Addressing Mass Atrocities In Rivers State

By Ken Meju A workshop on prevention of mass atrocities was organized by  Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Center  with funding

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A workshop on prevention of mass atrocities was organized by  Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Center  with funding from OSIWA for  at Sparklyn Hotel, Port Harcourt on April 5, 2019. Objective was to address general increasing insecurity challenges and to fashion out how to make Rivers State habitable, particularly, in the face of prevalent mass atrocities as witnessed largely, in all parts of the state.

Delivering an overview on mass atrocities, Kingsley Ozegbe, one of the resource persons defined it as a deliberate attack on civilians. “It is a mass violence that concerns everyone”, Mrs. Dumka David, a lawyer added. Mass atrocities manifest in genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is the use of physical force to abuse, damage, destroy or inflict violence which can be self, interpersonal or collective.

It was described as an act of behavior that is extremely cruel and wicked, a widespread targeted attack which must be stopped to prevent further loss or dehumanization of society members.

Rivers State has witnessed a wide range of mass atrocities committed by both government security agents and cult groups warranting the special attention.

Causes of this heightened abuse against humanity was traced to power dispute, fight for political succession, chieftaincy struggles, which often lead to mayhem, ideological difference over superiority among cult groups, identity creation, noted injustice, marginalization, quest for political and oil and gas gains, greed and selfishness, manipulations and ignorance among the actors or operatives, to mention but a few, that eventually culminates into the maiming of lives and mayhem on the masses sparked from the aforementioned

The mass atrocities are streamed and seen in the rape of democracy which impact manifest s on dividends of democracy in such sectors as education, health and infrastructure. Another attribute is a culture of fear from kidnappings, shooting and killings from a political perspectives and environmental crisis due to exploration activities by the multinationals as witnessed in the various bills of right evolved by the people to protect their land and selves as in the Ogoni Bill of Rights, the Kaiama Declaration.

There is also the soot phenomenon characterized by the burning of boats and illegal oil drilling implements by the military, also an offshoot of environmental crises arising from failure of government to address the needs of the massive youth in the oil host communities who are majorly unemployed. Of interest is the effect of appropriation and misappropriation of resources of state and refusal by those in authority to honour accountability, considered a mass atrocity against the people.

There is also the issue of vulnerability and abuse of human rights of citizens through trafficking of persons and children and associated rape as well as drag abuse with the nagging question of what are the sources, who are behind itand what their motives are. There is also the issue of cultism from drugs.

Finally, the proliferation of arms and light weapons that perpetuate mass violence in such identified areas as Alu, Diobu, Rumuekini, Elekahia axis of Port Harcourt, Eleme,  Ibaa, Emohua, Erema,Omoku, Abua, Gokana, Khana, to mention but a few.

According to Inyingi of the Women Security and Protection Network, “Mass violence is spreading from the villages to the towns” and should be nipped in the bud while a representative from the Ministry of Justice, Julie noted that there is a breakdown in the justice system .

A question that arose was if there is existence in the state a legal framework for dealing with mass atrocity. That question was addressed by Dumka David who highlighted existing laws to tackle the atrocity menace. She listed RHODA 2000,the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Law,VAPP, Child Right Act to protect children as well as acts being pushed to be made law like the introduction of the Family Court.

Dumka stressed the need for early prevention and enlightenment measures as well as attitudinal orientation to prevent the prevailing decadent state of mass atrocities. These she suggested should be done through responding and raising issues of atrocities before relevant authorities to de-emphasize the present culture of silence.

The Rivers State government she added, should develop policies that will tackle ugly situations as she called for a strongly intensified awareness programme while institutionalized framework like the Nigerian Civil Defense and  Security Commission, NCDSC, the Police, NDLEA, Rivers State Neighbourhood Agency, NAPTIP, Social Welfare Department, National Orientation Agency, NOA, Ministry of Women Affairs, Judiciary  and health institutions giving family reports should synergize with NGOs and CBOs while paralegal empowerment should be enabled.

Also speaking on the way out of the menace, Young Ayotamuno said there is need to move from mitigation to upstream mass sensitization and civic education from the primary schools, secondary through to universities for a period of at least 13 years, to prevent further loss.

In addition, he said there should be networking, sharing of information and resources as well as the building of partnership with NGOs.

Ayotamuno challenged CSOs to think globally and act locally. “Create identity among social organizations like Daughters of Charity who built their identity addressing a particular need.”.

Mass protests noting role of women during the just held general elections was also suggested as a stemming tool.

Inyingi stated, “Women face systematic atrocities so should put themselves together, develop an action plan, collect data to help develop interventions”.  She called for gender justice reform.

NAWOJ chairperson in Rivers State Dr Lilian Ogabu-Okonkwo said the media can help prevent mass atrocities by educating, informing and creating awareness, by providing advocacy, agenda setting and drawing needed attention to the menace. She urged all to partner with the media for positive result.

#Gender Accountability and Transparency Project (GAP)


Constance Meju is publisher of Port Harcourt based National Point Newspaper and Gender and Human Rights Justice advocate