Fears are growing, that the Nigerian inland waterways, may continue to attract the wrong kinds of stakeholders’ patronage, in spite of the over N40 billion already sunk on dredging activities to make it attractive.
Informed sources told the Maritime First that, not only was the waterways attracting crimes and violence from mainly pirates, the growing threats of attracts from pirates have become so real, that genuine economic activities may soon become paralyzed.
Already, the Bayelsa chapter members of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) had November 1, 2014, a Saturday flagged off an indefinite strike action, reportedly, to draw attention to what they described as an intimidating rise in the number of pirate attacks, against their members and sea travellers.
When hard working men come together to decide that it was better or safer to sleep at home and do nothing, despite their full awareness that they would eat, feed their families and pay school fees, alongside other financial obligations, then, one must understand that there is in deed, fire on the mountain.
A source told the Maritime First that their decision was not because they had lost any confidence in the capacity of the Nigerian Navy to protect them, but the truth was that they had come to believe, even if erroneously, that going by the ease, confidence and increasing waves of the attacks, which sometimes was against even the navy, it was better to take to common sense: after all, only the living fulfils promises!
“It’s not that they don’t want to work; we must understand that these are family men with remarkable sense of responsibility. But, I just wish you will understand that a man must be alive, before he can fend for that family”, explained MWUN member who pleaded for anonymity.
A cursory look at statistics of some recent attacks may help to drive home the basis for the fears of the striking workers. For instance, the pirates on Saturday October 11, attacked a passenger speed boat near Kiberi-bio, on the Ogbia-Nembe brass water ways in Bayelsa East Senatorial district, and briskly seized two women and two children in addition to valuables put at millions of naira and vanished. Ironically, the MWUM had just suspended an earlier strike over the same issue as a result of Government intervention 48 hours earlier, when the boat traveling from Ogbia to Okpoama in Brass local Government area was hijacked.
The pirates also allegedly attacked again on Tuesday, October 14 2014; in the same water ways of Nembe in Nembe Local Government Area , reportedly killing one of the gallant soldiers attached to the Joint Military Task Force ( JTF ) in the Niger Delta Operation Pulo Shield and wounding a few others in the course of their patrol, so as to entrench sanity. This not withstanding, the gun men about the same period reportedly, also attacked some women traders in a wooden boat on their way to the market, and would have inflicted permanent damage but for a timely intervention of the JTF, which frustrated and repelled them.
Lt-Col Mustapha Anka spokes man of the JTF while confirming this to newsmen, especially of how a patrol team successfully repelled some two attacks, also indicated that the two women and two children earlier snatched were later rescued, noting that one soldier however sustain injury during the exchange of fire between the equally armed pirate and the JTF.
Highlighting that the JTF had remained focus and unwavering, Anka also said that the JTF had also intercepted an illegal bunkering Tugboat, the MV Tobester loaded with suspected illegally refined diesel, along Tonmogbene area in Warri South-west Local Government area of Delta State, in addition to the arrest of both the Captain and the Engineer. Subsequently, not fewer than 31 illegal refineries were equally destroyed.
But the pirate had remained undeterred as they resumed another round of deadly attacks beginning from Thursday October 23 into Saturday allegedly killing 3 policemen and abducting about 9 persons, mostly local workers in the oil industry.
“Sea pirates attacked and killed three of our men. They were escorting an Agip (ENI) barge when they were attacked. We have recovered their bodies and the gun boat” indicated the Bayelsa State Police Commissioner, Valentine Ntomchukwu to newsmen.
In a related development, Anka had on Sunday October 19 2014 earlier reassured Nigerians that the JTF is totally committed to protecting the Niger Delta area, particularly the creeks from oil thieves and other criminals in the region; adding that in furtherance of this commitment and determination to entrenched sanity, the JTF had also arrested 6 oil thieves and seized 23 illegal bunkering vessels.
Yet, the MWUM members on Nov. 1 began their strike.
It would however be a great mistake to assume that stealing of oil is an exclusive hobby of adventurers operating in Niger Delta area, as statistics show that the Nigerian law enforcers, particularly the Navy has been recording outstanding successes, especially in the Lokoja area, where on one occasion, a 40 meter length wooden boat was arrested with about 65,000 liters of petroleum products last month. But for the patrol, even that event would also have gone unnoticed.
Navy Commodore, Shuwa Mohammed who confirmed this on Thursday October 16 also stated that officers of the NNS Luguard found the wooden boat while on patrol from Baro, in Niger State to Lokoja and Idah in Kogi State.
Shouldn’t we now ask these questions at this point: Are our inland waterways established for the perpetuation of crimes? Have we dredged the River Niger from Kogi to Warri and Bayelsa merely to hand it over to the wrong stakeholders: the pirates? Have we funded the Navy and other law enforcement outfits to make them strong, formidable and capable to intimidate dare- devil criminals? For how long are we going to fold our hands and watch this deadly orgy of violence? And finally, are we comfortable, to see our inland channels remain this dangerous and deadly despite the huge investment Government has sunk in to it?
If we could fight the Boko Haram on the land and the pirates on the waterways, the way we collectively fought the Ebola Virus Disease, who said the country cannot take their challenges headlong and defeat them too?
But do we actually have the political will to defeat them today, instead of next month?
Perhaps, we need to engage more dancers and prayer warriors to handle the precarious situations more effectively. After all, a king called Jehoshaphat fought his most debilitating war, with melodious flutes, trumpets and dancers!
Until then, let’s keep attracting direct foreign investments, by playing the flutes!