Nigerians and indeed, the global community, would recall that Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, the Minister of Transportation had said that he and the state’s chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) are ready for battle in the (now postponed) Presidential and National Assembly election in Rivers State, which was earlier billed to take place on the 16th of February, 2019.
To clear one of any shred of doubt as to what the Minister meant by “battle”, he specifically stated thus:
“Your Excellency, let me welcome you to Rivers State, and I welcome you to our state. Whatever Wike wants on Saturday, we will give him, free. We don’t want money from the Federal.’’
Amaechi said as the mammoth crowd cheered him on and the Master of Ceremonies hailed him as “the Lion”.
Not done, he continued:
“Whatever PDP wants in Rivers State, we are equal to the task. It’s as simple as that. You know, it gets to a stage a man cannot be any other thing but a man.
Your Excellency, I’m not going to Abuja again from today to the day of the election.
In 2015, the Army tried to arrest me as a sitting Governor. We have a governor who is busy lobbying us, trying to negotiate with us saying “let’s give you presidency, you give me governor. He is afraid, is he not? We will battle him to the last. You know, for long I’ve not spoken like this, but today, we will sing like the Igbo people would sing”. Amaechi then broke into Igbo war songs which roughly translate into “it is time to show strength, let the coward not come close to where a show of strength is taking place”. As he sang, he displayed some war-like dance steps to show his preparedness for battle. As he danced, the MC kept hailing him “Lion, Lion”.
He continued in his violent rhetoric thus:
“On Saturday, they should get ready. The support we want is that Mr. President should just thank us when we finish. We are ready for them…”
It is instructive to note that this warmongering statement of a supposed Honorable Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is coming against the background of the government’s campaign against hate speech and inciting statements by politicians which has been largely directed at members of the main opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) other civil rights activists.
Amaechi’s statement is even more worrisome when considered in the light of the fact that it was delivered before the very presence of President Muhammadu Buhari and other top government functionaries.
Nigerians would recall that Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information had on August 6, 2018 asserted that the opposition PDP is responsible for the spread of fake news and hate speech in an attempt to de-market President Buhari ahead of the polls. In his words:
“The opposition has latched on to the use of fake news as a campaign tool ahead of the 2019 general elections…”
He continued, “…so it (the PDP) has decided to take the easy route, which is to use fake news and hate speech to de-market the administration, pitch Christians against Muslims and one ethnic group against another. In short, it wants to plunge the country into turmoil.” (emphasis supplied).
Nigerians would also recall that on November 28, 2018, the Nigerian Police had explained that the convener of a civil society group known as “Concerned Nigerians”, Deji Adeyanju and others were arrested over what was termed as “hate speech” as displayed in public notices they had issued.
Some of the notices which the police posted read as follows:
“The romance between APC(ruling All Progressives Congress) and police is unholy.” “Police is not a department of APC.” “We just want police to be neutral in this election.” Of course, one may want ask “where is the hate speech in the above captured statements”?
Also, on February 12, 2019, a chieftain of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Kaduna state, Alhaji Yaro Makama was arrested by the police for alleged hate speech and whisked to Abuja.
Makama’s arrest came less than 24 hours after the spokesman of the state PDP campaign organization, Ben Bako, was arrested on February 11, 2019 by the Department of State Services (DSS) and taken to Abuja.
From the above discourse, the following questions call for determination:
- Does Amaechi’s statement (referenced above) not amount to inciting public violence and threat to public peace?
- If the answer to the above poser is in the affirmative, would it not amount to double standard for the Nigerian security agencies to arrest other opposition figures and leading members of the civil society who were alleged to have committed the same offence as Amaechi?
Indeed, it is pathetic for a people to have leaders who do not appreciate the import of their statements to the polity and their followers. In this direction, it is instructive to note that few days after Amaechi’s violent rhetoric, his supporters in his faction of the Rivers APC besieged the Rivers State office of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) in Port Harcourt to protest what they termed “wrongful exclusion” of the Rivers All Progressives Congress (APC) from participating in the forth-coming general elections in the state; even when the Supreme Court had dismissed all the appeals the party filled challenging the judgments of Chinwendu Nwogu of the Rivers State High Court which nullified their congress and that of Hon. Justice Omotosho which delisted them from the INEC’S list of candidates standing for the general election respectively.
It is even more pathetic for the public institutions of any country to be so politicized (as is currently the case of Nigeria) to the extent of being used to witch hunt and persecute political opponents and those who hold a different view from that of the government of the day.
More worrisome is the fact that ever after the Supreme Court’s decision dismissing all the appeals filled by the Amaechi’s faction of the Rivers APC, the party, through Amaechi’s supporters have never ceased from issuing threats of violence on the Rivers people if their candidates are not allowed by INEC to participate in the elections – what an effrontery!
From the action of Amaechi and his supporters, one may not be wrong to hold the view that his faction of the Rivers APC intends to use either actual violence or threat of violence to scare Rivers voters away on the day of the Presidential election with a view to rigging the said election in favor of the APC. This position is buttressed with the fact of the revelation by the Senator representing Rivers South East Senatorial District, Senator Magnus Abe, on the 15th day of February, 2019 that Amaechi had once instructed him to burn down INEC’s office in Port Harcourt after the 2015 general elections which the APC lost to the incumbent Governor Nyesom wike.
It must be established at this point that this writer holds no brief of anybody or political party but that of the collective desire of law abiding and fair-minded Rivers people and indeed, Nigerians to have a free, fair and violence-free elections in Rivers State and Nigeria at large.
Flowing from the above, it is therefore imperative to put Amaechi and his supporters on notice that they have by their actions, individually and collectively signed an agreement to accept responsibility for any violence that may occur in Rivers State, before or after the elections.
Gift Agbagbuo, is a Constitutional Lawyer and Public Affairs Analyst. He can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org.