Tony John, Port Harcourt
In recent time, activities of sea pirates have become a nightmare to sea travellers from the coastal areas of Rivers State. The sophisticated-guns wielding bandits attack, kill, dispossess and leave their preys marooned in the middle of the sea. At times, they escape with the victim’s speedboat.
Such a horrific scenario has been recurring in Bille Kingdom, a coastal community in Degema Local Government Area. The natives have experienced several attacks and killings by these dreaded gunmen, which has attracted the attention of the state House of Assembly, following a petition presented by the lawmaker representing Degema Constituency, Tony Soberekon.
In lieu of this trend, the Amanyanabo-in-Council, chiefs and people of the area have drawn the attention of government and members of the public to the recurrent and renewed attacks on Bille passenger boats by these men of the underworld.
It was gathered from some of the natives that the unidentified gunmen dressed in military camouflage. The ugly trend, the indigenes lament, has culminated in the death of several persons.
The recent wave of attacks on Bille passenger boats along the Bille-Port Harcourt sea route started on June 2, 2019. On that day, when the attackers surfaced, they forced the defenceless passengers to vacate the speedboats conveying them and jumped into the river. On June 3, the assailants followed up when they launched opened fire on the Bible-Port Harcourt bound passengers. Two persons, Andrew Kio and Opukon Imo, councillor representing Ward 16 in the Degema Legislative Council, received bullet injuries. The victims are still undergoing medical treatment.
Upon the cries of Bille people and with the intervention of 29 Battalion Tactical Headquarters of the Nigerian Army, the spate of attacks ceased for at least a period of three weeks. However, the natives alleged that no sooner than the military stopped giving escort to passenger boats to and fro Bille than the gunmen returned to their nefarious activities.
Again, on July 8, the bandits struck around the New Calabar River, leaving a passenger, Abraham Anthony Alex, dead. Two others, Diepiriye Issac and Ori-ipirite Ebi were fatally injured.
Consequently, Bille people have cried out to the government that they did not provoke any person or group to warrant the unprecedented attacks on passengers on the waterways.
Chairman, Bille Kingdom Chiefs Council, Alabo Bennett Okpokiye-Dokubo (Opu Abekere XV) has appealed to the Federal and Rivers State governments to come to their aid. The monarch, who spoke in Port Harcourt, lamented that Bille Kingdom is under siege and economy of the people seriously stagnated.
“We state that life has become unbearable within the Bille Kingdom by reason of the unprecedented attacks by these unidentified gunmen.
“We cannot go out and we cannot go in. We have been left in the hands of faith. The people attacking us are all in military camouflage. We are mere civilians; but, we are ready to assist security agents to give credible information to them,” he said.
Meanwhile, the House of Assembly Ad Hoc Committee investigating pirates’ attacks on Bille passenger boats have submitted its report. In their last sitting, the lawmakers deferred debate on the report till the next sitting.
But, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee, Dumle Maol, representing Gokana Constituency, said the committee has invited major stakeholders including the petitioner, council chairman and other security agents in the area.
Maol stated: “We discovered that the place is host to Ageo E&P. It is an oil exploration company. Among our findings is that illegal oil bunkering activities are very common there. That is the main reason a security company was engaged to use the JTF (Joint Task Force) in trying to address the activities of illegal oil bunkering in the area.
“We also discovered that those who attacked passenger boats from Bille-Port Harcourt are pirates on the sea, even though those who came to make presentations on behalf of the community and local government area did not mention to us, who these persons are, which is what we (committee) have left to the security agencies to do their work and ensure that they are fished out and handed over to relevant security agents to make further investigation and, may be, prosecution.”
When NDC contacted the Degema LGA boss, Dr. Tony Philmoore, said: “The military knows very well that to escort a people to and fro can never be cost effective and sustainable. Of course, you must know that the military must change their strategy.”
Philmoore noted that shortly after the military repositioned for other flashpoints, the pirates emerged from their hiding place and struck. He added that the military also went after them. He said the military has not relented in patrolling the waterways.
He commended Governor Wike for his commitment in tackling insecurity, especially by providing gunboats for security agencies to fight sea piracy.
Similarly, Bille Kingdom Youth President, Pastor Iyowuna Impakaboari said the current ugly development has brought untold hardship on the natives. He said since the spate of pirates attacks, no boat to and fro Bille.
Impakaboari decried: “We cannot defend ourselves. These pirates are like masquerades. They know us, but, we do not know them. The community has two flow stations with so many oil wells. We won’t be overthrown.
“Bille youths are law-abiding. Our community is very peaceful. Government should come to help us. The youths are seeing it as attack on Bille community. We don’t want to resort to self-help. Government should do something urgently”, he stated.