Rivers, Blood and Elections


with Eddy Odivwri
eddy.odivwri@thisdaylive.com   08053069356

Last Saturday, the legislative rerun polls, took place in Rivers State. The election took place in all the local government councils of the state. It involved electing the three persons into the senatorial seats, five House of Representatives seats and 10 state House of Assembly seats. Just for that election alone, the Police deployed 28,000 men. It was not for nothing. The drumbeats of war that preceded the election were akin to the coming of Armageddon. Tension was high. Two main political parties (the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party) represented by the rancorous duo of Rotimi Amaechi and Nyesom wike, the former and sitting governor of the state, respectively, were once more ready to test their strength in the state.

It had long become an ego contest between the two ex-allies. The political atmosphere in the state was maximally charged. The state had had the unenviable notoriety of conducting very violent and bloody elections. The 2015 election was epic in its bloody discharge. People were slaughtered and even beheaded with reckless abandon. Homes were broken into and the men decapitated in the presence of family members. Omokwu in ONELGA and Akoku-Toru Local Governments were the fiercest grounds of holocaust. The amount and sophistication of weaponry in the hands of the thugs in Rivers is simply befuddling. No doubt, the desperation of the politicians as well as the sub-career in illegal bunkering has made Rivers a major domain of illegal weapons. These weapons are maximally deployed during elections.

And last Saturday was not different. It was anything but election. All the rules and codes of peaceful conduct of an election were broken mindlessly. Yet, in the last four months many cult groups claimed to have renounced their membership of such groups and surrendered huge armoury in what appears like a staged repentance. I often wonder why the police cannot raid the hideout of these criminals and recover the tons of arms in their possession. The political contest in Rivers is seen as a big war. War between two Ikwerre brothers. Human lives and materials are wasted with valueless spirit. And despite the presence of 28,000 armed men, a senior police officer along with few other persons, were yet killed. The last time the rerun was held, an NYSC member was killed. How much blood does the god of democracy need in Rivers State for us to have peaceful and orderly elections? Even if the Arch Bishop of Canterbury is sent to preach to the Rivers electorate, it would hardly lead to a peaceful poll. To them, election collocates with war, arson, blood and killings.

Yet, nobody in Nigeria has ever been jailed for electoral violence despite the number of people that are frequently maimed or killed during elections. The pattern has always been a few arrests here and there and shortly after the elections, the politicians weigh in and get the arrested released. Last Wednesday, the police paraded four persons suspected to have been the killers of the Niger State-born senior police officer. If the past tradition serves as a guide, that will be the last we will hear of the matter. It was such an advertised shame, coming after the well-organised national/presidential election in Ghana. Media reports had indicated that at the Ghanaian poll, everything, almost, went quite orderly. From card readers which did not fail, to the electoral commission which deployed its men and materials promptly, to the police and security agencies which made no interference in the election, down to the sitting government which allowed the election to run without bias, through to the electorate which participated not only actively in the polls, but with evident sportsmanly spirit. There, roads were neither blocked, nor holiday declared because of the election. Society’s activities ran simultaneously with the election. People dashed off from work to cast their ballots and quickly returned to work, like in the US. What is more, the loser of the election, a sitting president, not only quickly conceded, he read and presented a great speech that has since been trending in the social media, as an unusual specie of an African leader and model of a perfect democrat. The security operatives were not stretched. They hung around the precinct of polling booths with a leisurely candour. It contrasts sharply with our Rivers State. Days before the election, the Mosaic injunction of a tooth-for-a-tooth, had been pronounced by the APC leadership which had come to campaign in the state.” If they slap you, slap them back, if they push you, push them back, and if they shoot you, take cover and shoot them back…” The APC has been condemned for this unstatesmanly injunction. But would you blame them? They have been serial victims of electoral violence in the past. And the state had hardly punished anyone for it. Thus in an attempt to rise up from the status of the intimidated weakling, the APC had resolved to match the PDP, slap-for-slap and all that. Last year, Gov Wike had warned INEC officials who were coming to conduct election in Rivers State to write their wills before coming, if they plan to rig the outcome of the polls. Such mindless naked threat from a sitting governor! Wike, sadly, has never pretended about being an apostle of electoral violence. In all, something must be done to rein in those perpetually poised for war during elections in the state. The huge caché of arms literally floating in the state must be recovered, just as those found wanting in perpetrating electoral violence should be heavily punished, otherwise, as the garrulous Gov Wike has threatened, there will be no election in the state in 2019.

EFCC, Leave Ibori Alone
Barring any other eventuality, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, former governor of Delta State should be released from the British prison in three days’ time. He was jailed in England following his admittance of guilt on money laundering charges filed against him. Before he fell into the British noose, he had been tried on about the same charges in Nigeria by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which filed a 170-count charge against him.

But the EFCC, at the time could not prove its case against Ibori, or so it seemed, warranting (now retired) Justice Marcelleus Awokulehin of the Federal High Court to throw out the case and set Ibori free on all counts on December 17,2009. But the fact that Ibori’s travails were a mix of legal and political issues was manifest when the Nigerian authorities laid siege on Ibori in a manner that seemed to suggest that if Ibori escaped the judicial hangman, he cannot escape the political landmines laced around him.

That way, even when the courts had discharged him, the political Pharisees who were in charge at the time, ensured that he did not escape punishment altogether. The ensuing strategy to undo Ibori, perceived to be a threat to some people’s political career, led to the trial and conviction at the Southwark Crown Court 9 in London. They succeeded as Ibori was sent in for a 13-year jail term. But next Tuesday, he should have done his time in the British prison. However, indications are rife that the EFCC is yet warming up to resume another round of trial for Ibori.

This is the same Ibori whose case was thrown out by the court at the time. But even if Ibori yet has some questions to answer, is he not deemed to have paid enough price by serving the jail term in Britain? Would it not amount to double jeopardy for him to be punished twice for the same crime, whether in the same country or not? Has he not suffered enough global embarrassment given the media celebrations of the trial and his prison ordeals?

To insist to yet arraign Ibori after his release from prison, would amount to a judicial overkill. If the EFCC is bursting with prosecutorial energy, let it channel it against the many other former governors who are still roaming the society unchallenged. How come since 2007, the EFCC has not been able to secure any conviction against any of the rougish governors, except the whimperish plea bargain negotiated for Lucky Igbenedion and the late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. The Saminu Turakis, the Chimaroke Nnamanis, the Orji Kalus, the Peter Odilis {whose perpetual judicial immunity has recently been vacated), the Achike Udenwas, the Attahiru Bafarawas, the Joshua Dariyes, the Jolly Nyames, the Boni Harunas etc etc, were all accused suspects at the time. But not anymore.

Today, they are not only free, they have become critical stakeholders and eminent political gladiators in the Nigerian project. In the face of the institutional neglect of this set of people, it will be a godless activism for the EFCC to vent all its spleen on one already over-tolled for his sins. About 19 governors were accused of various degrees and levels of corruption in 2007. Even in 2011, some of the governors were accused of robbing their state tills blind. Not a single governor is in jail on account of his misdeeds while in office. Why has the EFCC not gone after such class of former governors? Why come to prey on the sufficiently-punished Ibori as a way of proving that it is a diligent anti-corruption czar? On the other hand however, Ibori may not be heading into Nigeria soon because of the asset forfeiture suit which is yet running in the UK.

The case comes up next month, but it is instructive to note that the hue and cry of the metropolitan police about some humongous wealth and assets attributed to Ibori is daily proving very difficult to be identified and proved. In all, the EFCC is urged to exert its fist on the many accused PEPs Politically Exposed Persons) -accused, and not kit up to undo the already politically-pummelled Ibori.

Monumental National Fraud; Where are the Auditors?
Every other day, we are buffeted with fresh stories of new discoveries of fraud in government offices. And I keep wondering how we, as a nation, are expected to be great and measure up with global expectations of a blessed nation, when the people charged with manning our resources turn around to rob us blind. Bad as all these may seem, my other worry is the whereabouts of the nation’s Auditor General in the face of these mindless robberies. Pray, are auditors not meant to trace and track fraud?

How come the Nigerian Auditor General hardly achieves this or at best raises the alarm long after the rogues have completed their operations or have even died spending their endless loot? Just where are the auditors? Last month, it was reported that 33 federal agencies failed to remit N450 Billion between 2010 and 2015. Last Wednesday, the papers reported the probe of NNPC and NPDC over unremitted $4.5bn to the federation account. Is audit not an annual exercise? Indeed, there are internal and external auditors in ministries and establishments. How come they hardly find anything promptly? Or is it that they are compromised?

The temptation to believe that auditors, even at the state levels are often accomplices in matters of fraud and financial underhand dealings is strong. Presently, for instance, the EFCC is re-arraigning the former Oyo State governor, Rasheed Ladoja for N4.7 Billion fraud. The EFCC, not the state auditor general, discovered this alleged stealing. So where was the auditor? It is not unlikely that those with the intent to commit fraud will ensure that the auditors are compromised so they (auditors) either turn their eye away from the anomalies or indeed, write compromised reports that will exonerate the misdeeds of offending persons or agencies. No auditor worth his career should be found in such a mess. But there are, sadly.

Virtually everyday, we hear of billions and billions of our stolen commonwealth. The state in turn, expends billions trying to prosecute these crooks who seem to have taken up every space in the public service, sometimes to no avail; no thanks to crooked lawyers who, out of crass greed for lucre, undermine national interest, to not only defend the crooks but also throw spanner into the wheel of prosecution. How can we grow with the swathe of rougish mass milling around everywhere? Just imagine, for a minute, the trillions of Naira that have either been stolen or mismanaged by public servants in the last ten or so years.

It will be mind-blowing! The unremitted N450billion from those 33 agencies, for instance, is enough to build standard hundreds of schools for our children or equip some hospitals with modern and effective medical equipment or even tar hundreds of kilometers of road. Like lawyers and bankers, I dare say that auditors (that is, the bad ones) are part of our problems as a nation.