The governing council of the National Human Rights Commission has arrived in Rivers State to commence detailed investigation into the political violence in the states.
Led by its Chairman, Chidi Odinkalu, the Commission met with the All Progressives Congress governorship candidate, Dakuku Peterside, with whom it discussed extensively the politically-related killings in the state.
Rivers State has in the recent past witnessed politically-motivated violence with the APC claiming to have lost about 30 of its members in the state in one local government area of the state alone.
Mr. Peterside had about three weeks ago survived an attack on his campaign train by some hoodlums in Okirika, the hometown of the First Lady, Patience Jonathan. During the attack, a police officer lost his life while a reporter with Channels Television was stabbed.
At the campaign office of the APC governorship candidate in Port Harcourt on Monday, Mr. Odinkalu explained that the Commission embarked on the fact-finding tour of Rivers State because it did not want to sit in Abuja and assumed to know what was happening through the twitter.
“We are here because we want to see both campaigns, we also want to see evidence of those who were killed. Do we have names and documents? Can we get a sense of what is happening? Do we have records?” he said.
“We will see the Commissioner of Police for more details. There is no alternative to civil and democratic governance and Rivers State is strategic in this respect. That is why we wish to start from here. Our role is not take sides.”
While offering condolences to those who lost their relations in the crises, Mr. Odinkalu said the Commission was worried about the rising rate of violence in the state.
“We are all worried, not just because we have families and friends, if we don’t have a country that exists, we can’t even do politics, we can’t do public service or think of improving our country. That is the spirit of this visit, to engage and try to understand the issues,” he explained.
“Nobody wants a situation when we end elections and the country is not governed or stable enough. We must all work to see how we can pull ourselves back to a place of civility and minimize violence. And we must rise to the challenge of protecting our country by ensuring that we are committed to a better country.”
The NHRC chairman described Mr. Peterside as a public servant per excellence, stating that he served with good record.
Responding, the APC, on behalf of his party and the campaign organisation, thanked Mr. Odinkalu for his commission’s interest in the crisis in Rivers State.
He said, “I am sure that before coming to Rivers State, you must have received with mixed feelings, our stories of political violence. These negative stories appear to have overshadowed the achievements of this government.
“Your visit, I must say, will show you that we are peace loving people. When we experience one form of violence in one part of the country, the ripple effects are felt in other parts of the country. So it is in our best enlightened interest to ensure that whenever it occurs, we put a check for the good of all of us.”
Mr. Peterside said the intervention by the Commission would help monitor and curtail the distressing degree of human rights abuses and the daily loss of lives.
He lamented further, “I was shocked to discover that in less than one year in one local government area alone (Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni) we lost 30 persons to political violence.
“In Okrika, you would have read in the papers that we are not allowed to campaign there. Similar scenario is playing out in Ogo Bolo Local Government Area. I am told, though unconfirmed that some chiefs in Okrika issued an order barring us from coming to campaign in Okrika and I am wondering if Okrika is not part of Rivers State. “
Mr. Peterside, who used the opportunity to call on fellow politicians to eschew bitterness in their quest for power said “power only comes from God.”
He charged them to appeal to voters with their programmes rather than resorting to intimidation and violence and that anyone who truly wants to serve must care for the lives of the citizens.
The APC candidate subsequently presented his manifesto: Road Map to Prosperity to Odinkalu, a comprehensive audio/visual package and other documents on the violence in Rivers State.