By Nathan Nwakamma
Prof. Benjamin Okaba, President of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), on Sunday, decried the eruption of political violence in parts of Rivers as campaigns for the February 25 and March 11 general elections hot up.
The Ijaw socio-cultural group called on security agencies to halt the electoral violence in the state and arrest and prosecute the perpetrators before the growing insecurity get out of hand ahead of the polls.
Okaba made the call while briefing journalists at the Ijaw House, Yenagoa, on “the disturbing violent incidents in some parts of Ijaw land, particularly in Rivers State”.
“Some of these acts of violence have been targeted at individuals with a view to snuffing life out of them, while others have sustained varying degrees of injuries and properties destroyed,” he said.
Okaba listed the Accord Party governorship candidate, Dumo Lulu-Briggs, and his Social Democratic Party (SDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) counterparts, Magnus Abe and Tonye Cole, as victims of recent violent attacks by armed political thugs in different parts of Rivers in recent times.
He said reports indicated that the campaign trains of these governorship flag-bearers had been brutally ambushed and their political rallies violently disrupted with some of them narrowly escaping death.
Okaba maintained that all eligible candidates were free to seek the votes of the electorate
“The Constitution and the rule of law are the oxygen of democratic practice in all civilised and sane climes, but reports from Rivers State indicate to the contrary. The INC finds this rather curious and worrisome.
“Some instances will suffice here. An illustrious Ijaw son and governorship candidate of the Accord Party, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, was violently prevented from purchasing essential gift items at a market in Bonny Kingdom.
“A few days later, he narrowly escaped being killed during a campaign rally in Igbo-Etche. Also, Senator Magnus Abe, a notable Ogoni son, and governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), was attacked in Degema, Oyigbo, Tai and Okrika Local Government Areas as well as around Port Harcourt City Council. His campaign train was also brutally ambushed in Ahoada-West LGA while on their way to Akinima for a campaign rally only last week.
“Another highly distinguished Ijaw son and governorship flag-bearer of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Tonye Cole, was three weeks ago attacked by a horde of armed political thugs and his campaign rally violently disrupted at the Ojukwu Field in Mile 1, Diobu, Port Harcourt.
“Again, precisely on January 31, 2023, the peaceful and ancient Ijaw town of Opobo in the Opolo Clan of the INC-Eastern Zone, was turned into a theatre of violence in an alleged attempt to stop Tonye Cole from freely campaigning for votes that day.”
Okaba noted that INC strongly condemns these severe acts of electoral violence perpetrated in Rivers, describing them as barbaric, unacceptable, reprehensible, inhuman and anti-democratic.
According to the Ijaw leader, “it is clear that the orgy of violence was aimed at intimidating opponents and instilling fear in them to pave the way for the manipulation of the voting process.
“The INC reiterates that no part of Ijaw territory will be made a killing field and battle ground for shedding of blood by desperate politicians who want to swim in the blood of Ijaw people to ascend to power. Political contests are about service, ideas and ideologies, capacity and competence, character and charisma, tolerance and the ballot; not desperation, violence, intimidation, manipulation and scuttling of the opposition campaigns.
“We advise the Rivers State Government to wake up to its sacred responsibility and play its constitutional role of protecting all lives and property, including those in the opposition party. It is a constitutional obligation the government cannot and should not shy away from. Rivers State and indeed Ijaw land deserve peace before during and after the 2023 elections.
“We also urge the Federal and State security agencies to immediately curtail these dastardly acts from escalating to a free for all and total anarchy. They should also investigate the incidents of political violence and destruction that had been recorded in different parts of Rivers State so far with a view to prosecuting the perpetrators and sponsors, if any. We do not expect them to do otherwise. They should also demonstrate neutrality while carrying out their constitutional responsibilities, even on election duty.” Okaba said
The Ijaw leader also advised all candidates contesting the forthcoming elections at all levels to play by the rules of the game and shun acts inimical to a decent electoral process, stressing that “election is not war, and it is not won by hook or crook.”
“We hope to see a peaceful Rivers State where the fundamental rights of all residents are protected and promoted for the sustainable development of the state. Those dressing the state with the cloak of violence and political intolerance should, in the interest of peace and unity, stop the macabre dance. We do not want it. Ijaw nation is watching,” he added. (NAN)