehu Abdulkadir, a Major-General, alerted the authorities to the fact that 70 per cent of the 10 million illegal weapons circulating in West Africa were in Nigeria.

The Army swiftly hunted down Don Waney apparently because of the President’s order, which the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, conveyed to Udoh, shortly after Wike had visited the seat of power in Abuja. This underscores the country’s sloppy security architecture. It should not have been so, if power had been devolved as done in a proper federal system. This rigmarole should end now with state policing.

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