POLITICS, CULTURE AND VIOLENCE IN RIVERS STATE

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The alleged discovery of a number of human skulls  at the home of the notorious cultist and community leader in Onelga by the men of the Nigerian Army some weeks ago was at best shocking to me . Having spent the last seven years in Port Harcourt, I have seen first hand the carnage perpetrated by these thugs with their perchance for bloodshed. More intriguing, however, was the fact that the accused went on air threatening to sue the Army for invasion of his privacy and for false accusations. Just like every other incident that happens in Nigeria, the matter seems to have been swept under the carpet and not even a whimper has been heard about it ever since. Is Rivers state sliding into what Thomas Hobbs referred to as the “State of nature?”
My mind, just like that of many observers, was burdened with questions, questions seeking for answers. Who killed those people? Whose skulls are they? Since Don Wanny has denied involvement and threatened to sue the Army, has investigations been launched so as to unravel the mystery behind those skulls or is the matter, just like others, going to die a natural death while we move on like nothing has happened?
 Few days after the Army raided Don Wanny’s residence, social media was rife with claims from certain quarters that a popular political party is behind the sudden elevation of the dreaded cultist for political purposes. The accused was granted amnesty by the Wike-led administration and a subsequent lay down of arms occurred. However, not much has been achieved in terms of security of lives and properties. There is Daily reports of kidnapping and armed robbery, the environmental health hazards from sooth due to the military crackdown on the activities of oil bunkerers . We have seen that play out before and it’s attendant consequences that leave much to be desired.
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 ‎Nigeria’s return to democracy in the year 1999 forced a few privileged elite clique to struggle for state power. Having the resources of the state at their finger tips, This political struggle metamorphosed into hiring of, and subsequent arming of thugs and street gangs for political expediency. These youth, having been deprived of the basic access to the wealth produced under their feet and stewing in joblessness, became a catalyst for the mayhem engineered by the politicians. Thus, after the elections and having been armed and abandoned by the people who utilized their violence prone skills to achieve electoral victory or the loss of it, they turned their arms against each other in a deadly supremacy tussle and control of the street crime structures and  against the inhabitants of the state and against the state itself. This is evident in the ruthless manner these gangs kill each other and those perceived as enemies, and the way they go about the destruction of the state’s economy . The state, however, capitulate to their violent uprising by issuing contracts and other government patronage to a select few gang members while the rest slug it out with the favoured for their own share of such patronages.
 These youth are aware of the wealth produced in their region and its little impact on their lives. Having been exposed to violence, they have engrossed themselves in a bitter struggle for their own portion of the wealth enjoyed by the elite. This has led to oil bunkery, incessant kidnapping of politicians and oil company workers, politically motivated killings, armed robbery and general violence against the masses.
The collosal failure of governance in the region and at state level in this regard; the government’s helplessness in disarming these gangs  has helped in no small measures to amplify these violence and degrade other sectors of human development. They go about harassing commuters and drivers at motor parks while the police look away.
This is because of the relationship between state politicians and the violent gangs that perpetrate these atrocities. Thousands of youth pay allegiances to different cult groups and gangs and create a pool from which politicians draw individuals that would help them achieve victory at the polls from. So dismantling them without being absorbed into a state funded youth intervention scheme seems hard for those in power.
Election rigging has become a norm in Rivers state, although not an isolated case. However, the intensity has increased in the state over time as those who are sympathetic to these wealthy gang leaders are favoured through stuffing of ballot boxes, disruption of electoral processes and ballot box snatching. These sympathetic politicians are elected into offices, thereby forcing government to look helplessly while the state descends into a state of chaos.
The inhabitants of the state are aware of the key indices that have sustained these gang culture, its rampant abuses and are quick to finger local politicians who hire them to rig electoral polls for adding fuel to the flame that fires these violence.
Other factors like intra-ethnic squabbles as regards access to the wealth of the state have also contributed immensely to gang culture in Rivers state. Those communities that feel shortchanged often rely on their youth taking up arms against the government and oil companies to press home their demands.
 This has increased the disruption of oil activities in the region and have often forced the federal government to respond through military interventions and other temporary placating adventures like the amnesty program. These interventions are often short-lived and only scratch the surface and does not get to the root of the problem.
The federal Government’s approach towards the Niger Delta agitation for resource control by restricting local access to the wealth in the region aids these gang activities. Most of the government’s interventions have not been able to address the root cause of massive hunger, environmental degradation and other consequences of oil exploration in the region. Institutions set up by the government are not adequately funded and carry out cosmetic projects that benefits a select few.
Analysts believe that proper restructuring and institutions of a generally acceptable form of government will address most of these vices.
Credit- Okenyi Kenechi