Curfew in Port Harcourt makes life safer but harder

Many residents of Port Harcourt, the main city in Nigeria's poor but oil-rich Niger Delta region, are complaining that a night-time curfew imposed more than two weeks ago has undermined their ability to make a living, although the measures do appear to have curbed spiralling violence with a drop in the number of gunshot injuries reported.

Port Harcourt has been wracked by violence as various armed groups battle for control of lucrative guns and oil smuggling rackets. More than 200 foreign oil workers have been taken hostage in and around Port Harcourt in the last year then freed only after paying large ransom.

“As of last week we were treating 60 cases but most of those occurred weeks early when the violence was high,” Rosa Aut, head of the international aid organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Nigeria, said on 12 September.

Seven of the cases occurred recently, she said. Five were victims of indiscriminate shooting by unknown assailants in the Mile Four district of the city while two were shot by police in a street brawl during curfew hours.

Violence intensified on 11 August when dozens of people were killed in gun battles. Soldiers deployed to quell the violence fought street battles with the groups and in the worst hit districts of the city thousands of people fled their homes.

The army said the fighting has been mostly between supporters of two militias operating in the city, one led by Ateke Tom; the other by Soboma George.

By late August MSF had reported treating 71 gunshot injuries at its trauma centre in Port Harcourt.

While relative calm has returned to the city, violence appears to have moved to surrounding villages and districts, where clashes involving rival gangs and government troops have continued. Fighting took place in early September between the army and armed men in the village of Ogbogoro as well as in Ogoni District between rival gangs.  

Effects of the curfew

The curfew in Port Harcourt which runs from 7 pm until 7 am has made life hard for many people who normally work during those hours. Among those affected are craftsmen, shopkeepers, motorcycle taxi drivers and other transport operators.

“I own a roadside restaurant where people used to come to eat in the evenings,” said Helen Emenike, a 34-year-old mother of three and resident of the Diobu district of the city.

“Now all my business has gone.”

A minibus driver, Prieye Daminabo, said his income has fallen by more than half since the curfew took effect.

Many residents also complain about the way soldiers and policemen enforce the curfew. Residents are required to raise their hands in the air when approaching the many security checkpoints located around the city.

“Some people have been whipped by soldiers for not raising their hands quickly enough,” Daminabo said

Military spokesman Maj. Sagir Musa in Port Harcourt said recently that all security forces have been instructed to be polite to civilians. ‘’We have told them not to harass, intimidate or victimise anybody,” he said.

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