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 Stop humiliating our people, Niger Delta stakeholders cry out

Stop humiliating our people, Niger Delta stakeholders cry out

VANGUARD NEWS

STAKEHOLDERS have described as humiliating the practice where boat passengers including royal fathers are compelled to raise their hands over their heads (surrender) at every military checkpoint on the river and creeks of Bayelsa and other parts of the Niger-Delta region.

Though the ritual of raising hands before passing military checkpoint which is synonymous with speed boats, reached a climax at the height of youth militancy in the region, many are worried that even with the return of calm, the practice is still in place.

Every speedboat approaching the checkpoints slows down with all the passengers raising up their hands until they are asked to do otherwise by the military operatives in their houseboats and menacing gunboats.

Interestingly, these military houseboats and gunboats are stationed close to flow stations and manifolds on the river, creeks, deep swamps and mangrove swamps of the delta where a greater percentage of the populace can only access their ancestral homes through the water.

Any passenger who fails to raise his/ her hand above the head as a mark of surrender either risks his/ her life or punishment as the speedboat gets to the checkpoint as such offenders are often summarily dealt with by the security operatives.

However, observers are querying the reason behind the application of this subhuman treatment (raising hands) meted on passengers when the region is not in a state of war.

Speaking on the sad turn of events in the creek of the delta, renowned environmentalist and the  Executive Director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF, Rev. Nnimmo Bassey decried the overbearing influence of the oil companies on the military deployed to guard crude oil facilities in the region.

According to him, the Nigerian state is more interested in protecting the crude oil and not the people whose environment has been devastated over the years.

He said: “Apart from destruction unleashed on the environment, we noticed that the oil companies have overbearing influence over the security arrangement in the creek of the delta because apart from polluted environment, we have boats at checkpoints where everybody had to surrender which is very humiliating for people in the Niger-Delta to have to raise your hands whenever you pass the military, Army and Navy checkpoints.

They studiously and in a very embarrassing manner kept us, a whole team, including traditional ruler among us, with youth leaders and journalists, they just ignored us. We again emphasized the fact of the lack of respect for Niger- Delta people, for the environment and for anything except the oil and pipelines. It is a very annoying situation which is totally unacceptable. Things have to change, we can’t invest our resources protecting the damage that is inflicted on our people rather than protecting our people.”

Also, Comrade Alagoa Morris, Head, Bayelsa Office, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), who like others have repeatedly suffered the ordeal said though nobody is quarrelling with the presence of the military checkpoints in the creeks for the sake of providing security for oil assets, commuters should be allowed free access and use of the rivers and creeks.

“The very people the Nigerian Army was supposed to protect should not be subjected to the type of thing happening at the checkpoints,” he said.

Citing the predicament of travellers in the creeks and waterways of Southern Ijaw, he said, “agreed that area had the highest number of militant camps in the state before amnesty was announced, but with the acceptance of the amnesty and dropping of arms by all the camps, forcing passengers to still raise hands above their heads while approaching JTF checkpoint does not make victims feel the amnesty enjoyed by others or could it be that the authorities are still suspicious of the people of the local government?

Continuing he said, “What is good for the goose is also good for the gander; the military authorities should look into the matter in Southern Ijaw in line with the presidential amnesty.

“This is why it is pertinent that, in the spirit of amnesty, the JTF should reconsider the issue of making the people look like conquered folks, for the amnesty never mentioned one as victor and the other vanquished.

“What is worth doing, they say, is worth doing well. Hence it would be nice to apply the same treatment and rules in plying our waterways. And unless there is an ulterior motive behind the continued raising of hands by passengers in post amnesty, the JTF should concentrate on their job of guiding the oil facilities and not subjecting innocent and law-abiding citizens to forceful and continued raising of hands before passing the checkpoints.”

But a security source who spoke anonymously described the action of the soldiers as precautionary saying it was not a deliberate attempt to humiliate travellers on the waterways.

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