Politics in the Niger Delta has often been characterized as high stakes issue and contest between personalities as much as it is between their platforms. Election cycles in Rivers State have recently been marred by violence, especially during gubernatorial and local contests. While there were some incidents of violence during the 2011 election cycle, Rivers experienced the most election violence incidents and fatalities of any Nigerian state during the 2015 contest, largely due to increasing competition between the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state.

In the Niger Delta, Rivers State is politically significant due to its size, location, and natural resource wealth. According to the Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics, Rivers has the second largest GDP after Lagos and contains vast reserves of crude oil and natural gas. According to Armed Conflict Location Event Data (ACLED), Rivers recorded the highest number of reported fatalities within the Niger Delta in 2015 and was sustained in 2016, with fatalities in the state finally decreasing in 2017.

As gubernatorial candidates vie for control of Rivers in 2019, ongoing grievances within each of the state’s three senatorial districts — Rivers South-East, Rivers West, and Rivers East — will likely fuel violence. The senatorial zoning system has increased perceptions of group marginalization within certain communities, which could be a key driver of election violence.

This report examines the senatorial zoning system in Rivers and outlines the challenges and drivers of insecurity specific to each senatorial district going into 2019.

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