Fears spread as cultists turn Rivers into killing fields
Law-abiding residents of Rivers State are constantly living in fear as reports of various dimensions of attacks greet them on a daily basis. Many households in the state in recent times have lost loved ones, while others are lucky to be in hospital beds having sustained injuries after various raids of communities by hoodlums.
No one can predict the next victim to be added to the growing list of casualties. Business owners in the state now close early, travellers avoid evening or night travels, while night life has drastically ebbed.
Some communities, including Iriebe in the Oyigbo Local Government Area of the state were sacked not long ago after gunmen killed three policemen and a chief in the community. Motorists, who ply the East-West road, have also suffered attacks and abductions from the unidentified criminals who lay siege to the highway waiting for unsuspecting motorists. No day passes without reports of criminal activities on the road.
A few reported attacks in the state included the killing of eight persons in Rumuodohia, Rumuolumeni community on Sunday, April 7, 2019 by unidentified gunmen, abduction of two employees of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria including four employees of the National Emergency Management Agency and the killing of their escort and driver.
There was also the killing of three persons in Eneka on Sunday, April 28, 2019 and the abduction of two expatriates in Abua/Odual among others.
The issue of violence and killings didn’t start recently in the state. Records show that in 2015, a commission of enquiry was constituted by a former governor of the state, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, to probe the political killings and destruction of property before and after the 2015 general elections. Then, 19 persons were killed on a monthly basis between November 15, 2014 and April 11, 2015.
The panel, headed by ex-Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, told journalists that the panel received 97 allegations of killings while 94 were verified to be true.
Speaking about the spate of violence in the state, acting Community Development Committee Chairman of the Emohua Local Government Area, Omereji Ukoha, said all stakeholders must join hands for peace to return to the state.
He also urged the government to proffer ways to move the state forward and tackle the security challenges.
“The issues in Rivers State are not different from what is happening in Nigeria. The security agencies must work well with the state government and all stakeholders; traditional rulers, religious leaders, community leaders and security agencies must meet on how to move the state forward,” he added.
According to him, the violence in Rivers State has its roots in cultism, fuelled by unemployment.
He added, “What we are experiencing in Rivers State is more of cult clashes and this was not the case before. But to solve this issue, the major stakeholders in the state must come together and find solutions to the menace to create an environment for investors to come in. A worker who is busy will only find how to relax by the time he returns from work. He will not have the time to engage in crime.”
One of the family members of victims of the attacks, Kesina, told SUNDAY PUNCH that he was devastated by the death of his relative, Jonadab.
He stated that his family had yet to recover from the pains of losing the Port Harcourt resident during an ambush by armed men in the Ehohua axis of the East-West road.
Kesina stated, “My relative, Jonadab, was a driver who worked with the Abua/Odual local government transportation company. He was shot dead on April 25. I cannot believe that he was gone. No one has been able to console his five children since his death.
“He was healthy that day when he left for work. He drove his bus with passengers into the ambush of some criminals who killed him. They dressed like soldiers. Our family is devastated with the news of his death. As I speak to you, his remains are still in the mortuary.”
The Community Development Committee chairman of Rumuolumeni community, Obio/Akpor Local Government Area, Mr Sunny Odum, said the best way to tackle the menace was for the state governor, Nyesom Wike, to be proactive in stemming the matter.
Odum suggested that deployment of tactical security teams in the affected communities would check the attacks, maintaining that negotiating with the criminals was not the most effective approach.
According to him, the presence of a tactical team in the Rumuolumini community should be the best whether they are riot police, army, anti-cultism or the special anti-robbery squad.
“I don’t support the idea of negotiating with criminals. You go into a negotiation empty-handed with someone bearing arms. Many people suggested it but I am not for it,” he stated.
The community leader explained that the killings around the state were caused by the battles for supremacy among cult groups.
He stated, “I believe the security challenges persist because the security outfit is compromised. I am concerned. When the criminals are arrested, before two to three weeks, they are released. After they return, they boast about that nothing will happen to them.
“What is causing this security breach in Rivers State is a struggle for supremacy by the various cult groups. Each group wants to conquer a particular area and that is the cause of the killings everywhere,” the community leader explained.
Odum urged residents to support the security agencies to curb the attacks as they were fast spreading across the state.
He lamented that it took the government two weeks before stepping into the case after an attack in Rumuolumeni.
Odum added, “My advice is that everyone should help the security agencies in tackling the issue. The killing is spreading fast across the state. Weeks ago, it was Rumuolumeni and recently, I read in the papers that Eneka community was also attacked. Some people feel it’s not their business. But before they know it, it is happening in their parts of the state.
On November 14, 2018, two heads were discovered in front of a church in Choba community, Obio/Akpor Local Government Area, while the bodies were found in a nearby bush.
Also on April 14, 2019, four persons were reported to have been beheaded in Omuoku, Aluu community, Ikwerre LGA. Only recently, three persons were feared killed in Eneka community, Obio/Akpor LGA of the state when gunmen shot sporadically near a football viewing centre.
Several persons, mostly youths, sustained varying degrees of gunshot injuries as the gunmen opened fire on residents of the area. It was learnt that the incident, which occurred at the end of the first half of the English Premiership match between Liverpool and Huddersfield, sent residents into panic as they ran helter-skelter to avoid being hit by stray bullets.
The state Commissioner of Police, Usman Belel, said the state police command was taking proactive steps to urgently tackle cult-related violence in the state.
Belel explained that in the wake of the attacks on the East-West road, he gave orders to heads of tactical and intelligence units to relocate to the area and ensure that the situation was immediately brought under control.
He said, “The command has channelled its energies, resources and attention to the affected areas to ensure that criminal activities in the area are neutralised.
“There is no cause for alarm as the police are on top of the situation and poised to tackle all the criminal elements in the state and make it habitable for all.”
On his part, the state Commissioner for Information and Communication, Emma Okah, stated that state governors had been restricted by the constitution to only support security agencies in tackling crimes and maintaining law and order in their states.
Okah noted that Rivers, having considered crime as a local issue, established a local security outfit to assist the police in combating crimes in the state.
He said, “The state governors have defined roles to play under our constitution and practice. These roles limit them to offering support to the security agencies empowered by law to bear arms, confront criminals and maintain law and order.
“The Rivers State government has been supporting the security agencies and will continue to do so because it believes that crime is local, so we don’t necessarily have to wait for the Federal Government.
“The government has discerned in the past that there is a need to support the security agencies, given the rising wave of crimes at some point and that is why we said let us borrow a leaf from what other states are doing. And we came up with the Rivers State Neighbourhood Watch. But the All progressives Congress instigated the military to stop it, saying that it would be used for election.”
Okah also charged residents in the state to take a stand against all forms of criminal activities and support the security agencies by reporting crimes for them to perform better.
He added that the state government was working hard to ensure that criminal elements were arrested and prosecuted.
The commissioner said, “However, I don’t think that it will profit anybody to continue to swim backwards if you want to lead in a race. The Rivers State Government is not sleeping. It is designing strategies and means of curtailing the problems. The anti-kidnapping and anti-cultism laws are there.
“We are also working underground. Our strategies are not what we will begin to reveal publicly. But I am sure that this madness would not be allowed to live with us longer than it has done.
“The government is considering stiffer prosecutorial strategies, so that anyone caught will not go scot-free. A situation where criminals are caught with glaring evidence, but after going through trial, walk away, will not be tolerated any more.
“Everyone must see themselves as stakeholders in the development of the state because the state does not belong to one person. If the state is peaceful and prosperous, it is everybody, including visitors, who will benefit from it.’’
He advised residents of the state to see security as a matter for everyone and not only government.
Okah stated, “We have assurances from the police and the Department of State Services to treat information given to them with confidentiality. People should not be scared that they will be implicated.