Renewed Violence Rocks Nigeria's Oil Community
By Akanimo Sampson
ARMED violence seems to be returning to Okrika, one of the major Ijaw communities in Rivers State,Nigeria, with vengeance. And this, at least, on the face value, appears to be a matter of great concern to Mr. Ateke Tom, leader of the Niger Delta Vigilante, a militia group. Ateke, and Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), are the central figures in the Rivers State.The state is one of the major oil-producing states in Nigeria's Niger Delta region.
Ateke killer squad allegedly invaded Ibaka and the neighbouring Ogbogbo.
In a two-page statement last week in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, Ateke claimed that there were some “disgruntled elements” in the state, who want guns to be smoking in the communities, adding, “some mischievous persons in Okrika have continued to fuel crisis in the area through the sponsorship of terrorism against my men”.
Ateke spoke against the backdrop of the renewed cycle of violence in some Okrika communities. In the past few weeks, Ogoloma, Kalio-Ama, Ogan, Dutch Island, Ibaka Communities, among other Okrika settlements, have been hit by a gale of violence. In all these communities, the warlord claimed that his men were the principal victims.
But there seems to be a twist in the renewed orgy of violence in Okrika. One account tends to blame the Ateke group for the violence which erupted at Ibaka, and spilt to Ogbogbo, all in Okrika Local Government Area.
Sources have it that the Ateke group are no longer comfortable with the growing popularity of Dokubo-Asari, following their Abuja peace deal. The Ateke “spies” were allegedly directed to pencil down the names of Okrika indigenes joing in celebrating the NDPVF boss as a hero.
So, when the Dokubo-Asari ‘peace train’ in company of the exiled Bush Boys, and some Okrika chiefs, stormed Okrika, a faction of Okrika chiefs allegedly loyal to Ateke, a son of the soil, prepared a list of those who jubilated when the Kalabari war lord and his team entered Okrika.
In a bid to deter others, the Ateke killer squad allegedly invaded Ibaka and the neighbouring Ogbogbo, in search of the “culprits”. Their operation allegedly left 20 persons seriously wounded. Some of the wounded persons were identified as Livingstone Obom, Obudiki Dickson, Ikubie Dede, Ose Amoni, Nna Tobia, Godwill Joe, Ibitoroko Isaiah, Grammer Dabo-Opuye, among others.
But in a seeming dramatic turn, Ateke alleged that his men were being targeted by forces opposed to the on-going peace process in Rivers. According to him, since their ceasefire agreement in Abuja early last October, “some disgruntled elements in Rivers have been plotting to sabotage the peace efforts. These are persons who feed fat on crisis.”
Continuing, he said, “when we returned from Abjua, the Rivers State Government set up a peace committee made up of all the interest groups. This was sequel to a traditional oath administered by the Okrika Traditional Ruling Council to the major actors in the Okrika crisis.
“Since the peace accord, I givae an order to all my men to be very calm and not to engage in any act capable of threatening the existing peace in Okrika. Sad enough, some disgruntled persons in Okrika have continued to fuel crisis in the area through the sponsorship of physical and psychological terrorism against my men”.
According to the obviously angry Ateke, “some members of the Niger Delta Vigilante, (his militia group that was allegedly used as a political army in the controversial 2003 polls to aid the victory of the Peoples’ Democratic Party) have constantly been under attack and threats by mischief-makers who have now resorted to sponsoring physical attacks and intimidation”
At their meeting in Port Harcourt, on Wednesday, November 10, which was presided over by Ateke himself, the militia group strongly condemned the renewed violence in Okrika, and parts of the capital city, claiming that they will not be provoked.
They resolved that they will stand by the Peter Odili administration to ensure that lasting peace returns to Rivers State. “We have resolved today to take steps t out a stop to the intolerable situation in this state. By our findings, not less than 500 Niger Delta youths have been killed in the last few weeks as a result of cult-related clashes.
They also commended Govrnor Odili, for his “determined efforts” to put a stop to violence in the sate even as they equally appealed to all warring factions in the renewed violence in Okrika to lay down their arms.
Their appeal is however, coming against a potentially dangerous allegation that the Ateke group were stockpiling fresh arms and ammunition for action in the build-up to 2007 in the state. Although the militia chief was silent on this, one of his followers, Ina Olunge, says they have surrendered all their weapons to the authorities.
For the peace workers in the state, the renewed violence in Okrika is quite disturbing. For over four years, the area was in turmoil, grief and wanton destruction. On Saturday, August 14, 2004, there were signs that all was well in Okrika. On that day representatives of the Ateke group and their rival Bush Boys subjected themselves to the traditional Okrika peace oath, Oboku fi.
In Okrika, Oboku fi is believed to be the highest traditional form of reconciliation between warring factions. Traditionalists in Okrika believe that the consequences of breaching the oath are always very terrible. Among the Okrika people, it is generally believed that the oath has an extended effect on anybody who in any way whatever, is connected with or related to any of those who take it.
The Okriak traditional establishment holds the view that Oboku fi is a solemn covenant, with specific stipulations of mutual responsibilities, that bind individuals, or communities that take it. They claimed that the validity of the covenant has no limit in respect of time or space, religion or faith. For them, its breach forecloses the worst fate that can befall the participant, individual, community or nation.
The mystery of Oboku fi seems to lie in the obvious tragic boomerang whenever a breach is deliberate. Its potency does not appear to be subject to belief or disbelief. By the Okrika tradition, Oboku fi has always remained the best guarantee for peace, security, good neighbourliness, peaceful co-existence and mutual confidence.
The August 14 oath, which was administered by the Chief Priest of Okrika, Abereniboye, lasted for one hour, from 5-6 pm. Interestingly, the chief priest is from Ogbogbo, the community affected in the renewed violence