IN the face of the onslaught by the military, who are purportedly searching for members of the Niger Delta Avengers, the palace of HRM William N.S Ogoba, Oboro Gbaraun II, the Agadagba (king) of Gbaramatu kingdom was overrun and desecrated by the soldiers, This forced him to flee from the palace. In this interview with Murphy Ganagana at a temporary abode in Warri, Delta State, he spoke on his ordeal in the hands of the soldiers who invaded his palace.
How has it been on the throne as the paramount ruler of Gbaramatu kingdom?
It was a nice one, but I have not been too long on this throne; I was crowned recently, just about four months ago.
Can you tell me your experience when the military invaded your kingdom, particularly your palace at Oporoza, few weeks ago?
It was a big surprise, I was amazed. On that day, I was asleep till about 2.am when soldiers invaded Oporoza community. They took us unawares, raided the community and beat up everybody including my chiefs, children and women. They took over the community; they even raided my guesthouse and looted everything. The soldiers also stormed my traditional temple and desecrated it. Women were crying everywhere because of their missing children.
After raiding Oporoza community, they put me under house arrest. I had no light, no food. I was restricted indoors and never allowed to come out. I called on their commander to come, that we are all Nigerians, let’s talk; I am a king and you (commander) have a king too in your place; is it the way you maltreat your king? I called him, but he refused to come. That was how they molested everybody in the community. I couldn’t bear it; that is why you see me here. I was kept in total darkness in my palace and couldn’t take my bath for four days. I suffered. You are seeing me here because of frustration; they frustrated me, and I don’t expect this from the Federal Government. I think we are not slaves and don’t deserve to be treated this way.
When the soldiers surrounded your palace, did any of them talk to you?
No, they didn’t talk to me. They just surrounded my palace and took over everywhere; they said myself and a few of my subjects who were with me should not come out. So, I was just indoors, no light, no food.
When did you eventually come out of your palace?
I don’t know how the soldiers left the palace, but one day I came out and saw nobody. I knew efforts were being made by some of my people for them to quit the community. It was an illegal action: that is not the way to attain peace in a crisis situation.
Have you been able to take accurate account of your subjects or you still have some of them missing?
For now, I can’t tell. I have found some of them, but some are still under their custody. I can’t tell you the exact figure of those arrested and taken into their custody. But the palace driver, cook, gardener, generator operator and some students in a hostel close to the palace totaling about 10 young men were arrested by the soldiers and had not been released till date.
After the first raid, did the soldiers return to the communities?
Yes. After that day, I think it was on May 28, 2016, that they raided Oporoza. They left Oporoza and raided Kurutie and then invaded Okerenkoko. After Okerenkoko, they moved to Benikurukuru and invaded the place. In all, they raided four communities in Gbaramatu kingdom.
What precisely did they take away when they invaded your palace?
They took away many things; they took away my speedboats that I use for food supply and for conveying my chiefs from different communities within my kingdom to attend meetings at the palace. They also took the executive speedboat that I use. So, they took four boats used for palace services.
Also, they destroyed the symbols of the deities in my temple and took away my traditional staff of authority given to me by the deities, which no one should have access to and tamper with.
What is the implication of that action, I mean taking away your royal sword?
The implication is very grave; it is a taboo and I don’t know what it will result to but God knows the best.
What is your position on the Federal Government’s approach to this scenario?
The Federal Government’s approach to this problem cannot produce a positive result. The struggle for a fair deal by inhabitants of oil producing communities in the Niger Delta had been on for decades. The late Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro came up and started this struggle; the then government arrested him, later made use of him and then killed him. After Boro, Ken Saro-Wiwa rose up to continue the crusade but he was killed by hanging. Then we had the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). So, this struggle had been ongoing and the Federal Government has to address it once and for all; it has to be addressed properly so that we can say bye-bye to this Niger Delta issue. The Niger Delta is the goose that feeds the nation but we are being marginalized. I am calling on the Federal Government to address this issue properly; this is not an issue of Boko Haram, it is an issue that has a plausible cause that should be settled once and for all.
Do you think the Federal Government is interested in sincerely addressing this issue?
There is no sincerity. All that has been happening is just political aggression against Niger Deltans.
Where will all these lead us to?
I don’t think it will lead us to anything good. There should be peace in the Niger Delta because the nation’s economy depends on it. For peace to reign, the government should properly address the issues causing recurring agitations. Our economy is nose-diving progressively because there is no peace in the Niger Delta.
On the issue of the Avengers, some people have been calling me the king of the Avengers, that I am among the Avengers and working with them. They have been saying all sorts of rubbish. But the fact remains that it is false; I am not king of the Avengers. I am not in support of bombing oil pipelines and other facilities, but this has to do with the struggle in the Niger Delta so it should be addressed once and for all.
You grew up in Gbaramatu kingdom where major oil platforms are located. The areas where the oil workers operate are like little London while your communities just a stone throw away from these site reek of squalor and abject poverty. Did you envisage that the situation would remain the same while you were growing up?
It is a pity that the situation is still the same. That was why when the coordinator of the Amnesty Programme and Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, Brigadier General Paul Boroh (retd) visited my community, I told him that we should not be judged from Abuja or Lagos. Those in positions of authority should endeavour to visit our communities and see how the people are suffering. They should come down and see the people feeding the nation rather than raiding and destroying us. It is very uncharitable to bite the person feeding you, and that is where the problem is coming from. I was bred at Oporoza community and I grew up seeing my father, grandfather and others suffering over the ages. Everything is lacking, no road, light, water, schools or health facilities. If you go to urban centres, you see a university at the back of your house, so you can train your children. Even the fishing that we used to do, the waters have been polluted and you can no longer find fish to feed. So, the Federal Government should properly address these issues so that the Niger Delta people will have the feeling of truly being Nigerians.
When I visited Gbaramatu communities, I couldn’t find a single government project. The primary schools, water projects and rural electricity projects among others I saw were said to have been built either through communal effort or single-handed by Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, who is being demonized by the Federal Government. How do you react to a situation where a man trying to bring succour to his people is being suffocated by the government?
Really, we have been abandoned and Government Ekpemupolo, named Oweizide, is a God-sent person to Gbaramatu kingdom, the Niger Delta area, and Nigeria as a whole. He is my subject. If the government draws him close, they won’t see him the way they are seeing him from a distance. He is a nice person who had, and still paying a price for the Ijaws of the Niger Delta. The government is just hunting him for inexplicable reasons. His invitation, probe and media trial by the EFCC is uncalled for. In the first place, he is not a politician; he is an ordinary man living most times in his local community with his people. He is not contesting for any position with anybody in the Federal Government. He is a man that is working for the welfare and betterment of his people in the Niger Delta and I cannot fathom government’s aggression on him.
How do you feel being in forced exile by the actions of the military and by implication, the Nigerian government?
I want to appeal to the Federal Government that if they want to make peace, this is not the way to address issues. Government should dig deeply into the root causes of restiveness in the Niger Delta communities and properly address the issues involved. This forced exile into which I have been sent, I don’t think this is the way kings are to be treated. I am a traditional ruler, I am a king, I am a father to the Gbaramatu kingdom. Every issue can be resolved when handled properly. Even before the military came to invade our communities, I had taken some steps by inviting chiefs and leaders of different communities in my kingdom to ensure that they safeguarded oil facilities in their territories. It is not only in Gbaramatu communities that oil pipelines are being vandalized or bombed; it happens in other areas or states. Why is it that the knock is always on Gbaramatu communities?
Government should give honour to traditional rulers because if you deprive the traditional rulers of the respect they desire, it will not bring peace. I shouldn’t have gone out of my kingdom if not for the military invasion; but I had to leave because if I didn’t, one day, soldiers would come and drag me on the ground the way they did to my subjects and beat up my chiefs. That was why I left my kingdom. If I am there, I am there to make peace. After taking my first step of meeting with community leaders and my chiefs, my second step was to initiate a meeting of all kings in Delta State to see how we can talk to our people in Niger Delta for peace to reign. That was my plan before our communities were invaded by the military. I am seeing that the whole thing is shifting only to my kingdom; the burden is now on me to shoulder. The Sun