“Government is not bothered about the security of citizens that ply the creeks and waterways in Bayelsa State. The government is rather concerned about the safety of oil installations and Pipelines”.
Speed boats and other water crafts that ply the waterways have been left out in the maritime security architecture”
These were the lamentations of members of the Bayelsa State branch of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria(NWUN) and other users of the waterways in the state .
Speaking with the Blue Economy Magazine in Yenagoa, the union gave a gruesome and nightmarish narration of their experiences in the hands of sea pirates along the creeks of the 22 years old maritime state.
According to the seafarers, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of the state, being the largest council area in the country, has recorded the highest incidents of sea piracy and militant activities in the past, followed by Brass and Nembe local government areas.
According to them, major parts of Ogbia and Ekeremor LGAs which are also accessed by water, with only very little portion by land is not left out in the sea piracy menace. As a result, the threat of pirates’ activities cannot be overemphasized in these areas. Commuters who ply the various water routes in the state now live in fears, just as they carry their hearts in their hands while travelling to coastal communities. In most cases the mantra of God’s guidance is being chanted’ throughout such journeys to their destinations.
Following this development, there has been stunted growth in the local maritime economy. This insecurity situation on the waterways has impacted negatively on the maritime economy (blue economy).of Bayelsa State.
The lack of political will by successive administrations in state to harness the rich maritime resources embedded in her seas, lakes, coast and creeks have continued to be neglected. It is a truism that when maritime resources are properly harnessed, thousands of jobs would be created for the youths, which could lead to checkmating piracy and other vices that have bedeviled the hitherto rich waterways of the state over the years.
Bayelsa State is 90% maritime water. So, coastal community folks plying various waterways on board river crafts are always at the mercy of sea pirates.
This informed the recent lamentations from members of the state branch of the Maritime Workers’ Union of Nigeria and other stakeholders who frequently ply their trade on the waterways, being the major means of transportation.
“Sea piracy is rampant here. We are only living and plying the creeks by the grace of God”, lamented Mr. Ayibanua Ofoni, the Auditor of the state branch of the Maritime Workers’ Union of Nigeria. He spoke on behalf of the State Chairman of the Union, Mr. Ipigansi Ogoniba, who was on an official assignment when The Blue Economy Magazine’s Deputy Managing Editor, Isaac Ombe visited the union’s office at Swali, Yenagoa..
The Maritime official who has seen it all, sailing through the nooks and crannies of the rough but rich creeks and waterways of the state, noted that, “travelers always surrendered their faith unto the hands of God, the all knowing and protector of everything”, and that they no longer depend on government;s security architecture any more.
On his part, Ofoni, said government has failed in its duty to protect the lives of travelers along the waterways of the state. He stressed that what government considers more important are oil installations and pipelines along the waterways than human lives.
“There is no security in Bayelsa waterways. It is only the oil flow stations and pipelines that are been protected now. They give enough security in those areas but the passengers and boats plying the waterways have no security”, he regretted.
He recalled that “there have been several combined security meetings between members of the Union and all security agencies in the state with no fruitful outcomes, as the situation has remained the same. No action from them. Instead,, “it has been promises upon promises, he lamented.
“Most times we have security meetings with government security agencies, but it has only been promises, telling us that they are on top of the situation, but no action”, he lamented.
Ofoni recounted vividly of an unfortunate incident recently when he said, “Just three days ago”, (19th November 2018, before this interview took place,), “pirates attacked and carted away one of our local boats around the Okodi-Epebu-waterways in the Ogbia local government area council of the state. Two persons were killed in that unfortunate attack”.
He further lamented that “it has been a regular occurrence, where outboard engines and boats are usually carted away by the sea pirates. Mothers and young ladies are usually raped, while innocent travelers are been shot at indiscriminately by the attackers”.
“As a result, whenever we want to start a journey, either from Yenagoa to the creeks, or from the coastal communities from to Yenagoa,… everyone would go into fervent prayers till we get to our destinations, because anything could happen. It is as bad and pathetic as you could imagine”, he further regretted.
Narrating how the Maritime Union normally issue instructions to boat operators not to move at times, he explained that, “following signals of pirates operations in some areas of the waterways, we marshal out general orders, that no boat should move until reasonable information gets back to us that they have left the area before we would start the day’s journey”
On how they would sieve between authentic and fake information on the operations of pirates, he disclosed that trusted local fishermen around the areas in question would normally pass coded information to them to know that a particular creek is either free for movement or not.
He emphasised that there has been no single assistance from government in any way, even as union members are in possession of almost all security agencies’ phone numbers, but distress calls to them are most times allegedly ignored
“We have all the security agencies’ phone numbers. We would call them any time there are piracy incidents,, but no response from any of them most times. Instead, they would want to know what type of gun the pirates are carrying, what type of boats are been used, all sorts of questions they will ask on phone”.
He further alleged that in spite of the large number of security personnel posted to the state, they only secure the little percentage of the state covered by land, though major parts of the state is largely maritime and only accessible by water.
He further lamented that “even when pirates operate near an oil installation, the security men on duty won’t bother to assist in quelling such attacks. Instead they would justify their actions by telling you that the incident did not occur within their jurisdiction.
“90% of the state is covered by water, but they are only guiding the motorable areas of the state”. Even the Marine Police are allegedly at the mercy of the pirates, he added.
Government should collaborate or form alliance with the Maritime Union Workers so that the pirate’s hide outs, or the flash points could be identified and blocked.
Security men should be permanently stationed in these areas that frequent incidents of piracy..
This suggestion, if implemented to the letter, would go a long way to checking sea piracy in the state.
Ofoni urged government to be proactive, so that the agony of most travelers and coastal communities would be a thing of the past.
Also narrating his ordeal in the hands of sea pirates on the 25th of October, 2017, Nanatei, a native of Ukubie Community in Southern Ijaw local government area of the state, gave a grim narration of how he lost his right hand to pirates attack.
He said that day will ever remain in his memories like night mare. He recalled the incident vividly as if it happened yesterday. “While going to supply food items to a military house boat somewhere in the creeks of Southern Ijaw on that fateful day, after supplying the food items to the house boats, on his way back to Yenagoa, little did he know that pirates had ambushed him along the narrow creek he had earlier passed hours ago.
“With our crew of four, suddenly, we started experiencing gunfire on us. No way to escape as all my head and neck were pumped with bullets. My right hand was totally condemned”, Nanatei regretted..
“Up till now there are bullets in my neck and some parts of the hand. No money to remove them. I bought that engine not up to three months when this incident occurred”, he explained..
However, responding to the Maritime Union’s observations on the shortcomings of the security agencies on the waterways, Bayelsa State Command’s Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Asinim Butswat, who agreed that there were some security challenges on the waterways, however, accused coastal community folks of being economical with information on the movement of pirates.
“No doubt, there are security challenges on the waterways, but most times we expect information from the communities on the hide outs of these pirates”, he said..
Butswat, who expressed determination of the Command to “continue to intensify marine patrols and surveillance along the waterways”, boasted that the Command has the strength to confront the activities of pirates, informing that the Command just apprehended a wanted pirate kingpin who was on the Command’s wanted list.
“We have reasonable number of gunboat boats. Sagbama, Nembe, Ogbia and Brass local government areas have Divisional Marine offices with headquarters in Yenagoa. We launch operations from Yenagoa to Southern Ijaw axis” He appealed to community dwellers and travelers to ” always endeavour to report to suspected persons to the police.
Bayelsa State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Joseph Mukan, confirmed that “the suspected Pirate kingpin,(18year old) Esau Baratuapre, was arrested on the 27th of Sept, 2018, by the Police in Ogbia Community in Ogbia LGA of the state, being another hot bed of pirates activities”.
Mr. Mukan further disclosed that the suspect confessed that he was part of a five-man gang that operated along the Nembe/Ogbia waterways.
The suspect also told the Police how one of the gang’s victim, Endurance Igbeta and five others were dispossessed of 75 horsepower Yamaha engine speed boat, among other valuables along Ikensi Creek, within the Nembe waterways
The Police Command said investigations into the matter was in progress to recover the speedboat and apprehend the fleeing suspects.
The Central Command of the Nigerian Navy, says it has several cases of piracy related suspects in its Command’s custody undergoing investigation.
The Information Officer in-charge of the Central Naval Command Yenagoa, could not be reached for comments but a source noted that the Command was abreast with all kidnap related cases along the waterways of the state as they were headlong on issues of sea piracy, among other maritime crimes on the waterways. According to our source, naval patrol boats have been patrolling the waterways and that several cases of piracy were being investigated. The source was however silent on the issue of collaborating with the state Maritime Workers’ Union for effective check on piracy and kidnapping activities along the waterways.