The high level of insecurity on the waterways in Bayelsa State is now a source of concern to the people, as they, daily, live in fear of the unknown. Worst hit are Azuzuama axis, Koluama, Foropah, Ekeni, Brass, Nembe and Akassa, all located in different parts of the state, which are flashpoints for kidnapping, piracy and other criminal activities.
These vices are now a regular feature in the daily life of many people in the state, and more worrisome is the fact that the victims no longer report to the police or other security agencies, because of the lackadaisical approach of these agencies in repelling the criminals. For the people, the fear of these criminals is the beginning of wisdom, especially for those plying the Yenagoa-Akassa road, which is, literally, a no-go-area.
Before the festive period, the maritime workers’ union went on strike twice for what it described as insensitivity of the state government for not providing adequate security for the grassroots, especially those living in the rural areas. A victim, Mr. Sam Osaisai, narrated how he and others were robbed, brutalised and dispossessed of all they had on them by sea pirates at the Koluama axis of Southern Ijaw River.
Commuters along the Brass waterways also had a taste of the brutality of the sea pirates who took control for about 24 hours, halting business activities along that axis, with the security agencies having no way of checking them.
This festive period witnessed one of the worst situations experienced by travellers in the Southern Ijaw area, around the Olugbobiri community, where commuters were maimed, robbed of their belongings and abandoned in the middle of the sea, according to a victim. A similar case happened three days ago where travellers were robbed and kept in the mangrove till late in the night when they were rescued by local hunters.
Chairman of the maritime workers’ union, Comrade Lloyd Sese, while speaking with newsmen in Yenagoa recently, urged youths involved in illicit activities along the waterways of the state to drop their arms and do something meaningful with their lives.
According to him “if not for the constant patrol by the JTF gun boats along the Azuzuama axis of Southern Ijaw Local Government Area during the yuletide, that area was a red spot but during the festive period, there was no report of attacks by sea pirates. “I want to call on JTF, like Oliver Twist, to deploy more gunboats to Kuluoama, Foropah, Ekeni, Brass, Nembe and Akassa in order to completely stem sea pirates’ attacks on traders around those areas”.
GOVERNMENT AND SECURITY FAILURES
In 2012, when Governor Seriake Dickson assumed office, he stated that the security of lives and properties of the citizens of the state was going to be one of his priorities and during a public programme, he declared that the state had acquired gunboats to complement other security agencies in fighting sea piracy, kidnapping and other crimes along the waterways.
These statements appear relevant today because these crimes are still a daily occurrence with the criminals operating freely. One wonders if the security services need the permission of the government before carrying out their constitutional duty of protecting the people, or does it also mean that the security agents in the state might not have the intelligence needed to avoid these criminal activities before they occur? Whichever way one looks at the situation, the government and security agents are to be held responsible.
To make matters worse, the perpetrators of these crimes, if arrested are never prosecuted to deter others. Recently, the special team of the anti-kidnapping and sea robbery squad of the Joint Task Force operation codenamed Operation Pulo Shield arrested five suspected sea pirates involved in last week’s killing of six soldiers on duty along the Nembe waterways of the State.
The JTF, at a media briefing anchored by the Head of the Joint Media Centre of the Task Force, Col. Mustapha Anka, five of the suspected killers of the soldiers were arrested during a sustained stop-and-search operation along the waterways and creeks of the State.
According to the statement issued by the JTF, “The arrest is not unconnected with the attack on the fiber boat belonging to JTF. The aggressive and continuous day and night raids, stop and search patrols of the JTF operations along the waterways resulted in the arrest and recovery of some weapons from the hoodlums.”
“During the week-long operation, three Browning Machine Guns (BMGs) with registration Nos 1981 with stand, B572 Banel No Z90323 with stand, HMG – 50MG ST Kinetics Serial No 2405PM with sitting, with its links ammunition (buried underground). Others were one AK 47 Rifle without registration number, a G3 Rifle with No G310D792, a She Rifle with No T67439 and a wooden dummy rifle.
“Other items recovered included three gunboat batteries, 1 Hp laptop computer, 1 Police fragmental jacket, 1 x 200 horse power engine, Empty cases of 12.7mm ammunition of HMG gun, one search light with batteries, 1 bag containing boat tools, 1 Nokia G6 mobile phone, 2 rifle butts and 1 plastic toy pistol were recovered in Ukubie Community in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa state.
“The manhunt was launched on the suspected sea robbers that attacked JTF troops and waterway users in Sangana and Santa-Babara waterways in Bayelsa and Rivers States. Since the arrest of the criminals, the normal peace that existed in the region had returned to the entire waterways. The JTF command wishes to reassure the good people of the Niger Delta and Nigerians not to fret, as JTF is on top of the situation.
“The recovery of the arms and ammunition as well as arrest of the suspected sea robbers is an indication that miscreants have been denied access to the region. The command under Major-General Emmanuel Atewe further reiterates its commitment to safe-guarding the region before, during and after the 2015 general elections.
“The optimism is attributed to the recent delivery of gunboats to the JTF by the Defence Headquarters to fight all forms of criminalities, especially as the 2015 general elections approach. The command is intensifying efforts, through constant and aggressive day and night operational patrols to deny miscreants the opportunity to perpetuate their nefarious activities.
“The JTF, once again, warns perpetuators of illegalities in the Niger Delta to desist from any form of criminal act as the command is bent on fishing out criminals and ensuring they face the wrath of the law. The general public is advised to go about their legitimate daily activities and report any suspicious to the nearest security agency”, the statement added.
In another development, the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) launched an awareness campaign for residents of Bayelsa State, especially the boat operators, but never talked about providing or improving security of the travellers, but distributed free life jackets, T-shirts and other valuable information leaflets to the people as a way of creating awareness on the safety measures in the waterways.
Speaking during the sensitisation tour in Yenagoa, Managing Director of NIWA, Hajiya Inna Maryam Ciroma, cautioned boat operators and users on the safety measures while navigating the waterways.
Ciroma, who described Bayelsa state as very important to NIWA, noted that substantial number of Bayelsa population depend largely on the use of the waterways for their movement and transportation of goods and services.
She noted that it was only safe for marine transporters to make use of the waterways or embark on a journey between the hours of 6am to 6 pm, adding that NIWA would soon come out with internationally acceptable safety codes that would establish offences and penalties on using the Inland waterways. “Our goal is to visit all the six geo-political zones in the country to bring the message of safety on our waterways to everybody especially our stakeholders. Already, we have visited Malale and Nupeko in Niger State, we have also visited Igbokoda in Ondo state, and also visited Lagos state disseminating information on safety guidelines on our waterways.
“We have also, in the course of our visits, donated thousands of life jackets and information leaflets and materials to help educate our stakeholders on how to keep our waterways safe. It is very important to let our stakeholders know that the National Inland waterways Authority(NIWA) was created via the decree No 13 of 1997 now CAP 47 of the National Assembly laws”, she concluded.