by Mitchelle Uzorka
The Ijaw National Congress (INC) has vowed that it will not allow any Ijaw territory to be used as a battle field for desperate politicians to climb power.
In a Press briefing held on Saturday, 4th January, 2023, at the Ijaw House in Yenagoa, and titled “The despicable acts of life-threatening political violence unleashed in Ijaw land amidst campaigns for the 2023 general elections”, the President of INC, Prof. Benjamin Okaba, condemned in totality, the numerous cases of election related attacks on Ijaw sons who are governorship candidates of different political parties in Rivers state.
The leader of the apex Ijaw socio-cultural group, in the Press briefing recounted numerous cases of campaign disruptions and attacks on candidates in the heat up to the 2023 polls, observing that it is the constituonal right of every citizen to vote and be voted for.
He said; “Gentlemen of the Press, we give thanks to God Almighty for today as we welcome you all to this press briefing on the disturbing violent incidents in some parts of Ijaw land, particularly in Rivers State, as political parties and their candidates intensify campaigns for the February 25th and March 11th, 2023 national elections.
“The INC, as the apex socio-cultural organization of over 40 million Ijaw people worldwide, has observed with disgust and disappointment, the eruption of political violence and brigandage orchestrated in Rivers State, the heart of the Eastern Zone of Ijaw nation. Some of these acts of violence have been targeted at individuals with a view to snuffing life out of them, while others have sustained varying degrees of injuries and properties destroyed.
“We are aware that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) guarantees freedom to life, association, assembly and movement among others. Going by the present electoral Act (2022), all registered political parties and eligible candidates cleared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to seek elective offices, are free to carry out campaigns and canvass for votes without let or hindrance.
“The Constitution and the rule of law is the oxygen of democratic practice in all civilized and sane climes, but reports from Rivers State indicate the contrary. The INC finds this rather curious and worrisome. Some instances will suffice here. An illustrious Ijaw son and governorship candidate of the Accord Party, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, was violently prevented from purchasing essential gift items at a market in Bonny Kingdom.
“A few days later, he narrowly escaped being killed during campaign rally in Igbo-Etche. Also, Senator Magnus Abe, a notable Ogoni son, and governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was attacked in Degema, Oyigbo, Tai and Okrika Local Government Areas as well as around Port Harcourt City Council. His campaign train was also brutally ambushed in Ahoada-West LGA while on their way to Akinima for a campaign rally only last week.
“Another highly distinguished Ijaw son and governorship flag-bearer of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Tonye Cole, was three weeks ago attacked by a horde of armed political thugs and his campaign rally violently disrupted at the Ojukwu Field in Mile One, Diobu, Port Harcourt.
“Again, precisely on January 31, 2023, the peaceful and ancient Ijaw town of Opobo in the Opolo Clan of the INC-Eastern Zone, was turned into a theatre of violence in an alleged attempt to stop Tonye Cole from freely campaigning for votes that day.
“The INC strongly condemns these grave acts of electoral violence perpetrated in Rivers State because they are barbaric, unacceptable, reprehensible, inhuman and anti-democratic. It is crystal clear to any discerning mind that they are all aimed at intimidating opponents and instilling fear in the them in order to pave the way for the manipulation of the voting process.
“The INC reiterates that no part of Ijaw territory will be made a killing field and battle ground for shedding of blood by desperate politicians who want to swim in the blood of Ijaw people to ascend to power. Political contests are about service, ideas and ideologies, capacity and competence, character and charisma, tolerance and the ballot; not desperation, violence, intimidation, manipulation and scuttling of opposition campaigns.
“We advise the Rivers State Government to wake up to its sacred responsibility and play its constitutional role of protection of all lives and property including those in the opposition party. It is a constitutional obligation the government cannot and should not shy away from. Rivers State, and indeed Ijaw land deserve peace before, during and after the 2023 elections.
“We also urge the Federal and State security agencies to immediately curtail these dastardly acts from escalating in a free for all fight and total anarchy. They should also investigate the incidents of political violence and destruction that had been recorded in different parts of Rivers State so far with a view to prosecuting the perpetrators and sponsors, if any. We do not expect them to do otherwise. They should also demonstrate neutrality while carrying out their constitutional responsibilities, even on election duty.
“We equally warn all Ijaw sons and daughters (including all highly placed men and women) who might have allowed themselves to be used cheaply and shamelessly as agents of violence and political destruction, to desist from it and retrace their steps or be prepared to receive tribal curses that will haunt them and their families for generations. No true Ijaw politician would kill a fellow human being to advance his or her political ambition because of his or her understanding of the dare consequences that are imminent.
“The INC further enjoins all candidates contesting the forth coming elections at all levels to play by the rules of the game and shun acts inimical to a decent electoral process. Election is not war, and it is not won by hook or crook.
“We, therefore, call on all Traditional rulers, chiefs, youths, political parties and government officials of Ijaw extraction in Rivers State to self-introspect and advise themselves against all anti-democratic conduct.
“We hope to see a peaceful Rivers State where the fundamental rights of all residents are protected and promoted for the sustainable development of the state. Those dressing the state with the cloak of violence and political intolerance should, in the interest of peace and unity, stop the macabre dance. We do not want it. Ijaw Nation is watching.
“Thank you gentlemen of the press for your kind attention.”