Maritime Crimes: Bayelsa Seafarers Accuse Security Agencies and State Volunteer Service of Non-performance

Isaac Ombe

Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, inaugurated the Reformed Bayelsa Volunteer Service Scheme, in August, 2015 with a charge on the beneficiaries to complement the efforts of security agents in checking crime in the state.

Dickson, who gave the charge during the inauguration at the secretariat of the Volunteer Scheme in Yenagoa, noted that the primary responsibility of the local security outfit was to collate community-based intelligence on criminal acts such as kidnapping, sea piracy, cultism, pipeline vandalism, illegal bunkering, crude oil theft, among other criminal activities in their localities.

The Governor, who described the volunteers as ambassadors of his Restoration Government, lauded them for their loyalty, steadfastness and peaceful disposition.

Expecting in vain the activities of the Volunteers along the waterways of the state, an area of its primary responsibilities, the leadership of Bayelsa state Chapter of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) decried the continued absence of the volunteers’ outfit along waterways which they described being invested with kidnappers and Pirates.

The Union’s cry is coming on the heels of deadly attacks and kidnap cases suffered by its members, just as it alleged that several distress calls made to the state volunteer service and security agencies fell on deaf ears.

It’s activities are supposed to have been pronounced more along the waterways   of the state than even on land areas, but the cry of the seafarers who have consistently alleged that Bayelsa Volunteers’ activities are not felt along the pirates’ infested waterways, came as a shock even as the outfit on its part decried lack of funding as a major challenge.

“Sea Piracy is rampant here. We are only living and plying the creeks by the grace of God”, lamented Mr. Ayibanua Ofoni, who is the Auditor of the state branch of the Maritime Workers’ Union of Nigeria, told The Blue Economy magazine in

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 knower and protector of everything”, and that they no longer depend on government security

A source who pleaded not to be named alleged that the outfit is funded only when political activities are on the hip, to use them against political opponents. However, the leadership of Bayelsa Volunteers has denied the allegation, rather, blaming its dismal presence along the state waterways and creeks on lack of proper funding.

Speaking with The Blue Economy Magazine’s Deputy Managing Editor, Isaac Ombe, in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State recently, Chief of Staff to the Chairman of the Bayelsa Volunteers Mr. Austine Obi, countered the allegations by the Maritime Workers Union, saying the Maritime Workers Union members impression about the activities of the Bayelsa Volunteers was wrong, informing that the outfit’s operations covered both land and the waterways.

The Chief of Staff who admitted that the challenge of poor funding has really hampered the outfit’s operations in all the local government areas and waterways, however, added that “funds are being expected early December to enable the outfit commence operations at the Local Government” areas

“We have limited funds. Funding is our challenge.  Funds available are only for issues on land. This has not stopped us   from monitoring activities along the waterways. We have point men in the communities along the waterways who feed the office in Yenagoa with daily information of any criminal activity that takes place. The strategy has severally helped us. A recent case in point was the interception of a kidnap operation, the man was rescued safely from his captors to reunite with his family”, he disclosed.

He said despite the challenge of low funding, the outfit has recorded several successful operations, informing that “a case in point was that of an interception of a kidnap case. The Volunteers group was able to round up the suspect and freed the victim who has happily reunited with his family.

“We still get information from the waterways despite the little funds available.

“LGA offices of Volunteers will start functioning when the Governor starts funding. “The promise to make funds available, hopefully from the first or second week of December. What we do is monitoring criminals from land because most kidnap related operations start from the land”, he

He further hinted that before it commences full operations in the LGAs, the Volunteers outfit hopes to hold a special joint meeting with all the stakeholders, including Maritime Workers Union members and all security outfits in the

Mr. Obi maintained that the days of kidnappers and sea pirates on the state’s waterways were getting numbered, as the Volunteers were closing on their hide outs, pointing out that “it is just a matter of identifying the flash points”.

“There are particular routes or creeks these set of criminals use in perpetrating their operations on travelers. Once identified, security presence would be beefed up around the points. We shall work with the Military Joint Task Force (JTF) to round them up”. Already we have held meetings with JTF, DSS, Air force in this regard and they are ready to assist us”, he

Police Public Relations Officer, Bayelsa State Command, DSP Asinim Butswat, said, “No doubt there are challenges in the waterways, most times we expect information from communities on their hide outs. The Command will continue to intensify marine patrol and surveillance along the

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 and that they were headlong on the issue of sea piracy, among other maritime crimes on the waterways.

According to the naval source, naval patrol boats have been patrolling the waterways and that several cases of sea piracy were being investigated.

The state’s volunteer service was meant empower about eight thousand youths to work with security agencies in maintaining law and order by providing community-based intelligence.

Recruitment process into the volunteer service was generated first from the local government areas through a central vetting process of both the police as well as the Department of State Service (DSS) to avoid bringing in criminals to constitute the new Bayelsa volunteers because of the very sensitive nature of task.