· Niger Delta monarchs tackle military
Following the order directing traditional rulers in the Niger Delta to guarantee the protection of oil facilities in their domain, traditional rulers in the region have described it was an attempt to undermine the indigenous rights of the Niger Delta people, and outright disrespect to traditional institutions.
Renowned traditional chief in Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State and Chairman of the Oil and Gas Producing Communities in the state, Chief Nengi James, said royal fathers could not be cowed by such statements.
Speaking to The AUTHORITY on Sunday in Yenagoa, the Nembe chief insisted that they were only the custodians of their people and culture and not licenced security men.
According to him, traditional rulers are not constitutionally empowered to carry out such high risk responsibility and stressed that such directive coming from the military, was misdirected and void.
James further argued that he expected the military hierarchy to have since issued similar directive to the North Eastern traditional rulers, directing them to guarantee an end to the Boko Haram insurgency and other forms of crime in their area.
He pointed out that there were clear provisions in the 1979 constitution, conferring security of the country to the military, police and other security agencies, wondering why they decided to shirk on such constitutional duty.
He stressed it was a misnomer directing indigenous chiefs to protect life and property, stressing that such was not provided for in any section of the constitution.
He also alleged that military officers posted to the region were only interested in making money for themselves, instead of paying attention to the duties they were primarily assigned to carry out.
According to him, “most of the criminals perpetrating acts of economic sabotage are well-known to some of the officers and it was wrong for them to shift responsibility to traditional rulers who do not have the tools or constitutional powers to carry out such specialized duties.
“The military are responsible for every security activity in the Niger Delta. But I must add that they do not respond effectively to carrying our such constitutional responsibility because of obvious pecuniary reasons on their part.
“Now, they want to hide under the guise of the recent attacks on oil facilities to begin to undermine the traditional rulers in the Niger Delta region. This is most unfortunate and misplaced aggression”.
Chief James is of the opinion that the same respect that are being accorded the Emirs and Obas in the North and Southwest respectively, should be accorded to the traditional institution in the Niger Delta region, stressing that the recent military statements fell short of expected respect for them.
Also, the paramount ruler of Ogbe-Ijoh Warri Kingdlom, Delta State stated: His Royal Majesty Couple Mackson Oromoni, said it was wrong for the military to think of holding the monarchs responsible for pipeline vandalism.
He said “if you visit the riverine areas you will observe that the federal government has spent so much to safe-guard these facilities. A distance of two poles you see houseboat and gunboats around the pipelines. Yet, we still hear of pipeline vandalisation.
“It shocks one to ask, what are they (military) guarding? If with all these, there is vandalisation, military officers should be held responsible.
Military has been guarding the pipeline since the inception of last militancy till date and vandalisation of oil facilities still occurs.
“If the military cannot do the job, they should allow the communities to guard them. I believe the communities will do a better job. The officers sleep in their houseboats. They don’t patrol. If there is vandalisation , the military should be asked to explain how it happens.
“In order to create trouble, call the dog a bad name. That is the situation. We have been living in peace. The vandalisation is being caused by those they give pipeline repairs contract in conjunction with the military. How can you invade five communities in Gbaramatu? Are the vandals from the communities?
“You can’t hold community leaders responsible for acts of sabotage. Those who vandalise pipelines could be from the cities or neighbouring states. What they should do is to mount more intelligence rather than threatening to hold communities responsible.”
In his own reaction, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, who is the chief mobiliser of Gbaramatu Kingdom in Delta State, insisted that the pipeline vandals were not from his kingdom, and the military should know better than issuing threats instead of using intelligence gathering tactics.
His words: “I think the military knows better. These military people are they not from communities? If they enter the riverine areas, don’t they see the connection between creeks? These pipelines that are blown up, are situated outside the communities and community leaders don’t have control over them.
“How do you come and holds community leaders responsible? Is that how to govern a country?
“When the Chibok Girls were captured, they were taken from a community, this time over 300 people were taken from a community and it was the federal government that was held responsible.
“What are they talking, are there two laws in this country? We don’t habour criminals. We don’t have criminals in our midst. We did not send anyone to blow up oil pipelines, neither do we have any agitation for now that will make us instigate people to blown up pipelines.
“This action of the military by saying they will hold community leaders responsible, is an unfortunate statement because I don’t see how community leaders are involved in this.
“Besides, I think the best the military should do is to partner with community leaders who know the terrain so that we can put hands together to fight this problem. Were we given contracts to guide pipelines?
“Even though the pipeline was not given to us, we still use our connections to ensure people don’t do things unnecessary. In this Warri, there are military presences everywhere but there are kidnappers, fighting.
“Our river is manned by military people too, if criminals are passing, they have guns to stop them. Why where they unable to accost them?
“It is because these criminals have their mode of operation which the ordinarily person may not know, if you are not part of them. They should not come up with this kind of spurious statement that they will hold community leaders responsible.
“What did the community leaders do? Do they have information that community leaders were part of this thing? I think they should withdraw the statement. That statement alone sends a very wrong signal. They should withdraw that statement; we are ready to partner with the military or whichever law enforcement agents that is ready to assist.”
Meanwhile, traditional rulers of oil-bearing communities in Akwa Ibom State have adopted several measures to protect oil pipelines within their domains from oil thieves and vandals.
Among the measures adopted by the royal fathers were the setting up of vigilante groups and the sensitization of their subjects on the need to assist government and multinational oil companies to protect crude oil facilities.
The move by the monarchs, which is in compliance with recent directive for traditional rulers to ensure the safety of oil facilities in their territories, has received the endorsement of youth and community leaders in the state in addition to attracting the state government support.
Akwa Ibom State contributes over 40 per cent of crude oil earnings to the nation’s economy and most of these oil facilities are in Eket senatorial district of the state.
Traditional rulers from the area, especially the paramount ruler of Ibeno Local Government Area, His Majesty, Effiong Achianga, told our correspondent that, “we the traditional rulers of oil producing communities of Akwa Ibom have set up vigilante groups to assist government and oil companies protect pipelines and safety for oil workers.
“We have also sensitized our subjects on why they shouldn’t destroy, aid or abet vandals to destroy and vandalize oil pipelines and I can confidently say all is well here”.