The Nigerian Army has continued to be a target of critical reviews over the elections in Rivers State, with a call, on Monday, by some prominent citizens of the state, for investigation of the role of the military in the electoral violence affecting the oil-rich state.
The citizens, including Atedo Peterside, the founder of Stanbic IBTC Bank, Onueze Okocha, former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, and Herbart Wigwe, Access Bank's chief, expressed "disbelief and horror" at the widespread violence that followed the general elections in Rivers State.
Their statement titled 'Rivers lives also matter' bears an evocative photo of a crying kid placed on the map of the state.
During the presidential and National Assembly elections, at least 11 persons, including a soldier and a youth corps member, were killed, and the Independent National Electoral Commission had to suspend the collation exercise for the governorship and state parliamentary elections because of violence last Sunday.
"These violent incidents have led to the needless loss of so many lives, especially youths in various communities," said the group, which also includes George Etomi, a lawyer, Tein George, a businessman, Emmanuel Georgewell, an engineer, and John Azuta-Mbata, a former senator. "We do not believe that elections which are designed to enable the people choose their leaders should lead to their death instead."
"Therefore, every single death must be investigated and the culprits brought to justice.
"We are particularly concerned about the role played by the Nigerian Army in these events and welcome the announcement by the Army Command that they have set up a panel to investigate the conduct of their personnel who were deployed on election duties.
"In the light of numerous disturbing video footages which have gone viral across the globe, it is important and imperative that the investigation is thorough, professional and unbiased," they added.
Before now, the INEC had blamed "some soldiers and armed thugs" for the violence and disruptions that compelled a resort of suspension of collation exercise last Sunday.
That INEC's statement was a betrayal, the army replied on Monday, expressing regret at the indictment by the electoral body.
"This clearly indicates a lack of trust by an institution that the Nigerian Army sacrifices so much to assist in the course of performing their role," said Aminu Iliyasu, the spokesperson for the 6 Division of the army based in Port Harcourt.
"Representatives of the 6 Division met with the Fact-Finding Committee on Tuesday 12 March 2019 at the INEC Headquarters in Port Harcourt and had honest discussions and made a written submission to aid the Committee in its task. Regrettably, none of the Division's input form any of the findings of INEC as made public," Mr Iliyasu, a colonel, added.
"Failure of political leadership"
The group further expressed concern about "the inability of the political leaders in our state to manage their rivalries and differences within acceptable norms of a civilised society as has been done in several other States in Nigeria."
They said Rivers State is multi-ethnic and there is a risk of general and more troubling anarchy where "some communities become angry because they hold others responsible for the needless loss of lives in their own immediate vicinity."
"Our fear now is that, if not checked immediately, the escalating cycle of violence will drive away investors and investments thereby leaving our people impoverished.
"Rivers State hosts some of Nigeria's critical oil and gas facilities and it is crucial that we do not inadvertently encourage a return to pre-amnesty acts of vandalism and destruction that could send the national economy into a tailspin.
"We, therefore, urge all indigenes of Rivers State who are engaged in politics and their Political Parties to act with restraint at all times and avoid utterances that may further inflame passions.
"We are willing to work with sincere and responsible stakeholders and all genuine friends of Rivers State (who understand and agree that Rivers lives also matter) to find a lasting solution to the problems that have bedevilled the state of recent," they said.