GOVT OFFICIALS AND PORT HARCOURT GANG WARS: SUPPOSING CLARK PRESENTS COGENT EVIDENCE?
Barely few days from the declaration in a church by the embattled Rivers State Governor Sir Celestine Omehia that what happened in Port Harcourt recently by hoodlums explained why the former Governor, Dr Peter Odili said a cultist would not succeed him, almost everybody in his executive have been fingered for alleged direct involvement in sponsorship/membership of the gangs that terrorized the state.
Omehia who hinted that before Odili’s tenure ended, the former governor went into ‘fasting and prayers’ believing God to choose whoever pleases Him to succeed him. “I think he was speaking prophetically and God used him to say many things. What happened in Rivers State a few weeks ago shows that God has granted his prayers”. However, what the governor failed to add was that the prayer would be fully answered when the Edwin Clark-led Ijaw leaders presents their documented evidence showing the level of involvement of top officials of Omehia’s government from the Government House to the State House of Assembly.
The running allegation of River state government’s involvement in the spate of violent gang wars that ravaged the state, Tuesday 18 th September took an interesting turn when leaders of the Ijaw Elders Forum met President Yar’Adua to spell out their complaints about the links between the gangs, or “cults”, and named senior politicians.
President Yar’Adua who could not hide his shock simply told the Ijaw leaders: “You have made very grave allegations. Put the allegations in writing and we will investigate them. If it is clearly established that anyone is a party to causing the crises, he will be dealt with according to the law. We will act on whatever comes out of a thorough and just investigation.” And this is the interesting side of the story.
Chief Edwin Clark, in an interview in Abuja with State House press bluntly declared that: “The governor himself was an interested person, he may not be a cultist himself but his deputy governor is a cultist. “The SSG is a cultist and was also expelled from the university in those days and declared a cultist by the SSS November last year. In fact the SSG and one Kubani who was the commissioner for finance were the two people who caused the trouble in Ogoni that claimed hundreds of lives recently, fighting for supremacy of power.”
To treat the elders’ accusation with levity would amount to irresponsibility by those concerned both on the accused and the would-be investigating team. The accusation cannot be regarded as just one of those things. Those who leveled the allegation cannot just point mere accusing fingers on some top officials of the Rivers State Government - including the Governor and his deputy, Government House Chief of Staff, some commissioners and lawmakers if they don’t have convincing evidence to buttress such grievous allegation.
Agreed that the position of the law as pointed out by Omehia is that “If somebody alleges that the other is a member of cult, the person who makes the allegation has the onus to prove it, but supposing the Ijaw leaders presents incontrovertible evidence in writing or photographs to confirm their allegation?
Meanwhile Chief Clark still maintained the position of the Ijaw Elders Forum that some members of the Rivers State government were cult members and sponsors of gang activities in the Niger Delta. He claimed that he was already compiling his evidence to present to President Umaru Yar’Adua.
The former Federal Information Commissioner said his group would certainly take up the challenge to substantiate the claims made by it that sponsors of cult activities abound in Rivers State government. “We are already compiling the evidence. As a lawyer, I know there’s no way I can make any allegation without substantiating them, I’m prepared for that.
“But first of all, I have some questions for Omehia: What does K12 stands for. Who founded it? He should be able to tell the world. Have they denied since November last year when SSS declared them to be cultists?”
Curiously, the Rivers State Deputy Governor’s remark that the people of the state should discountenance what he termed “actions allegedly targeted at undermining the efforts of the government to curb the cult menace” could best be described as not just diversionary but nonchalance towards a very serious matter that has caused loss of hundreds of lives, robbed not only the people of the state but even the state itself of its pride of place in the nation’s economy.
Prior to this stage of the crisis, some serious minded journalists and civil rights activists in Port Harcourt had warned that if the government was serious about destroying the gangs in Rivers state and the entire Niger Delta, it will also have to go after their political sponsors. The big problem why it was not done in the past was that such drive could prove a big embarrassment to the ruling party, the PDP not only in the region but across the nation.
Truth be told, the accusation was not new though it was regarded as mere rumour until now that some courageous elders came up boldly to publicly declare it. It has always been alleged that politicians and gangs in Rivers state maintained very cordial and close relationship, with politicians paying the criminals to do all sorts of heinous things in the state especially against perceived political opponents and rival gang sponsors.
Has anybody ever bothered to ask how the youths had access to these guns and where they keep these sophisticated riffles and submachine guns after using it to kill and cause trouble on the streets? These are not pistols you can hide inside your trouser and more so majority of the real street fighters of the various gangs have no apartments of their own. So how and where do they collect and return these guns? And could some of these guns be part of the riffles Asari and Ateke returned to government when they renounced violence? So there are so many questions that can help whosoever is investigating to unravel the root of the problem in Rivers state.
When the Federal Government commences its investigation into the alleged involvement of government officials in sponsorship/membership of the gangs terrorizing the state, it should call for public submission of memoranda with a view to solving the problem once and for ever. This is necessary because the crisis has since degenerated into a crime wave that security forces have been unable to tame despite several heavy-handed operations. Instead, attacks by ransom seekers, armed robbers and violent gangs have persisted. Kidnappers have abducted toddlers and elderly relatives of the rich, armed robberies have multiplied and shootouts between rival gangs have killed several bystanders. This has to stop and the way forward now is for the Chief Clark-led Ijaw Elders Forum to document their evidence and present to the President as requested, if they actually have any cogent evidence.
By BARIDON NEEWEH,
PhD WROTE FROM BORI OGONI RIVERS STATE