3,000 Urban Poor Rendered Homeless In Aker Base
Militants' Action, Military Rage in Nigeria’s Niger Delta; Over 3,000 Urban Poor Rendered Homeless
Journalists for Niger Delta (JODEL)
Submitted by Akanimo Sampson
1. About Aker Base
2. The Militants’ Strike
3. The Soldiers’ Frenzy
4. Voices from the rubble
7. About The Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), and JODEL.
1. About Aker Base
Aker Base is an over-crowded neighbourhood located in the Rumuolumeni village community, which perches on the southern axis of Port Harcourt, the capital of the Rivers State. Administratively, the community is located in the Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State. The area has a collection of wooden, makeshift houses and block buildings numbering over 1,500, and which housed over 3,000 inhabitants. The inhabitants are drawn from all parts of Nigeria and beyond. Those who reside in the squalid environment like other suburbs in Port Harcourt such as Bundu, prison’s waterside, Njamanze, Agip waterside, Nemibe waterside and numerous others, are mostly urban poor who can not afford the high cost of housing in the city. In Aker base like other slums around, there is poor sanitation, no electricity, no good road, no portable water supply and absence of other amenities and infrastructure, crime rate and diseases are always very high among the population.
2. The Militants Strike
On Thursday night, August 24, 2006, around 7.45 pm, at a popular restaurant in Aker base called CAROL BAR, owned by Mrs. Caroline Mathias, a 29-year-old woman, and mother of one child, the militant struck. The Caroline “joint” is said to be a trendy place for relaxation in the poor neighbourhood where expatriate workers and Nigerian workers alike chill out over a bottle of beer and good music. Eyewitnesses told researchers from the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) that the night was gaining its momentum when about eight militants dressed in army camouflage stormed the CAROL BAR, wielding assault riffles and sub-machine guns. Among the militants were two girls garbed in military uniforms like their male “Comrades”. Local residents interviewed said the shooting spree by the militants lasted for over an hour and at the end of their gun campaign, a military commander was killed. The commander whose name is not yet known, is popularly called “Cracker”, he was described as the head of the military team attached to Saipem, an Italian oil servicing company. Saipem compound is located few meters away from Aker Base neighbourhood. The “Cracker” was said to have been shot in the head, he died instantly. Also, one of his junior officers was shot in the leg, but he ran away with bullet wounds inflicted on him by the militants’ guns. Eye-witness accounts have it that “Cracker” who the Aker Base residents described as “a nice and humorous man” was not armed neither was his junior colleague who was wounded. He was shot dead when he sighted the militants and attempted to send a distress radio message.
Contrary to media reports, it was only Mr. Mario Pavero, a 42 year-old Italian national believed to be working with Elf but is attached to SAIPEM on contract basis that was kidnapped. Saipem1 is an oil servicing company affiliated with Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC). Mario married a Nigerian wife from Benin-City, Edo State of Nigeria and is said to have 2 kids. Mr. Mario is still with the militants. No group, as usual has claimed responsibility. The militants invaded the area through a creek path with their engine boat in Aker Base.
1. Contrary to media reports that 2 expatriate’s workers were kidnapped by the militants, it was only Mario that was taken away by the militants the second person who is also an Italian working for Ponticili, another Italian firm was sighted during field trips, supervising road construction near the burnt Aker Base settlement.
3. The Soldier’s Frenzy
Also, contrary to reports that one of the militants was killed during their operations and that his comrades-in-arms took his corpse away, CEHRD researchers’ finding proved the contrary. During the militant’s actions, there was no soldier around to pose any resistance against the militants; the soldiers remained in their sprawling compound throughout the period when the militants were shooting sporadically. It was the Aker Base residents who got to the gate of Saipem and informed the soldier who were peeping through a hole on their gate that a military commander was killed and an expatriate worker was kidnapped2. It was further revealed that it took the soldiers another one hour after the deltaic militant had left unhurt, to mobilize other soldiers from the military cantonment called Bori camp in Port Harcourt, for action.
2. Mr. Emeka Molookwu, a 35-year-old resident of Aker Base and trader told CEHRD’s researchers.
What the soldiers did later was to burn down the entire Aker base neighourhood. The soldiers were said to have been led by a soldier attached to the Saipem facility called Papa Abuja, a regular clientele to the “CAROL BAR”, where the foreign worker was kidnapped and the military commander killed. Angered at the killing of their commander by the militants who spirited into thin air after their action, the soldiers poured fuel on the settlement and burnt down the entire area to ashes. The soldier’s raging fire at that fateful Thursday night also burnt residents. CEHRD researchers also visited Mr. Patrick Oghogho, a 29-year-old man, a labourer, at Avon Specialist Clinic at No. 150 Nkpor Road, Rumuolumeni, and the victim who hails from Opume in the Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State; had third degree burns. He was dumped at the private clinic by some compassionate Aker Base neighbours. He was in an unconscious state when he was dumped at the clinic3. But, at the time of CEHRD’s visit on Saturday, August 27, 2006, the victim was conscious, but his entire body was peeled off.
3. Dr. Arthur Ugo, the Medical Director of Avon Specialist Clinic told CEHRD researchers during a field visit to the hospital, to see Patrick Oghogho.
CEHRD also gathered that other residents also suffered fire injuries.
Curiously, Major Musa Sagir, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the 2nd Amphibious Brigade, told Nigerian newspapers that, “I can confirm that one of our men was shot dead while another was injured. Heavy damage was also inflicted on the Kidnappers. Our men injured about four of them and they lost four riffles, which were recovered”4 Major Musa Sagir also claimed that it was the fleeing militants who set the Aker base settlement on fire5.
CEHRD investigations found this claim to be false and misleading. We are view that the militants wouldn’t have had such ample time, to carefully burn the area in such vicious manner. The pattern of burning was a well executed arrangement. The question is, why did the fire not burn a community bank in the neighbourhood? Local people who witnessed the incident also told CEHRD that when a vehicle from the Rivers State Fire Service stormed the area, to put off the fire, they were chased away by the soldiers who threatened to shoot them if they had refused to leave6
4. Sunny Ogefere and Kelvin Ebiri; 2006; “Militants Seize Two Italians, kill Soldier”. The Guardian newspaper, August 26, 2006, Lagos PP. 1-2.
5. Major Sagir told an official of the USA-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).
6. An official of the fire agency confirmed it to CEHRD that they were chased away by the soldiers. This further strengthens the fact that the soldiers intentionally burnt the settlement.
4. Voices from the Rubble
Hear the howling and pitiable voices of some of the poor Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Aker base who spoke to CEHRD from the ruins of their homes and properties.
“The soldiers were led by a man (soldier) I know too well called “Pap Abuja” (nickname), he was personally burning our homes and properties with other soldiers. I was an eye-witness during all the burning from beginning till the end. The Mario who is kidnapped is the husband of my sister. All what I have worked for in my life is gone. TV sets, generator, bank books, cash, clothes and everything is gone. What I have left, is just the clothes on me now. In the night I go to town and stay with my girlfriend called Gloria, in the day time I move around here whether any help will come for me to continue with my life”.
Ms. Loveth Akpos,
28-year-old restaurant operator,
She hails from Benin-City,
“You people (referring to CEHRD officials) should help us, to tell the government, that we don’t have anywhere to lay our heads when night comes. We don’t have any food to eat. We are hungry. Militants have not been staying here. Here is too poor for militants to stay. Please, we are dying”
Chief N. Okeke, 49-year-old
from Onicha Village in Ebonyi State, Nigeria and a
trader. He is a father of 7 children.
“I was tired after returning from work for the day. I was sleeping when the militants came; I was awakened by my wife. I tell you, I saw when the soldiers threatened me personally with their guns when I attempted to pick my properties as the fire rage on. I also saw when the fire brigade came they would have saved some houses and properties, but they were chased away. Why should they treat us like this?”
Mr. Thomas Kofi Konodu 38-year-old
driver and father of 4 children, a Ghanaian from Ashanti group.
“I am sure that God in heaven will not forgive these soldiers. Everything I have in my life is gone. Initially, the soldier were about 8 in number who first came, they later reinforced from their base in town and came in armoured car. They started burning the entire Aker base from my restaurant. I am finished”
Caroline Mattias, 29-year-old, mother of one
Child and owner of the popular “CAROL BAR” where
the oil worker was kidnapped and the military commander shot dead.
“I heard something on some local radio stations in Port Harcourt that it was the militants who burnt our houses and properties. They are all fabricated lies. I was in front of my house after the shooting by the militants. My house and shop are just behind CAROL BAR where the militants killed the soldier and kidnapped the Whiteman (Mario). When the militant finished their operations and left I and Chief Elizah Odu, the Community Liason Officer (CLO) of ponticili (an Italian contracting firm to Saipem) and chairman of Aker Base community, went to the gate of Saipem and called them to come and see what has happened. They were peeping at us through some holes in their gate, but when we mentioned that their commander was shot dead, they then came out. This is when the militant had left without anything happening to them. Later the soldiers came with their armoured car and other pick up vans. When they were coming they shot dead 2 motorbike drivers (popularly, called Okada drivers in Nigeria) at a nearby junction. I was also here when they set fire on our houses and properties. They threatened us with guns and pushed us out and burnt our properties. The soldiers are cowards. They are devils. They have been paying ransoms to militants, was it Aker Base they have been paying to? They know these militants and shouldn’t have burnt our properties because the militants don’t leave here. We are helpless and hopeless now”.
Mr. Emeka Molokwu, 35-year-old, who hails from Awka, the capital of Anambra State, Nigeria. He is a trader (he trades in ladies shoes, wears and electronics). He is an Aker Base resident.
In recent times, youth violence and hostage taking has continued unabated. Such ugly scenario will continue for sometimes in spite of the Federal Government of Nigeria’s military solution to the problem. This is because the roots of the problem have not been tackled. The guns which politicians gave to the youths over the years for their selfish political agenda are still in their hands. These youths had graduated from political thuggry into either ethnic militias or militants. The Aker Base militants action is just one of the manifestations of the guns out of control. Military solution being adopted by the Federal Government, will instead of solving the problem of youth violence, exacerbate it. What is required is political solution.
In view of the above, the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) hereby recommends the following.
(i) The Federal Government should immediately rebuild the homes of Aker base residents and pay compensations to the victims, whose houses where destroyed.
(ii) Urgent medical attention should be given to those who suffer various degrees of fire burns, and also Mr. Patrick Oghogho, 29, who is lying critically ill at Avon Specialist Clinic, at No. 150 Nkpor Road, Rumuolumeni, Rivers State.
(iii) The soldiers who burnt the Slummy Aker base settlement should be brought to book, so that it will serve as a deterrent in future for others.
(iv) The Federal Government should sincerely and genuinely mop up the Small arms and Light Weapons (SALW) in illegal hands in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
(v) The region which has become an occupied territory should be demilitarized.
7. About the Centre for Human Rights and Development (CEHRD)
The Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) was founded on August 15, 1999, by activists working in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. CEHRD started as the Niger Delta Project for Environment, Human Rights and Development (NDPEHRD), but later changed her name from NDPEHRD to CEHRD due to board decision and subsequent incorporation as a trustee charity in Nigeria. ENDS
CEHRD is a rural-based, rural-focused, non-profit making organization, working in league with Journalists for Niger Delta (JODEL), a media group concerned with the affairs of Nigeria's oil and gas region. Through research, networking, advocacy and participatory education, these two organizations address the problems of environment, Human Rights, Development, HIV/AIDS, injustice and proliferations of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) and others plaguing the oil region..