By Emma Amaize
MANAGING Director, Clemline ServicesÂ Limited, Warri and vice -chairman, Oporoza Federated Communities in Gbaramatu Kingdom,Â theatre of the Joint Task Force (JTF)/militantsâ€™ face-off in Delta State, Apostle Clement Tonfawei, was one of those that escaped from Oporoza community the day the security outfit, incensed by the attack on its personnel by militants, bombarded the town from the air.
He speaks with Saturday Vanguard on how he escaped from the â€œwarâ€ zone and fed on crops for three days before running from one village to the other, until he was able to get to the oil city, Warri, for sanctuary.
How the JTF struck Oporoza
On May 13, 2009, we were having a party in our community, Oporoza. We had invited dignitaries from all parts of the world.
And as the vice chairman of that community, I had a vital role to play. We were still organising, and most of our guests had started arriving, when suddenly, we saw a military chopper flying over our community and bombarding everywhere to the extent that those who were sick fled into the bush.
As I am talking to you, there are many people who are still in the bush suffering. Even in that process, not less than 10 women gave birth in the bush due to shock after running into the bush. It is a terrible thing that has happened to our people that no one can even explain. Up till this moment, we cannot get the true picture of what is happening.
All we are seeing everyday is MEND making noise in the papers, giving its position in the matter, while the military are equally saying this is their position. There is no information from the Federal Government on how we can go back to our sacked communities.
I fled into the bush
We got information that some militants and some military men had an encounter two days before that day. And after that day, we did not get further information. And we thought it was over. And that encounter happened in Camp 5, very far from Oporoza.
But we were surprised that after two days, around 1.00pm, troops of the JTF started bombarding everywhere. That is the true story because I was there, live, and saw everywhere.
I saw it all. I fled into the bush too, frustrated. I lost everything in the process of running for my dear life. I spent three days in the bush running from one village to the other,Â until I managed to escape to Warri. It took me three frustrated days running in the bush before I got to safety.
On those three days, we fed on any crops that we saw in the bush because there was no way of even going back to our community to get food. To me, this is a complete genocide.
The federal government just woke up one morning and started attacking its innocent and defenseless citizens. As I am talking to you, the information we got is that they broke into our houses and carted away our things before setting some of the houses ablaze.
I am calling on the international community to intervene in this matter because it is a complete genocide.
Itâ€™s not safe to return to our homes
Our communities are no-going areas. We cannot travel through the waterways anymore, and from what we have been reading, there is no day the troops of the JTF do not carry out attack on our communities. And so, it is not safe for us to go back home, but we really want to return to our communities to live a normal life again. We are even scared of going back to that area in the next one year because we donâ€™t know what is going to happen again.
The Commander of the JTF is always saying that Oporoza should expect more air raids. So, why do you think that we should return home without a word of assurance from the Federal Government? But there is no way that the military men will occupy our communities forever.
They are there on forced occupation; the land belongs to us. It is our God- given land.
We did not settle in our land by force, and so I do not see any reason why the Federal Government should take over our land by force. We are appealing to the international community to come to our aid. We call on the federal government to withdraw its troops from our land.
MEND should lay down arms
I am also imploring MEND to lay down their arms. But MEND did not just wake up one morning and started carrying arms. Something led to the carrying of arms in the Niger Delta.
My advice to the federal government is to look into it and if addressed, I am sure that MEND will lay down their arms and give peace a chance. As you can see, that place is oil-rich environment and it is through the oil that they are developing Abuja.
But if you go to my environment, there is nothing like federal government presence; there is nothing to show that we are part of this country even though we pick up the bills of this country. We are living in abject poverty. There is nothing to show that we are producing oil.
It will cost the federal government nothing to construct road from Warri to Escravos. If the federal government is saying that they are losing over N8 billion daily to the Niger Delta crisis, donâ€™t you think that three daysâ€™ money would be enough for them to tar road to that place? We are begging the federal government in the name of God to develop our land.
People sleep on bare floor in the displaced personsâ€™ camp
It is rather a pity about what is happening here in the refugee camp here, in Ogbe-Ijoh, headquarters of Warri South West LGA. People who were taking their three square meals a day are today suffering in the camp.
Our people are suffering in the camp and the federal government should withdraw its troops from our communities so that the people can return home. The people have no place to sleep in the camp; they are begging for a plate of uncooked beans to eat. It is very wrong for the federal government to treat its own citizens this way.
Some people sleep on the bare floor, while some sleep outside because there is no place to accommodate them. Which house in Ogbe-Ijoh can accommodate the over 5,000 displaced persons? So, the people are suffering and so bringing peanut relief materials will not solve the problem.
We are begging the federal government in the name of God to allow us go back home and still develop that place for us because we are suffering. The multinational oil companies are part of this problem in the region.Â These oil companies are not helping matters at all in any way.
We have been living with the oil companies peacefully all these years; but since they brought military people into the system, things have never been the same again. They pay the military.
They accommodate them and feed them, and they are being given comfort by the oil companies.
Bunkering will stop if…
But if today the oil companies can do something like community policing in our environment and just employ 5,000 people, I believe the oil companies will operate peacefully.
The military people cannot guard all the pipelines. But we, from the communities, we know ourselves. If people from the communities are given the responsibility to guard the pipeline, oil bunkering and pipeline vandalisation will be a thing of the past.
And so,Â we are still begging the oil companies to wake up to their responsibility because for now, they are shying away from their responsibility,Â hence they are having problem with their host communities.
The multinational oil companies should stop fuelling the Niger Delta crisis. If today, they employ those from their host communities, who will want to be a militant? The federal government and the multinational oil companies are wicked to the people of the Niger Delta region and it is my appeal to them that they should do the right things for sustainable peace to reign in the region.
They should stop telling us that our terrain is too difficult to develop. Let me tell you, if they succeed in wiping out militancy from the region but did not address what the people are agitating for, other things more than militancy will still come because our cry is being heard in Heaven.