Date Published: 12/03/09
Taming the Untamed By Tony-Anthony John
Monday, November 16, 2009, would remain terrifyingly memorable to the students of University of Port Harcourt, Choba, especially victims of rape by ex-militants, who besieged the university community in their thousands, causing mayhem in a broad daylight.
The rampaging “repentant” militants, who are being rehabilitated in Aluu, a neighbouring village to the university, in the outskirts of Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, were said to have blocked the roads, defying all security operatives and gained control of the vicinity for their heinous acts.
On that fateful day, it was reported that no fewer than 12 female students of the institution, were raped by these former princes of the creek. On a sad note, four out of the 12 female students were said to have passed on, possibly because of psychological trauma.
Besides, the boys assaulted, looted and disrupted academic activities for hours, before security operatives could gain their feet.
What are the agitations of these? One is for improved facilities in their camp and, two, for the payment of their owed allowances.
Meanwhile, following incessant attacks on Uniport, the university community has called on the Federal Government to, as a matter of urgency, to relocate the militants’ camp. This was contained in their placards during the students’ peaceful protest to the Rivers State Government House on Tuesday, November I7, 2009.
However, I am commending the governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi-led government for throwing-in its weight behind the request of the students.
Also, I applaud the courage of the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Bala Hassan, for his pronouncement that about 14 of the former militants arrested during the recent attack, would be charged to court. This is a good radiant towards taming the untamed, as members of the public would, in deed, hope to hear the verdict.
But, in these their two agitations, improved facilities in the camp and payment of allowances, I disagree on one and concur the other.
I cannot imagine the level of deteriorated facilities that would make them take to the streets, to extent of raping and unleashing terror on innocent people. It is ridiculous and quite ironical that they were demanding for improved facilities. Ordinarily, one would expect them to be appreciative of the efforts of the government for trying to give them a new lease of life. They would not claim that right there in the creeks; they had facilities, let alone improved ones. So, this cannot, in anyway, be a tangible reason.
On the other point, allowances, so long as government has made pronouncement on paying them allowances, it would be disastrous if it rescinds. Owing to the delicate nature of their breeding, government would be making a costly mistake, if it plays politics or is logical with their allowances.
Two times the ex-militants in Bayelsa protested, it was all about non-payment of their allowances. The poser, then, is, why is the federal government allowing this to be an issue? Let this not be a ploy used by the government to cause further breakdown in the Niger Delta region, as it portends.
Some public analysts have opined that, for transparency of purpose, especially regarding the payment of their allowances, it would make sense if the government employs the services of their former commanders in the disbursement of the funds.
The argument put forward by these people is that, since the boys appear to be sceptical about the promises of the government, though they had surrendered their arms, their camps’ structures could still be existing. Hence, their loyalty and confidence in their commanders cannot be doubted.
When the Bayelsa section of the former militants staged their first protest, a government official with the state Peace and Conflict Resolution, Ben Sekeleye, had accused politicians in the state of infiltrating the rank and file of the militants to stage the protest. When it occurred the second time, I had expected him to re-echo his initial statement, but, he was silence over it.
Now that it had happened in Rivers State, could it equally be said, it was the handiwork of politicians who want to smear the good government of Rivers State, as Sekeleye claimed of Bayelsa State? Tomorrow, it may be the turn of Ondo, or any of the remaining Niger Delta states to stage theirs. That is why caution must be implored.
I still re-emphasise that what we need for amnesty to be actualized, is government’s sincerity. From all indications, it has become glaring that what the boys want is steady payment of their allowances. They are not asking for an increment. I am of the opinion that, government should not waste time in re-visiting whatever negotiation it made with the boys or any other authority concerning their allowances.
Just as I had earlier stated about the views of some public analysts, if the government deems it feasible to use the boys’ commanders to achieve peace, progress and orderliness in the system, it should not hesitate doing that.
A very serious and salient point which, I would say, government has not really addressed is security around their camping centres. The porous security structure put in place by government at the rehabilitation centres, has not yielded positive results. For instance, Uniport authority and students have alleged that, the repeated attacks, rape, abduction, stealing and killing always experienced by the institution, have been perpetrated by the militants.
Recently, the Chief Security Officer(CSO) of the university was murdered by unidentified gunmen. It was reported that, the CSO was alerted of a robbery going on in the school in the night. Unfortunately, as he went out for the distressed call, he felled to their bullets. Yet, nothing has been heard of any investigation in the killing.
What I have argued is that, if proper security is put in place, thorough surveillance would be mounted and maintained by the security operatives. I do not anticipate that, while undergoing rehabilitation, any of militants would be in possession of any harmful weapon. A situation where such exists, means something is wrong with our security.
I liken these ex-militants undergoing rehabilitation as wild animals kept in a zoo. Once any of such animals escapes from its cage and enters the street, danger abounds. That, of course, was the experience of members of the public in both Bayelsa and Rivers States. There should be twenty-four hours surveillance in and around their rehabilitation centres.
Moreover, rehabilitation and re-orientation should not just mean camping. It goes beyond that. What matters most is the development of their psyche. Therefore, the government should employ the services of renowned psychologists to work on the mindset of the youths, who had indulged in hard drugs in the past.
On a very serious note, government should do everything within its power to forstall this ugly trend for the security of lives and property.