• Friday, July 19, 2024
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Election violence, gun-duels, abduction send shockwaves to businesses

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Even as this story is being written at a late hour, a gun duel is raging at the Elelenwo front of the Garden City in the new Rivers State emerging war-front. One of the four medical doctors (Sam Opara) abducted in a space of seven days has died in the kidnappers’ den, a journalist (Freddy Idigbara) working as media aide to the state governor has just been abducted in his hometown, and more cries of political violence are being heard everywhere. Fear and tension adds to threats to keep an investor company in the new Rivers of blood.

Business operators were crying against what they termed multiple taxes when violence resurged to pose new threats worse than high fees. A business operator once said in the early days of the ‘Amaechi Magic’ (the period when the state governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, defeated the armed gangs, retook the state capital, and restored order for businesses to boom again) that it was better to pay taxes and levies than to pay ransom. Now, it is like both are starring the business community in the face.

The major casualty in the Garden City wars (2005 and 2007) was the economy, when over 1500 minor and major businesses closed shop, night life died, and capital took flight. They had a reason: armed gangs fought and killed in almost every street; gunmen took positions every 5pm in places such Emenike Junction, Lagos Bus Stop, Education, Abonnema Wharf Junction, Artillery Junction, etc and opened fire. Heads were rolling. Armed bands staged open wars to abduct a target in the glare of the day as street people watched Rambo movies for fee. Such days seem close at hand. The guns are already booming.

A top source in the manufacturing sector told BD Sunday that six Nigerian investors in oil service sub-sector held a meeting last week and resolved to relocate their to Lagos. The Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria (MAN), Rivers/Bayelsa chapter is said to have braced up for another round of exodus of businesses from Port Harcourt. Some business operators have asked agents to help secure locations in the Lagos/Ogun axis. They are said to have started calculating costs of relocation and travel to Port Harcourt from Lagos.

The situation seems so tense that no official of the MAN chapter is ready to speak out, pleading fear of harm. They say the violence is political. This may be true.

The All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state which was attacked at Okrika, hometown of the first lady, Patience Jonathan, at much violence-induced postponed governorship rally on February 17, 2015, has cried out to the international community.

The party has listed 150 cases of violence visited on it, and has on Thursday, 26 February 2015, tabled 30 of its members killed, plus the daylight abduction of the governor’s media aide, Freddy Ndigbara, as evidence that the APC has been targeted in the forthcoming elections. The party through the state chairman, Davies Ikanya, said; “We are now endangered species”.

The party laid the blame squarely on the doorsteps of the rival Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), saying: “Our investigations showed that we have lost no fewer than 30 of our members and supporters in political attacks instigated in parts of the State by agents of the PDP. As painful as this is, we are miffed that no single arrest has been made by the police in connection with these politically-motivated killings calculated to intimidate and annihilate us, a political party”.

Saying the silence of the police had emboldened the merchants of violence, Ikanya added: “With the shooting, bombing and successful disruption of our Okrika rally which was aimed principally at eliminating our gubernatorial candidate, Dr. Dakuku Adol Peterside, with the successful kidnapping of Fred Ndigbara, a civil servant working in the Media Unit of the governor, we indeed need no soothsayer to tell us that we are no longer protected but now endangered species. When a political party is denied the right to canvas for votes in an assumed democratic system, as has been done to us in Okrika, we can only conclude that Nigeria is slowly but steadily slipping into a state of anarchy. With the lives of our people threatened on daily basis, with the security agencies looking the other way, we have every reason to wonder if the PDP-controlled Federal Government is truly serious that elections will hold in Rivers State during the general elections scheduled for March and April.” 

The Rivers APC chairman however commended Inspector General of Police, Suleiman Abba, “for ordering full investigation into the madness that happened at Okrika, where one of the policemen providing security at our rally was brutally killed.”

He also commended Zone Six Assistant Inspector General of Police, Tunde Ogunsakin, for ordering Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Dan Bature, to rescue Ndigbara from the hands of those that kidnapped him while on a democratic duty during the rally of APC at Khana recently. 

He added: “PDP and its promoters can’t be allowed to continue to act with impunity as if the police were an extension of the party as being boasted by some of its chieftains. We hereby demand for the immediate rescue of Ndigbara, a harmless fellow whose only crime is working for the (belonging to) APC, and that adequate protection be accorded to our gubernatorial candidate and the entire APC leadership in Rivers State. We also demand a stop to the further harassment of our members. We are full citizens of this country and we can no longer tolerate being treated like second class citizens.”

Gov Amaechi, who has been in a running battle with President Goodluck Jonathan and the wife (Patience), took the blame squarely to the first lady. Addressing the press in Abuja, the governor  blamed her for the attack thus: “Again, as usual, the wife of the president won’t allow the APC hold rally in that place (Okrika). The wife of the president and the governorship candidate of PDP in Rivers again organized thugs to disrupt APC rally. As usual, the police couldn’t protect us. Over 200 police men were there. I asked the commissioner of police and he said they had over 200 policemen there. Yet, three explosions and then they opened fire on members of APC. The Channels TV reporter, I hear, is injured, stabbed, and members of APC injured.”

The governor went on: “We had meetings with DSS (Directorate of State Security) and police and they confirmed we could go ahead. There were 200 policemen and there were over 20 to 30 DSS men who came there and they did nothing.”

Asked if Rivers State is good for elections, he said, “you should ask the president, it’s not me you should be asking. If he is in Sambisa, if the 14 local governments of Borno and Adamawa and Yobe can make him to stop an election, then why is he going ahead with election when the whole of Rivers State is being invaded by PDP and their thugs and security men are watching and doing nothing.”

He called for a stop to the harassment of APC members and supporters in OKrika, stating that it would be unpleasant if other Local Government areas of the state take a cue from that situation. “Clearly, the wife of the president does not want APC to campaign in Okrika, her local government area.” 

The wife of the president was once in rumpus with the governor few years earlier at the same ground when she allegedly snatched the microphone from him and allegedly took over the talking, an incident that caused suppressed scandal. Tension had underlined the relationship between the two until full hostilities exploded when the governor pullout of the ruling PDP to the APC.

The PDP had swiftly denied involvement in the Okrika bom attacks and shooting, and asked the APC to look inward. Each time the APC was attacked, the PDP advised them to look inward.

The PDP disassociated itself from the violence in Okrika and called for peace in the state as parties prepared for the forthcoming general elections.

A statement issued in Port Harcourt by Emma Okah, lawyer and chairman, Media and Publicity Committee of the Rivers State PDP Campaign Organisation, condemned the act and urged  the Police and other security agencies to investigate the incident and bring the culprits to book.

According to Mr Okah, nobody should encourage violence in the polity. He said the PDP was a peace loving party which believed that everybody should be given equal opportunity in all parts of the country to hold rally and canvass for votes.  “Violence does not end well and it is for that reason that we have continued to encourage our PDP members to remain peaceful and law-abiding despite the recurring cases of provocation by the APC in Rivers State and many parts of the Country”.

The PDP has also taken the blame battle to the APC. Okah said members of the PDP Governorship Campaign rally in Abua, Obuah/Odual LGA were attacked by some gunmen suspected to be APC members.

As the outcry by the APC to the world grew louder, the PDP chairman, Felix Obuah, said in a statement by his media aide, Jerry Needam, that the repeated attacks on members of the PDP in the state has become most worrisome and could no longer be taken as ordinary as certain persons opposed to the party seemed to have made it a point of duty to eliminate marked PDP candidates and chieftains.

To party said this was being orchestrated by the opposition, the APC, saying the onslaught was targeted at the PDP candidates standing for the March general elections and selected party stalwarts.

The party said; “Saddened by yet another attack on the party’s candidate for the Khana/Gokana Federal Constituency, and former Deputy Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Dum Dekor, the immediate past chairman of Khana Local Government Council, Greg Nwidam, Barine Deyah, DineBari Loolo, House of Assembly candidates for Khana Constituencies one and two others on Wednesday, February 25, 2015, Obuah said there is no gainsaying the fact that the APC is behind this madness”.

All they want, according to Obuah, is to turn the state into a theatre of war as a way of forestalling a sure victory for the PDP.

“Happening just a few days after another PDP chieftain, and former House of Representatives aspirant, Chukwudi Dimkpa narrowly escaped death at the hands of his assailants, Dekor’s attackers only succeeded in shattering his car with bullets while he and his co-occupants of the car escaped unhurt miraculously”, the party said.

Thanking God for saving the lives of the party members, the chairman however condemned the continued attacks on his party members and called on the police to leave no stones unturned in unravelling those behind the evil and bring them to book accordingly. 

The party said the attack took place at about 9pm after a successful political campaign in Khana LGA when they were waylaid by suspected hired killers close to the Refinery Junction along Eleme Road in Eleme, and home town of APC national assistant secretary, Oji Nhyimenuate Ngofa.

As the PDP and APC engage in hostile politicking dividing each community into two warring groups, cult groups in each community seem to have broken into two violent gangs, engaging in gun duels. This seems to be the case in the Elelenwo axis where gun duels and deaths mark daily romance in blood.

Speaking for the business community, the president of the Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (PHCCIMA), Emeka Unachukwu, an engineer, said urged business operators not to panic, saying it was a temporary situation that would pass away after the elections.

He said criminals were exploiting the heated political atmosphere to make brisk business, saying it was a common thing around the world. For instance, he said when football games heat up the place, some pickpockets flock to the stadium and begin to operate.

Unachukwu, a public speaker and entrepreneurship expert, urged business owners to only be careful and watch there movements but called on the security agencies to step up their game. To the political groups, he urged them to play down on what they said to avoid heating up the system.

Ignatius Chukwu