•Boat owners lose N500 million in 3 years, pay ransom to pirates
•We pay tax, yet no protection from govt , victims express grief
By Emmanuel Ayungbe
IDUA SANG — THE village head of Idua Sang, Oron Local Government Area, Akwa Ibom State, His Royal Highness, Chief Iniko Asukwo Offiong, has screamed that militants and sea pirates kidnap and rape women of the community, who went fishing to provide for their families on the high sea.
Chief Offiong, who spoke to NDV, said that militants and sea robbers have not only turned the women into sex slaves, but were also demeaning the men. He appealed to the state governor, Udom Emmanuel, to come to the rescue of the unfortunate villagers.
Dump women in the creeks after raping them: Chief Offiong who lamented the agonies of women and men in the community, said: “As a village, we have written series of appeal letters to the state and federal government through the state House of Assembly and National Assembly through our son, Hon. Robinson Awak, alerting government of the lives and property we had lost going for fishing business on the high sea on daily basis.
“Our women, who travel to the fishing terminal on the high sea are always raped and sexually harassed, some die in the process or come home to die days after undergoing unimaginable dehumanizing experiences in the hands of militants and sea pirates.” The activities of pirates, the traditional ruler noted, has made the economic recession more devastating to the people of Oro nation, who depend solely on products from the sea for their livelihood.
People die daily: In his words, “My people are dying daily from pirates attacks and hunger. We do not have land to grow crops, everywhere is water, no forest for logging, we depend only on the high sea for food, but sadly, sea robbers have taken over the sea, leaving my people without hope of survival.”
Presence of Naval personnel
The village head, however, appreciated the presence of Naval personnel in the area, but regretted that the naval officers were located at camps like Ibaka and in between their posts, so much havoc have been perpetrated on his people. “The men are maltreated and debased, while women are taken away to unknown locations on the high sea, sexually abused and abandoned in creeks,”
Chief Offiong said his people were suffering too much hardship in spite of the fact that a sizeable proportion of crude produced in the country is from the Oro nation, yet there was no government presence in the area. “Nature made our soil not good for farming and blessed us richly with aquatic life, but the pirates have besieged us,” he said.
22 boats lost: Reacting, chairman, Transition Committee, Oron Seamen Boat Owners Union, Samson Oluwasegun, said members of union lost over N500 million to sea pirates in the past three years. Oluwasegun disclosed that between 2013 and 2015, boat owners lost 22 boats and paid millions of naira as ransom to sea pirates to recover some of their seized boats and passengers.
“As a union, we pay our dues to the state and federal government, yet no government has come to our rescue even though we have written several letters to the government on our plight. No compensation is paid to our people or adequate protection, which is the basic and statutory responsibility of a government to the tax payers provided. Recently, we lost one of our boat drivers and a conductor with so many others nursing bullets wounds from the automatic guns of the sea pirates,” the chairman revealed.
I’m now jobless: A boat owner, Chief Sunday Okoh, told NDV that he lost three boats, which he used to ply Oron – Cameroun route to pirates. “The sea pirates have seized three of my passenger boats leaving me with only one after removing the four engines worth N520, 000 each. Now, I am jobless and my children are at home, no school fees, no food and no government assistance in spite of series of complaints through our union for government support,” he asserted.
Board member of Oron Seamen Union, Mr. Imaobong Edet Okon, who owns passenger boats on the international route, fumed: “I was a road transport commercial driver, I gathered some money before going into boat business, which I used to feed my children, but today sea pirates have retuned me to square one, everything I had are all gone, no hope to recover them.”
Govt collects tax and does nothing thereafter: Chief Executive of Godown Marine Transport Company Limited, Mr. Daniel Collins Olumafa who hails from Ekeremo local government area of Bayelsa State, told NDV: “I have been doing this marine business in Oron since 2000 to date. Last week, I went to my church to do thanksgiving to God for the gift of life even though I have lost over N20 million to sea pirates.”
Wiping out sea pirates
Mr. Olumafa said his company paid all necessary taxes to state and federal government and in most cases, they assisted the marine police and the naval personnel with fuel to enable them secure the waterway, but government was not committed to helping them wipe out sea pirates.
At Calabar and Atabong/Abana routes, Elder Effiong Atte and Bassey Inyang, who spoke separately, complained of state government’s neglect. “We do not have serious cases of pirates’ activities in this section because of the short distance to our destination, we do not operate in the night, but the state government through the Ministry of Transport collects their dues everyday without thinking of maintaining the beach,” Atte asserted.
Inyang, however, commended the effort of former governor, Victor Attah, whom he said constructed the beach over 10 years ago, but bewailed that subsequent governments only came to collect taxes without considering the problems of the aging beach. “The owners of the boats are complaining of the cost of maintaining their boats because the boat finds it difficult to berth,” he complained.