• Wike disbands armed vigilante groups
•Declares war on cultists, kidnappers who refused to embrace amnesty
Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
The Rivers State Amnesty Programme Committee has said a total of 22,430 cultists and militants renounced cultism and embraced the amnesty offer of the state government instituted on September 16.
This came as the state Governor, Nyesom Wike, announced the disbandment of all armed vigilante groups in the state and directed security agencies to profile members to ensure they did not belong to cult groups.
Submitting the report of the Amnesty Programme Committee and displaying the arms, ammunition and other items recovered from the repentant cultists before Governor Nyesom Wike at the Government House Port Harcourt yesterday, Chairman of the committee, Hon. Kenneth Chinda, said the cultists surrendered 911 assorted arms, 7,661 assorted ammunition and 147 explosives.
Giving a breakdown of the repentant cultists, Chinda, who is also Wike’s Special Adviser on Amnesty, said 6,985 were of the Icelanders cult group while Greenlanders were 942, Degbam 4,329, Dewell 635 and others 9,539.
He also said arms recovered included six general purpose machine guns (GPMG), 70 AK-47 rifles, 44 pump action, 16 G3 rifles and five K2 rifles.
Others 443 locally-made single barrel guns, 46 locally-made double barrel guns, 266 locally-made pistol, and five pistols, among others.
“Apart from the weapons surrendered, the committee also recovered fetish and ritual materials from the repentant cultists which in their words were very potent and a major covering factor in their criminal activities,” he said.
Chinda said the committee was successful because it adopted a direct dialogue approach by establishing direct, honest, transparent and sincere contacts with leaderships of the various groups through a discreet confidence building process.
Receiving the report of the committee, Wike announced that all armed vigilante committees in all communities of the state had been disbanded wit immediate effect.
He also directed security agencies to henceforth go after all cultists and kidnappers who refused to voluntarily accept the amnesty offer of the state government, pointing out that his administration has zero tolerance to crime and criminality.
The governor described the state Amnesty Programme as “very successful”, noting that the fact that 22, 430 cultists accepted amnesty and surrendered 911 assorted arms with 7661 assorted ammunitions and 147 explosives has made the state relatively peaceful.
He said: “But to show that government is serious, I hereby disband all vigilante committees in the various communities. I direct the security agencies to make sure that we don’t have such committees except they profile their members to prove that they don’t belong to any cult groups.
“Initially, people felt it was a political game. I thank God almighty that we have proved our critics wrong that we are serious to ensure the security of lives and property in the state. We cannot say that we can totally eliminate crime, but that you and I can sleep very well today, unlike in the past when cultists and kidnappers had a field day.”
Speaking further, the governor said: “For those we have given the opportunity, but they refused to embrace amnesty, I direct the security agencies to go after them. The time for amnesty is over and we are going to take the war to them.
“Since we have given you the opportunity and you have refused to surrender, you have become enemies of the state and the state will fight to the last to make sure that criminality is reduced to the barest minimum, so that investors will continue to have confidence to invest their funds in this state.
“I wish to tell politicians that you must not politicise crime. If anybody is involved in crime, we must not reduce it to party politics. When somebody is a cultist, don’t say that that person belongs to party A; that is not fair. We have to fight crime. We have to join hands to bring lasting peace to this state.”
The governor explained that the state government resolved not to monetise the amnesty programme because it wanted the cultists and kidnappers to sincerely embrace the programme. He assured all the repentant cultists and kidnappers that they will be duly rehabilitated and made to become useful to the society.
He said: “We did not exchange money for the return of arms. It was voluntary. We said, return your arms and denounce any cult group you belong to and we will give you amnesty. All those who have not gone back to crime, be rest assured that nobody will arrest you. But if by tomorrow, you return to crime, know that amnesty does not cover you.”
According to him, “I urge the federal government to give us the support we require for peace to reign in this state. Rivers State is the treasure base of this nation. If there is crisis in Rivers State, it will affect Nigeria and so for us as a government, we will continue to partner with federal government to achieve zero tolerance to crime. We will not support crime. It doesn’t matter the political divide. If you are involved, you will face the law.”
Wike set up a seven-member state amnesty committee on September 16, with membership drawn from the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Navy, the Nigerian Police and the Department of State Services (DSS).