Rivers State - July 2014
Published July 10, 2014
By Nate Haken*
Nigeria Conflict Bulletins
Among the largest of the oil-producing Nigerian states, Rivers had been at the heart of the Niger Delta militancy until 2009. Currently, the state is beset with a different array of issues as some former combatants have turned to criminality and uneven economic development continues to pose a challenge to sustainable peace and human security. The following bulletin is a closer look at the patterns of conflict risk at the local level.
Since 2010, the number of fatalities associated with conflict risk factors has decreased slightly, though violence appears to be rising since the beginning of 2013. Of the 23 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Rivers State, those with the highest number of reported incidents per capita resulting in fatalities were Port Harcourt, Eleme, Khana, Ikwerre, Emohua, and Obio/Akpor. Since May 2013, political tensions have been elevated in Rivers State after the disputed Nigerian Governor’s Forum election, in which Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi was the incumbent. Amid rising tensions with the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), in November 2013 Amaechi left and joined the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) along with a number of other governors and politicians. Protests both for and against the governor have continued, usually ending with a non-violent police intervention. In January 2014, tensions spiked when Senator Magnus Abe was reportedly shot with rubber bullets at a pro-Amaechi rally and had to be flown abroad for medical treatment. Also in January a bomb exploded at the Ahoada East High Court in what was suspected to be a politically motivated attack.
This Conflict Bulletin provides a brief snapshot of the trends and patterns of conflict risk factors at the State and LGA levels, drawing on the data available on the P4P Digital Platform for Multi-Stakeholder Engagement (www.p4p-nigerdelta.org). The screenshot of the heat map above shows the relative distribution of incidents from one LGA to the next from 2012-2014. The trend-line on the next page shows the number of incidents and fatalities. The bar chart shows the trend of incidents of insecurity by LGA per capita. The summaries draw on 2012-2014 data collected by FFP’s UNLocK, the Council on Foreign Relations’ NST, WANEP Nigeria, CSS/ETH Zurich, Nigeria Watch, and ACLED integrated on the P4P platform.
LGA Level Summary
Though still lower than the 2012 levels, violence seems to have been climbing in Port Harcourt over the last year. Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, has the highest population of all the state’s LGAs. Given the high density of the urban population, conflict risk issues in Port Harcourt include robberies, kidnappings, and gang/cult-related violence. As the political capital of the state, protests and demonstrations are common. In 2012, large protests broke out over the government's partial removal of a fuel subsidy program. Later in the year there were smaller protests over poor delivery of public services. In 2013, political tensions between supporters and detractors of Governor Amaechi increased. Incidents included a protest where police fired tear gas on a reported crowd of 1,000 trying to storm the State House Assembly building. Separately, later in the year two soldiers and two civilians were reportedly killed by fleeing gunmen associated with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) while cult violence flared in December, resulting in the deaths of at least two police officers and several civilians during a bus robbery. Political tensions continued into 2014 with protests for and against the candidacy of Justice Daisy Okocha as Rivers State’s administrative Chief Judge. As of this writing, Governor Amaechi has not appointed her, despite the National Judicial Council’s recommendation that he do so. In May 2014, a man was reportedly kidnapped and killed by his four abductors after collecting a ransom from his family.
In March 2012, a soldier apparently shot and killed a boy after he reportedly threw a bottle in the direction of the soldier’s car, resulting in a protest by community youth. In 2013, cult violence was blamed for a number of fatalities, including in September when a clash reportedly killed two. The next month, October, inter-communal violence reportedly killed two more. Several robberies reported over the period also resulted in deaths. 2012 and 2014, several kidnappings were reported, including that of a priest and a businessman.
In Khana LGA, there continued to be communal tensions, particularly around the issue of land. There were also cult clashes and criminality, including robbery and kidnapping. Land competition turned violent in 2012 when two communities in Ogoniland disagreed over whether and how a parcel of land should be developed by the state government as a banana plantation. In 2013, police arrests connected with cult violence predominated in the beginning of the year while a land seizure related to the development of the banana farm sparked tensions in late May. Since the beginning of 2014, violence seems to have increased in Khana, with a rise in political tensions and cult clashes. In January 2014, political tensions spiked when suspected militants opened fire on a pro-Amaechi rally. Communal tensions between rival cult groups also left four dead during a clash that reportedly lasted a week in May 2014.
As in other LGAs, predominant issues included gang violence, criminality, police corruption, and land competition. In 2013, there were reports of tension between pastoralists and farmers and at least one clash between the two cult gangs, Dewell and Degbam. In early 2014, police reportedly arrested 320 people suspected to be affiliated with Boko Haram.
In Emohua, there were numerous cases of abductions and gang violence. In 2013, a local monarch was reportedly kidnapped for ransom, which resulted in the deaths of at least two bystanders who were shot by the kidnappers. The clash between Dewell and Degbam cult groups in neighboring Ikwerre also reportedly impacted Emohua. Tension between political groups escalated in December, 2013, with a clash between PDP and APC supporters. In March and April 2014, cult violence, including clashes between the Islanders and the Icelanders reportedly killed several people.
In Obio/Akpor, reports included criminality, cult violence, domestic violence, and political tensions. In 2012, four students from UNIPORT University were lynched by a mob. The reasons for the lynching are unclear, but the victims were accused of having stolen electronics. After a YouTube video of the lynching was released, violent protests broke out. Thirteen people were arrested over the killings. Separately, in December 2012, at least five people were reportedly killed when members of a cult group purportedly went on a house-to-house rampage, shooting civilians while looking for unspecified individuals. In 2013, a political protest occurred when the local government chairman, who is considered to be an opponent of Governor Amaechi, was suspended by the Rivers State House of Assembly for the mismanagement of public funds. In response to ensuing violence from protestors demanding his reinstatement, police occupied the Obio/Akpor secretariat.
At a pro-Amaechi rally in January 2014, suspected police officers shot a senator of Rivers South-East constituency with rubber bullets during a speech. Police denied their involvement in the incident. Protests erupted from his supporters immediately following the incident. Temporarily disrupting traffic, community youths staged a protest in February 2014, over claims that an oil company had seized a portion of their farmland. Other 2014 incidents included the shooting deaths of three school children, four policemen, a regional bank manager, and a driver by unknown gunmen and armed robbers.
In Ahoada East LGA, an attempted jailbreak reportedly led to multiple casualties in 2012. Other clashes between police and criminals occurred in 2012 and 2013, leading to several deaths. Additionally, as Nigeria experienced the most damaging rainy season in decades, flooding in the second half of 2012 exacerbated pressure on the state’s resources. At least 12 people were reported to have lost their lives, and property and crops were destroyed in the flood. According to media reports, incidents of water-borne diseases and food scarcity also increased during this time. Unidentified persons bombed the State High court in what was suspected to be a political attack in early 2014. A second blast occurred at the Nigerian Bar Association hours after the first explosion.
In April-May 2014, the Degbam cult group reportedly invaded a community in Etche LGA, resulting in the death of 10 people over a period of a month.
In Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni LGA ther primary issues reported during this period include flooding, criminality, kidnappings, and gang violence. In October 2012, severe floods caused the displacement of entire communities, leading to inflation, starvation, and serious difficulties with resettlement. In May 2013, unknown gunmen reportedly tortured and killed an aide to the former PDP chairman Chief Godspower Ake. In 2014, several people were reportedly killed in what may have been an intra-communal attack.
In Asari Toru, reports of kidnappings spiked in 2013, beginning with the abduction of four expatriates. Reportedly on their way to work on a government-owned fish farm, four Thai nationals and two Nigerians were forced into a car and driven away a gunpoint. While the two Nigerians were released, a standoff between local police and kidnappers ensued for a week. In September, 2013, a clash reportedly broke out at a funeral between two rival groups known as White Chelsea and Kegema Unity Forum, that left three dead.
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* Patricia Taft and Jennifer Lowry contributed to this report.