For some time now, activities of rampaging sea pirates on our waterways have continued to dominate the social landscape, heightening tension and fear of the unknown among marine operators, boat passengers, affected communities and the general public.
Sea pirates not only leave their victims dispossessed of their belongings, they beat up, maim and even kill the unfortunate among them. We decry a situation whereby common criminals now take laws into their own hands as if we are in a banana republic where lawlessness is the order of the day.
We reported in this publication how on a number of occasions the hoodlums have carried out their reprehensible acts of criminality on our waterways. Concerned by the unrestrained evil adventure of the sea pirates on our riverine communities, groups and unions have had to protest over the situation to register their discontent. One of such unions, Marine Workers Union of Nigeria, Rivers State chapter staged a 3-day warning strike, few days ago, to protest frequent assaults on their source of livelihood that followed an incident which resulted in the death of a victim and two others beaten to stupor.
While we empathize with families of the bereaved and those who lost possession that cannot be recovered so soon, we would like to appreciate survivors, victims and eyewitnesses for finding courage to recount their horrendous experiences. For instance, at Bille, a community leader, Adokiye Bibi, observed that between Saturday, June 1 to Tuesday June 4, over seven commercial boats were attacked by sea pirates and got hijacked from their owners. Recounting experiences, Adokiye alleged that, “We are under siege, people wearing military uniforms opened fire at us. They hit one boat and another sank. We had to start rescuing other passengers who were drowning. Properties worth millions of naira have been lost to pirates attack. They stole goods, bags, money and all belongings of passengers”.
A once peaceful Bille community in the state was forced under siege by mindless sea pirates, making movement on our waterways a dangerous adventure, despite the fact that water transportation remains the only means of transportation for any riverine community.
There were endless occasions of frequent attacks from Port-Harcourt Bille Waterways in Degema Local Government Area with injuries to several sea passengers, coupled with loss of valuables like goods worth millions of naira, physical cash and sometimes, outright hijack of commercial boats.
We understand that the community has 29 Battalion of the Nigerian Army, the police, pipeline security and yet insecurity got to the crescendo where criminal elements now masquerade as soldiers, putting on army camouflage to terrorize harmless and innocent people who knew no other means of defense than turn their hope on security agents under the laws of the land.
A victim once spoke of her experience: “The pirates beat us mercilessly, collected our money, the goods I bought with my savings worth thousands of naira and pushed us inside water and sped off … We are riverine, we can only travel by boats”.
Also, a boat driver reported how he lost 5 boats to pirate activities on Bille route within a year.
Dumo Warigbario, another driver, Bille unit of the Marine Workers' Union told same story of how they often lose their boats to pirates, who sometimes force their victims to swim to shore and face whatever comes along. The dangerous choice they make for their victims often results in deaths, accidents, injuries and killing of rescuers. This on its own underscores the need for adequate life jackets for boat passengers.
One of the latest tragedies recorded was the pirate attack on a passenger boat conveying a number of people to a wedding at Degema Local Government Area in Rivers. We learnt that the marauders trailed four victims in Bille Community in Degema along Port Harcourt Degema waterways.
Also, a reported case of councillor who got kidnapped from Bonny Local Government Area and another fellow further added to the loss of more victims.
A situation where government provided gunboats to ensure security on Bonny waterways for the general use and now being allegedly used to escort expatriate and other VIPs is not acceptable in an open society.
We decry situation where security agencies sometimes deny knowledge of some of these incidents instead of explaining every proactive means of fighting this kind of crime to restore public confidence.
All concerned should make concerted efforts to salvage the situation in Bille, Bonny, Bakana, Degema, Nembe, Buguma, Abonnema and other vulnerable routes.
We would like to appreciate efforts so far made to improve the state security architecture by governor Wike, but we call on the government to put in more actions to stem the tide of offensives on the innocent.
We also welcome the recent resolve by the lawmaker presenting Degema Constituency in the Rivers State House of Assembly, Hon. Anthony Soberekon, who assured that sea pirates activities would soon fizzle out in the local government area, as he visited Bakana Jetty in Port Harcourt to sympathize with the community people and boat owners over recent attacks on Bakana waterways.
We encourage him to use his good offices to galvanize support from his colleagues and seek legislation towards saving the situation.
The Way Forward
v The development is a wakeup call that security is everybody's business and that, beyond protecting oil and gas facilities, boat passengers and entire riverine people need sure protection. This means that everything within the government arsenal must be deployed to ensure safety and security of the people.
v Multinationals must wakeup to their social responsibility to their host communities.
v There is the need to provide succor to victims who have suffered untold hardship through compensation in the form of assistance that can help them get back on their feet economically.
v There is the need for provision of adequate gunboats to the security personnel to help them gain advantage over the sea robbers
v If allegation that gunboats provided by the government now serve the purpose of conveying expatriates is true, this development must stop and be made to serve the primary function of general security for the people.
v The completion of Bonny road project by government is more than necessary now, in view of the frequent assaults by sea pirates on the waterways. This will help the people to have a choice between sea and land transportation.
v Marine union need to explore more collaboration with security agencies to replicate the success of introduction of Operation Sting on our roads and waterways.
v Government should not just purchase gunboats, it should extend its oversight to monitoring and control of how the gunboats are being used by security personnel.
v There is also the need for aerial surveillance of the waterways linking the reverine communities in the state.
v There should be community based security arrangement with a view to monitoring movement of persons and report threats to the appropriate authorities.
v Oil and Gas multinationals should as a matter of Corporate Social Responsibility assist in the provision of gun boats in order to ensure the safety and security of their operations and, by extension their host communities.
We believe that if all the necessary factors are considered it would bring about lasting safety on our waterways.