Rivers state, among other states in the Niger Delta region has become notorious for the occurrence of atrocious killings. In the last 5 years at least, there has been a steady rise in the prominence of killings perpetrated by state and non state actors, once again highlighting Rivers state as a major flashpoint for these murders.
Rivers state sits in a mix of several factors driving and sustaining atrocities. Between 2019 and 2021 all of these factors heightened at the same time causing a major spike in cases of killings and overall insecurity. In the period, the key factors that drove atrocities included the secessionist agitations of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the bitter political contestation in the state which became intensified with the 2019 elections, the escalation of the illegal economy of artisanal crude oil refining, the escalation of gang warfare, communal crisis, militarization of communities in Rivers state and extra judicial killings by law enforcement officers.
Even as these killings become more daring, regular, widespread and horrific with each passing day, it has become increasingly evident that law enforcement agencies are clearly ill- equipped, incapable or unwilling to take any serious actions to address the insecurity in the state. The ready response of law enforcement especially the Police, to the rising incidents of atrocious killings in the state is to simply attribute it to the activity of criminal gangs, without any corresponding efforts to find and arrest the culprits and bring justice and closure to countless families.
The climate of terror which now engulfs Rivers State is the worst it has ever experienced. The atrocious killings that happen in cities and communities of the state are reinforced by the insecurity and dangers on the 3 roads that lead into the Rivers state, as well as the sea routes leading in and out of the state. Both ends of the East West Road leading into the state from Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom states have become flashpoints of kidnapping, robbery and killings. Similarly, the stretch of road from Owerri into Rivers state has also become notorious for robberies, kidnappings and ritual killings. Despite the high presence of law enforcement checkpoints at every kilometer of these roads, the criminalities seem to be increasing rather than reduce.
We note specifically that cultism and gang violence has completely overtaken local governments in the Ogoni local governments of the state, as well as Bonny and Andoni LGAs.
We note with concern that;
· The killings in Nigeria and specifically Rivers state has reached alarming levels, where it is pertinent that the government takes immediate actions to address them.
· These killings have dangerously affected the business and social climate in the state, highlighting the state in very bad light.
· That regular responses by governments at the national and subnational levels have consistently failed in their approaches to address the rising cases insecurity
· That in all parts of the state, killings occur on a daily basis. Most of these killings have not been documented, neither do they even make it to the media.
· That law enforcement officers in Nigeria have failed in their responsibility to curb killings. In many respects, law enforcement officer do not only perpetrate killings, but also condone it.
· That the key drivers of killings include cultism and gang violence, sea piracy, armed robbery and kidnappings, ritual killing, law enforcement atrocities, etc.
· That these killings are enabled by the proliferation of arms in the state, unemployment and livelihood loses, law enforcement complicity, drugs, artisanal refineries and oil theft, etc.
· That state strategies for addressing these killings have included granting amnesties for criminals and supporting the creating of militia send a bad signal about the character of the state as well as the create opportunities for injustice and more atrocious killings.
Based on these, the People of Rivers state at a Town Hall Meeting hereby proffer the following;
1. The government needs to immediately implement efforts to reform the administration of criminal justice system to ensure diligent, unbiased and consistent prosecution of offenders.
2. Deliberate efforts must be made to redistribute police personnel across the country in such a way that they spend more time policing on the streets and in the neighborhoods against the current system where the majority of officers are attached to politicians for their exclusive protection.
3. Government should as a matter of urgency, provide economic opportunities and create an enabling environment for livelihoods to thrive. We reckon very strongly that poverty plays a major role in the descent of Rivers state to its current security status.
4. The option of deploying relevant technology in combating criminality should be taken seriously and implemented across the state.
5. It is also recommended that the Police and other law enforcement units be trained deliberately to serve the people and respect the fundamental rights of every citizen. If this is done diligently, the spate of killings stemming from the activities of law enforcement officer will drastically reduce.
6. Government must identify the source of small and light arms into the state and stop the flow. Similarly, there needs to be deliberate efforts to mop up the arms currently in circulation in the state.
Enefa Georgewill Ken Henshaw
Chairman RVCSO ED., We the People