The failure of authorities to protect people from attacks and intimidation by violent gangs is leading to loss of lives and rising impunity that is making life precarious in some communities across Rivers state, Amnesty International has said.
AI noted that at least 60 people were killed in 2019 alone in various communities of Rivers state, especially; Khana and Gokana local government areas.
“Our findings show that the government is still not doing enough to protect people in these communities from attacks. The killers are literally getting away with murder, while no one is being arrested or punished for these crimes.
The authorities have failed to bring those responsible for these horrific crimes to justice and have allowed a climate of impunity to fuel further violence.
“We call on the Nigerian authorities to take more robust action to stop these attacks by investigating every clash and bringing perpetrators to justice”, Osai Ojigho, Director Amnesty International Nigeria said in a statement on Thursday.
“The authorities have failed to bring those responsible for these horrific crimes to justice and have allowed a climate of impunity to fuel further violence. We call on the Nigerian authorities to take more robust action to stop these attacks by investigating every clash and bringing perpetrators to justice,” said Osai Ojigho, Director Amnesty International Nigeria.
“The government has an obligation to defend and protect the people; its failure to provide security for people in Rivers state especially in Emohua, Khana and Gokana local government areas and its failure to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these killings created an atmosphere of fear and bloodshed in the region.”
Amnesty International said its investigation revealed that the rise in cult-related violence is as a result of government’s failure to investigate, arrest and prosecute perpetrators, as the culture of impunity continues to embolden further attacks.
“Residents also alleged that influential politicians often provide arms and protections to violent youth groups.
“In a few cases where the Nigerian security agencies did respond to the armed gang clashes, their response is always slow and inadequate.
“Residents informed Amnesty International that gang clashes usually last for 2 – 3 hours while security forces always arrive hours after the clashes ended.
“Communities affected by these clashes said despite fatalities authorities have not taken any concrete actions to protect them from violent gangs,” AI said.
“Whenever there is an attack by the armed gangs, we usually call the police and other security agencies to come to our rescue, but they only arrive when the gangs have left.
“When they come, they will arrest innocent villagers, mount roadblocks and send security men to the villages, but after two weeks they dismantle the roadblocks and leave the community until another violent gang attack,” said a resident of one of the affected communities,” a resident of one of the villages said.
People have been linking the rise in violence to arming of youths by politicians for electoral purposes.
A youth leader in Khana community blamed politicians for providing arms to the youths during elections.
“Different political parties use different criminal cult groups for their selfish interests. If they think their group is not strong enough to deliver, they empower them with more weapons. But they don’t think about the aftermath of everything. They don’t care what happens after elections”.
At least 49 people have been killed in different communities in Khana local government area in series of attacks between April and September 2019, according to villagers and community leaders.
On 9 April 2019 a criminal gang invaded Bere community and shot dead 9 people, residents told Amnesty International.
Mr Sorle Deekae and Chief Lucky Micah were some of those killed. At least, 20 other people were reported to have been killed in other communities including Kaani-babe in series of attacks. In May 2019, 20 people were murdered in an attack on Kono-boue community, according to villagers and community leaders.
Forced to Flee
The invasion of Kono-boue community in May 2019 forced the community, especially women and children, to flee their villages.
After gang members operated for hours unhindered, killing and burning houses and looting shops locals told Amnesty International that their children could not go to school, shop owners had to flee and people were forced to leave their homes and take refuge at an IDP camp set up by churches in Bori, Rivers State.
Bodo Community in Danger
At Bodo community, in Gokana local government, a villager told Amnesty International:
“The armed gangs operate around here all the time, whenever they start, we all go in and lock our doors, they don’t normally come after villagers on purpose but rather in search of rival cult groups. But when a bullet moves, it does not ask questions, it brings down anybody on its path”
Residents told Amnesty International that on 4 August 2019, 3 people were shot dead in Bodo, when armed gangs attacked the community. An environmental activist Baribefe Bornu (39) was one of the victims killed alongside 2 others; Giobari Thomas Eele and Barivale Amos.
Eyewitnesses and relatives of the deceased told Amnesty International that Baribefe was shot at close range at about 10:00 pm in front of his house as he begged for his life.
Baribefe Bornu played a key role in Bodo’s battle to seek justice from the oil company Shell, following two devastating spills, caused by operational failure, in the area in 2008.
Their case was eventually heard in the High Court in London. Shell acknowledged responsibility and agreed to pay £55m as compensation to the community and also to clean-up the affected areas in 2015.
Bodo became the only community in the Niger Delta to be subjected to an internationally recognised clean-up operation, the Bodo Mediation Initiative, sponsored by the Dutch Government. Baribefe was involved in the clean-up process until he was murdered.
According to locals about 11 persons, all men, have been killed in Bodo in three separate attacks this year.
“These gangs should not be allowed to be killing people wantonly. Those who killed Baribefe Bornu and others must be brought to justice, and security measures stepped up to protect the people of Bodo and other communities.”
In Bodo, families of victims complained of being left with the burden of burying their loved ones without hope for justice since authority rarely investigate attacks by the armed gangs.
In Bodo and other communities visited by Amnesty International, residents said the police did not do anything concerning the killings and no investigation was carried out after the death of their loved ones.
“The police station is not far from here, but they never came during or after the attack. They didn’t even come to investigate attacks”
“The Nigerian authorities must perform their duty of providing security and must ensure justice through impartial and independent investigation, and adequate reparations for the victims of this violence, including the families of those killed,” said Osai Ojigho.
Rumuodogo Community in Danger
The year started in a bloody way for Rumuodogo community. The ongoing spate of killings left at least 5 people dead in Rumuodogo community in Emohua Local Government Area. The killing and beheading of members of the government-backed vigilante group OSPAC on 6 January led to retaliatory killings by OSPAC operatives.
Amnesty International Nigeria was informed that most communities in Emohua local government area decided to engage the service of a local vigilante group in the state, ONELGA Security Planning and Advisory Committee (OSPAC) to help restore peace in their communities due to the rise in gang-related crimes in their communities.
A villager informed Amnesty International that “On 6 January 2020, three OSPAC members including the bike man carrying them were killed in Rumuodogo and most of the villagers are on the run because OSPAC came to the village picking up people who are related to known gang members and killing them”.
Amnesty International is deeply concerned that the authorities are doing little or nothing to address the ongoing violence.
“The Rivers state authorities should as a matter of urgency put an end to the ongoing unrest in Rumuodogo community and take all feasible measures to restore peace in the community”, said Osia Ojigho
The frequent fight for supremacy by rival armed groups has created an atmosphere of fear in different communities in Rivers state especially in Khana and Gokana local government areas. Clashes between the gangs are frequent, and people, as well as gang members, have been killed.
The Governor of River state signed the anti-cultism bill into law in March 2018. The bill prescribes the death penalty for any cultist who kills during a cult activity and life imprisonment for any cultist apprehended. While Amnesty International continues to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances, it is necessary to state that despite these stringent measures, cultism is in the rise in the state.