The frightening daily attacks, gruesome killings including the slaughter of two popular youth in early January, 2021,deep anger and fear over the whereabouts of five members of Banigo community kidnapped since September 2020,have returned focus to Bonny with series of protests by affected persons. Incessant killing of passengers, kidnap, robbery and rape of community members raise questions why the gory situation has been allowed to fester in a re-enactment of Somalia type wasting operations by armed men, failure of the state government, security agencies to halt the mounting toll in lives and crippling of business in this critical hub of the oil and gas sector and potential tourism and maritime hub. In this first part of a focus on Security and Development, Ibiba DonPedro dissects the issues at play that underline the decades long government failure to promote the safety of people over oil and gas infrastructure.
Dabota D, Jumbo (In Kente Wrapper) leads the widows to cry to the Bonny Sea over Piracy attacks and Killings
Dabota Daniella Jumbo, 50, a Bonny native is one of the lucky ones. Jumbo is the Founder of the Foundation for Widows and the Less Privileged, FOWALP. During a trip from Port Harcourt to Bonny in 2019, the cheerful community activist along with other passengers in a Bonny bound boat found themselves cornered by vicious sea robbers who have reduced life and travel to and from Bonny to an unimaginable daily nightmare.’ It was a terrifying experience’, she recounted. The attack happened around an area on the high sea known as the Yellow Platform area. ‘They surrounded us with guns, jumped into our boats and ordered us to lie face down in the boat. We did. They did everything to get the boat started and drive to the creeks where whatever they planned would take place, but the boat failed to start. Eventually they abandoned us to chase other boats’.
Other women were not so lucky. Another Bonny Woman Ibiawo Tolofari had a really ugly experience on the boat ride to Port Harcourt from where she expected to travel by road to the neighbouring commercial city of Aba in Abia State to buy goods for her shop.
A woman, Esther Maclinton Halliday lost her husband in a similar attack on the Bonny River. Tired of complaining and crying out to be heard, Dabota led a group of women many of them widows on the platform of FOWALP on Saturday, January 15, 2021 to cry to the heavens for an end to the horrifying attacks and killings widely said to be perpetrated by criminals from neighbouring Andoni communities and violent allies from Bonny who see nothing wrong with killing persons from their own communities. Jumbo told this publication that,’This year it became even more urgent to step out and pray for the land in the face of incessant attacks on the Bonny waterways, kidnapping of our sons as well as the recent killing of two young adults returning from Dema to Bonny. Prayers were offered led by the widows as well as Pastor Braide of the Assemblies of God Church, who is also a widow’.
Chief Nyesom Wike, Governor, Rivers State
The prayer session began reportedly at the Bonny waterfront by the Coal Beach and then the women proceeded to Allison Square, Hospital Road Round about, Shell Gate by New Road, ending up at the NLNG Roundabout. Yet, even the holy books say heaven helps those who help themselves. Beside a resort to prayers, an urgency exists for the prominent Bonny traditional institution, concerned professional groups, socio cultural organisations, the multinational themselves and their Joint Venture Partners , the Federal Governments and Rivers State government, to act swiftly to halt the waste of human life, robberies, trauma of sexual violence to which girls and women are regularly subjected in a complete return to man in a crude state of nature. Bonny has since precolonial times been a strategic location in the area now commonly referred to as the Niger Delta. Its location as an island along with scores of smaller related communities with natural harbour and access to the Atlantic ocean, a rich backdrop of creeks, river and mangrove forest, coupled with its seaboard access to the rest of the world, has ensured that Bonny remained a strategic space for local and international trade. It played a key role in the Trans Atlantic trade in humans and later, export base for the palm oil export business. Bonny has been of great economic
His Royal Majesty King Edward Asimini Dappa Pepple III JP, CON Perekule XI
Bonny Kingdom Development Foundation
importance to Nigeria and plays host to three major oil and gas companies, the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) which currently operates a 6-train LNG plant producing 22 million tonnes per annum of liquefied natural gas yearly and a 7th train in process. Bonny is host to Shell Petroleum Development Company SPDC, for six decades the leading multinational oil company in Nigeria which exports crude oil from its terminal – Bonny Oil and Gas Terminal (BOGT) and Mobil Producing Nigeria, MPN which operates onshore and storage facilities at Bonny River Terminal (BRT).
These assets and the economic activities they have spawn have consolidated into a profile of Bonny as a relatively secure and stable base for industrial operations. Yet that profile has gradually been debased by Bonny’s rising profile in the past decade as an epicentre of instability with its waterways now turned bloody rivers with the daily killings and robbery attacks on Bonny people and those who work or do business on the Island. Yet in the face of these daily brutalities, life and business go on in Bonny. Bonny’s skies are daily dotted with helicopters and flights in and out, bearing oil company staff and often, local elite. A few connected persons also queue up to travel to Port Harcourt and return in safety in the large NLNG boats escorted each trip by two gunboats manned by police, naval and other military personnel. For the hundreds of ordinary indigenes and residents who have to travel in or out, swift death, mental or permanent physical disability is just a bullet, machete or minutes of sexual violence away.
Between the circumstances and exposure to daily threats to life of the vast majority of ordinary Bonny folk, the elite
and oil industry personnel, the difference is so stark. Bonny is today a ready metaphor for the Nigerian reality of wasting resources oil and gas, valued way above human life. The toll in human life wasted daily grows. Currently the whereabouts of five Bonny indigenes kidnapped September 12, 2020 during a burial event at BanigoIsile Ogono is unknown. N15million out of a reported N50million ransom demanded by the kidnappers has been paid sources informed National Point. Four months on, family members await the return of the men, now christened the Banigo5 among them, Thompson Allison, Sunny Hart, Warisenibo Daniel Hart and Theophilus Ibiama.
Human Life has become Worthless in Bonny axis:
The whereabouts of a family member of Dan Jumbo, taken away by pirates captures the terrifying daily experiences of Bonny people. Gladen Dan Jumbo recounts the family anguish over the uncertain fate of his uncle, ‘Even my uncle was taken by these kidnappers, we have not heard anything from them. He was taken in November 2020, we have not heard anything from them yet. My uncle is a family man with a wife and children. I was part of the people who went out in search of him. We were on the sea for one week, we didn’t find him. Rather, we saw a lot of dead bodies in the sea. Bodies of people killed by these same pirates. We saw more than eight bodies.
Dabota Daniella Jumbo, Foundation for Widows And the Less Privileged (FOWALP)
There is a particular part of the Bonny sea, you go there you will see lots of dead bodies, some people who were kidnapped. You won’t know where they are gone and the next thing, they are killed by these same sea pirates. That is the difficult challenge we are faced with. It is very terrifying here’.
Other Chilling Testimonies Of Horror From Bonny People
IBIAWO TOLOFARI: Pregnant, Attacked On Two Occasions By Pirates.
Till this interview, the last sea piracy I witnessed was on the 8th of November 2020. I am pregnant so, the experience was traumatic. The experience is usually like someone who is in a grave, it’s only God at that point that can help you and it is usually very terrifying.
That day we ran into a mangrove and they were shooting, they collected our belongings. I was lucky to have this small phone with which you are speaking to me now at that place, because they took all we had on us except for this little phone. At a point when they were pursuing us, I told the driver to stop maybe they will just take our goods or our money but the driver said no, because I was telling him please don’t allow these bullets to reach you because the pirates also don’t want to give up. The driver is an Andoni man by name Iroko. I don’t really know his name but that is what they call him there at the beach. The man is a brave man, he ran into the mangrove with the boat. The boat broke into two, they followed us and were still shooting. It was as if they had already decided to get some things from us. It was on a Sunday, we were there from that 12noon the exact time of this occurrence. I was the only person that started sending to different people for help telling them “we are in the mangrove, we were attacked by sea pirates”. Then, my younger cousin who is a naval officer, Lieutenant Boma responded. He made calls so, that was how we were able to get rescued. From that 12noonthat the incident happened, we were in the mangrove till around 6pm. That was when a rescue team came to our aid. I will want to say it was because of my pregnancy that God saved me, because I was the only person that did not sustain much injury. But the boat driver and others on board the boat all sustained serious injuries and since then, it is only yesterday that we have not heard anything. Throughout last week, it was on daily basis. That was why when we came out for the protest, some persons were telling me, “Ah, you are pregnant, go and rest”, I said no, I have to come out because I have been a victim twice so I came out for the protest because I was attacked with my pregnancy. Yet, even that day we were protesting, they were still robbing on the sea. So, I don’t know what our government is doing about these.
Bonny women pray and lay curses on their tormentors
My last experience of sea piracy attack actually took place on a Sunday, after Sunday service. I am also a business woman, unfortunately, almost everybody inside that boat were business people. Me, I was going to Aba. Two of my friends were going to Onitsha. Other people were onboard the boat. We being traders, I in particular I sleep over at Aba on Sundays whenever I go to Aba for business, so I can go to the market early Monday morning, as the market is opening. I will also be there buying because some of the things I sell are bale materials like etibo and ‘senator’materials. So, it was that Sunday around 12noon that the incident happened. There is no security on our waterways, no gunboat. So we want security on our waterways. The duty of government is to secure life and properties but as it is now, they are not doing anything and we can’t travel out of Bonny because of fear of being killed or attacked by sea pirates on our waterways.
Esther Maclinton Halliday: Widow, whose husband was killed by pirates
This our waterways thing is sad. We need government to look into it and see how they can help us. It is really, really frightening. If you want to travel now, you are either thinking of the water you are on or the pirates that might attack you on your way. It is really, really sad, it is really heart breaking. We need government to look into it and see how they can assist us, even if it’s by giving us gun boats to watch over the people that are going and coming in. At least, that will be fine because we have lost souls in this island. We really do need help to come into this matter. It is making everybody sad and it is really fearful. And these LNG boats, it is not everybody that can get access to entering it, but these other route that people know, some persons can’t travel because of fear, some can’t do their business because of fear. We just need security. My husband was attacked in 2016, November 12th 2016, he was coming back home from Port Harcourt to Bonny to see us (his family). At the end of the day, he didn’t reach home to see his family. All we heard was that he has been attacked and killed by sea pirates and since then nothing has been done.
Gladden Dan Jumbo, a youth leader
Two weeks ago, they also butchered someone in pieces, and few days ago they also robbed some persons, we really do need security.
Gladden Dan Jumbo: Executive of the Bonny Youth Federation, Director of Culture and Traditional Matters.
“Actually, for more than sixteen years we have been having this issue of sea piracy on our waterways. All of a sudden like three to four years, it is no longer just the Port Harcourt-Bonny waterways, the other routes that lead to other Bonny villages, they also come in. Bonny town is basically an island. My village is DanJumbo. DanJumbo village connecting with boat to Bonny Is like 10 minutes drive, Then, from Bonny to Port Harcourt on boat is 15 minutes drive. But all of a sudden, for the last four/five years the sea piracy and kidnapping has moved from the sea route that connects us to Port Harcourt to our smaller villages. And these villages are where we have borders with Andoni community in Andoni Local Government, it is called Eastern part of Bonny bordered by Andoni people. Every part of that area is bordered by them (the Andoni people).
So, in the course of these attacks, they (the sea pirates) will go to our villages. They kill elderly people, rape them and so on. This happens in the villages, not even on the route. So, they start using these routes to come in to attack Bonny villages and kidnap. Usually, when there is a big event in Bonny they come to kidnap Bonny prominent sons. For four months and counting going to five months, people were kidnapped in Banigo, you heard about Banigo fight, people were kidnapped in Banigo, They went for a burial, people were taken and kidnapped at the burial scene, gun men came from the route and kidnapped people. Behind Banigo too, there is an Andoni community, this is what we have been experiencing.
Then, on the 6th of January 2021 this year, some guys were coming back from the village also, from the Christmas festivity, so they were returning from Dema village that they were attacked by these sea pirates again. They were eleven in number in the boat, but the sea pirates were able to overpower them and sink their boat. When they sank their boat, they started using machetes on them. Two of our youths were brutally killed, the engine of the boat was stolen. On the same day, they also stole the engine of one other boat. That’s two boats on the same day. They killed two of our young sons, one of them Donald Fubara Banigo, just finished school waiting to go for youth service this year January or February. And Dienye Allison (he has a son), their offence is just that they are from Bonny.
Macdonald Ibifubara Banigo – Promising life ended Photo: Godswill Jumbo
Basically, Bonny, we are very peaceful people and are not at war with anybody. Historically we don’t fight war, so we don’t know why these people are attacking us. I think the reason is because Bonny is housing the multinationals. There is Liquified Natural Gas, there is SPDC. There is Mobil and others. This is why other communities are envious of us and they are attacking us and these multinationals are owned by government and other bodies, but we are not properly secured. It is like a crime that we are from Bonny. In Bonny, we have staged protests, we also protested in Port Harcourt, we went to government house, the Rivers State House of Assembly. We went to the Nigeria Union of Journalists secretariat. We went there to register issues. We are really not safe, me that is talking to you I have a meeting in Port Harcourt by Friday. I was notified this morning that I have a meeting. My heart has been racing very fast since I received a message to come to Port Harcourt for a meeting. How will I pass safely to Port Harcourt? That is how terrifying it is. And in Bonny we have close to three hundred thousand persons living in Bonny, and the three hundred thousand persons are under siege mainly by sea pirates. We can’t travel. There is no week we will not have an attack. So, even after 6th of January there has been several attacks on the sea routes that connects us to Port Harcourt. This is what we are facing. We are calling on government, all tiers of government especially the Federal Government because it is a security issue and security is exclusive responsibility for the Federal Government to intervene. So,we are basically pleading that the Federal government should deploy more military security, more gunboats, more naval officers to patrol these Bonny areas, because if we have more military presence we will have less crime.
There are more than three multinationals in Bonny, the LNG is there, SPDC, Mobil and others. Basically LNG has not done enough or has done little or nothing pertaining the security of Bonny. Like the LNG they have a boat and flights. These boats are escorted by two gunboats on each of their movement, like coming from Port Harcourt to Bonny and connecting from Bonny to Port Harcourt. So, they are so secured, that on its own is making them not to do anything because they are not affected. They have never been attacked on LNG boat because they have enough security. Such security should be provided for the people of Bonny, it is from the community that they make their money. If we remember, when this government came into power in 2015, the money they used as bailout fund, that money was from LNG and LNG is in no other part in Nigeria except Bonny. The only place you have LNG is in Bonny. The other places are pipelines with gas plants. Bonny is the processing plant and the people can’t sleep due to insecurity, we can’t sleep here in Bonny. These attackers don’t come and pick you here because of status, they pick anybody. The five people they took from Banigo, they are not politicians, they are not like the big people, but they are asking people to pay ten million naira for each person. So, to release all of them, it is N50million.
Even my uncle was taken by these kidnappers, we have not heard anything from them. He was taken in November 2020, we have not heard anything from them yet. My uncle is a family man with a wife and children. I was part of the people who went out in search of him. We were on the sea for one week, we didn’t find him. Rather, we saw a lot of dead bodies on the sea. Bodies of people killed by these same pirates, We saw more than eight bodies. There is a particular part of the Bonny sea, you go there you will see lots of dead bodies, some people who were kidnapped. You won’t know where they are gone and the next thing they are killed by these same sea pirates. That is the difficult challenge we are faced with. It is very terrifying here.
On the 5th of January, 2021 Two young men who were among other passengers in a boat from Dema Abbey community where they gone to watch a masquerade display, ran into a group of vicious pirates who attacked them. The young men Macdonald Ibifubara Banigo and Kingsley Tamuno Dienye Allison, were the two persons killed as they reportedly recognised their attackers. The killing of these young men has imbued an urgency to concerns over the situation of insecurity in the Bonny area. Some of the protesters and others who have been victims of attacks or lost friends, family members have called for the deployment of greater security along the waterways and convoluted swamps of Bonny Kingdom. It was learnt that following outcry over the killings two years ago, the Rivers State government approved the donation of a gunboat to beef up the security infrastructure in the area. It is evident that this has not worked to dent the threats by sea marauders on the waterways.
Some of the youth who took part in the recent protests recommend measures including, a public profiling of all boat drivers, owners and crew who ply the route. A synergy in security action between Bonny Local Government and the Andoni Local Government and the set up of a compensation fund for victims. They also request for urgent completion of the Bonny Ring road to facilitate travel by road to Port Harcourt through the Ogoni axis and bring an end to the necessity of travel along the treacherous waterways of Bonny.
Additional reporting by Lorine N. Emenike