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Is oil-rich Rivers state safer than Lagos, Kano & 3 others as its governor claimed?

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The governor of Nigeria’s Rivers state is wooing investors. As part of Nyesom Wike’s pitch, he insists that his administration’s investments in security in the southern state are paying off.

“Investors are coming to Rivers regularly and they are talking about insecurity,” Wike was reported as saying. “Look at what is happening in Lagos, Kogi, Kaduna and Kano and you will realise that this state is the safest.”

A press statement from the governor’s aide Simeon Nwakaudu confirmed that Wike said this last month at a dinner marking the 20th anniversary of Air France flights into state capital Port Harcourt. (Note: The statement also compared Rivers with Benue state.)

But could Rivers – a state as notorious for oil-related vigilantism and electoral fraud as it is prized for its natural resources –  actually be safer than the other five?   

Types of crime in Nigeria

Africa Check has repeatedly tried to contact Wike’s office to establish the source of his claim and to clarify exactly what he meant when he said Rivers state was the “safest”.

In his speech, though, he specifically mentioned that his administration was committed to the “security of lives and property” in Port Harcourt.

But in its latest advisory published in April 2017, the US department of state warned its citizens against travelling to 15 Nigerian states, including Rivers and Kaduna, citing security risks such as kidnappings and robberies.

Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics releases annual crime statistics, providing aggregated crime data for each state in the country. Its latest report groups crime reported to the police into four categories:

Offence against personsCrimes against human beings, such as murder, manslaughter, infanticide, concealment of birth, rape and other physical abuse. This includes kidnappings, and gang or so-called cult violence (against persons).
Offence against propertiesCrimes against human belongings and properties of any kind such as stealing, receiving stolen properties, obtaining property by false pretence, robbery and burglary.
Offences against lawful authorityCrimes committed against any establishment of the law, for example tax evasion.
Local actsCrimes specific to Nigeria and which cannot be enforced outside the country such as the Liquor Act and Firearms Act


The data agency says it had verified the numbers which were provided to it by the Nigeria Police Force.

What do the numbers say?

The 2016 data shows a total of 125,790 cases of crime were reported nationally in that year. Over half of these, 65,397, were offences against property while 45,554 offences were committed against persons. Those against lawful authority and local acts were 12,144 and 2,695 respectively.

Population should be considered

As we explain in our guide to understanding crime statistics, looking at raw crime numbers without separating the different types of crime categories results in a skewed interpretation of the data. Most importantly, population figures need to be taken into account.

For example, Nigeria’s latest population figures show that Lagos and Kano each boast populations nearly double that of Rivers state – so they would reasonably have a higher total number of crimes than much smaller states.

A woman closes her street shop on March 30, 2015 in Port Harcourt, Rivers State after an overnight curfew was imposed in Nigeria's southern Rivers state as tensions ran high over local results of the country's general election. AFP/ Florian Plaucheur
A woman closes her street shop on March 30, 2015 in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Security is a concern for many residents in the oil-rich region. Photo: AFP/ Florian Plaucheur

Nigeria’s population figures are notoriously patchy. The last census was in 2006 but it quickly became mired in controversy. The national statistics agency used the results of that count for its 2016 population forecasts. Under this, Kano has an estimated population of 13.1 million, Lagos 12.55 million, Kaduna 8.25 million, Rivers 7.3 million, Benue 5.74 million and Kogi 4.47 million.

While this data is not without its problems, it remains the most current available official information.

To account for differences in population size, when working with crime statistics we typically work out what is called a crime ratio per 100,000 people. This allows us to compare incidence of crime in cities or states with different populations.

Crime against individuals or property?

Using the population data and crime statistics data provided, we calculated the crime rates for the two categories – crimes against persons and against property – that governor Wike appeared to have been referring to.

When the crime data is approached this way, Rivers was second after Lagos for offences against persons. For crimes against property, it had a lower rate than Lagos and Kano, but a higher rate than Kogi, Benue and Kaduna.

Like most countries, Nigeria releases its crime statistics retrospectively – the information for 2016 was released in mid-2017, meaning it was already at least six months out of date. While this is not an unusual practice, there may be important trends not yet covered by this data.  

So how safe is Rivers for investments?

Africa Check contacted Proshare Research, a Nigeria-based research firm that focuses on market intelligence and the financial and political economy for commentary.

Proshare listed peculiar risks associated with the six states.

State Associated risk
RiversPresence of some cultism, politically volatile, incidence of  piracy,  and militancy.
LagosCultism and kidnapping.
KogiPolitically unstable, herdsmen attack and kidnapping.
Kaduna Vulnerability to herdsmen attack especially in Southern Kaduna, religious violence in Southern Kaduna and Zaria violence,  politically volatile.
KanoVulnerable to religious riots. Even though terrorist attacks have been reduced to the [north]eastern part of the country, Kano remains vulnerable.
BenueHerdsmen attacks, especially in the Idoma speaking area and rising rate of kidnapping.

Source: Proshare Research

"Kidnapping and militancy in some part of the South-South region has deterred investment. Also, the cycle of religious violence has stalled foreign direct investment and dried up capital importation in some parts of the northern region," the firm said in an e-mail to Africa Check.  

"Given our peer comparison, Lagos state appears the safest among the selected states."

‘Consistent increase in crime in Rivers state’

Ukoji Vitus is the assistant coordinator of Nigeria Watch – a crime research group within the French Institute of Research in Africa. Nigeria Watch draws its information from analysing multiple alternative sources, including the media, human rights organisations and federal security agencies.

Vitus says that according to their data “there has been a consistent increase in crime rate and fatalities in [Rivers] state since January this year. Peculiar to crime in the state is cultism and assassinations.

“He [Wike] may be right if he thinks or says militancy has reduced in the state. However, there is a [thin] line between cultists and militants in the state as many of the former militants are used by political stakeholders to drive home their political goals.”

Conclusion: Evidence does not support claim that Rivers state is safer than 5 others

To play up his security record to investors, Rivers state governor Nyesom Wike said five other states - Lagos, Kogi, Kaduna, Benue and Kano - were less safe than his.

By using current crime data and contextualisation from experts there is no evidence that Rivers state is safer than the five others. At best, Rivers is safer than Lagos when it comes to crimes against persons and property and safer than Kano when property crime is considered. However, it is not safer than the smaller states of Kogi, Benue and Kaduna, according to 2016 crime statistics.

When other risk factors are taken into account, Rivers’ safety profile further decreases further. We therefore rate the governor’s claim as incorrect.  

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