Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Game Of Death In Rivers State

By Steve Nwosu


I’m not used to too much prayer, but I must begin today’s piece with a word of prayer. I pray that God Almighty visits the killers of Barr. Ken Atsuwete (and their sponsors) with slow and painful death. Amen!
I pray that the divine punishment for the dastardly act of Monday constitutes the largest chunk of the inheritance, which the killers (and their sponsors) would pass on to their children and their children’s children in the fullness of time. Amen and Amen and Amen!

But, one question kept coming to my mind on Monday, as I tried to make sense of the senseless abduction and murder of the activist lawyer in Port Harcourt: Aren’t we back to a not-too-unfamiliar narrative? For, it would appear, Rivers State relapses into a feast of blood as soon as a new date for the now-jinxed re-run election is within the horizon.
Everything – including kidnapping, armed robbery and, as is in this case, heinous assassination – suddenly begins to take a political coloration. It is either that ‘blood-thirsty’ Governor Nyesom Wike is trying to intimidate opponents with violence (the APC narrative), or Rotimi Amaechi and his APC gang are unleashing mayhem in order to underscore their claim that Rivers State is not safe for any election to hold there.
And now, the murder of Atsuwete perfectly fits the bill: He is not only the lawyer of a former council chairman, who is facing trial in a murder case, but is also representing the 22 council chairmen elected on the platform of the APC and who were sacked by the Wike administration.
Expectedly, the APC says the lawyer’s assassination is the worst politically motivated killing in recent times, while PDP says the APC is politicising criminality and trivialising a serious matter. But while they’re vomiting all the high-sounding nonsense, somebody’s husband, a father, a breadwinner, a community leader, a voice of the voiceless lies stone cold. Dead!
Incidentally, while members of the NBA were holding their conference in Port Harcourt last week, I had fantasised about some hooded goons kidnapping a few prominent (and some not-so-prominent) lawyers – just to underscore the narrative that Rivers State was still not safe. Luckily, it never happened.
But before Wike and his camp could pop champagne, the goons mowed down Atsuwete, casting ominous pall over the proposed end-of-October date for the legislative re-run elections.
Of course, it’s understandable: The ‘insecurity’ narrative is the thin thread on which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has hung its stubborn refusal to conduct outstanding National and State Assembly elections in Rivers State.


*Rotimi Amaechi and Nyesom Wike 
In fact, INEC has so foot-dragged on the matter that it is now very clear that there is more to the Rivers situation than meets the eye – something beyond the control of our ‘independent’ INEC.
At one point, the postponement of the elections was blamed on a mysterious fire that razed an INEC office in the state. Even when Wike said he offered to quickly rebuild the burnt office, INEC reportedly claimed it lost some ‘sensitive materials’ in the inferno and would have to call off the election. But as the governor would cynically observe, “where did we ever hear that INEC released ‘sensitive materials’ more than three weeks to an election?”
This seeming hide-and-seek game has since forced Wike to conclude that a phony game is afoot – so much so that today, he seems to have just one message for whoever cares to listen: “Tell INEC to come and conduct our elections…Tell INEC that Rivers State is safe.”
It was the same message he gave to the Nigerian Guild of Editors conference a couple of weeks ago. He repeated it to visiting Osun State Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. And this Monday, he threw the same challenge at his colleagues in the NBA, whom he said had kept quiet in the face of the anomaly.
Similarly, in February, when the old students association of my secondary school, Federal Government College, Ilorin, held a reunion in the Garden City, an aide of the governor’s kept reassuring me of my safety in Port Harcourt. I ended up not making the trip, but everyone who did came back with pleasant memories. So, is this the same Port Harcourt that INEC is mortally afraid of? I just wonder!
Isn’t it unfair that nearly one and a half years into the four-year tenure of the present legislature, Rivers State has been forced to live without its full compliment of representation at the National Assembly? Or isn’t Rivers supposed to be bound by the laws passed by the eighth National Assembly?
Clearly, the excuse of insecurity is no longer tenable, especially, now that the state is relatively safe.
While one would wish the wrath of God on whoever wastes the life of a fellow human being just to score a political point, it is pertinent to note that Rivers state remains safer than several states in the North East (and even North Central), where INEC has since conducted both the main elections and the re-run elections – in spite of Boko Haram and rampaging herdsmen.
Even the PDP settled for Rivers State as venue for its convention a few weeks ago. The only insecurity issue that arose from there came from the seemingly partisan police, which sealed the original venue, under the guise of securing it.
Of course, the happenings in PDP, with relations to the seen and unseen hands, will be topic for another day. Until then, however, one must keep wondering if the APC does not deserve a medal for the confusion tearing PDP apart.
For now, my concern is with Wike’s Rivers State. Clearly, the touted insecurity exists only in the imagination (and machination) of INEC, the police and their paymasters. But, for as long as they keep trying to hide in the open, so long too will Rivers State remain an open sore on the conscience of President Buhari’s government – a living testimony to its curious democracy credentials.
But, of course, rather than wake us up to the need to do the needful, this assassination in Rivers will offer us opportunity to play politics some more. For politics appears to be the only thing going on in the country at the moment – even as the price of a bag of rice hits N18,500, five hundred naira higher than the minimum wage, which (even in the height of our recent past affluence) most of our governors said was too much for them to pay.
Today, our earning power has drastically reduced, people have been kicked out of their jobs. Those still in employment are owed several months’ arrears of salary.
The governors are still playing politics with workers – auditing staff, verifying staff, forever searching for ghost workers, and still refusing to pay those who have been cleared. With their eyes already fixed on 2019, the governors don’t want to sack, even when they know they cannot (or do not want to) pay.
Yes, as we’re all starving to death, the leaders are busy politicking. From APC states to PDP states, the preoccupation is with partisan politics. There is no talk about putting food on the table of the masses, beyond lip service, that is.
It is the same story from Bauchi (where Speaker Yakubu Dogara recently mobilised his supporters to go protest against Gov. Mohammed Abubakar) to Imo (where they are going to the land of the dead and back); Kano (where they’re playing politics with mass wedding), Edo (where they’re campaigning and dancing, as if they’re high on some cheap substances), Ondo (where they have introduced juju into the mix), Kogi (where they’re already stoning themselves), Enugu (where rampaging herdsmen have found a soft target) and Ekiti (where the herdsmen politics has played into a cul-de-sac).
And when all these do not provide the needed distraction, they mouth security, corruption, IPOB, Avengers. Just anything, apart from putting food on the table, returning people to employment and reining down the dollar that is forever looking skyward. We have been preparing to go into agriculture to diversify the economy for nearly two years now. Two planting seasons have passed us by. Surely, this is a game of death.

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