29 April 2015, Uyo – seven months running, sea bandits have been on the prowl in the waterways of Ibeno Local Government Area, Akwa Ibom State, attacking fishermen, impounding their equipment, including speedboats and collecting huge ransoms for the release of the confiscated items with Police and Navy unable to come to their rescue.
Investigations revealed that the incessant attacks have forced many fishermen to quit fishing in the area. The embattled fishermen, who spoke to Niger Delta Voice at Iwuokpom and other affected communities, appealed to government and relevant security agencies to come to their rescue, saying the attacks have brought untold suffering on them and their families for the last eight months.
Fishermen now idle
One of them, Mr. Udeme Okon, said: “We have met with our community heads and have reported the matter to government. They said they will do something, but nothing has been done. No reply from them. “The pirates do not allow us to go into the water to fish and if you go, they will attack you and collect your engine. This has been going on since September, last year.
”You can see so many people here staying idle; their boats are there lying idle because they are afraid to go to the high sea. Fishing is what we do to earn a living, but we cannot do anything because of the pirates. “Because government is not doing anything to stop this, the pirates keep worrying us. They not only seize our speedboat engines and other fishing equipment, they also ask for money.
“You can see that we are not happy because we cannot fish to get money with which we can feed our family. And it is getting worse every day.” Another fisherman, who declined to reveal his identity, said: “Since they (pirates) seized my fishing boat and equipment, I have been broke and suffering too much. I do not have money to give to them. The Maritime Police are here, but they are only protecting Mobil installations.”
He disclosed that the pirates usually attack in the morning when they know that fishermen would go fishing, adding, “we do not really know which particular place they come from because some of them speak Ijaw, some Yoruba and even Ibo. “They always go with 70 horse power, double engine speed boats, and sometimes five of them will be inside one boat, all equipped with weapons.”
The Village Head of Iwuokpom, Obong Sunday Akpanowong, explained that the lingering situation had affected the prize of fish in the area, even as he expressed disappointment over failure of government and relevant security agencies to address the lingering problem despite several appeals from the community.
Cost of fish soars
He said: “Before now, fish was sold for N800 per kilogramme, but presently it has gone up to N1,400 per kilogramme. So we are very worried with the situation we are facing here. Our major occupation in this area as a community is fishing. “Any other tribe that comes to Ibeno is for fishing because apart from ExxonMobil jobs, which are white collar work for professionals, fishing business is the only job in Ibeno.”
“It is one business that has really benefited the poor. It is the last hope of the common man here, so when fishing is good the people are happy. If you come here, they will dash you fish. “However, today, I am sad to tell the whole world that the people here are not happy because there is no peace here due to the pirate attacks. “The entire life of the fishermen lies on the fishing business. It is the only source of money to train their children, to feed, to build house, and to clothe themselves.”
Pirates collect protection fee
Obong Akpanowong revealed that “today they are not happy because for you to go to sea you must pay up to N300,000 to the pirates. “In fact, they will send a letter to you, that if you do not send N300,000 or N350,000 to them, you are sure of losing up to eight outboard engines of 40 horsepower, which cost almost one million naira. “They will seize every other engine that they will come across. They will call you, if it suits them, to come with a ransom of N300,000 to N500,000 to collect it. “Some times, you will not see the engines again. And this money has to be paid monthly to them.”
I abandoned fishing
According to him, “after experiencing it, when they collected my own engine in 2002, right from then, I refused going to fish because it means fishing for people that cannot tell you thank you. So the life here is ridiculous to fishermen. We are not at peace. “They are at the high sea with all sorts of ammunition to attack you and seize your property and if you argue with them, what they do is to cut you down.
“If you go to the coast, you will see the number of abandoned boats, because nobody wants to go to sea again. “Akwa Ibom State government has not said anything about that. I mean putting this appeal into action, so that this people can stay away from attacking innocent fishermen.”
According to him, “on the 23rd of last month, the entire community came to my house: all the fishermen numbering 200. “They planned to block Mobil, cause traffic gridlock, asking why government should be protecting the property and interest of Mobil only and leave the people living in the surroundings to suffer in the hands of pirates. “Mobil has gunboats all over but will never allow their security to move out from their field to rescue any community over this issue of pirates.”
Navy, police can’t help
He added: “The Navy is here at the jetty, as well as the Marine Police and they said they cannot do anything because they are not equipped. So with this situation, we do not know what to do next; that is why we are appealing. “Last December, one gunboat came in and stayed only about two days and went away. They said that they could not continue because they do not have logistics to stay.
“I am not happy seeing this kind of thing happen in my own time as a Village Head. I am, on behalf of the entire communities in Ibeno, calling on government to take action because if no action is taken to drive these people away, the number of criminals will increase in this area. “For the past seven months, we have not had rest over this. As a community, we have continued to ensure peace.
“We make sure nobody vandalize pipelines and even when the community has grievance with ExxonMobil, our approach is usually peaceful, and so, why is it that government cannot appreciate us? It is not fair. “We are telling the government to do something to secure the lives of the people, to encourage the fishermen. “Unfortunately, our representatives in government are not doing anything to draw government attention to the situation here.”
We’ve limitation—Police Chief
Contacted, the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Gabriel Achong, said: “The Marine Police have a limitation to where they can go into the high sea. “The rests is for the Navy and I assure you that we are working hand in hand with the Navy to see how we can curb the situation.”