Late yesterday evening I came across a news item from the Punch News(paper) online, that the paramount ruler of Orokpor village in Rumueme Community, in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area (Nigeria‘s most deadly LGA, in my estimation) of Rivers State, Charles Miniku, was shot and killed on Friday, while he was meeting with other chiefs inside the village hall. I was surprised that I didn’t flinch, and it must’ve occurred to me to say, “as usual” but I didn’t, and it goes to show how human lives have become almost worthless in that part of Nigeria, and the reasons for the killings are quite numerous and many times intertwined. I do not live in Rivers presently, but I’d lived and worked there for about a year, and I’ve always returned there on a frequent basis, more than any other place I visit in Nigeria for business and pleasure. It’s the only place where when I go on visits,I have to constantly update friends and family outside of it on my way to, and friends within it when leaving it, so that if I’m not heard from, people would at least know the last place I’d been.
The killings many times have been related to chieftaincy tussles, revenge killings, political (especially between supporters of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, and the opposition All Progressives’ Congress, APC), quarrels over the sharing formula to be adopted for booty gifted organizations or communities by any or some of the oil companies operating in that region, militancy (with Rivers State witnessing ongoing and never-ending amnesty programs and pardons, for repentant militants, years after same ended across the Niger Delta many years back),
cultism, kidnappings (that was formerly of white expatriates, before moving to Nigerians and/or their families who are workers in the oil industry, and now to just about anybody, with the killing of hostages becoming more frequent, than those found alive, after the payment of ransom by their families), inter-communal clashes over access to farmland, water and other resources, amongst several other reasons, memory fails me to list now.
Days back I was traveling from Onitsha to Port Harcourt by road, and as usual had my heart in my mouth for the period spent entering into Rivers State and the next one and half hours before getting to Port Harcourt. That stretch of road on Elele, before you get to Madonna University has always been eventful, each time I travel on that road, even if I dozed from Onitsha, through Owerri, to Owerri-Aba-Port Harcourt Road, I am Eagle-eyed once I sight a signboard placing us on Elele Road. Once I witnessed a robbery operation there, in which a gallant soldier bare-chested ran back from the hot-spot (to where our vehicle, with others had parked, while shooting was ongoing ahead), to engage new magazines and head back to return fire for fire, to the hoodlums operating on the road. I remember finding his action of removing his gear save for his pants and boots rather unprofessional, wondering the need for that even if he felt he lived a “charmed” life, and as such bullets couldn’t touch him.
My hope that my latest foray into that zone will be uneventful was raised when I noticed that roadblocks, where armed policemen were collecting “whites” (fifty naira notes, and making “change” for drivers who had higher denominations only) from commercial bus drivers, and haulage drivers had increased, spaced in what I estimated to be, in some places, fifty to hundred metres apart, in thinking that their presence should reduce armed robbery on that stretch of road. We hadn’t even done thirty minutes on Elele, frustrated by the checkpoints, where we had to slow down at each encounter, to navigate a maze of fallen trees, strategically placed on the roads to slow traffic to a crawl, when we noticed vehicular traffic running towards our direction from the opposing lane. Immediately I knew, just like other passengers, that something had happened again, what we didn’t know at the moment, was how close we were to the incident.
I sighted the policemen who moments ago were searching through vehicles, and collecting the mandatory “whites” from commercial bus drivers, jump into a cement laden truck for cover, while we waited unable to move forward or backwards because of the gridlock that was formed as a result of the panic-driving that ensued after the event. It was not until about another twenty minutes that the sound of sirens from police vehicles rent the air, and movements resumed though slowly. We got to ground zero in another fifteen minutes, and saw a black SUV with its doors ajar, without occupants. On the other side, a commuter bus had lunged into the bush and passengers were emerging from the bush, back into it. It had been a case of kidnapping, and the victim(s) already whisked away by their captors into the adjoining bushes along that Elele Road, on that Saturday evening, at about 6:30PM two weeks ago. It was a short operation, we gathered while we passed by, and I glimpsed some policemen looking into the SUV awkwardly parked (under duress obviously), without investigative tools (contaminating a crime scene), nor attending to passengers of the bus, who might have witnessed the abductions, as they emerged from the bush into which they fled, while the operation lasted.
From that spot, till I arrived in Rumuokoro, I was in shock, though I managed to keep a straight face. When other passengers were cautioning the driver to slow down, I felt like giving them a piece of my mind. Of course, other drivers with powerful engines on that road, once released from that death trap, raced past us like we were strolling, and they were Usain Bolt, till we approached areas where police were once again at the checkpoints because they weren’t aware of what had happened at Elele. No one would see the number of pellets and bullet casings we saw expended on that road that evening, just to kidnap the occupant(s) of that SUV, and simply want to stroll home afterwards. I had to commandeer a tricycle taxi to take me to Rumudara from Rumuokoro because it was already dark, and it would be easier to fight off just one Keke-driver than other drivers either in a Keke, or a cab, should they have evil designs on me. When I finally arrived my destinations, I had lost my appetite, mostly because it saddened me that since I first visited in 2007 for work and lived there for a year, before leaving yet made my presence there almost an annual one, many times twice or thrice since then, Rivers State has continued to decline security wise. Even the peace that was secured for a while, in my absence was the likes of that of a graveyard.
I only narrated what I’d witnessed to my host, after she told me that the body of a colleague was discovered Friday morning at Shell (Oil Producing Company), and the police were treating it as a murder case. She confided in me, that people close to him think that his murder was cult related, but were surprised that despite the tight security at Shell (which I have witnessed severally), the killers were able to make their way in, and out of the complex after perpetrating their horrendous act (except maybe it was an inside job). That whole night was just gloom for me, and I was glad that unlike at other occasions, I didn’t have to stay in a hotel, even though it would have been cosier, but that would’ve meant going out that night again. Interestingly, by the time I ventured out Sunday afternoon to Port Harcourt town, for light entertainment before making my way back to Lagos, I had put the events of the evening before, behind me. The happiness and joy of the people at a sports bar (including that dark complexioned chubby Bargirl that spoke so fast you can only hear the first and last words of her sentences) I was feted with fried meat and drinks at Artillery Junction impressed on me, the fact that despite the ugly security situation in the state, the people there do not miss any opportunity at “chopping” life, when they can. There and then, it came to me why I’d always return, and I was sad to leave again.