From the onset of the riots, Gov Nyesom Wike seemed to stand firm to save the state from going into conflagration. Rivers seemed to be one of the most integrated states outside Lagos with large populations from various ethnic groups and the expatriate community.
The consequence is that any uprising allowed to take ethnic pattern would be too bad for the economy. That must be why Gov Wike seemed to take proactive steps. He banned protests but many did not see what he saw. When the civil protesters led by the civil society groups defied the order and marched to Govt House, the governor still came out to honour them with a speech. That ended the anger and youths went home satisfied.
One week after, the governor came out denouncing plans to start new wave of protests. Many still thought he was being busy-body, but this one was followed by a more violent one. This time, burning down of police installations, killings, etc took over. The governor moved fast to pinpoint the group he felt was guilty, though many said other ethnic groups did evil too.
The last tangible action the governor took was to fall back to his strength; mobilizing the grassroots people, the youths and community-based forces to stand and defend their state. Now, most leaders across board have commended his actions. He has made a clear distinction between the Igbos and IPOB, warning that nothing should happen to the Igbo.
The governor charged the 23 council chairmen and youths in the state to fish out members of the previously proscribed Indigenous Peoples Organisation of Biafra (IPOB) in the State.
Gov Wike also warned that any council chairman that allows IPOB to hold processions and hoist its flag within their jurisdictions in Rivers State, risked sack.
He made this assertion during a meeting with all the 23 local council chairmen, community development committees and youths leaders at the Government House, in Port Harcourt on Monday, October 26, 2020. These actions seemed to douse the fears of the Hausa communities to drop their own planned actions, it is believed.
The governor described Rivers State as the most accom
modating state for all Nigerians. To buttress this, he stated that there has never been any historical incident of different ethnic groups clashing in the State as has been witnessed in other parts of the country.
He said; “We have lived in harmony with the Igbos, the Hausas, and with Edo people. Everybody that comes to this state we have lived in harmony with. And so Nigerians must commend Rivers State as a place where you have never had problem between this group and that group.”
Gov Wike, however, maintained that while the people of Rivers State believe in the unity of the country, they would not allow those operating under any guise to unleash violence and criminality on the state.
“The federal government declared IPOB a terrorist group; they cannot use Rivers State to be place where they will be launching attack. If you allow that, your future, your children’s future is gone” he told the council chairmen.
On burning, he said; “Go to Oyigbo and see what they have done. They destroyed the court. What did the court do? See the soldiers and policemen they killed and burnt them. Do you think people will sit and fold their arms”.
The governor, while calling for vigilance on the part of Rivers people, however, warned sternly that IPOB members should not delude themselves because Rivers State cannot be colonised or annexed by any group; not while he is still the governor of the State.
According to him, Rivers State is Niger Delta and will remain in Niger Delta.
He explained that while every Nigerian is allowed to reside in Rivers State, but those who wish to do so must live in peace with the people of the State.
“Igbos are living and doing their business here and they will continue to live and do their business here. We support that. But that terrorist group called IPOB cannot determine what happens in our state. They cannot tell us where they own. It will never happen and we must not allow it to happen”.
Gov Wike charged all chairmen of councils, youth leaders, CDCS to go into their various communities and identify all those IPOB members. He has meanwhile, emphasied that nobody of Igbo extraction legitimately residing and doing business in the state must be harassed.
“But there are criminal elements that we must not allow, and they are those who said they are IPOB members. Federal government has proscribed them, I have proscribed them” he said.
He called on the people to defend the territory of Rivers State and ensure no part of the State is annexed by a criminal organisation or terrorist organization. “We cannot allow it. All our vigilante groups must be encouraged. Everybody must be at alert. Work with the security agencies to make sure nothing called IPOB exists in this state. No procession. Not even a meeting anywhere. Identify where they hold meeting” he said.
Rivers State Commissioner of Youth Development, Ohia Prince Obi, lauded the governor for interfacing with the youths as this would give them a sense of belonging in the affairs of the State.
The chairman, National Youth Council of Nigeria in Rivers State, Chijoke Ihunwo, appealed to Gov Wike for clemency for wanted Stanley Mgbere, who allegedly led IPOB members to attack the palace of the king of Onne. The governor turned this down