Ijaw leaders from the 78 Ijaw clans, traditional institutions and socio-political bodies from Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers, Edo, Akwa Ibom, Ondo and Delta states met yesterday in Warri for several hours over the renewed violence in the Niger Delta region, especially the destruction of critical infrastructure by the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA).
Many women and children from several Ijaw communities in Gbaramatu Kingdom, who escaped the onslaught by soldiers, narrated their ordeals in the hands of the troops at the meeting.
The meeting convened by the Ijaw National Congress (INC) exposed the dire humanitarian crisis in several Ijaw communities of Oporoza; Kunukunu-Amu; Okokodiagbene; Benikruku; Kurutie; Okerekolo; Naifor; Azakrama; Kenghangbene; Igoba and several others.
Several Ijaw leaders who spoke at the ceremony include INC Secretary, Dr. Bibobra Bello Orubebe, who said: “As we speak, several Ijaw people cannot be accounted for and their whereabouts, including status as to whether they are alive or dead, cannot be ascertained.
“Our people are starving and being molested without recourse to minimum international human rights standards in law enforcement.
“Ijaw children who went to write NECO are stranded and several of our people are in the forest and the wounded unattended.
“The situation is dire.”
The INC condemned the “use of violence by both civilians and the federal government” and urged parties to the crisis to respect the sanctity of human lives, livelihood, economy, culture and environment of Ijaw people.
The INC explained that they shunned the invitation to the flag-off of the UNEP clean-up ceremony at Ogoni, Rivers State on Thursday because the government cannot be killing Ijaw people with soldiers and still expect them to honour the invitation.
The INC secretary told the Buhari government: “You cannot kill the Ijaw people and rule successfully. We are asking the military to open the waterways for the people to move freely.
“We are appealing to the federal government to order all the soldiers that have occupied several Ijaw communities to leave, because we are not pipeline vandals and members of the Niger Delta Avengers do not live in these villages.
“The Ijaw indicated interest to work with the Buhari government after he was sworn in; we sent representation to the government showing our intention to work with them, but till date, they have not reached out to us.
“The INC welcomes the clean up of Ogoni, based on the UNEP report. We boycotted the ceremony because you cannot be killing Ijaw people and expect us to attend.”
Orubebe urged the National Emergency management Agency (NEMA) and other humanitarian organisations to send relief materials to the suffering displaced people.
The Chairman of Kokodiagbene community, Sheriff Mulade, who was at the meeting, said the suffering in Gbaramatu communities are enormous.
“Many of the women and children ran into the swamps when the soldiers arrived. As we speak, many of them have not been rescued, because the soldiers have barred all boats from entering and leaving the communities.
“It is a pathetic situation and we are urging the soldiers to allow aides to be delivered to them, because many of them have been in the swamps since a week ago without food.”
Also, Hendrix Opukeme, another Ijaw leader, said the Ijaw are peaceful people and do not want escalation of the crisis and appealled to the Buhari government to withdraw the troops to avert further suffering of the displaced people.
A woman, who gave her name as Angela Temowei, said she was forced to flee Oporoza with her two children when the soldiers started shooting indiscriminately.
Temowei added that she has not set eyes on her husband and his aged mother, saying several people were still hiding in the swamps, because there was no way they could escape.
She said she was lucky to make it to Warri, because she left when the first batch of soldiers arrived.
Another displaced person, Lepe Kenekuma, said: “I hid in the roof of a house for two days before I decided to swim to back of Oporoza, where I paddled a canoe to a location, where I was rescued by a boat operator.”
He said the military had shut down the waterways and barred boats from reaching displaced people.
Kenekuma urged Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to assist his distressed citizens.
Meanwhile, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) yesterday bombed the 48-inch Forcados export pipeline at Forcados export terminal.
The militants had earlier destroyed the pipeline, but government commenced its repair, despite their warning to stop.
On its Twitter handle yesterday the Avengers warned Agip oil firm, saying: “We are sending this warning message to AGIP not to commence repair works on any of the blown pipelines in Bayelsa.
“We will make you regret it if you even dare us,” its spokesman, Mudoch Aginibo, wrote.