On the 11th of June 2019, Mr Mustapha DanDaura assumed duties as the 40th Commissioner of Police in Rivers State. His predecessor, Mr Usman Belel was removed, Governor Nyesom Wike claimed, for his failure to write security reports that will see the now decided gubernatorial election petition tribunal holding in Port Harcourt transferred to Abuja.
The hotly contested election of which Mr Wike won midst bloodshed, saw the ballooning of gun-related criminal activities, kidnapping and wanton killings in several parts of the state – particularly in Ogoni communities, Ikwerre and Emohua LGAs. The Emohua-Axis of the East-West and the Owerri-Port Harcourt route, strategic gateways into Port Harcourt were a beehive of criminal activities. There were daily incidents of kidnapping, killings, and ransacking of communities along those corridors. People were abducted from Port Harcourt and taken to those particular areas for ransom. Rivers of Blood, a derogatory attribute of insecurity in the state was a regular feature in national and international discourse.
Nothing had embarrassed the state and its people like the happenings at the Emohua corridor. Residents on visits to other states were queried to explain what was happening in the state – a hard pill some found very uncomfortable to swallow but there was Mustapha DanDaura who said ‘Well, that got to stop’.
On 13th June 2019, during his maiden meeting with pressmen, the CP sent a stern warning to kidnappers and criminals operating in Emohua.
He said: “I am here in the state to fight crime to a standstill in line with the IGP’s directive of cascading the ‘Operation Puff Adder’ in all the Commands across the country.
“Though the operation has not been fully operational in the state, suffice it to say that I have the mandate to be in the state to fight the monsters of cult-related activities, kidnapping, armed robbery, murder and pipeline vandalism bedeviling the state.
“I shall tackle these crimes headlong and bring them to a tolerable level. Rivers State will no longer be conducive for criminals. Therefore, they (criminals) have the option of relocating, repenting or facing the full wrath of the law.
“I promise to declare a total war against violent crimes in the state. My arrival will see the decimation of the criminals on the East-West Road and that of Elele-Owerri Road.
“I strongly pledge to end the attacks on the East-West Road with my new deployment and we shall produce results in the shortest possible time,” Dandaura added.
Now, as reassuring as his words were, there is nothing particularly interesting in his declaration. His predecessors did the same, including the declaration a state of emergency twice on the East-West road weeks to the election which was hurriedly abandoned but DanDaura actually meant it and worked towards ensuring the safety of residents and visitors.
With support from the state government through the launching of the Operation Sting, and the support of communities through their local vigilante and the retooling of different formations in the state, the hydra-headed insecurity in Emohua and Ikwerre was defeated. Several of those kingpins were killed, captured or declared wanted. The East-West road became passable again while the Ogoni area where over 300 persons were massacred became fairly habitable. Nightlife was gradually returning to Port Harcourt. The command captured a suspected serial killer, ending months of losses by operators in the hospitality business in the state.
Expressing sadness over the unwarranted and senseless killing going on in Khana and Gokana on September 9, 2019, the CP said the high level of politics of bitterness going on in Rivers state has denied the state of meaningful development and driving away investors.
He said no investors would invest in an environment of rancor and bitterness as every investor wants a return on investment and as such would stay where they are comfortable with making their money.
CP Dandaura added that the high level of cultism in the state was as a result of youth unemployment, saying that peace must be returned to change the narrative.
He also appealed to the political gladiators to unite for the sake of the state and those who look up to them morally as role models to eschew bitterness, name-calling, and backbiting to form a force that could develop the state.
“The command will not rest on its oars as we will continue to fight crime. We urge you all to remain law-abiding as we provide the best policing to safeguard lives and properties’’ he added.
DanDaura loved Rivers State and worked hard to change the narrative of negativity surrounding it. In spite of his taking the war to the doorsteps of the criminals operating in the state, he turned a blind eye to most human rights abuses perpetrated by his men and never cautioned them against the use of maximum force on innocent residents. His silence over the killing of Chima Ikwunado by the vicious Eagle-Crack Unit sent a dangerous signal.
On April 7, 2020, as the state government battled to curtail the spread of the dreaded COVID-19 which has killed over 70,000 people worldwide, the Rivers State task force on COVID-19 comprising of Governor Wike, the 115 Airforce commander and other heads of security agencies arrested two pilots of Caverton Helicopters for flying ten passengers into the state against the Executive orders of the state banning unauthorized entrance and exit into and out of the state.
The federal government, notorious for playing politics with security in the region as long as it would keep the black gold flowing, had fumed over the arrest which it declared illegal as aviation is on the executive list. But Governor Wike, a lawyer himself, argued that he has a right to arrest the pilots because of the executive order also known as the quarantine act.
But the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika said the Police Commissioner and the Commander of the Air Force Base in Port Harcourt would have to answer for their alleged incompetence.
He said the federal government would take necessary and constitutional actions on the matter.
According to him: “Civil Aviation is on the exclusive list. No other person but the federal government has the authority to legislate that. So the Nigeria Air Force and the Armed Forces are also on the exclusive list. There is no other person but the federal government that has the legal right to legislate that.
“So, the Air Force officer who jumped the Commander in Chief and ignored, who also jumped the Chief of Defence Staff and ignored, who jumped the Chief of Air Staff and ignored to call a governor to come into the property of a federal government and blaming the Nigeria Air Force has exhibited dangerous ignorance and incompetence grossly.
“So, the police that followed the governor in there to make the arrest also exhibited dangerous ignorance from our perspective in civil aviation.
“We approved the flight and we did in the national interest. All of those flights were to improve the national revenue to which River state is the greatest beneficiary. So, those flights by Caverton, Aero Contractor, Bristow, Arik and a couple more were for national interests and improved national revenue.
“At a time when oil has gone below $30 and the cost of production is $30, in the wisdom of President Buhari, he thought that this is allowed even in this national pandemic so that the nation will not be crippled and the national revenue will not be lost.
“It is against this background that we have the authority being it exclusively on the exclusive list that and we have the powers in civil aviation guided by the Civil Aviation Act 2006 approved such flights.
“So, those flights were approved lawfully and legally. So, we will do everything lawful and legal and reasonable to get those pilots back and the operations will continue in the national interest.”
The interest of the federal government to the security of lives and property in Rivers was outlined in the words the minister uttered.
Sirika cried at night and DanDaura was removed in the morning.
Now that DanDaura has been removed for doing his job, residents have resigned to fate with the hope that DanDaura’s replacement with also fight crime with the same determination and vigor he exhibited.
Residents hope that Rivers of Blood will not take centre stage in the description of Rivers again. They now hope for the best and can only hope.