By Jimitota Onoyume
PORT HARCOURT—NO death has generated more serious attention in Rivers State in the last five years than that of the former Commander of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, and repentant militant leader, Soboma George.  He meant different things to different people in the state and beyond.

Barely hours after news of his death broke in the state, the internet was loaded with comments on him. People called from different parts of the world to confirm if what they heard was true. Sunny Ofehi, a Niger Delta activist resident in the Netherlands deposited a comment on Soboma’s death just about an hour after the news broke in Rivers state.

For some, the late Soboma George was a bloody cultist who should be ignored. But there are those who saw him as one of the foot soldiers of the Niger Delta struggle. For the foregoing, were it not  for the likes of the late Soboma, Asari Dokubo, Ateke, Tompolo, Farah, Egberipapa, Boyloaf, etc, the hegemonic leadership of the Nigerian federation would have continued to ignore agitations of the region for better government attention, because the only language the leadership seem to understand was violence and it took the likes of Soboma to offer it from the creeks.

The operations of his likes brought about the presidential amnesty which came with development packages for the region. At least, in some quarters, the Goodluck Jonathan Presidency, beyond 2011, is seen as part of the amnesty to the region, because the bitterness in the region arising from the long years of neglect needed to be assuaged.

Soboma George

There are those who also saw him as a philanthropist. He was very rich no doubt, and so could afford to affect lives in his way. He was killed on a day he went to watch one of the matches in a tournament he sponsored for his neighbourhood. The tournament which was in its second week drew participants from several parts of the state capital.

The brutal murder of Soboma has again raised critical questions on the Federal Government’s amnesty project.  Some people who spoke to the Vanguard said there was urgent need for government to guarantee the security of key ex-militant leaders that keyed into the amnesty programme.

How he died, by Police

According to the state Police Commissioner, Mr Suleiman Abba, Soboma was shot dead at about 7pm on Tuesday at Nembe Street, Borikiri, in Port Harcourt.  He was coming from the field where he had gone to watch the football tournament he organised for the area when about three heavily armed men in a Kia saloon car opened fire on him while he was buying groundnut. Apparently, the assailants followed him from the field to a point they considered safe enough to execute the sinister action. They fired several shots from their riffles on him. One of the shots fell a sister to the groundnut seller and another hit the girl selling groundnut to the late Soboma.

At press time, she was receiving treatment at a trauma centre in Port Harcourt. The groundnut seller who gave her name as Princess John lamented the death of her sister. She appealed to government and people of conscience to come to her aide. According to her, her father had been bedridden since 1992. So they sold groundnut to run the home.  In tearful tone she begged not to be abandoned in the hospital.

Eye witnesses said there was no counter fire from Soboma’s boys because he was literarlly alone. But after his assailants left they said his boys mobilised to whisk away his corpse.  This is not the first time militants in the state would disappear with the corpse of their fallen man.

How he started

Soboma George was the second in Command to Ateke Tom before they fell out and he went to float Outlaws, a group that grew to a terror height in the state.   He was arrested, tried for sundry charges and kept at the Port Harcourt prisons in 2004.  He   broke jail at the Port Harcourt prisons the following year. After his escape he went underground for some time.

In 2007 he was arrested for traffic offence on Hospital road while on his way back from church. Unknown to the Police at the Central Police station, as he was being quizzed hundreds of his boys who got wind of the arrest mobilised to the streets, shooting sporadically. They marched towards the Police station where they rescued him and flung the doors of the cells open for other inmates to flee.

In 2008, soldiers from the Port Harcourt army barracks  stormed his Marine base hide out to arrest him but narrowly missed him, a situation that caused many to describe him as a cat with nine lives.  The soldiers attacked his Marine Base hide out in Port Harcourt with gun boats, armoured personnel carriers and helicopters for aerial surveillance, but they still missed him.

Precisely on 7 August  2009 he led about 20 of his boys to key into the Federal Government’s amnesty programme at a discreet ceremony at the state office of the State Security Service in Port Harcourt.  Mr Timi Alaibe who was then Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, National Coordinator of the amnesty programme then, Air Vice Marshal Lucky Ararile were among top security personnel at the SSS venue of the event.

Soboma, who vowed to quit militancy on that day surrendered 40 riffles and four General Purpose Machine Guns, GPMG. It would also be recalled that at the event he pleaded with the Rivers State government to beat a retreat on its planned demolition of waterfronts, saying it was likely going to trigger off another round of violence in the state.

Educational  background

Those close to him said he attended Stella Maris College, Port Harcourt, but they were not sure if he completed his secondary education there. They said he was in his early thirties.

Questions have continued to centre on the likely cause of the death. While some feared it was politically motivated because he was said to be close to some persons in political circle, they also think it had set the stage for what to expect in 2011 election.  For those familiar with the political history of the state, particularly in the previous republic, they would not hesitate to say that the state lost more of its youths and notables in the last republic. So it would not be out of place to speculate that the death could herald what to expect.

There are those however think that his death had to do with the brutal murder of another ex-militant in far away Ahoada part of the state who was assassinated about two weeks ago.

No matter how it is viewed, the death has posed a very big question for the presidential amnesty and also raised fears in the state about next year’s election.  Already residents of the state are in fear because nobody can say what will happen next. Night life appears to be at a standstill for now because nobody wants to risk his or life.

Meanwhile, the Police has assured of adequate security for residents. The Police Commissioner said residents should go about their normal business as security had been deployed all over to nip any crisis in the bud. Surveillance helicopters have been hovering in the air since the murder.

The spot where he was killed has remained like a tourist site since that Tuesday night.

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