Nigeria: Bayelsa and its creeks of death

Mike Odiegwu writes about the activities of pirates who kill travellers indiscriminately.

Mrs. Timi Iyabi, a young woman in her early 30s, is now a widow. Her little sons Godstime and Daniel including her daughters Idubamo and Deborah are also fatherless. Her unborn baby is the worst hit. It will be born in a home without a father and grow without knowing what having a father is.

Perhaps, the unborn Iyabi will only be told stories and shown pictures of its late father. When the expected baby matures into adulthood, it will be told the tragedy that befell its father. Specifically, the unborn Iyabi will grow to learn that its father was swallowed by Bayelsa’s rivers of death.

While still in the womb, the unborn Iyabi may have known that all is not well. Their home in Yenagoa is unusually quite while their hitherto cheerful mother, has not known laughter for over a week now. She is now a shadow of herself. Friends and well wishers are trooping in and out not for merriment but to console the household.

The untimely death of gentle Awotimigha Iyabi, 42, was indeed shocking and unbelievable. He was one of the victims of the latest pirate attack along the waterways of Bayelsa State.

Death on the river

On July 18 the late Iyabi popularly known among his friends as Awo accompanied his political associate and friend, Mr. Alfred Belemote to Okpoama in Brass Local Government Area, to attend a funeral and other social functions. Belemote is a leading aspirant for the 2015 House of Assembly election in the state.

The two friends and other associates took off from Ogbia water side. But the late Iyabi was being driven in a passport boat owned by his friend. All was well until they got to Ijawkiri and Kinkia Amabuyo creeks in Okpoama waterways. Then came the attack.

Pirates sighted them and immediately opened fire on their boat. The late Iyabi was hit by a volley of bullets launched at the boat by the sea robbers. He died on the spot. Another passenger in the boat, whose wife was said to be pregnant, also died. Others were injured in the 1pm attack.

But there is assassination theory in the incident. Some persons claimed that the gunmen were not mere sea robbers. They were said to have targeted Belemote perhaps because of his popularity in the House of Assembly race. Those who are of this view believed that Iyabi “died the death of Belemote”.

One of these said: “The gunmen stopped one of the speedboats in the convoy of two being used by the aspirant and were reportedly shouting that ‘he is not here. He is the second boat’.

“It was at that point they sighted the second boat and opened fire. The mobile policeman attached to the aspirant put up a good fight by returning fire. But the fire power of the gunmen was huge.”

Despite the theories, the incalculable and irreversible loses were Iyabi and the other dead victim. Indeed, the pirate attack that killed Iyabi was one too many. Bayelsa rivers especially the Ogbia-Nembe-Brass axis are death traps. Hoodlums have relocated to the waterways to terrorise innocent travellers and traders.

Every day, incidents of sea robberies occur. People lose their money and other valuables and in the case of Iyabi their lives to vicious and cruel gunmen operating along the waterways. The waters seem to have been taken over by hoodlums who lay ambush and carry out deadly attacks most times with impunity. Apart from robberies and murder, people especially expatriates are being kidnapped for ransom.

Insecurity on the waterways

Mr. Alagoa Morris of the Environmental Right Action, who often plies the waterways, expressed sadness at the high level of insecurity in the creeks.

He said “I am saddened by the ever-rising activities and danger posed to those plying our creeks in Bayelsa State; especially in Southern Ijaw, Nembe and Brass Local Government Areas of the state.

“It is causing travellers and transporters grave concern as lives and property are at stake. As one working for a grassroots organisation which also entails so much sailing in the creeks; I very much don’t appreciate what is happening in the creeks.”

Alluding to the incident, he said two persons lost their lives on their way to Okpoama from Ogbia. He, however, regretted that no adequate security arrangement has been made by the government to protect travellers.

He observed: “During my trip also on that same day, I saw Operation Doo Akpo (the state security outfit) in the creeks escorting market boats and at other spots the JTF also escorts speedboats leaving Twon-Brass to safe zones before returning to Brass.”

He said the pirates had succeeded in painting the waterways as unsafe for tourists and investors.

In fact, traditional rulers of coastal communities are worried over incessant attacks on their subjects and persons visiting their domains by pirates. His Royal Highness, Sinteh of Twon Brass, Ebiye Golden, painted a gory picture of the development.

“Whenever we want to travel, we become born-again Christians because of how unsafe our rivers are. The people of Brass Local Government Area are scared and unfortunately the persons doing these things are not from elsewhere. They are Bayelsans and our own brothers. We are extremely scared.”

He said the state government had directed each local government area to acquire gunboats and enforce security in their waterways. He, however, observed “But the problem we have is that when these boats are coming back from Yenagoa and Ogbia they are not being escorted by the ones from Ogbia and Yenagoa Local Government Areas.”

On the most effective measure to tackle the insecurity, the traditional ruler advised the government to set up houseboats at strategic areas along the creeks. He also suggested that the recently formed Bayelsa Volunteer, a team of youths recruited by the government to enforce security in the state, should be used to reduce the waterway menace.

But the Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr. Hilary Opara, insists that the state waterways are safe. Opara said most of the attacks occur in isolated cases adding that the victims of the Friday incident were cornered by the assailants at a very remote creek.”

He vowed to fish out persons behind the killing, describing it as wicked. He said the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, has promised to send more gunboats to the state.

As residents of the state mount pressure on the government to declare emergency on the state waterways, friends and relations of Iyabi could only pay tributes to their late hero believing that his death would put an end to the violence along the waterways.

“My dear husband, my hero, my best friend, the father of my kids, HOS can I go on without you? I am still in shock. I still can’t comprehend all these. You were everything to me. I promise to stay strong for your kids”, Mrs. Iyabi cried.

The late Iyabi, who hailed from Nembe Local Government Area, was also very popular among journalists. He was the Head of Protocol to the former Director-General of the defunct Tourism Development and Publicity Bureau, Chief Nathan Egba-Ologo.

Egba described him as the “purest gentleman l ever knew,” adding that “he didn’t deserve to die a violent death.”


Original Article