From arms struggle in the creeks for resource control, militants ride the horse of agitation on the back of amnesty to become multibillionaires, writes Pauline Onyibe
Before the late President Umaru Yar’Adua granted the presidential amnesty, they were living in the creeks of the Niger Delta. Most of them were illiterates. They only knew how to handle guns and take orders from the few ones who were educated.
But immediately the call for amnesty gained momentum, most of them embraced it especially when they came into the cities and saw what they believed was a good life. They also regretted that they were in the creeks fighting while some people were in the city enjoying the proceeds of their agitation.
According to the history of the agitation for resource control, which gave birth to militancy in the Niger Delta region, a place like Bayelsa, before its creation as a state, was just a small enclave yearning for development.
It is, however, endowed with so much black gold, crude oil. Oloibiri, in the present day Bayelsa State, was where the first oil was struck in commercial quantity in 1956.
This, however, made Adaka Boro, the leader of the first group to agitate for resource control. Though educated before he took up arms against the Federal Government and the declared the Niger Delta Republic, Boro knew what he was looking for with his group.
He had gone with his men, the Niger Delta Volunteer Force, but up till today his second in command, Sam Owonaro, still lives but confined to the wheelchair.
Conflict in the Niger Delta arose in the early 1990s due to tensions between the foreign oil corporations and a number of the Niger Delta minority ethnic groups who felt they were being exploited, particularly the Ogoni as well as the Ijaw in the late 1990s.
But before 1990 when the agitation turned into a full blown militancy, Boro had done his bit and died for the course. Ken Saro- Wiwa, an Ogoni born activist, also died in the process. Several others also sacrificed their lives for the agitation.
Despite the vast wealth created by petroleum, the benefits have been slow to trickle down to the majority of the population, who since the 1960s have increasingly abandoned their traditional agricultural practices.
Despite the large number of skilled, well-paid Nigerians who have been employed by the oil corporations, the majority of Nigerians and most especially the people of the Niger Delta have become poorer since 1960.
That, however, gave birth to the present day militancy which has refused to stop despite the amnesty and other juicy promises made to the region. Seven years after presidential amnesty was granted to the militants, new militant groups have emerged.
the deadliest among them seems to be the Niger Delta Avengers, which has finally crippled the oil revenue in Nigeria. Ironically, most of the then warlords are allegedly being pointed as the sponsors of the groups that have given the current administration sleepless nights. Coincidentally, within the space of seven years that they left the creek, many are now graduates.
Although they testified that city life is better than the creek life, they have amassed so a lot of wealth for themselves. They had made a lot of money for themselves before the Federal Government’s amnesty carrot arrived, and have since continued to make more money.
Some say that the Federal Government’s amnesty programme was actually meant to plug the leak in the nation’s oil sector called illegal oil bunkering. Of course, some of them are still being tagged as the sponsors of oil bunkering in the Niger Delta.
But it appears that the millions of dollars spent so far in this regard have achieved next to nothing. They live big, have the best the world can ever offer in exotic fun and all at the expense of the state.
They used to lord it over the vast creeks and jungles of the Delta, but now the presidential suites of the most expensive hotels of Abuja are reserved for them.
They are the big boys of the Niger Delta. Erstwhile generals of the recent Niger Delta struggle have all been called out of the creeks, calling off their arms struggle against the country and now embracing peace in the most lavish manner peace could be embraced.
Although there are still a handful of those in the league of these former agitators who feel it is not time yet to vacate the creeks, saying they still have an axe to grind with the state, a larger number of the class is far gone into the affluent sector of the society, acquiring all the best things money can buy.
These men are, by all standards, rich and they continue to make more money. How did they start this spree? The militants accepted the government’s offer and laid down their arms, giving the government the chance to implement its amnesty.
Among these Niger Delta mega- bucks and personalities from Bayelsa State are Ebikabowei Victor Ben, also known as Boyloaf, General Africa Africanus Ukparasia coordinator state water ways security task force, Pastor Reuben, Joshua Maciver and Paul Eris. These men and some others, who gained fame, started out as dissidents.
They were bold enough to do what most men and boys in their league would not dream, bold enough to risk the establishment’s blacklisting, growing from just oil thieves into militants or what they preferred to be called, agitators.
They were so armed that their activities brought the country’s petro-based economy to its knees in a matter of months.
Ebikabowei Victor Ben (Boyloaf)
The Bayelsa-born from Southern Ijaw Local Government Victor Ben is a core loyalist of the present administration at the federal level.
He was one-time ally of former Bayelsa State governor. He commanded a wing of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) in Bayelsa State, by virtue of which he had a considerably huge army of youthful foot soldiers to execute campaigns against the state.
Although his influence in the illegal crude oil business and struggle for territorial control prior to the escalation of hostilities in the Niger Delta could not be ascertained here. In recent times, Boyloaf took the role of a presidential envoy, representing Federal Government’s interests, visiting training sites on the ticket of government and so on.
In terms of remuneration, the former warlord reportedly goes home with as much as $3.5 million annually. Presently he lives in Abuja with so much wealth he has amassed for himself.
Maciver from Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State used the period of amnesty to go back to school and became a graduate.
He was said to have been controlling the most dreaded group then in Southern Ijaw Local Government before the amnesty which he quickly embraced with his boys. Currently, he is the caretaker chairman of Southern Ijaw Local Government and close ally of the present Governor of Bayelsa State.
He was one of the people who made sure that Henry Seriake Dickson won the Southern Ijaw Local Government election and he was compensated with the position of caretaker chairman of the local government.
He once promised to bring oil bunkering to halt in the local government. He has one of the best houses in Yenagao and rides one of the best cars.
Paul Eris Alias Ogunboss
Ogunboss was one of the warlords who also had his camp in Southern Ijaw. Precisely from Peremabiri area of Southern Ijaw Local Government, he went back to university immediately he left the creek. Today, he allegedly installed his own as the king of Peremabiri and his own security group in the community.
He reportedly fought it out with the supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last governorship election as he was visibly supporting the former Governor, Timipre Sylva. In fact, he is still a force to reckon with in that community. He has one of the best houses in Yenagoa with giant dogs that greet visitor to the expansive compound.
Pastor Reuben Wilson
Wilson from Koluama clan in Southern Ijaw, is the president of the Leadership, Peace and Cultural Development Initiative. He recently got married at a lavish ceremony. He is reported to have other wives.
He is also living big like other former warlords. He was accused of diverting about N150 million, which he denied. Ironically, the militants seem to be above the law as some of them were said to be involved in some cases, especially during th