For some weeks, Amassoma, the country home of the first civilian governor of Bayelsa State was in the news for a very wrong reason. Women had seized the hitherto peaceful town as they protested the sack of their kinsmen and women from the Niger Delta University.
For days, they took over the gate of the university and prevented staff and students from gaining access. Some of the protesters even went as far as constructing and displaying a mock coffin of some officials, in an extreme show of anger.
Tried as the government did to explain that what it did was part of the on-going reforms in the civil service, and that no legitimate staff was sacked, they did not want to hear. They had concluded that the government hated them and was even trying to relocate the university to another location. They even alluded to the fact that the new university in the governor's village, Toru-Orua-the University of Africa-was the reason for the alleged neglect and abandonment of the NDU.
As the face-off dragged on, some lives were lost, when the villagers confronted the armed men. Some others were injured in the process. Throughout the period that the crisis lasted, Amassoma lost its calm and ambience.
It is good enough that the state government has finally resolved the issue, after a peace meeting between it and the natives. This is commendable. It is even more commendable that the Amassoma people were willing to allow peace to reign so that the community can continue to experience the peace it was known for.
But we believe that the clash was unnecessary in the first place. The government ought to have engaged the community early enough before matters got worse, to the extent that people were killed.
Security agencies drafted to the place to keep the peace did not also do well. It was wrong, very wrong, for them to fire live bullets into the crowd, especially knowing that the protesters were not armed. There would have been more civilized ways of dispersing them without having to fire live bullets. Now, those that died cannot come back to life, even if their killers are punished.
We also believe that the protesters were wrong to have gone to the extreme in the effort to register their grievances. They have representatives in the government. One way of attracting the government's attention to their plight would have been to seek the intervention of their representatives in the government.
However, the sad incident has come and gone and peace is back to Amassoma. But it is important for all involved to be careful not to allow a repeat of the costly drama, either in Amassoma or any other part of the state.
It is our strong view that government should always be proactive in engaging the citizens properly, including getting the buy in of critical stakeholders whenever policies of that nature are to be made and implemented. Only a cordial relationship between the government and the people can guarantee peace. It is only when there is peace that the government can be seen to have lived to its expectations.