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Niger Delta: Life in the Creeks

Posted by By MURPHY GANAGANA, Abuja on 2008/07/21 | Views: 2047 |

Niger Delta: Life in the Creeks

Fate has been cruel and brutish to us in the past four years.

Fate has been cruel and brutish to us in the past four years. Hunger, hopelessness, fear and suspense have become our lot as we are now endangered species, living like prisoners of war in our own land just because of a needless, but sustained blood-letting over control of oil resources which the almighty God freely gave to us.”

This is the lamentation of Madam Ebikaboere Angasi, a 71-year-old woman who spoke in a low, quivering voice, as she repelled flies swarming around dried puddles of blood on her thigh occasioned by a deep cut she sustained in a mangrove forest while fleeing from the ferocious bullets of soldiers during a military invasion of her village.

Ebikaboere is evidently in pains and wished death came knocking on her door and snatched her away effortlessly. Within one week, she lost her octogenarian husband and two sons who were felled in a crossfire between armed youths and men of the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) drafted to the Niger Delta region in an exercise code named Operation Restore Hope. But rather than propelling hope, the grandma says she is now dying instalmentally from the psychological trauma.

Sadly, Ebikaboere is only one out of hundreds of families in the creeks of Delta, Rivers, and Bayelsa states who are groaning silently in agony of the horrendous tales of woe to tell. While they nurse bruised ego following the military occupation of their area, the situation is further compounded by the upsurge in criminal activities by some armed youths, who rob, rape and maim with recklessness. Thus, the common folks are constantly overwhelmed by the fear of the unknown; the fear of surprise military attacks, the fear of an untoward action by some deviant angry youths.

From the Warri, Bomadi, Burutu, Ekeremor, and Escravos water-ways through Olugbobiri, Robert Creek, Forupa, Clough Creek, Okerenkoko, Ezetu, Ubefan and Gberekegbene in Bayelsa and Delta states, a thick cloud of uncertainty and gloom hangs over the air, as the inhabitants live with bated breath, unsure of what fate would befall them in minutes or hours ahead.

Tension, which had become a permanent feature in the creeks of the Niger Delta heightened in recent times following the presidency’s directive to the military and other security agencies to fish out the militants behind the attack on the Bonga oil facilities located deep in the high seas. Even as conflicting signals emerged from government circles on the best line of action after the incident which apparently jolted both the Nigerian authorities and the international community, Sunday Sun findings in the creeks of Bayelsa and Delta states indicated that the various militant groups are oiling their arms in preparation for a battle of the century.

With an average of 300 volunteers in most of the militant camps located at Olugbobiri, Korokosei, Ikebiri, Okiegbene, Robert Creek, Cowthern Channel, Azuzuama, Gberekegbene, Ezetu, Bilabiri, Agge, Kurutiye, Forupa, Okubie, Clough Creek, Okerenkoko, Ubefan, and Camp 5, leaders of the militant groups are confident of their capability to muster strength to counter any military attack. This is more so, with the sophisticated weapons in their possession, including AK47 rifles, General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG), BMG, RGP 7, gun boats, and even Anti-Aircraft.

To ensure the loyalty of volunteers, their welfare is of priority to leaders of the militant groups, with most of their men receiving a monthly salary of not less that #50,000, besides free feeding, medical care which is provided in most of the major camps, and regular vacation period of between one and two weeks, depending on their assessment of the security situation. But by far the most organized with the semblance of a military formation is Camp 5, located close to a Chevron Tank Farm about one hour boat ride from Warri, Delta State.

Curiously, Government Ekpompolo a.k.a Tom Polo, who is the leader of Camp 5, has kept government and security top shots in suspense with his mode of operation. And his creed seems to be less talk and more action. Described as a focused, principled and courageous warlord, Ekpompolo is reputed to have four major camps, and his home is a Mecca of sorts for politicians as well as top government officials including some state governors in the Niger Delta. In fact, as part of the Federal Government’s search for peace in the troubled region, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan had also visited Camp 5 without any security detail, a move which ruffled feathers in military circles. And General L.P Ngubane, immediate past commander of the Joint Military Task Force in the Niger Delta did not mince words in expressing his dismay.

“It is disconcerting that Camp 5 has become a pilgrim centre for some important politicians, especially those from the Niger Delta. These constant visitations to a known criminal legalizes the activities of the militants, embolden and empower them financially and emotionally. For example, the Governors of Bayelsa, Rivers and Delta states at various times after their inauguration, visited Camp 5. Recently, the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria also visited Camp 5 on June 28, 2007 without security details accompanying him just because the militants said so.”, he wrote in a memo reference TFRH/25/G, addressed to the Chief of Defence Staff, General Owoye Azazi.

General Ngubane’s anger is understandable. A three-day air raid launched by his men on Camp 5 could not break Tom Polo, just as other measures taken to destroy his zeal to forge ahead with his crusade for liberation of his people. He is further piqued that illegal oil bunkerers, some elders, royal fathers, politicians and highly placed persons pose as peace-makers and negotiators in the region, but are financiers of militancy behind the scene.

Said Ngubane, in his assessment of the security situation in the Niger Delta: “The current situation in the Niger Delta, especially in Delta, Rivers and Bayelsa states, is that of anarchy, particularly in the riverine communities. The waterways are not safe and most economic activities in the creeks are carried out only with military security coverage. The increase in militant activities in recent times and the audacious manner with which they carry out their atrocities has become worrisome and embarrassing to the JTF”. Consequently, he says it has become imperative to resort to limited military action so as to achieve the task set for the JTF.

Perhaps the most worrisome to the military authorities is the source of the huge funds available to the militant groups which, expectedly, is a closely guarded secret for the leaders. However, apart from illegal oil bunkering, Ngubane has fingered oil companies and Niger Delta state governments as being responsible for the hefty vaults of the militant groups. “It is common knowledge that oil companies award security related contracts to known militant leaders. Niger Delta state governments and oil companies are also quick to pay handsome ransom demanded by hostage takers. The militants use the monies from the contracts and ransoms to equip and sustain their illegal activities,” he posited.

In the creeks of the Niger Delta, Tom Polo, is arguably the most dreaded and respected militant leader, but there are also several others among whom are Joshua Mckiver, Africa Owei, Victor Ben, Commander Jackson, and Gibson Kala alias Prince Igodo, who is suspected to have died recently after a fierce gun duel with a rival militant group. His rumoured death notwithstanding, military and other security agencies are however, threading cautiously so as not to be caught napping. “We’ve not bought the story hook, line and sinker. It’s just like saying Bin Laden is dead, and he reappears thereafter,” said a senior security personnel who pleaded anonymity.

His view is echoed by the Bayelsa state commissioner of police, Julian Okpaleke, who said he was yet to receive a concrete evidence of Prince Igodo’s death. “Well, we were informed that Prince Igodo was killed, but we’ve not seen the corpse. I didn’t see the corpse, so I am not in a position to say he is dead or alive. But we got information from a reliable source that they had problem among their ranks and he was killed in the process,” he told Sunday Sun in an interview in Yenagoa.

Even as fear, suspense and tension heightens progressively in the creeks of the Niger Delta, General Ngubane says the Federal Government would need to concurrently pursue political, psychological and military lines of action for law and order to be restored. As part of the political measures, he wants government to ensure that all its promises to the people for physical development should be based on timed programs for evaluation of progress made. Whether the various options mapped out for lasting peace to reign in the Niger Delta would achieve the desired result in the near future remains to be seen.

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