By Sam Oyadongha
Yenagoa – WITH the disarmed formerÂ militants settling down to life outside the tough terrain of the creeks that had served as their abode for years now, some of them are beginning to tell the storiesÂ of their struggle.
EbioweiÂ James, who trained as a mariner, is one such former militants. He said he was driven into the creeks after failing to getÂ a job.â€œHow do you reconcile a situation where we live precariously, at the best of times, in huts that seem to float over the water while, at the same time, the platforms are provided with all the basic needs of life, yet nobody is concerned about our plight,â€ he said with bitterness.
The visibly angry James said he lost some of his friends during the botched attack on Yenagoa sometime in April 2007 not to the soldiers that confronted them but due to a freak accident in one of the flotillasâ€™used.
Though he refused to specify the number of casualty they suffered during the attack, he described the encounter as fierce as they were conscious of the civilian populace. â€œI lost some of my compatriots during the invasion not to the JTF we encountered but to a freak accident involving one of our boats around the Yenagoa waterfront.
It was an incident that affected our morale. Even as we had to battle the armoured vehicles that were sent to the area. We would have sacked the Government House,â€ he lamented even as he could not state their reason for the audacious attack in which some innocent persons lost their lives around the Onopa and Ovom suburbs of Yenagoa.
In spite of the tough lives they lived, they believe they fought a legitimate cause aimed at drawing global attention to the plight of the suffering people of the Niger Delta.
While some of these youths are lucky to be alive to relive their experiencesÂ in the creeks in the wake of the presidential amnesty which enabled them to leave the harsh life in the jungle, others paid the supreme sacrifice for a cause that also brought untold hardship to the people they claimed they were fighting for.
Ironically some of these militants are graduates who were pushed to join their compatriots believing only an armed struggle couldÂ force the central government to pay more attention to the blighted region in terms of infrastructural development.
Sunday Vanguard investigation revealed that some of the former militants who survived the several creek battles with the security forces are still struggling to cope with the reality of now fending for themselves.
Unlike in the camps where they were sure of decent meal with bottled water, most of them now depend on allowance which most times do not come on time. The Federal Government Girls College, Imringi, one of the designated rehabilitation centres for the repentant militants was not only deserted by the former militants but the hostel was also looted.
Given the deplorable state of facilities at the centre, some of the erstwhileÂ militant leaders went the extra mile of making alternative accommodation arrangement for their foot soldiers. Many of theÂ leaders are stupendously rich and were already tired of life in the creeksÂ but could not come to theÂ city for fear of arrest by the Joint Task Force.
To this end, the amnesty was a safe landing for them to abandon the creeks and return to normal life. Co-morales leader, Joshua Maciver, the first to renounce militancy almost a year before the idea was mooted, thanked God for sparing his life in the face of several adversities in the creeks.
Rated as one of the deadliest militants in the Bayelsa creek, according to leaked security document prepared by a former commander of the Joint Task Force, Maciver has since enrolled at one of the universities outreach centres in Yenagoa where he is currently pursuing a degree programme in the humanities.
A close associate of Maciver told Sunday Vanguard:Â â€œIn spite of his picking up arms against the Nigerian state over what he described as the criminal neglect of the region, he is a man of peace and this explained why he hearkened to Governor Timipre Sylvaâ€™s plea to militants to do away with militancy by embracing his administrationâ€™s disarmament, reintegration and empowerment programme.
â€œMaciver has commenced the process of developing himself for the future returning to the classroom. And as you can see during our last encounter with him he is serious about ICT and this informed his knowledge of the use of computer. Maciver who will be getting married next month, November 7, to be precise, is going into politics where he believed he can further use his wealth of experience to improve the lives of his people.â€
Gen Africa is said to have reconciled with his family at Olugbobiri in Southern Ijaw local government area of the state and also begged for forgiveness from his people. He is presently engaged in big time farming and community service. Another formerÂ militant, Toru said, â€œI am happy to be back home after many years in the creeks. It had been a difficult moment.
Even when you sneaked into town, you are not even sure of the next man to you. You are only confident in the camp where you know you are with persons of like mind. The line between security and tension was very thin. I spent most of my timeÂ in the creeksÂ and avoidedÂ the towns like a plague. It was like living on borrowed time not minding what happen next.â€
In the creeks we are dead men so to speak, says Paul, a repentant militant, who was under the tutelage of Don Alex, a militant leader in Southern Ijaw LGA. According to Paul, life in the creeksÂ is risky, brutish and uncertain because militants were prone to death at any time.
â€œThere, anything couldÂ happen,â€ he said. He also said that they were always conscious of the fact that they were doing an illegal operation and therefore couldÂ be kill at any time, and knowing fully well that their lives wereÂ on the line gave them the audacity and effrontery to kill when the need aroseÂ and maim as well.
â€œMy brother, it is in the creeks that I have come to realize that life is nothing and that only a thin line separates life from death (Na small thing separate life from death)â€, he recounted.
He said the experience was so bad because they were always confronted with dead bodies, wounded people and blood. â€œAll we see is blood, and all our songs are war chanting and incantations.
We also do some rituals and drink charms. â€œWe didnâ€™t live permanently in the creeks, sometimes we stayed for weeks in and two weeks out or more depending on operations; this is because of accommodation inadequacy.
And in the camp we knew no sleep; we were always on the alert and very vigilant. We suffered from mosquitoes bites, and craw craw (rashes), most of us fell ill often because of the environment. The camp in the creeks was made with wood, segmented into small room apartments, with about 13 militants per room.
Sleep on 6×6 mattresses, there were television sets well connected to cable – DSTV – and fans in the rooms. We had enough and assorted foods, and we ate and drank as we liked. Normally, we operatedÂ two weeks in and two weeks out and paid N20, 000 monthly, and in some cases small tip or allowance would be added depending on operations.
â€œLife out of creeks is sweet. The most important thing is the fact that we are free, and have nothing to fear again. No fear of the unknown, death, blood and killings. But initially we were afraid because we knew that we were against the government, so we had every reason to be afraid of the intention of government on amnesty. At first, our leaders thought it was a trap, so we refused.
But due to pressure from the governor, traditional rulers and other important people, we decided to partake in the amnesty thing. But in the camp, the food couldÂ not be compared to the creeks, even the hostel, except that it is on land, but we were more comfortable in our creek camps than in amnesty camps.And that is why we protestedâ€.
On his plan for the future, he said, Wetin I need na work wey dem go pay me well, some people say dem want learn work , some say dem want go school, but for me, na work for oil company or government.
Most dreaded operation: â€œAny operation that involved confrontation with JTF was always dreadful, because people must die. Usually, our leaders have information and were alwaysÂ prepared. But sometimes, we carry out operations which are code named by our leaders. Canâ€™t remember any specific one.â€