THE Benemowei of Gbaramatu kingdom, Chief Godspower Gbenekama has denied that some Ijaw leaders sponsor runaway militant leader, High Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo to fight the Nigerian nation, saying he worked as a partner with the government and the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta to maintain peace on the waterways.
He said if the militant leader and the JTF had any axe to grind, the people of Gbaramatu kingdom should not be used as a scapegoats because they were not invited when the going was good between them and Tompolo
The Gbaramatu leader also said it was a taboo for the security outfit to burn down the palace of the royal father at Oporoza and sacrilegious also for a church to be burnt down among other buildings in Okerenkoko. Excerpt of the interview.
Gbaramatu peopleâ€˜ve nothing to do with JTF/militants face-off
Between 13th of May and this day, a lot of things have happened in our clan. In most cases because of lack of access to our place, our part of this story has not been clearly heard by the world.
That is why we think that we should say a little bit of what is happening as we know. What happened on Wednesday, the 13th of May was a case between the government and agitators in our land. It has nothing to do with the ordinary citizens, the civil populace in the society.
But on Friday, that same week, two days after the military and those young men engaged themselves we had a festival in the traditional head of the clan, Oporoza. The king and everybody were in attendance.
The state governor was also invited to the festival and many other dignitaries were invited to the festival.
Though, these dignitaries didnâ€™t attend maybe because they knew of the impending attackÂ Â , we donâ€™t know, but most of these dignitaries didnâ€™t attend. We were in the festival when the area was bombarded.
Apart from the fact that a lot of people were injured, some died, the most important thing was that the stool of the royal father, the palace of our king was also bombarded, burnt down by the JTF with the excuse that the palace is close to Tompoloâ€™s house.
Tompolo has no house in Oporoza
I want to put it on record that the Gbaramatu palace is in no way close to Tompoloâ€™s house.
In fact Tompolo does not have a house in Oporoza. There is only a guest house that is close to the palace and those two buildings are public buildings not owned by one individual but owned by the community and the clan. The place was built before the present king was installed.
He ascended the throne not up to a year nowÂ Â but that palace has been there for over five years and it is still under construction.
There is nowhere in the constitution of Nigeria that says that somebody cannot build a house anywhere. If you build a house and a criminal comes to build near you, does itÂ not mean that you are also a criminal.
Tompolo is a partner toÂ JTF, govt
Besides, talking about criminality, the government d idÂ not see Tompolo as a criminal before now.
They can call him a criminal today but before now, the government; both state and federal didnâ€™t see Tompolo as a criminal. So we donâ€™t see why we indigenes should see Tompolo as a criminal because they were partners.
Tompolo was a partner of the government. In 2004 when the waterways were very difficult for people to move, the government and the JTF engaged Tompolo and asked for his services to clear the waterways. He did that by arresting about 18 Ijaw youths for the JTF.
Their corpses were displayed all over the place that JTF captured these people but it wasÂ known that Tompolo was the person who organized and captured these people for JTF without any civilian casualty.Â Â We were surprised that the military in a bid to capture or to dislodge so- called militants attacked homes of defenceless civilians. You can also bear with me that since it was a festive period, a lot of people would have been injured, a lot would have lost their lives, a lot would have been maimed.
I am not coming up with records of those that were injured or those that lost their lives. The important thing is to address the issue of how our people can go back to their villages.
â€œRight now the military have occupied the whole area, people have been condoned off. Nobody can go in nobody can go out. I heard they are sending relief materials to the river.
To whom, admitted there are villages that t were not torched, what of the villages that were burnt down?
I want to also address the issue of thee military asking our traditional ruler to come and see them. Their invitation of our traditional ruler is quite absurd. The JTF didnâ€™t invite our traditional ruler or ask questions before they went and bombarded the whole of the region, neither did they ask questions before they went and bombarded his palace.
There are criminal elements everywhere, even in our governorâ€™s stool, Asaba, thereÂ are criminal elements, even in Abuja- there are criminal elements. But does that make anybody to bombard Aso Rock; does that make anybody to bombard the governorâ€™s office?
JTF should not use us to settle scores with Tompolo
If they are criminal elements, the government should look for a better way to fetch out those elements. The issue of criminality is not an issue that I want to address here, or else Tompolo is governmentâ€™s partner. He has been used to free hostages, he has been used to clear the waterways, and he has been used to guard pipelines.
If for one reason or the other, both of them have fallen apart, then they should not take on the defenceless citizens of the area, why should they take on the traditional ruler.
Tompolo is a citizen of Gbaramatu as any other person is a citizen of Gbaramatu. The traditional ruler is the royal father of everybody. One would have expected that the government would have discussed with the traditional ruler on issues like this before going to bombard the whole place.
Our royal father committed no crime
I also read on papers that JTF said they found the picture of somebody who hung herself.
The JTF, indeed the government should know that the present traditional ruler is a retired deputy superintendent of police (DSP). He would have been involved in so many cases in the police force. That picture is the picture of his mother, who hanged herself in the A Division on the 25th of September, 2000.
It was a woman who was frustrated because she had only one child and because the police force was transferring indiscriminately. She had not seen her son for over six months, she became psychological depressed and hanged herself.
The present king was serving in Katsina then and the police in A Division took a picture of this woman and took up the case, which even went up to Asaba. They pleaded with the present king that the corpse be buried and the corpse was buried in Warri here.
That was what happened. These records are in the A Division. If the military was not sure of what is happening, they would have asked. Are they going to say it is because of the picture that they bombarded the place, I am surprised?
The militaryâ€™s anger was too much that they did not even spare the livestock, horses that the royal father uses, peacocks; fowls and so on were not even spared. I have not seen that kind of carnage. The issue is not what has happened now.
Allow us to back to our villages
The issue is we want to go back to our villages. We want to use this medium to cry out to the international community to come to our aid so that we can go back to our villages.
I hold the title of Benemowei of Gbaramatu Kingdom; it means one who brings the clan together on issues like these. So many are displaced, so many have died, so many are wounded, I have a catalogue of people that have died, a catalogue of people that are wounded.
But that is not the main issue, we what to go back to our villages and communities
Itâ€™s a lie that only 2 houses were burnt in Oporoza
Also to set the records straight, just two months ago, the Governor of this state, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan gave a staff of office to this our traditional ruler. That day, he sang the praise of the royal father and the Ijaw people of Gbaramatu for putting up such an edifice, for being law abiding and so on. But today, the same governor is singing a different song.
Iâ€™m surprised. The governor said that only two buildings were burnt. I want to challenge the press to go to Oporoza and see if only two buildings were burnt in Oporoza. I can call names of owners of buildings here that their buildings were either burnt or destroyed in Oporoza.
If he is referring to only the palace and the guest house, well, those are public buildings. There are buildings owned by individuals, law abiding citizens, in fact there is a building of a Chevron contract staff that was burnt down in that Oporoza. Are you not even surprised that for a governor to visit a place that has been so dealt with, he went there alone with the military.
He didnâ€™t even invite any community leader to go with him. The story certainly will be tailored, the story certainly will be coloured. We frown at all these. But he is the Governor, nobody can say anything. We want to go back to our villages and our communities that is where we belong.
I want to use Oporoza as a case study because the governor went there and he told the world that only two buildings were burnt, I will challenge the governor now, let him take independent observers and go there and let us count how many buildings were burnt and seed if they are not even more than the record Iâ€™m going to give.
I know that the guest house in Oporoza is demolished and destroyed, our palace is destroyed and burnt, Daniel Osomolorâ€™s house a worker in GIL of Chevron, his house is also demolished, Mr. Ogoiye had two buildings destroyed, Oyibo Teiwei had one building destroyed, French Douglas building is also destroyed, Omor Toboufaghaâ€™s building is also destroyed. Many other houses are perforated with bullets, including a pilotâ€™s office.
I have counted not less than nine buildings that are totally destroyed, apart from those that are perforated with bulletsâ€.
At least 200 dead
It is difficult to actually put concrete figures, it is quite difficult. For now like as I told you the place is condoned off. You cannot get to your community. It is only those that you see that you know that are alive.
Those you donâ€™t see are either dead, wounded or missing or either in the bushes. I think not less than 200 persons have died in this carnage. The one that happened in Oporoza, before I left there that day, I saw quite a lot of dead bodies.
I can mention a few from those I knew that died in Oporoza. In other places like Okerenkoko as Iâ€™m talking to you, the military are still burning the houses in Okerenkoko. Okerenkoko was also a place where DESOPADEC (Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission) had their clinic.
Most of the people wounded in these places were taken to Okerenkoko but when the military bombarded most of those people lost their lives, the hospital was not spared.
So one wouldnâ€™t know who and who is dead in Okerenkoko, neither can you know those that died in Kurutie, you can only speculate on those that you have not seen. You cannot also know those that died in the Benikurukuru carnage, in the Dabriye carnage and so on.
The villages that are burnt are many. Since you cannot get access to those places it is difficult to know. But from reliable sources, it is clear that they did not kill anything less than 200 people from those that died after injury and all that.
Some of the corpses are even in Warri here.
Some of those that died in Oporoza or still missing are one Igbonfonwei Uwolo, Bomboy Odonkia, Atu Keneye, Kuku Olobio, Juewigha Ziten and Moneyin Pori while Pereke Christmas, Chief A. M. Bubor is wounded were wounded. Chief Joel Titen is also wounded; Wekebo Mulade and her two children were killed in Benekurukuru, Pello Mamayeleâ€™s 13- year-old twins were killed in Oporoza. Mrs. Return Oboko, the mother of Dr. (Chief) Oboko Bello is still missing till today.
AkpasibeweÂ Agidi is also missing, Lobiri Oko is missing, John Timiebi is missing, Afiki Ogoiba is missing, Pa Stephen Ari died of injuries he received from Okerenkoko, Benaji Aseri Alakiri was in Oporoza when the bombardment happened, he just died of blood pressure because he was rushed from Oporoza to Warri. His corpse is right now in the mortuary. These are the few that I can mention. There are a lot that I cannot even know because right now,Â Okerenkoko is a no -go -area, Kurutie is a no â€“go- areaâ€..
Itâ€™s sacrilegious to raze a church
It is difficult to quantify because people of Gbaramatu have done so much just to bring up the palace. Not to talk of the guest house.
Right now I donâ€™t know the state of Okerenkoko, the report we are receiving is that the whole of Okerenkoko is razed down, even the church building where people go to worship God.
May God forgive these people? If the head of the military that is ordering this genocide is a Muslim, how would he feel if his mosque is razed down by a Christian, how would he feel?
It runs into millions of naira, which is very difficult to quantify. One day people will see what these people have done, you will see what the Nigerian nation has done to the Gbaramatu Kingdom.
Ijaw leaders did not raise Tompolo
I read the interview granted by Ariri, I agree with him that Ijaw and Itsekiris are no longer fighting, that they are brothers.
But I disagree with him that Ijaw leaders raisedÂ Â Tompolo to fight the Nigerian nation.
All our leaders, now in government, Itsekiri inclusive, rode unto power on the back of Tompoto. All leaders, past and present, including the military have used him in way or the other.