By Davies Iheamnachor
BILLE—pirates dressed in military camouflage have taken over the waterways of Bille Kingdom in Degema Local Government Area, Rivers State, killing, maiming and robbing natives and travellers, including security operatives and politicians, on the waterways with impunity in the last two months.
Recently, they attacked eight speedboats travelling to/from the community, killing Mr. Abraham Anthony Alex and injuring Mr. Diepiriye Isaac and Mr. Ori-ipirite Ebi.
The sea bandits held travellers heading to Port Harcourt hostage for hours on Friday, May 31, carting away four speedboats.
NDV learned that the fully armed criminals again, Monday, June 3, attacked passengers, carting away their property and the boat conveying them to Port Harcourt, abandoning the victims in the mangroves.
In separate incidents, two of the passengers, Mr Andrew Kio, a Department of State Services, DSS, official and Opukon H. Imo, Councillor representing Ward 16 in Degema Legislative Council sustained gunshot inquiries and are receiving treatment in Port Harcourt.
Other victims of the attacks are the newly-elected chair of the Bille Kingdom Chiefs’ Council, Chief Bennett Okpopkiye-Dokubo, Mr. Fi-ibite A. Bille, Chairman, Bille Community in Port Harcourt, Mrs. Apaemi Amaye, President, Bille Women Forum and Dumo Warigbani, Chairman, Marine Workers Union of Nigeria, Bille Unit.
Within two months, the pirates struck over eight times, hijacked about seven speedboats and other valuables, sources revealed.
We’re under siege— Residents
Residents said they were under siege, following the recurrent attacks, and cried out for help.
Chair, Bille, Kingdom Chiefs Council, Alabo Bennett Okpokiye-Dokubo, told reporters in Port Harcourt that criminals have grounded economic activities in the area.
He said movements in and out of the community have halted, while businesspersons, civil servants and students, who travelled home over the weekend, could not return because of the development.
He said: “The Amanyanabo-in-Council, chiefs and the people of Bille Kingdom humbly draw your attention to the recurrent and indeed, renewed attacks on Bille passengers boats by unidentified gunmen dressed in military camouflage.
“The incident has culminated in the death of one passenger, Mr. Abraham Anthony Alex, left two others injured. We state that life has become unbearable within Bille Kingdom because of the unprovoked attacks. We are suffering in the hands of pirates.”
Gunmen on rampage
A dependable source, who simply gave his name as Kemuel, disclosed that an officer of Department of State Services, DSS, were among the victims.
Kemuel said: “Recently there have been heightened pirates’ attacks on passenger boats plying the Bille -Port Harcourt route. The new wave of attacks began June 1. On Saturday, they took a boat after dropping off the passengers on the sea.
“The climax was Monday morning, along New Calabar River where five fully-loaded Port Harcourt-bound speedboats on a convoy were attacked by heavily armed pirates in military camouflage.
“Two of the passengers, Mr Andrew Kio, a DSS official and Opukon H. Imo, Councillor representing Ward 16 in Degema Legislative Council sustained gunshot inquiries and are currently receiving treatment in Port Harcourt.
“Other notable victims of the attacks included the newly-elected Chairman of the Bille Kingdom Chiefs Council, Chief (Barr.) Bennett Okpopkiye-Dokubo, Mr. Fi-ibite A. Bille, Chairman, Bille Community in Port Harcourt, Mrs. Apaemi Amaye, President, Bille Women Forum and Dumo Warigbani, Chairman, Marine Workers Union of Nigeria, Bille Unit.”
Kemuel further disclosed: “On Friday, June 7, gunmen dressed in Nigerian Security Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, uniform, attacked a boat travelling to Port Harcourt from Bille Kingdom.
“Meanwhile, some people were stuck in the mangroves as a result of another pirates’ attack on two boats. The passengers of not less than 24 were in the mangrove for more than two hours before they were later rescued safely back home by a local team.”
Victims narrate ordeal
One of the victims, David Elisha, who ran into mangroves, narrated the incident happened around 5p.m. at the entrance to the big river.
His words: ”On June 7, the boat loaded in Bille and we left for Port Harcourt. Around New Calabar River, we saw a black boat. They chased us; we later identified six armed persons with Civil Defence uniform. They started shooting.
”The driver picked courage and ran to the mangrove; all of us ran out of the boat into the mangrove. They went away with the boat and all our belongings. Some of us, who had their phones on them started to make contacts to Port Harcourt and Bille.
”It took over one hour, 30 minutes for rescue team to come. It was around 7p.m. that a boat came and took us to a community called Namasibi. We were there for almost an hour before another boat and took us home.”
Another victim, Mr. Fi-ibite Bibi, who is the Chairman Bille Community in Port Harcourt, called on Governor Nyesom Wike to intervene and save people of the area from the repeated attacks.
According to her, “Bille people can no longer go to Port Harcourt; we are under siege. Today, as we were on the boat coming to Port Harcourt, men in military camouflage attacked us.
”We are calling on the Federal Government to look into our plight. They should save us. We call on the state governor, Chief Nyesom Wike to look into our condition. Journey from here to Port Harcourt is just 45 minutes, but we can no longer move.
”Our lives are in danger. We, the riverine people, are suffering.”
Council of Chiefs sends SOS to Gov Wike
Meanwhile, Bille Kingdom Chiefs’ Council had sent an SOS to the Governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Wike, Speaker of the State Assembly, Ikuinyi Ibani, Commissioner of Police in the state, Usman Belel, General Officer Commanding, Army Division in Port Harcourt and other security chiefs in the state, on the recurrent attacks on travellers in the area.
In response to the letter signed by Alabo Ibiba Konbonimi (Opu Kurowi II) Secretary General, Bille Kingdom Chiefs Council, urging government to save them from sufferings, the state Assembly constituted a committee to look into the issue.
The letter read in part: “The Bille Kingdom has been under repeated piracy attacks on the Bille water ways by gunmen dressed in military camouflage.
“The recent happenings have thrown the entire Bille Kingdom into a state of pandemonium. The people are in extreme fear, as access back and forth Port Harcourt for economic activities is under a state of life and death.
”The Amayanabo- in- Council, Chiefs and the entire Bille Kingdom, therefore, passionately call on to use your good offices to urgently come to our rescue before it becomes too late for us.
“Call on security agencies and operatives to come to our aid and ameliorate the pain and trauma of our people.”
LG chair shun calls from residents— Okpokiye-Dokubo
Bille Kingdom Chair, Okpokiye-Dokubo told NDV: “These recent attacks came after Army stopped escorting our boats. The House of Assembly Committee ordered the chair of our local government to provide security for us. Unfortunately he made only vain promises.
”After then, he has refused picking our calls. Bille is suffering in the hands of criminals. Life has become unbearable for us. We do not have any other route to travel. Criminals have taken over the one we follow before.
”If we do not provide petrol for the Army boat, they will not escort us and in the course of that, we incurred debt, which the chairman helped to pay. We did a letter to the chair on this issue again, but he has not done anything.”
At press time, the council boss did not respond to calls and text messages to his phone.
However, Rivers State Police Command, speaking through Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Nnamdi Omoni, said: “We got the report from OC Marine. On arrival of the Police to the scene, the hoodlums took flight.
“We have done security deployment to cover waterways.”