So Long As FG Hunt For Tompolo, Avengers Won’t Stop --- Gbaramatu Chief
Following the invasion by the Nigerian army on Oporoza Community, Gbaramatu kingdom, Warri South West local government area of Delta State, an Ijaw leader, the Ibibenimowe (Chief Mobilizer) of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, in this exclusive interview with Kenneth Orusi of The Nigerian Voice, in Warri called on the federal government to stop the continuous search for High Chief Government Ekpemopolo alias Tompolo or there would not be solution in sight over the wonton destruction by the Niger Delta Avengers on oil installations in the region.
Chief Gbenekama also spoke on the looting, raping, killings and asault caused by the military in the kingdom among other issues.
What is your take on the Gbaramatu invasion by the military? Well, talking about the destruction as it affects Gbaramatu. First of all, it was the Avengers. They are the people that started this whole destruction of things. Destruction of things because they were actually dealing with the critical oil facilities, bombing them and all that.
We were expecting that there will be some reprieve but it never abated. So, the traditional ruler of Gbaramatu Kingdom called for a meeting of chiefs and we went into action, pleaded with every community leader to look at their communities to see if there are bad elements around the vicinity so we can really deal with the situation.
But the problem around these issues of oil facilities and all that, is that, it is only when you give somebody something to keep that when something is wrong you ask the person what is wrong.
These so-called oil facilities are guarded by strangers, the contractor of the protection for the oil facilities is a stranger, the man who repairs the pipe if it is broken is a stranger and the workers he is using to repair the pipes are strangers. So, we felt that it is our environment that is been degraded, let’s swing into action and we swung into action to ensure that these pipeline vandalization have to stop and we have to even send a delegation which some of us led to the government house to tell them that we are in partnership with the government. We are ready to work with government to ensure that these things doesn’t continue then the state government set up a committee to look at the issues that brought about these actions and then why we were just deliberating on that, the military just swept in.
The degradation, the wanton looting cannot be compared to anything. Actually we were just like a conquered people who were at the mercy of our conquerors, it is only when we are allowed to move that we move. In fact, there was no issue of even allowing us to move because the whole place was locked down. It was a very serious matter, some people were killed, and even my younger sister was also killed in the process. I have a video clips of that, my father’s daughter was also killed in the process.
There was another lady that was killed in Oporoza, through either deliberate or flying bullets. The destruction was massive, people ran into the bush. Some delivered while others lost their pregnancies, some had injuries, elderly people started running, some died in the process, had heart attack and died. In fact, the destruction was so massive. It started by the Avengers because they broke the pipelines but the military actually crowned the destruction. As I speak, the destruction and the intimidation are still ongoing.
What is the state of the community presently? Everybody is looking for a way to leave, it is critical. If you go to Oporoza community now, I don’t think you can find 5 per cent of the inhabitants of Oporoza who are still leaving there. The ones that are leaving there are those ones that doesn’t have anywhere to go, they don’t have friends, brothers in the townships because the only safe place now are the townships even Warri is not safe because every other communities in Gbaramatu is a target. So, people are leaving.
Imagine a fisherman been asked where is your identity card for even moving in the stream? If the man doesn’t have an ID card to show, of course he doesn’t have an ID Card. What has ID card has to do with his fishing net? He will be arrested and taken to their station molested and beaten up. So, that is the situation on ground now.
What are the specific things the military destroyed or looted? Go and ask the army. I am going to be specific. There are two white speed boats with the caption of Gbaramatu traditional council that was taken away from the palace of Gbaramatu kingdom. These are items that you can identify. As I speak, the military are asking us to come and identify the symbol of our authority, the traditional golden sword that is a symbol of the authority of our king are taken but they have returned one or two but the ones that they have returned are not the really ones. So, they are even asking us to come and identify whether it is our own. So, these are specific things that you can point, they also looted television sets, DVDs and other electronics.
The one of speed boats is a daily affair because whatever speed boats they find on the waterfront, is the ones Avengers uses. So, they pick it and they take it away. Any speed boat the military sees, they seized it. So, that is the situation. They have vandalized, they have broken into houses, they have raped, they have killed, they have intimidated and my traditional ruler was on a locked down for about four days, he couldn’t leave his house because he was not allowed to leave his house.
They went to the traditional shrine and picked up important traditional items. The looting and killing are all over the place. There is a story of a woman who said she doesn’t know whether she is pregnant or not. It is a very serious situation!
Can you quantify in terms of money what the community has lost? I cannot because as I speak with you the destruction is still going on. Yesterday, they pick up 200 power speed boats again, these are machines people use for transport and other things. So, it is a daily thing and they even went and picked up some money from some people, the looting is all over the place and it has never been this bad.
What is you view on the Niger Delta Region in terms of development? Now, let me tell you, the N6.07 trillion budget of 2016 is the all-time high but as par the development that goes to the Niger Delta is the all-time low. Let me give you an example, the amnesty programme that is beneficial to the Niger Delta, at a point it was over N60 billion but now, it is less than N20 billion in the 2016 budget, the people are not ready to develop our area.
The highest oil producing local government in Nigeria, is Warri South West. That is where the Ijaws of Gbaramatu comes from but count, for the past 16 years you cannot see one federal government presence anywhere in the Niger Delta. So, the people are still living in squalor, we are still living in poverty. No school. The only thing that would have given us a federal government presence is the Marine time school. Now, the federal government has said we are not qualified to be educated in Nigeria.
One, they said we are not qualified to enjoy the issues of local content. So, they took the contracts and gave to other people. Now, they said we are not qualified to be educated, they have taken our Marine School that was given to us by the previous administration. Now, it is even worst. Our primary schools are no more functioning because of the invasion of the army. We are like going back to the early days where the life of the Gbaramatu man is very unpredictable.
Anybody that the military lays hands on, is an Avenger like me who has been a chief of Gbaramatu for 27 years. If they lay hands on me, I am an Avenger. I don’t have any excuse, I don’t have any to show that I am not an Avenger. How do I say I am not an Ijaw man from Gbaramatu? Once I am an Ijaw man from Gbaramatu, I am an Avenger, the issues are there and every Niger Delta man especially as it affects Warri South West and Gbaramatu people in particular.
We know that the issues that are brought up by the so-called Niger Delta Avengers are real but the manner of approach is what we are saying they shouldn’t follow. The manner of approach is bad but these issues are real, the underdevelopment is real, lack of will by the federal government to do things in the Niger Delta especially in Warri South West particularly in Gbaramatu is real.
We are demonized, we are only good when they want to take oil from us but we are not good enough to be educated, we are not good enough to be developed, we are not good enough to enjoy local content law that is in Nigeria. What are we enjoying in the federal? The sanest thing for people to demand for is physical federalism but there are low and in fruits all over the place. So, it is quite bad.
What do you think should be the suitable approach for this agitation? Really we don’t actually even know now. Saro wiwa went about his own through an educated and civilized form, the agitation was through write ups and courts. The federal government killed him and killed all the people around him. Isaac Adaka Boro, did his own in the arms way, they killed him and then the struggle went to sleep. Then MEND did their own. They just brought amnesty programme and then allowed an Ijaw man to be the President while he was actually working for the northerners and then they killed that struggle.
So, for now we don’t even know the antidotes to the present problem of the Niger Delta but we think that nothing can be compared to a peaceful agitation and that is why we are engaged in this form, making the world know that the Niger Delta Avengers are going the way they are going because peaceful way has not succeeded neither has militancy totally succeeded but at least it gives us some form of reprieve. I am not supporting it because I am educated, I am enlightened, I may want to go the joy-joy way than the war-war way.
How do you convince the soldiers that the Avengers are not in Gbaramatu? You see, this issue about looking for the Avengers in Gbaramatu, is about one single person. They are not looking for Avengers in Gbaramatu. They are looking for Tompolo but they don’t know that this same Tompolo is the only person that can with his charisma and connections in the Niger Delta stop this issues of the Avengers. As long as they continue to hunt him, they cannot and I repeat as long as they continue to hunt him, this issues of Avengers will persist but if they stop hunting him and he comes out and say this thing must stop because he is not free, he cannot move about.
Sometimes people say he is in Libya, Egypt and so on, how can he manage the affairs of Gbaramatu when he is in Libya and Egypt? Everybody has a value! In this type of situation, he is the only person that can help. In the MEND days, when Niger Delta was boiling, and John Togo and his group were terrorizing everywhere, he was the person that stopped that menace. The sea piracy and the killing that was going on then, he was the person that stooped it, he was the person that helped to arrest the militants and hand them over the military. What happened is history.
So, now that this kind of thing is happening, the federal government should use his tongue to calm the state. Will pursuing this man bring something good for us or they collaborate with him? We are thinking that whatever court case are politically motivated. So we are really bordered but as a Gbaramatu man I won’t even asked him to go and appear in court because the day he will appear they will immediately cripple him. We know of cases like Nnamadi Kano, the Metu is always handcuffed Dansuki and many others while other people from other parts of the country walks in and walk out. The federal government is pursuing a vendetta and it is an ill wind that will not blow anybody any good.
Do you think the request of the South-south governors to drop corrupt charges against them as a way of winning the fight against the Avengers the right way?Everybody is proffering the solution he thinks might help. I think that is their own way of saying your fight of corruption is one sided. That is their own way of saying it. They cannot say it openly. They are only saying it that this your corruption fight, is it one sided. So, try and reduce the corruption charges that are directed at the South-south so that people can feel confident in dealing with the government of the day because as it is now, it is like the government is not serious about development but they are serious about pursuing their own agenda of 2019 that they want to perpetually be in government.
I think that is why the South-south governors told the presidency that they should drop the corruption charges. In actual fact, they are telling them that if the corruption fight has to be fought, it should be holistic not sectional, that is what I think they are saying and I think they have a point.
You did say in an interview that 2019 would tell if Okowa would continue to be quiet over the Gbaramatu people. Can you expatiate? Governor Okowa is the Chief security officer of Delta State. A situation where you see the military pumping in from other areas of the country; from Abuja, Kaduna and Kano and then sweeping on the people with no reference to him is not a healthy situation. I am not saying I am going to work against Okowa, I am only saying that he should not keep quiet in the face of this insult. I see it as an insult, I can remember the time when Fashola was the governor of Lagos State, the federal government almost did something like that and he said they should remove the military from his state and the federal government did.
So, I expected Okowa to be more vocal, there again he is in opposition. So, there is always that fear but I said that out of frustration. I was frustrated because I was seeing my people dying. Imagine your sister being killed in that kind of circumstance and you expect me to applaud the governor? I won’t applaud him, I would expect him to do more. That is a wakeup call to the governor to act and I think he is trying a little bit for now, though we want him to do more.
You also alleged that he sent your son, the Deputy Governor to the creeks to die. Why? Yes! I did said he sent our son to the creeks to die because in the MEND Days, it was no other smaller officer than the Vice President of the federation of Nigeria, the governor and governors that went into the creeks to bring down tension. Now, he created a committee which was a good thing he did and then said go and die with your people. And unfortunately, the people that are causing the problem are not actually the man’s people. So, if he is saying something that annoys them, they will just shoot him in the creeks that was why I said the governor sent our son into the creeks to be killed because I expected that higher officers from the federal government and the state should have visited rather that ask the man from the place to and die with your people. That was why I said it, I didn’t mean any harm.
How would you rate their work so far? Well, fine and good. They have tried their best so far. The Advocacy Committee tried their little best. It is just that the federal government didn’t take it up from where they stopped. If they have taken up from where they stopped, then these issues of raping and so on wouldn’t have happened. Maybe from there on things would have stabilized a little but the federal government didn’t keyed in. I just hoped that with their present commitment to say they want to dialogue will help the process. The go and crush, kill them will not bring any good result.