Militant's Action_ Military Rage in Nigeria's Niger Delta; Over 3000

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					Militant’s Action, Military Rage in Nigeria’s Niger
Delta; Over 3,000 Urban Poor Rendered Homeless



                        A



               Briefing paper No. 2


                    Issued by



            The Human Rights, program
       Centre for Environment, Human Rights
                  And Development
                       (CEHRD)
              6, Obo Nwanboke Street,
                 Post Office Building,
                    P. O. Box 590,
                    Ogale-Nchia,
                 Eleme, Rivers State
        Email: nigerdeltaproject@yahoo.com
              Website:www.cehrd.org




                   August, 2006




                                                  1
 Militant’s Action, Military Rage in Nigeria’s Niger Delta;
       Over 3,000 Urban Poor Rendered Homeless

                                                August, 2006

Contents

1.   About Aker Base

2.   The Militants’ Strike

3.   The Soldiers’ Frenzy

4.   Voices from the rubble

5.   Conclusions

6.   Recommendations

7.   About The Centre for Environment, Human Rights and
     Development (CEHRD)




                                                              2
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 Militant 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


                                                                           3
     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.



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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 soldiers 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.



                                                                                                    5
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.




                                                                                                        6
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 leave 6.




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.



                                                                                                    7
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,
                 Edo State,
                 Nigeria.


     “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 community leader
                 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



                                                                         8
houses and properties, but they were chased away. Why should
they treat us like this?”

            Mr. Thomas Kofi Konodu 38-year-old commercial vehicle
            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”

            Mrs. 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



                                                                     9
     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.

5.   Conclusion
     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 thuggery 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.

6.   Recommendations
     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.


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     (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.

     CEHRD is a rural-based, rural-focused, non-profit making
     organization. Through research, networking, advocacy and
     participatory education, the organization addresses the problems of
     environment, Human Rights, Development, HIV/AIDS, injustice and
     proliferations of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) and others
     plaguing the Niger Delta region of Nigeria and beyond.




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