IN 2008, I was working as an associate in a consultancy firm in Porthatcourt. A friendly consultancy firm got a contract which they were willing to let us have, since they couldn’t handle it.
The job was to carry out an expedition along the Amukpe- Escravos route. A company Pan Ocean was bidding to build the 67 kilometer pipeline within the project route and needed to get a detailed security report on the area. This was at the peak of the militancy.
I encouraged my boss to take the job and we were given terms of reference which included to trace the history of violent clashes within the area, ascertain the various militant war lords and their sphere of control within the project zone, identify the various flash points along the project route and identify reliable militant groups to work with amongst others.
As a way of making sure we don’t sit in a hotel and write our reports like Dr. Stephen Davies,we were given hand held GPRS gadgets so we could take readings of the various points where we visited.
I was young, adventurous and I needed the money since the pay was mouth watering.
We took the contract and I made contacts through my ‘bosom’ friends in Warri who hooked me up with a local guide that knows the area, familiar with the route and can give us a bit of history about the zone.
After meeting with our local guide in a hotel in warri the night before we commenced, one of my co-researchers packed his bag and went back to Porthatcourt. He wasn’t interested anymore. He almost scared me, but I was determined to get the job done.
Our trip included going my road to Sapele and then taking a boat all the way to Escravos, through the scary Benin River. According to our guide, the area was littered with different very hostile militant camps and the Itshekiri and Ijaw hostility was still fresh. The guide clearly told us that there is an extent he will get to and return back, leaving us to go on our own with another guide whom he has contacted.
We were supposed to transferred into another boat in the middle of the Benin River. Armed with my GPRS ,some cash and a determined spirit, we got to Sapele, took my GPRS reading and headed to Escravos by boat.
It was the most dangerous journey of my life. At every five kilometers, a gang of gang of armed youths in a turbo charged speed boats will intercept us. They’d first rain bullets into the air, then move towards us with their double engine boats allowing our boat to tumble around to the dictate of the enormous wave they made at the sea.
I was searched to my pants half a dozen times by apparently highly drugged youths,made to close my eyes while AK47 rifles pumped hot lead around. At one point even my GPRS, the only evidence to collect my pay, was seized.
At the point of trans-loading at mid sea, my remaining partner insisted he was going back with the first local guide. This seemed like the opening I was looking for. Scared shitless by now, we apologized to the second boat and the guide, of course they have been paid in advance.. We had to head back to land as fast as possible . It was a horror trip and I promised myself a very hot slap if I made it back to Portharcourt safely .
I refused to tell my wife the true story, cos this might be one of those stories you’d tell your wife thinking she’d applaud your efforts and you might just receive the hot slap in return.
Heading back to Warri, I contacted my office and told them what happened.The sea was very rough, some army officers had just been killed ( which was true) and the militants were suspicious of everybody . I arranged to meet with two militants at the hotel and took their oral interviews.
I did my report based on that , attached some pictures I got and headed back to Port harcourt. When the clients read my story and saw the look ok my face, they knew they had to pay me complete GPRS or no GPRS.
A few months later, worried by the decline in oil production, wanton ransom kidnappings , killing of military personnel , the Federal government decided to carry out a huge military expedition of the military camps in the Niger Delta. Major-General Sarkin Yarki Bello, a no nonsense Kebbi born General has been commissioned to head the massive operation.
The whole world stood still. The oil rich Niger Delta is set to be strafed by bombs. The collateral damage will be enormous. The outcry will be loud. The response of the militants will be equally as deadly. Oil facilities will be bombed out and the decline in the country revenue will grow to an all time low. Austerity is set to bite harder and harder.(apologies to Gen Buhari)
Vice President Goodluck Jonathan asked his boss for one more opportunity. He wanted to visit the militant camps himself. He was prepared to stake his life for peace to reign.
President Yar’Adua refused, such a high profile VIP kidnapped or killed will create chaos in the country. Jonathan insisted on making the trip, bearing in mind what he saw after the Odi massacre, he never wanted another of such in a larger proportion over the Niger Delta.
Against military advise , Vice President Jonathan flew from Abuja to Warri, took a chopper to Escravos and headed by sea to Okerenkoko where
the notorious Camp Five was sited. All the major militants head of the
Niger a Delta had gathered to wait for him . He was not to come with any
single military or security personnel . The Vice President was accompanied by only Kingley Kuku, an Ijaw activist and two others.
This was the first time in global history where this sort of high profile executive will risk his life by appearing personally in the camp of insurgents.
Arriving the venue of the meeting, the Vice President was incommunicado for almost seven hours. The country stood still and waited patiently. Many thought he will be kidnapped and used as a bargaining tool or even possibly killed.
But he returned after several hours of the meetings, with a commitment and the amnesty program was borne. Earlier on, he had travelled to South Africa to hold a meeting with Henry Okar also on the need to accept the amnesty and stop the killings.
While I give kudos to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua for the amnesty, but it took a man with a ball of steel to extract that commitment from the militants.
Goodluck Jonathan might not sound like a roaring lion, might not be an ex military General , but beneath that humble and gentle smile, lies a steely determination to remain resolute towards any mark he has set for himself.
If the thinking is that he will be frightened away from the Presidency due to terror attacks, that plan has failed. No amount of terror can make a true leader abandon his subjects in the middle of the battle.
Jonathan has actually done this country a great good by putting himself up for re-election despite the insurgency . If he had buckled under pressure, he would have set a precedence that a Nigerian President can be forced away from his constitutional entitlement due to a certain level of violence.
The day Nigeria accepts that, is actually the beginning of the end of this country.
The insurgency has been going on for almost three years and people can still ask the President what he has done.
Why? Because budgets are still being drawn up and implemented. But look at ordinary falling of oil prices, and we are tightening our belts already.
If this manner of insurgency goes on in the Niger Delta, first, eastern bloc countries will fuel it by supplying arms to militants cos it will serve their purpose and stabilize global oil price since Nigeria production will reduce to the barest minimal.
After one year of such insurgency in the Niger Delta, Nigeria will start hemorrhaging and bleeding from all corners like an Ebola patient . By the next year, the federal and state governments won’t even be able to pay salaries again and this is when the real katakata will burst.
Yesterday, a certain senator called for President Jonathan’s impeachment as the only solution to stop the insurgency. This is a senator from Yobe state. Perhaps he should have asked Senator James Manager and others how they responded in the senate when the Niger delta insurgency took place.
Anybody who is thinking that he has to be in government before he could contribute to stopping the insurgency, is the biggest enemy of Nigeria.
We stand with our amiable President in this very trying times .
Together we shall surely overcome this menace.
God bless Nigeria.