Rivers State & The Idiom of Throwing Away The Baby With The Bath Water

Thomas Hobbes sometimes known as Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury, 5 April 1588 – 4 December 1679), was an English philosopher, considered to be one of the founders of modern political philosophy. Hobbes is best known for his 1651 book Leviathan, in which he expounds an influential formulation of social contract theory.

In his classics “The Leviathan” Hobbes set out his doctrine of the foundation of states and legitimate governments and creating an objective science of morality. Much of the book is occupied with demonstrating the necessity of a strong central authority to avoid the evil of discord and civil war.

Beginning from a mechanistic understanding of human beings and their passions, Hobbes postulates what life would be like without government, a condition which he calls the state of nature. In that state, each person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world. This, Hobbes argues, would lead to a “war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes). The description contains what has been called one of the best-known passages in English philosophy, which describes the natural state humankind would be in, were it not for political community:

In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man would be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

It was the phobia of this Hobbesian State of nature that societies, communities, states and countries evolved the enactment of laws.

Laws are the formal rules that society makes for itself. They are made for various reasons: to settle arguments, to maintain a peaceful social order, and to promote justice (fairness) for every citizen. Some laws are made by governments. Others are set down by custom or religion.

In a democracy, the power to make laws is held by a branch of the government called the legislature. In the legislative chamber, politicians (usually elected to represent the views of the voters) introduce new laws and debate them. Through discussion and compromise, they try to gain support for a law and organize a vote on it. The majority of members must approve a law before it can be put into effect.

On 30th July, 2019, the Rivers State House of Assembly passed the Rivers State Street Trading, Illegal Markets and Motor Parks’ Prohibition Bill 2019.

This was sequel to heated debate on the floor of the Assembly by members on the pros and cons of the bill as it will impact on the lives of Rivers indigenes and residents vis a vis the environmental challenges facing the state.

The bill was promptly assented to by the Governor and it became known as the Rivers State Street Trading, illegal Markets and Motor Parks Prohibition Law 2019. In furtherance of implementing the provisions of the law, six mobile courts were set up and a body, Rivers State Task Force on Street Trading, illegal Markets and Motor Parks with an initial strength of 400 workers was established.

The first few weeks of the operation of the task force saw the birth of a NEW Rivers State. Roads, streets, highways, junctions, intersections, pedestrian walkways which hitherto were occupied, colonized, captured and polluted by traders and all manner of urchins disappeared like dews in the morning sun and blocked roads became motorable and passable while drainages filled with all manner of waste and disposables flowed freely. It was uhuru for Rivers residents as we had a breath of fresh air again after decades of environmental and social abuses by traders, commercial drivers and street urchins.

I recall in my visit to the Governor sometime in November, 2019 in company of the leadership of the Eastern Bar Forum, I urged the Burden Bearer of Rivers State, His Excellency Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike CON, GSSRS, POS AFRICA to cause the government to set up an agency to implement the provisions of the law as this will strengthen and streamline the provisions and make its implementation more effective and sustainable.

As expected, the Task Force was not free from, blames, complain, derogation, threats, attacks & abuses from some members of the public. Such complain includes but not limited to highhandedness, corrupt practices and abuse of power by members of the Task Force. Instances abound where operatives of the Task Force often engage in street fights with motorist and traders causing severe bodily injuries. We have other instances where the operatives instead of limiting themselves to their primary assignment of stopping street trading, illegal markets & all forms of illegal motor parks, now delved into traffic duties, confronting & impounding private cars on allegations of wrong parking, over speeding and driving against traffic. The Governor had on several meetings with the operatives of the Task Force reprimanded and sternly warned them on the dangers of acting beyond their powers, engaging in corrupt practices and assaulting members of the public. But it seems the warnings and threats of disciplinary actions by the Governor fell on the deaf ears of some of the operatives.

Surprisingly and unfortunately on 11th August, 2020, Paulinus Nsirim, the Hon Commissioner for Information & Communication on behalf of the Rivers a State Government announced the dissolution of the Task Force. He stated in the announcement that the Task Force will be reconstituted after proper orientation and training. I had expected the government to be focused on this drive to achieve a NEW Rivers State to its logical conclusion but alas, this is where we.

The question that agitates many a mind of Rivers residents is must the task force be disbanded altogether because of the misdemeanor of few of its officials? Couldn’t the government identify, isolate and discipline those erring officials instead of disbanding the task force? These and more questions have been begging for answers from some Rivers residents.

So soon after the disbandment of the Task Force, things have suddenly turned around again for the worse. What the legislature intended to achieve with the Rivers State Street Trading, illegal Markets and Motor Parks Prohibition Law 2019 has been defeated and brought to nought. Street trading, illegal markets & motor parks have all sprung up again in all corners of the city inflicting worse hazards, obstructions and pollutions incomparable to that we experienced before the enactment of the law. It is as if the persons whom the said law was aimed at and who were at the butt of the Task Force are on a revenge mission on the Rivers environment. Trading, markets & illegal motor parks have sprung up ferociously in all nooks and crannies of the state and we are back to a worse situation before the said law was promulgated. Lawlessness now thrives in Rivers State. People behave as if there are no laws. Trading is now at every nook & cranny and traders litter the streets at will, commercial motorists have turned every junction and roundabout into a motor park causing unnecessary traffic and untold hardship on the people. Couldn’t the government have done better instead of this total annihilation of the Task Force? The question now is where do we go from here, do we leave our fate to the state of nature as expounded by Hobbes or do we take our destiny into our hands by urging the government to hurriedly set up an agency to implement the provisions of the Rivers State Street Trading, illegal Markets and Motor Parks Prohibition Law 2019 with strict rules of engagement on the part of the operatives of the agency?

The same scenario as above played out with the Rivers State Traffic Management Authority (TIMARIV) set up under the Road Traffic Law No. 6 of 2009. So soon after the Governor assumed office, in June, 2015, he disbanded the traffic management authority on allegations of corruption, highhandedness, ineptitude & engaging in acts beyond their established powers as contained in the Rivers State Road Traffic Law. Today I must say that we are worse off for it. Traffic rules are obeyed more in breach that in compliance. If you are one abreast with traffic rules, you will easily come to a conclusion that they are alien to motorists in Rivers State. Motorist engage in all manner of traffic violations with corrupt law enforcement personnel watching hopelessly, helplessly and the mercy of especially commercial motorists. Again we threw away the baby with the bath water by the disbandment of TIMARIV. Couldn’t we have done better?

Luckily the laws setting up the disbanded Task Force and TIMARIV were not repealed. I call on the government to dust them up, engage the best of hands to man these agencies and let them start running again for sanity, discipline, orderliness and happiness to return to Rivers State. We cannot as a State be always throwing away our babies with the bath water. We should learn from the words of Dorris Lessing when he said” whatever you are meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible “

S. Long Williams Esq.
Chairman, Eastern Bar Forum.

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