Aftermath soldiers’ invasion: We live in fear —Oporoza residents •Say ‘Our livelihoods threatened’
EBENEZER ADUROKIYA was on the entourage of the new acting Inspector General of Police that visited Ugborodo and
Oporoza in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State last Friday, and reports the hardship pervading the Gbaramatu traditional headquarters.
Glory and Mercy (surnames unknown) rushed back to school at the early hours of June 27 at Oporoza, headquarters of Gbaramatu kingdom in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State.
However, only a few colleagues of theirs could be sighted in a school that boasts of no fewer than 100 pupils.
Besides, most of the teachers who should be at their duty posts, were nowhere to be found, notwithstanding the fast-approaching third term examinations that now hung in the balance.
Lamenting the academic situation in the community, Glory, who a Primary 6 pupil in one of the schools at Oporoza, said emphatically that, “Peace has not returned to Oporoza because we are hungry. Soldiers still come to disturb us, but it not as much as before.
“School is now in session, but not many pupils come to school. Teachers are scanty because of fear; they are not coming.
“Those around are teaching. We are not many because of fear of soldiers,” the female pupil noted while code-mixing pidgin and English language.
From the look of things in the community, the entire economic, cultural, traditional, political and social system in the community has been distorted.
The community, unlike the vivacious Ugborodo community nearby where the IG got a rousing welcome, literally wore a mournful look, exuding an atmosphere like a ravaged and ravished virgin since soldiers were deployed to the area in May.
Some of the returnees were mostly seen moping around like sheep without a shepherd as even the Pere of Gbaramatu, whose palace is at Oporoza, was said to have temporarily relocated to Warri to have some breath of peace.
Harriet Harvest, an SS 2 pupil, further paints the same gloomy picture in her narrative. The stocky-looking female student, who bravely volunteered to speak on events in the community, said most of her colleagues in class had fled to Warri or other neighborhood in the wake of soldiers’ invasion of the community.
She also expressed worry on how the promotion exams would be conducted when they had not exhausted their syllabus for the term/session that would warrant writing an exam.
“We have no teacher now and all the students have fled to Warri. Those around don’t teach for fear of invasion.
“We don’t know how we are going to write our exams now because our teachers are not yet here.
“We don’t know what to do. They have disappeared because of fear of soldiers,” moody-looking Harvest said.
She said the teachers fled the community, to save their lives since they still had families to cater for.
“We want the government to normalize things so that our teachers and students can return so that our future can be bright in order to take care of our community and all these terrorism will be over so that our younger ones will not experience all these things.
“We want to go school so that we can take care of people and be good leaders of tomorrow in Gbaramatu clan,” she reiterated.
Hunger is a major problem ravaging the entire Oporoza community as returnees are finding it pretty difficult to recover from losses suffered from the military siege laid on the area in May over activities of members of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA).
The returnees, who can be better described as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), have not received any relief material from governments or organizations as seen in other parts of the country such as the North East.
The fishermen among them do not launch out into the waters for fear of being harangued and tagged Avengers by soldiers who still carry out occasional raids in the area.
Therefore, booming economic activities, such as the halted construction works earlier ongoing at the site of the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko and construction work at the palace of the traditional ruler of Gbaramatu at Oporoza which had occupied the youth have been halted.
The implications of this are empty pockets and hunger among the people who had preoccupied themselves with menial jobs available in these sites to earn a living.
Hairdressers and petty traders, such as corn roasters, as well as soft drinks sellers, expressed sorrow over the biting hunger in Oporoza and occasional threats posed by unsolicited visits of soldiers to the community.
Mrs Perpetua Monday, owns a salon which was begging for patronage amid few returnee residents.
“Things are not normal. Yesterday night (Thursday), soldiers came. Some people are still in the bush. Women have run away.
“This morning, I sat down in my shop for work, but nothing. Anytime we see military people, we run, because we don’t know when they will come.
“We don’t know whether it is men or women they come to carry. So, we keep running, but we don’t want to run anymore. I just returned recently.
A woman, Tenado, who was seen roasting fresh maize cobs, expressed the same economic downturn in the community.
According to her, the situation has really not improved as many of their breadwinners were still hiding in the woods for fear of arrest by soldiers who still carry out occasional, unscheduled raids in the area.
“People aren’t back. See the town, its empty. Our husbands are still in the bush. We are scared. We can’t sleep well at night.
“My business is suffering. There is nothing. When the men come, they won’t have money to feed themselves,” she lamented.
Tenado, disclosed that many of them were beginning to develop high blood pressure as a result of constant harassments.
“We can’t find anything to eat; we just run from one bush to another. We don’t sleep till daybreak. Even now, some people are still in the bush. Some packed their load into canoes and ran to other villages.
“Students were arrested and put in prison, innocent people! We beg government to remove the army from our river so that we can have peace, so that we can have hope,” Mama Tenedo appealed while not losing sight of her maize cobs on coals of fire.
To Fresh Erelube, a food vendor, business is drab and at its lowest ebb at Oporoza after the invasion of soldiers, noting that she lost her meat stocked in a deep freezer to rot after the place was thrown into darkness by the marauding soldiers in May.
An elder and chief at Oporoza, Chief Thomas Egula, managed to wear his pair of shoes to make his way to the venue where IGP Idris and his entourage were hosted.
Persuaded to narrate what had transpired in the embattled Oporoza community in the past few months, the 76-year-old chief said his big toes would not let him walk a long distance because he sustained injuries while fleeing the onslaught of soldiers deployed to smoke out members of NDA from the community in May.
Pa Egula, who, however, acknowledged the gradual return of residents to the community, said emphatically that his people loathed the presence of soldiers let alone cohabiting with them for long.
“People are gradually returning now. When the army came all of us ran into the bush. The soldiers stayed almost a week. And that week, a lot of people ran to Warri and other villages.
“So, after that, I too ran, but later came back. I sustained injuries for my big toes when I was running for cover. I’m still nursing the injury now.
“After soldiers left, they came back again and people continued to run. They shot,” the Gbaramatu chief disclosed.
He enjoined the Federal Government to help people of the community in the area of relief materials, saying, “This situation, we don’t want it. We don’t want soldiers now. We can’t live with them. They attacked our place.”
Chief Egula, who described the IG’s visit as historic being the first IGP to do so, reiterated that “We’ve not seen any IG before. We only hear of them. Today is our first time of seeing an IG. We appreciate it.”
The acting IGP, who, after visiting Ugborodo, was at Oporoza with some senior officers of the force including the newly posted Commissioner of Police to the state, CP Zanna M. Ibrahim, during his address, sued for partnership with people of the community to engender peace and security in the community.
With the same message he gave at Ugborodo, where he was welcomed with cultural display of the Itsekiris, Idris said: “We are an arm of the security and we are part of the government. It’s the responsibility of everybody to provide security.
“We are here to assure members of the communities and to tell them that we are not their enemies. We belong to them. We have to protect them. It’s a community policing strategy to bring us closer to the people so that we can partner with them,” the acting IG told reporters during a chat.
The acting IG added, while addressing the Ijaws of Oporoza, that the people should embrace dialogue, saying dialogue could resolve every matter.
According to Idris, “I’m here to see how we can partner together so that we can have peace and security all over Nigeria. I’m also here to pay respect to all of you because without you, we are nothing.
“We are your servants. We want to serve you. We will give you maximum protection and we want you to assist us because the police cannot be everywhere. Security is for everybody. We shall work with the communities. We need you to succeed. Anywhere they see the police, we are here to serve you. We solicits your cooperation,” Idris, who said he was at the community on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari.
He directed CP Ibrahim to liaise with the Nigerian Army to effect the release of 10 students allegedly arrested by soldiers on May 28 under the suspicion that they were members of the NDA, as well as other issues raised by elders of the community.