• •Gbaramatu kingdom cries out over alleged siege by military
  • •Clark, PANDEF leaders beg for peace

WHAT many expected in the Niger Delta region after the November 1 meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, at Abuja are constructive appreciation of the issues and understanding by both sides, including the security agencies and militants.

FOR THE NIGER DELTA—From left: Former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah; Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, President Muhammadu Buhari, Niger Delta Leader, Chief E.K Clark and former Presidential Adviser on Legislative Matters, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, during the meeting between the Presidency and Pan-Niger Delta Stakeholders on lasting peace in the region at the Aso Chambers, State House, Abuja, yesterday. Photo: Abayomi Adeshida.
FOR THE NIGER DELTA—From left: Former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah; Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, President Muhammadu Buhari, Niger Delta Leader, Chief E.K Clark and former Presidential Adviser on Legislative Matters, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, during the meeting between the Presidency and Pan-Niger Delta Stakeholders on lasting peace in the region at the Aso Chambers, State House, Abuja, yesterday. Photo: Abayomi Adeshida.

But, that seemed not to be the case at the moment, as the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, the most dangerous militant group in the region, which was supposed to be observing a 90-day ceasefire brokered by Niger Delta leaders, blew up the Trans-Forcados Export trunk line in Delta state on Tuesday night.

It was not immediately clear if the militant group has resumed fighting with the Tuesday attack, but NDA was unambiguous when it acceded to the call for temporal cessation of hostilities by PANDEF in August that no repairs should be carried out on damaged oil pipelines during the period of discussion with government.

Its spokesperson, self-styled Mudoch Agbinibo, alluded to the repairs carried out on the Trans-Forcados export trunk line as the reason for the attack.

Before the abrupt attack by Avengers nine days after the Abuja meeting, an aggrieved commander of the non-operational Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, in the western Delta flank, barely 24 hours after the parley, attacked the same Trans Forcados export trunk line.

It was the clever claim by the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate, NDGJM, regarding the Nov 2 attack on November 5 that led to the Avengers accusing it of making bogus claims on attacks carried out by other groups.

With the bad blood raging, suspected militants again on Monday night launched attack on the recently repaired Trans-Forcados pipeline in a bid to put it out of operation. They opened fire at four local surveillance workers guarding the pipelines after which they attached explosive materials on the pipeline. But it did not detonate. NDA, however, foreclosed the matter when it blew the TFP on Tuesday.

The botched Monday night crack came two days after the military offensive in Tebujor, also known as Okpele-Ama, an Ijaw community in Gbaramatu kingdom, Warri South –West local government area, Delta state, in search of militants.

A source said the military raid sent wrong signals as villagers scurried into the bush with the chairman of Kunukunuma community, Chief Moses Bebenimibo and a student of Gbaraun Grammar School, Oporoza, subsequently seized. Bebenimibo was later released.

However, Saturday Vanguard found reports that the military invaded Benikrukru community, in Gbaramatu kingdom during the week, to be untrue.

Misapprehension

The community had believed that last Saturday’s offensive by soldiers at Tebujor and deployment of houseboats at some strategic locations in parts of the region was commencement of action on President Buhari’s disclosure to PANDEF leaders, November 1, that security agencies had been directed to identify militant leaders, their groups and areas of operation in the region.

However, the fact that security agencies were nosing for the operational bases of militants and their leaders was common knowledge among militants, especially in Delta and Bayelsa states in the past three months, while the timing of the Tebujor attack and deployment of houseboats at Oporoza, the traditional headquarters of Gbaramatu kingdom, sparked not a little suspicion.

Following the offensive by soldiers, the people of Gbaramatu kingdom, on Tuesday, raised the alarm that soldiers have laid fresh siege to their communities, terrifying villagers from going to the river to fish and preventing students from going to school.

The Ibe-Benemowei of Gbaramatu Kingdom and acting Secretary of the Gbaramatu Traditional Council, GTC, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, in a statement, said soldiers have stationed military houseboats at Oporoza and other Gbaramatu communities with houseboats, as if they were fighting war, while fishermen stay indoors for fear of being asked by soldiers to produce identity cards.

He alleged that some privileged persons were benefitting from the crisis in the region, hence they do everything to promote “war situation” to facilitate deployment of military hardware and houseboats, the hottest ancillary facility to line up their bank accounts.

Sequence of military assault

His words: “There is a serious Internally Displaced Persons, IDP situation in Gbaramatu kingdom, sitting in your palatial houses in Abuja and other states capital without concern for the dying people of Gbaramatu kingdom is a misnomer. The international community should also come to our aid, we are dying. The rights to education have been taken away from the people of Gbaramatu because most of our schools are the target of intimidation by the military. The right to earn a living is also impeded because of the siege as those who do not have identity cards can not dare go into the river,” he said.

Gbenekama stated: “On November 5, military personnel invaded Okpele-ama/Tebujor communities and arrested two people. As if that is not enough, detachments of two military houseboats were sent to the waterfront of Oporoza the traditional headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom on November 7, 2016.”

“If the reason for the presence of the military men and their houseboat is for the protection and surveillance of oil facilities, one wonders the reason behind stationing houseboats at the waterfront of Oporoza. This is because the places where these houseboats are positioned, have neither pipeline nor oil facilities. What then is the reason behind stationing military houseboats in the waterfront of Oporoza, except for the purpose making money for some generals whose business it is to ensure that the crisis in the Niger Delta persist for them to make more money,” he asserted.

He added: “The explanation of the military that they are acting on intelligence is not tenable. If they must protect their equipment, let the military go to where their oil facilities are so that we can live in peace.”

Withdraw soldiers

“Besides, they are heating up the polity. President Buhari should withdraw his soldiers and their houseboats from our communities, the state government also have a role to place. I, however plead with the people to continue to exercise some patience so as to give government time to do the needful. If the needful is done, Niger Delta will be calm very soon,” he said.

Gbenekama noted: “The Gbaramatu people keyed into the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF dialogue process with the belief that government would show good faith by doing everything within its power to ensure peace and harmony, but a situation where government security forces are more interested to ensure that the crisis in the Niger Delta region remains so that they can make money from it is regrettable.

Have those in authority tried to find out the end beneficiaries of the houseboats that are hired by the military? Has anybody asked the reason why despite the various houseboats strategically positioned, it has not stopped the militants from striking if they so desire, most time a few meters from the military houseboats.

“Yet these military men would ask for identity cards from even old fishermen, and failure to produce would earn them an arrest, brutalization and sometimes killing, while Fulani herdsmen would travel from the north to the south even with guns without harassment, not to talk of having any form of identification. The cow is his identity card while the paddle, canoe, fishing net, etc cannot be used to identify a fisherman from the Niger Delta,” he stated.

Boiling point

“This inhuman treatment must stop if we must go on with the dialogue process. The Gbaramatu people are getting to the end of their perseverance elasticity, the moment to snap is very close as was witnessed by the military when they went back to Okpele Ama /Tebujor communities a third time in two days and the women rallied and met them at the water front, which made them to leave the communities. Anything would have happened and those of us in the Gbaramatu Traditional Council are afraid because our plea for calm seems not to be yielding any reciprocation from the military hierarchy, instead they give fire for water,” he said.

According to him: “In the past few weeks the Gbaramatu area has been calm, devoid of any blasting of pipeline and vandalism of any kind because of the serious work of sensitization being done be HRM Oboro Gbaraun 11, the Pere of Gbaramatu Kingdom, but instead of commendation, it was militarization that was the response.”

“What does this government want from the Gbaramatu people? I think the presence of military men and their houseboat has become another conduit pipe through which government funds are siphoned. Somebody somewhere is using the proceeds from this houseboat hire business as his daily bread,” he said.

Appeal to N-Delta monarchs, leaders

The Gbaramatu leader entreated monarchs and other leaders of the region to come to the aid of the people, saying: “I plead with you to come to the aid of the Niger Delta people, we might say that it is not my kingdom, let them carry their cross, but know it that Gbaramatu kingdom is under siege.

“We cannot always bear the brunt of the whole region and yet when the benefits of our suffering comes, we do not see the desired understanding. The Okerenkoko Maritime University Bill, which Senator James Manager presented without consultation and lobbying was opposed by even fellow South- South senators, is a case at this point. The least you can do is to speak up. I remember that those who opposed the dialogue with the Niger Delta people were the ones scrambling for front seat in the Abuja parley with the President. We must shun all forms of hypocrisy. Those holding political offices in the Niger Delta should also sit up.

PANDEF sues for calm

PANDEF leader and former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark and co-chairman of the Central Working Committee, CWC, PANDEF, former governor of Akwa Ibom state, Obong Victor Attah, had also during the week, called on the people of the region to exercise patience for the federal government to look into the 16-point demand, which the forum presented to it.

Our findings showed that their appeal did not seem to have gone down well with some elements in the struggle, who feel that the federal government was not sincere in its dealings with the region, but attempts to drag runaway ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, into the fray was rebuffed.

At press time, PANDEF leaders were still making concerted efforts to calm frayed nerves in the region and get the militants to sheathe their swords no matter the provocation within the 90-day ceasefire.

Chief Clark insisted in a chat with Saturday Vanguard that the leaders were not working for any ulterior motive, but the overall good of the region.

A PANDEF leader, who preferred anonymity added: “I think Clark, the monarchs and other leaders have tried by presenting the 16-point demand to Buhari, let the militants wait for the 90-day ceasefire to expire. After that, if the federal government does not respond positively to the demands, then the whole world will now know that they respected the ceasefire agreement.”

Disclaimer

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