30 August 2015, Yenagoa – No one would have imagined that the creeks and waterways of Bayelsa State, given their serenity and alluring vegetation, on both sides, could be turned into killing fields by sea pirates.
Some two years ago, twelve policemen were murdered by renegade militants along Lobia waterways in Southern Ijaw local government area of the state.
In another attack, sometime in April, a naval rating was shot dead by suspected pirates at Ogbokiri along the Akassa waterways in Brass council area of Bayelsa. The gunmen struck yet again close to Otuokpoti community along the Ikoli creek, killing two policemen in a botched kidnapped attempt.
Bayelsans were yet to put behind them the sad incident when tragedy again struck early this month in the troubled waterways when armed gunmen, suspected to be pirates, launched a deadly attack on a JTF base in the Nembe creek.
Four soldiers and a policeman were said to have been killed in the incident, although military authories denied the killings.
This is aside the several attacks on passengers’ boats plying the waterways and the attendant loss of innocent lives.
Though government has demonstrated enough resolve to ensure that Yenagoa, the state capital, is secure, the same cannot be said of the waterways where the hoodlums are not only exploiting their vast knowledge of the terrain but have also carved a territory for themselves where they operate with impunity.
Ironically, there was a measure of security along the waterways at the height of youth militancy when compared to the current scenario where people travel in fear along the waterways.
A concerned Bayelsan, Ayebatonye said, “The creeks and waterways of Bayelsa are complicated and potentially perilous as the waters have become increasingly popular with pirates and sea robbers who take cover in the inlets while they stalk victims.”
The state chapter of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, MWUN, had, last November, embarked on strike in protest against the upsurge in attacks on its members by the sea pirates along the waterways. Government had to plead with them to return to work promising to tackle the security problem in the creeks.
Sadly, the commissioning of about 40 gunboats sometime in April by the military authorities to boost security in the waterways had yet to put the rampaging hoodlums to flight.
Lamenting the security situation in the creeks, Chairman of the MWUN, Comrade Lloyd Sese, in an interview with Sunday Vanguard in Yenagoa, said they had resigned to fate and only prayed for God’s protection whenever they sail out on the waterways.
A passenger, who simply identified himself as Collins, said, “I have scaled down my travelling home due to the activities of sea pirates along the waterways.”
Speaking on the sad turn of event in the creeks, a visibly disturbed Bayelsa Field Coordinator for ERA, Comrade Alagoa Morris, told Sunday Vanguard, “As one working for a grassroots environmental/human rights advocacy group [ERA/FoEN], travelling to and from communities in the creeks of the Niger Delta became inevitable. This was the case even when militancy was at its peak; especially in Bayelsa State. And so, I was one of the very first Bayelsan to raise the alarm on the gradual return of criminality in the creeks in 2012 but security agents, especially the JTF, said my observations were exaggerated then.
“It is sad that the authorities failed to see such genuine efforts to alert government/public as an opportunity and privileged information to follow up with investigation and nip the act in the bud. Unfortunately too, while some thought there was more threat to life and property during the era of militancy, the sailing scenario now indicates that the lives and property of travellers are more at risk now that it was when militancy sailed; for very obvious reasons.
“This they have done by ensuring that the JTF compels every passenger to raise hands before passing any oil flowstation [Oporoma, Ogboinbiri, Peremabiri. The Southern Ijaw Local Government Chairman, also set up a Special Oil/Gas Taskforce that is acting as if it is another formal security outfit; just to ensure the Federal Government gets enough revenue from our resources to share among the 36 states and the federal capital monthly.
Governor Seriake Dickson first sounded warning at Koluama 2 on February 20, 2012 [during the Chevron gas explosion and related movements] that, while his administration would not tolerate environmental terrorism (referring to the oil companies), he won’t accept what locals are also doing to the fragile ecosystem (referring to local refinery operators).
He vowed to deal with the local/bush refinery operators. The threat and the action of the Southern Ijaw local government Chairman must have been responsible for bringing the local refinery operations in the state to VERY low level, it is almost non-existent now. This, they have done with collaboration with the security agencies: JTF and Civil Defence.
“While one may not quarrel with dealing with the issues of bush refineries, as the operations further degrade the environment, it is sad to note that nothing is being done by the local, state and federal Governments to bring down the ever soaring rate of unemployment,’’ the ERA leader, Morris, said.
The level of crime in the creeks has increased since security agencies started the destruction of bush refineries and rendering most of those engaged in the business jobless and idle. Yes, while not supporting criminality, I would not hesitate to refer to the wise saying that ‘an idle mind is the devil’s workshop’.
“Ordinarily, one should expect government to take steps to implement the recommendations of the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta. The comatose condition of our social institutions, corruption, poverty, unemployment and lack of the dividends of democracy are some of the causes of the current state of affairs.
“In the light of the above, I would suggest that state and local governments pursue the main purpose of government with all sincerity of purpose. The happiness of the people and protection of lives and property is the main purpose of government and, this is roundly lacking in our clime. Bayelsa State government and local governments, especially those of Brass, Southern Ijaw and Nembe, should pursue, with vigour, the delivery of dividends of democracy, with the same spirit they are dealing with the issue of bush refinery/bunkering.”
“Traditional rulers and community leaders [including the youths] should be part of this, to work with security agencies. The issue of security of lives and property should be taken holistically, because a hungry man, they say, is an angry man. In the light of the above, government should lift whatever ban there is on employment; there are many things to do to keep our society safe and clean.
“This needs proper thinking and strategy. State and local governments should reconsider their stance on the bush refinery operations and take positive advantage of it. They should not throw away the baby with the bathwater; we need to seek ways of improving the local technology and grant licence to those willing to operate modular refineries in the creeks; after proper environmental impact assessment [EIA].
“This is because, even if the four Federal Government owned refineries are working, the products are far from the people in the creeks and more expensive to them. Once approved, modular refinery operators would get the crude oil from formal supply routes and, such operations will boost local economy, reduce crimes in the creeks and reduce unemployment.
“This will yield a win-win scenario. Yes, local refinery may be a crime now, government should grant operational licence to those willing to establish companies and operate modular refineries. We shouldn’t wait until Ghana starts it before we do. This is one sure way to involve the locals in the oil industry and make them happy.”
Meanwhile, a boat driver, who spoke anonymously, said: “Insecurity on our waterways in recent times has continued to be a threat to lives and property, especially the killing of security officers who were legitimate duty in the Nembe creek. We call on the state government to beef up security in our waterways.”
Also, Bayelsa State Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral Gboribiohga John Jonah (retd), had, during a forum, admitted the problem of insecurity in the waterways and assured Bayelsans of government’s preparedness to tackle the menace.
“Insecurity in our waterways is very sad. It is true that our waterways are insecure. It is true that we have demonstrated enough resolve to ensure that Yenagoa city is secured”, Jonah stated.
“We have acquired some boats to ensure that the waterways are secured… but it is very difficult; quite unlike roads, the creeks are so many that you may not be able to police all the creeks at the same time. Ours is to make sure we reduce criminality to the barest minimum.
If we can avoid it all the best. There are plans to make sure the waterways are secured so that when travelling you don’t have to be watching your back”