SIMON EBEGBULEM, Benin city
Aftermath of attack on Gbaramatu: A King without Palace
Two years ago, the Joint Task Force, JTF in the Niger Delta invaded the oil rich Gbaramatu Kingdom of Warri South West Local Government Council of Delta state, hometown of repentant militant leader, High Chief Government Ekpemupolo, a.k.a Tompolo, after a fracas between members of JTF and some of the then militants in the area, leaving a scare that lives in the minds of the inhabitants.
The entire community was razed down including the palace of the King, HRM Ogeh-Gbaraun 111, Aketekpe, Agadagba of Gbaramatu Kingdom.
The Gbaramatu invasion by the JTF was similar to the Operation Desert Storm of 1999, when the American forces launched an attack against Iraq for invading Kuwait. There were aerial bombardments of the Kingdom and the effects were massive. Two years after the incident, it was a case of a King without a palace while other inhabitants of the community still suffer the devastation.
However, a frontline Niger Delta activist and former Secretary General of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Comrade Paul Bebenimibo, narrated their ordeal to Saturday Vanguard in Benin City and appealed to the Federal Government to come to their aid by rebuilding the Kingdom including the palace of their King.
Comrade Bebenimibo said, “Since after the fracas with some youths in the kingdom, people are still passing through hell due to the destruction in the land. Imagine Okerenkoko community that was destroyed completely, there was no single building standing after the invasion. The Governor of Delta state promised to rebuild the community. But as we are talking now, nothing has been done to rebuild the community.”
He painted a sordid picture of how the people are living in a make shift structures. “They live in a make shift structures in the riverine communities and each time there is storm, it will destroy the structures because they are not solid enough and that is what we have been passing through in the past two years, ” he said.
“Our people were left with nothing, their source of livelihood were destroyed and nothing has been done to cushion the effects of the damage done to us. It is sad that this is happening to us because Gbaramatu Kingdom is contributing immensely to the unity and development of this country through its oil revenue.”
On how the King has been operating without a palace, Comrade Bebenimibo said: “He has been staying in a two bedroom apartment in the Kingdom. How can a King be without a palace after his magnificent multi billion naira palace that was built by the toil of the community, was destroyed by the JTF. What JTF did was a sacrilege; can they destroy the house of an Emir in the North like that?
And this is Gbaramatu Kingdom that produces large quantity of oil that sustains the economy of this nation. After the destruction of Gbaramatu Kingdom, our people ran away for three months and when we returned, nothing was left. That is what we are still suffering today and it is unacceptable,” he stressed.
Inspite of the Federal Government promise to rebuild the community, nothing has been done so far. There is no programme laid down to rebuild the community. “The JTF destroyed our houses, farms and even the palace of the Pere of Gbaramatu Kingdom. Today we have a King without a palace. They have refused to rebuild our Kingdom.”
Comrade Bebenimibo stated that there was a time they noticed some skeletal work being done by contractors but their hope was short lived as they later disappeared. He said their efforts to find out from both the contractor and the government could not produce tangible result. “When we tried to find out, they told us that the government has not paid them. When we now met the government, they said they have paid the contractor. So, we are just confused.”
He disclosed that the Federal Government has also not done anything in that regard adding that “as I am talking to you, we are in court with the Federal Government. The Gbaramatu Kingdom had to drag the JTF and the Federal Government to court as a result of the illegal invasion of our Kingdom and subsequent destruction and killing of our people.”
He stressed that it is not a place to be neglected by governments adding that the peaceful transition the country enjoys today as a nation was partly as a result of the contribution of the Gbaramatu Kingdom. “The struggle for the emancipation of the minorities that made it possible for the emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan who is from Bayelsa state was as a result of the price the minority paid.
And that has given hope to a lot of minorities who thought that it was never possible for a minority to become president.”
He however appealed to the federal government to wade into the matter urgently. “I commend President Jonathan for setting up a committee to look into the post election violence in the North. But I also believe that such committee should be set up to look into the destruction of our home before the Niger Delta youths accepted the amnesty programme.
The Federal Government must rebuild our kingdom because it is sacrilege that our King now live like a pauper. He has no palace anymore and you know what that means traditionally.”
“The Federal Government must move in immediately and rebuild that Kingdom and our palace. Jonathan is our pride today because the agitation for a better living by the people of the Niger Delta culminated into his election as President. So, we know that he must not forget where he comes from, the question of the Niger Delta must be resolved before he leaves office” he stressed.