Chidi Odinkalu, Chair, National Human Rights Commission

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19 people killed monthly in Rivers election violence

By Ben Ezeamalu

May 22, 2015

A monthly average of 19 killings occurred in Rivers State between November 2014 and April 2015, a Rivers Commission of Inquiry has said.

At the presentation of the final draft of the report to the Rivers State government, Thursday, the Commission noted that out of the 97 allegations of killings it received, 94 of them occurred between November 15, 2014, and April 11, 2015.

“This report reaffirms that no state or country should allow a repeat of such violence in the name of politics,” said Chidi Odinkalu, a professor of Law and chairman of the commission.

“It also shows how and why Rivers State and Nigeria must end impunity for political violence.”

The Commission was instituted by Governor Rotimi Amaechi, in April, to probe politically-motivated killings and destruction of properties before and during the 2015 general elections.

The inquiry opened on May 4 and undertook seven days of public hearings during which it heard over 18 hours of oral testimony, in respect of 43 memoranda concerning incidents of violence from 11 of the 23 local government areas in Rivers State.

Forty-nine witnesses testified on oath, four of them ‘in camera.’ They also inspected 10 buildings damaged in alleged political violence and arranged for the valuation of 21 properties destroyed in political violence. In addition, the inquiry also entertained three confidential expert briefings and admitted and examined 221 exhibits.

According to Mr. Odinkalu, the commission received reports of 83 incidents of destruction of property, including acts of vandalism and arson. Seven of the incidents occurred before the election while 77 occurred during the election.

A total of 275 different violations involving killings, injuries to persons or destruction were reported to the Inquiry.

Also, 236 alleged perpetrators were identified in testimonies – while 120 people were named, 116 were unidentified.

“The evidence suggests a significant incidence of internal displacement resulted from political violence in many parts of Rivers State,” Mr. Odinkalu said.

“The Commission of Inquiry also received evidence which strongly suggested that sexual violence was part of the arsenal of political violence in some areas.”

Mr. Odinkalu noted that many of those who testified before the commission appeared genuinely afraid for their lives, some declined to show up, while some withdrew after being threatened.

One member of the commission withdrew from further participation after receiving threats to his life.

Mr. Odinkalu criticised the attitude of security institutions in Rivers State to the work of the commission, adding that it tended to corroborate several witnesses’ allegations that mostly indifferent to acts of political violence in the state.

At the commission’s inaugural sitting on May 4, Patience Adube narrated how her husband, Christopher, was killed at their home in Obrikom, ONELGA (Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government area).

Mr. Adube, a former caretaker chairman of the local government, and his three sons were shot to death on April 3. His son-in-law, Ikechukwu, and one of his security men were also fatally shot as gunmen invaded his residence.

Mr. Odinkalu stated that the difficulties encountered by the commission paled into insignificance beside the ordeals of some of the victims of the violence.

“We met some of their survivors,” he said. “There were children orphaned. The youngest we met was 9 months old when his father was killed in his presence. He was still breastfeeding.

“We met young widows of political violence, as well as grand-mothers who had to bury their grand-sons killed in violence. Their stories deserve to be told and heard. They deserve justice as well as political leaders and security agencies that will protect their best interests.”

Receiving the report on behalf of the state government, Emmanuel Chinda said the commission was set up in fulfilment of the government’s primary responsibility of protecting lives and properties.

Mr. Chinda said the state governor had directed that the report be translated into a white paper “as soon as possible.”

“The government set up this Commission to ensure that whoever deserves justice would get it as soon as possible,” said Mr. Chinda, the commissioner for Agriculture. “We will make sure that the purpose for setting up the Commission is fulfilled.”