Monday, March 21, 2016 4:35 pm
By Bola Bolawole
The unenviable sobriquet for the volatile Western Region in the First Republic was the “Wild, wild West”, earned as a result of the political violence that followed controversial elections in the then region in 1964 and 1965. The aftermath was the killing of political opponents and the burning of the property and persons of opposing political groups in what came to the known as “Operation Wet- e”. Literally, it means “wet him or her or the property so targeted with petrol and set ablaze”. It was the precursor to Winnie Mandela-supported “neck-lacing” of suspected betrayers of the Black cause in South Africa and discreet supporters of the White apartheid regime.
Of course, the “Wild, wild West” led to the collapse of the First Republic, triggering, as it were, a chain of negative reactions that eventually snowballed into the January 15, 1966 first military coup led by Major Kaduna Chukwuma Nzeogwu and four other Majors of the Nigerian Army. Whereas the coup failed, it nonetheless brought an end to the first attempt at democratic governance after Independence was achieved from the British colonial masters on October 1, 1960. A civil war later followed (1967 – 1970) and thereafter successive military coups until the then General Olusegun Obasanjo returned the country to civil rule in 1979. That was the Second Republic, which itself was truncated in December 1983 by another military coup that announced the then Major-General Muhammadu Buhari as Head of State.
General Ibrahim Babangida, torpedoed Buhari in 1985 and went on to experiment with all manner of return-to-civil-rule programmes in what was referred to as the Third Republic; but it was not until May 1999 that the Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar administration installed the present Fourth Republic, the longest in the annals of the country. But since 1999, at no other time than this has democracy come under sustained and ruthless threat. The elections in the South-south have been nothing but wars and battles.
In Rivers state especially but generally in all the South-south and, to a lesser extent in the South-east, the March\April 2015 elections were do-or-die battles. Subsequent re-runs as well as the recent Bayelsa state governorship election have fared no better. The scale of the violence was such that I concluded that the outcomes were not people’s mandates but the booties of war for those declared the winners by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and later by the courts. Whoever was so declared out of the two dominant parties that have turned that zone into the most volatile region of the country was as guilty as the other. Last week’s re-run in Rivers was, perhaps, the worst of the worst. Blood flowed freely.
Gone were the days when big men employed thugs to do their bidding; these days, the big men – perhaps unable to trust anyone to clinically finish up the opponent – embark on the dirty job themselves. Governors, Ministers and such other big guys with all the paraphernalia and state apparatus of power attached to their offices, which included immunity from arrest and prosecution in some cases, are the ones who move about in broad daily subverting the system, compromising officials, maiming and killing innocent voters and daring the law to take its cause if it can! There is a complete breakdown of law and order in the South-south. The impunity of the political actors cuts across the political divide.
There are four reasons why the South-south has become this volatile. One: The resource control war fought by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has radicalised the region. The zone swarms with militants and ex-militants of all hues and once criminality has become thriving business, to get it dismantled takes so much effort, tack, and patience – all of which the Buhari administration lacks or is not willing to call to bear. In addition, there is a deluge of arms and ammunitions in the zone. The Amnesty programme, according to some insider sources, did little, if anything at all, to mop up considerable quantity of arms from the region.
The zone is seen as the bastion of the opposition PDP and a cordon that must necessarily be thrown around former President Goodluck Jonathan, who is from Bayelsa state. The ex-president, according to this theory, is not safe if the ruling All Progressives Congress controls Bayelsa or any of the adjoining states. Finally, losing any of the oil-rich states is seen as tantamount to committing political hara-kiri by the PDP. Having lost the Federal purse, it must by hook or crook hold on to the rich Niger Delta states if it is to be able to challenge the APC in future contests.
Militants were said to have turned in unserviceable arms while the dollars that the amnesty programme churned out to the so-called militants “embracing” the peace deal provided ample opportunity for them to stock up on the latest and sophisticated arms and ammunitions for future use. That future is here! Two: Generous revenue allocation formula, especially the 13% derivation, has made the states of the South-south the richest in the country. Dwindling or no dwindling oil revenue, one state in that region collects monthly more than the monthly allocation of six or more states from other parts of the country put together. So the prize to be won is high; hence the competition is cut-throat.
Three: The zone is seen as the bastion of the opposition PDP and a cordon that must necessarily be thrown around former President Goodluck Jonathan, who is from Bayelsa state. The ex-president, according to this theory, is not safe if the ruling All Progressives Congress controls Bayelsa or any of the adjoining states. Finally, losing any of the oil-rich states is seen as tantamount to committing political hara-kiri by the PDP. Having lost the Federal purse, it must by hook or crook hold on to the rich Niger Delta states if it is to be able to challenge the APC in future contests. As we all know, politicians of all hues, including those purportedly waging anti-corruption wars, loot the public treasury to foot their election bills.
Have the politicians learnt useful lessons from our past experience? George Santayana says those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeating its mistakes. As things are right now, are we not already repeating the mistakes of the past? The conflagration last time, which consumed the First Republic, was from the West; is the fire this time around not already being stoked in the South-south? Those who have ears…
The writer can be reached via: [email protected] 0803 251 0193