By Comfort Obi
As I watched the pictures which accompanied a news story on Channels Television, Tuesday, March 5. I shook my head, more in anger than of pity. There they were, dozens of people, natives of Abonnema, Rivers state, their luggages on their heads, the little they could manage to pack, leaving their homes in droves. They were running away, headed to wherever, fearing for their lives. They would become refugees till whenever. Their Traditional Ruler, HRH Disrael Bob-Manuel, very worried, has appealed to them to come back; that things would be okay now. That’s his job. To play the strong man, to assure and reassure his people of their safety. But they shouldn’t listen to him. He has no control over the blood thirsty men, lurking around, who might invade his community, killing without a thought. They are men of war, obeying dogs of war, as represented by some mindless South-south sons.
In the weeks following the General elections which kicked off on February 23, with the Presidential election, the South-south region of Nigeria has been on edge. They have been dancing to drums of war. The drummers are their sons. The heartbeats of the natives beat faster than ever. And their blood pressure is dangerously high. Not for nothing.
Their sons have reduced their region to a war zone. Blood flows like the oil the region is blessed with. And the waters of their rivers and seas and ocean, have been corrupted with blood. Dead bodies dot their mangrove forest. And it stinks to high heavens.
To confirm how deadly the region has become, take a look at the National Dailies of Wednesday, March 6.
‘Polls: More Security Men for Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta, A-Ibom’, the Vanguard Newspaper screamed.
Ominous? Yes. But even more ominous are the three accompanying riders:
*As Buhari meets Security Chiefs in Aso Rock.
*IGP warns against disruption of polls.
*We’re ready for them – Delta, A-Ibom, Rivers.
The meaning: One of the main reasons for which the President met with his Security Chiefs is the South-south region. Following which more men were ordered for the region. Following which the Inspector General of Police, IGP, spoke tough and warned of consequences. And following which the governments of those states, smelling war, as was the case during the Presidential election, replied: ‘We are ready for them’. In sum: The region is ready for war. Blood might flow again. Their ancestors are weeping in their graves. And asking: Whose children would be in the forefront of this war? Whose blood are they going to shed? For what reason will the region be more militarised than Sambisa forest?
And, I am both, at once, embarrassed for the leaders of this region, and ashamed on their behalf.
Look at what they have reduced their zone and people to.
The questions are: How did a region so blessed with plenty of oil deposits degenerate to this level? How did it produce these power-drunk, blood thirsty, sons who think nothing of declaring, and waging war on their region, their parents and their brothers and sisters? Instead of seeing development – good schools, good hospitals, affordable health care, fresh drinking water, good roads, their lot are joblessness, hunger and, diseases. And now, their sons would give them no peace. They would inflict them with blood and death because they want power and positions.
The story of the long-suffering region has been on for decades. The region is the treasure base of the nation, its mammary glands. Of course, I have read, and so, know of the groundnut pyramids of the North, the South-west and its cocoa, and the South-east and its coal. But those were in the past. They were ignored soon after oil was discovered in commercial quantity in the South-south. Much as Nigeria has tried, in recent years, to diversify its economy, trying to go back to agriculture, for example, it has not worked much. The country’s placenta is still strongly attached to oil. Without it, the economy would collapse.
But for the region, it has not been much of a blessing. Its sons, from Adaka Boro, Badey, Ken Saro-Wiwa, to Kobani and co, died in a horrifying manner, traceable to the oil in the region. The region’s waters, farmlands, and mangrove forest have been degraded and corrupted. They can neither fish nor farm. Promises made to them are brazenly politicized and broken. The region is like a pawn in a chess game. Many of its sons and daughters have, in frustration, taken to militancy. Yet, none of these sufferings and devastation compares to the war zone its sons have reduced it to.
The sad thing: They are not fighting for the good of the people and/or region. This war is selfish. It is for self aggrandizement. It is for power. It is over who occupies which position.
This has become worse these past few months.
From state to state in the zone, especially in Rivers, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom, their sons are threatening fire and brimstone. And so, it has been gnashing of teeth, tears, and weeping. Blood flows.
Each time their new crop of leaders speak, one shudders. From Godswill Akpabio, Rotimi Amaechi, Timipre Sylva, Nyesom Wike, Heineken Lokpobiri, and a few others, their language is the same. And so is their body language. They vibrate when they speak. Listening to them, it is like there will be no tomorrow.
Akpabio and Amaechi upped the ante, publicly, recently. In Uyo, on the day he was received by the APC, on defection from the PDP, Akpabio threatened war. He dared remind his people of Adolf Hitler, comparing what will happen in his state during the elections to the Warsaw of the World war. In Port Harcourt, Amaechi was fired up. He sang and danced to an Igbo war song on the day the President visited to campaign.
Nobody quite took the threats seriously. It was like they were just talking. They would never take things to that scary level. Big mistake. During the Presidential election, it was worse than anybody would have imagined.
When President Buhari ordered the military to deal ruthlessly with Ballot Box snatchers, not a few people, including this writer, were aghast. But the question which I also asked was: Why would anybody want to snatch a ballot box when we are shouting free and fair elections? Yet, the President’s threat deterred nobody. Instead, encouraged by those who preach free and fair elections, snatching of ballot boxes worsened. We witnessed election fraud as never before. Where were the security personnel?
But, in no other zone was anybody killed over it, not even in Lagos where votes already cast were carried and openly burnt, except in the South-south. It went beyond that. Over 36 people were killed in the region – Rivers and Bayelsa – over things, at times, unrelated to ballot box snatching. The offences ranged from just altercation to sheer bravado. They had been incited and encouraged by their leaders and bosses, so, who can stop them? In the process, some innocent people were killed, including three soldiers and the official photographer to the Bayelsa state governor. They died for nothing, for other people’s greediness and ambition. None of their leaders lost a son or a sibling.
For the records, all of us have the same stake in this country. But remember George Orwell’s classic novel, Animal Farm? All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others, he writes. So, I sincerely ask the “new” South-south leaders, who, it seems have no respect for their elders, what special stake they have in this election than the others? In the Presidential election, for instance, nobody had more at stake than the Presidential candidates and their running mates.
So, the questions for the powerful politicians from the South-south are: How many people died in President Buhari’s Katsina, Vice President Osinbajo’s Ogun state, Atiku Abubakar’s Adamawa and Peter Obi’s Anambra? Was anybody from their region contesting for the position of President or Vice President? How many soldiers were killed in Katsina, Ogun, Adamawa and Anambra states to attract reprisals as is being feared, and expected in Rivers and Bayelsa states? How many of their people are vacating their homes for fear of electoral violence and reprisals from the military?
Neither Buhari, Osinbajo, Atiku nor Obi threatened war in their states when they went to campaign.
In Osinbajo’s Ogun state, stones were thrown at the top shots of the APC, including Osinbajo himself and, the President. Osinbajo uttered no foul language, or threatened war upon his people. Heavens would have fallen if that had happened in any South-south state, especially Rivers, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom. Corpses would have dotted the stadium.
What is wrong with the South-south? Where are their elders? Why are they not interrogating their sons? This other day, I saw some of their mothers, dressed in black, weeping and protesting the killings in their zones. They should not blame the Federal Government. They should blame their sons, and directly ask their wives questions like: Why are your husbands inviting hell upon our land? Why are your husbands killing our children? Why are they arming them? Why are they reducing them to thugs? Why are they not in school like your own children? Why they are not protected like your own children? They should be called wives of murderers. And booed when they come to you.
I am ashamed on behalf of this zone? Why are their people dying over other people’s quest for power? What stories will they tell their children in future?
Finally to the youths. When they give you peanuts, incite you, arm you, and use you as thugs, just ask them questions such as:
Where are your own children? Where are your siblings?
Why are they not with us here?
Why are they not being killed like some of us? Why are their mothers not weeping over the tragic losses of their sons like some of our mothers?
Now, my advice to you: Stand up to their selfish desires. Stand up to their power drunkenness. When you do that, the bloodshed will stop. That will save your region from becoming a laughing stock, and a huge funeral parlour. It’s such a big shame.