DIARY OF AN ADVOCATE (EPISODE 5- DARK TIMES) by Ebi Robert





Every man has his dark times. Only that some persons’ times is darker than others. I have said elsewhere before, ‘No man is born righteous’. Somehow, maybe, a man may be schooled on the rock of advices made out of the experiences of life, personal education, whether formal or informal, and because some ears have heard, there may be no much complications before amendments are made. Mine wasn’t so different. I have seen the dark side of life, though moral, yet a little dark in morality. I was only lucky.

After I graduated from the secondary school, I was invited by my mum to the village to help her out in managing her business. I had no reason to refuse; she is my mum after all. Besides, what do I have to do back in Yenagoa; Nothing. I can’t be a constant burden to my uncle and his wife, no, not to any other person. I had had enough. To those of use not born with silver spoon, the Wall of the University was seen as a big place for the big ones alone. So at least we had to be ready for the challenge ahead. My mother was no longer in Nembe Creek, Mile III as it is called. My mum hardly settles in a place, permanently. She stays in a place only when there are business prospects. This was the case with Nembe Creek, a place I sometime spent my childhood; there was no more business boom at large. Therefore there was a dare need to explore better opportunities. My siblings were scattered. My immediate younger brother, Tuaton, and the youngest in the nuclear family by name Ayebanua stayed in Brass with an aunt who was a puff puff seller. Diepreye, the black sheep of the family stayed with another aunt of mine by name Faith. Diepreye was next to Tuaton. Inaton one of my elder brothers stayed back in Port-Harcourt. He never liked the village. I never liked it as well, but what do I do? Independence was one gift I had not fully had.

My mum had pulled a very big canoe all the way from Nembe Creek to a place known as Ijaw Kiri; a small community close to Oluasiri under Nembe local government of Bayelsa State. The journey was for hours. My mum with the help of a cousin by name Comfort pulled the said big canoe which measurement I cannot tell. They sailed to Ijaw Kiri where my mum settled to continue life. Comfort had lost her husband in the Akassa/Egweama war which claimed many lives. Thus, there was a need to give her a sense of belonging. But cousin Comfort was not an easy character. She hardly smiles.
I reached Ijaw Kiri for the long holiday; the vacation, I should say. I wasn’t too sure how long I would stay, because life had to be sorted for a better tomorrow at least, and sorting life is not a journey so certain. Ijaw Kiri is a very small community. I am tempted to even call it a small village. But as small as it is, the activities that took place in the environment are beyond man’s expectation. The community is close to the boundary between Rivers State and Bayelsa State. This made many Nembians and the Kalabaris to relate and do business together. My mum sold drinks such as beers, soft drinks, liquor and other miscellaneous items. She was into the Drinking Bar Business which was one business she does best. As one who relocated to the village to help her, I had no other job than to help her in the managing of the bar business, since she was a drink seller. So I became a bartender.

Ijaw Kiri was actually an interesting place; only interesting for ugly memories. As at late 2007, the multinational(s) had some of her/their workers settled in Ijaw Kiri. These persons were mainly security officers and ordinary staff. The Joint Task Force base, if I am not mistaken, was located at the first end of the community, if a passerby approaches the community from the north wing. My mum’s bar wasn’t far from the base. Thus, I was close to many of the Naval and Army officers. There were other officers of the Nigerian Police force and other security forces. I was told there were also officers of the Department of State security.

The indigenes built wood houses that were leased to intending lessees that cut across prostitutes all over the country, company staff, and non-indigenes who settled there for different businesses. Amnesty wasn’t granted by the office of the presidency by then, therefore militancy activities were a normal trend on the water ways. But Militancy as many know it is gravely misconstrued. As someone who stayed around the creeks, we have differences in the armed groups that operated and we have some local words used in describing each and every one of them. There are some group of armed folks we call Sea pirates. The term as used in this context does not mean those thieves who actually operate in the seas as it is under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Here we use the words (Sea pirates) to describe some groups of thieves who rob the locals and strangers alike with arms. There are other groups who though may not be involved in river robbery, are well armed and do illegal businesses such as oil bunkery as it is called, and pipeline vandalism. These groups are merely street and creek cultists. Sea pirates also do oil bunkery and pipeline vandalism, but the difference is that they do river robbery and other illegal activities. Militants were hardly seen moving around as they are kind of disciplined with their own code of conduct at least believed to be given by their Egbesu deity. There is actually no central command in militancy. There were several commanders or generals as they are called having many loyalists and supporters. These folks dwelled in the deep creeks with many check points. To my best of knowledge, militants do not rob civilians, strictly speaking. This is because they have enough money to take care of their needs. So to reduce themselves to robbing market women is something unthinkable. Although, there may be few exceptions not known to me, perhaps. Once in a while they can be seen sailing the water ways, displaying their boat whilst singing their war songs. Unlike the Boko Haram Sect that kills innocent citizens for no just cause, Militants do not. I have seen one or two militants in some cases approached upland and related with every other persons in normalcy. Only that people related with them in skepticism. Many people do not know the difference and so they attribute the activities of sea pirates to the militants as explained. Although I am not justifying the method of the struggles of the militants, I am only clarifying the falsity held by many spectacles against the militants.

One day a gun boat or two left for patrol as usual. One top naval officer and other officers were part of the patrol team that day. The boat was headed by a Local by name Super. The military sometimes hired the services of locals who actually knew the terrain, so that with his help, they can access some places not known to them. The convoy left and returned to our land in sorrows. We asked and were told that they were attacked by some armed men. According to the report, the armed men who outnumbered the security officers asked them to surrender and jump into the river which they did. The armed men went away with their guns and gun boats. They returned without the top naval officer. Many were skeptical about his whereabouts. Many including myself prayed for his safe return because unlike other security men in the base who oppressed the locals, he was friendly with almost everyone. A search was done by the military and his lifeless body was discovered. I was close to the waterside when the boat containing his body arrived. I suppose, covered with the Nigerian flag. Many people were crying, including my mum I guess. As for me, I was very sad because I knew him well. I wondered why the one man loved by the locals was the one that died. Well I had no answer to it. People die for real. The search was conducted for days before his body was found. Before his body was found, there was tension in the community. A threat I suppose was made that if his body wasn’t found, the federal government would descend on the community. We were all afraid. Who were we? We were already oppressed enough. We all feared the military. We couldn’t stand them, no, not at all. Those who know Odi can tell the story better. So while we were happy his body was found, we are as well sad seeing one of our beloved military officer dead. Some said he drowned because he could not swim. Then I wondered why a naval officer did not know how to swim.

The military was feared by the indigenes because they intimidated and oppressed our people so much. Because of the activities of the militants, anyone who approached a military checkpoint was expected to raise his or her hand. The rationale was to make sure that miscreants with guns cannot be able to get hold of it for any attack. While the security policy can be said to be right, the way and manner it was executed was cruel. I saw situations were elderly men and women were beaten because they failed to raise their hands. In which some cases their failures were born out of mistakes. Some persons were beaten for not approaching an officer who called immediately. Sometimes, the victims were asked to jump into the river and swim. They beat people with all kinds of weapons, including the handle of their guns. They use their uniforms to get girls to themselves against their will. If a lady refuses, she becomes a target, in that the smallest mistake made will amount to the punishment of her life. Sometimes we had report of arbitrary killings of boys and men in the river without fair hearing. No one could talk; no one could speak for the people. How can they when they do not know their right? How can they when the mouths of our leaders were made shut with the power of money?

For me, I had a little of their abuse or I should rather say, I nearly got abused. After the death of the top officer, another one from the north was brought to replace him, I guess. The officer was afraid because of all he had heard. I wonder why a military head should be. There was this recruited soldier who drank so much. He was loved by the locals because he was friendly. He was so bold and fearless. His dressing was quite soldierly and as such commanded much respect. One day he engaged me and others in a talk about their encounter in the Liberia war. He told us about their suffering, sacrifices and losses. He and another fat soldier told us about how the first troop sent to Liberia was wiped out because they had an order not to fire. According to them, after the first encounter, they were all angry because there was no food or water. They had to wee on a leave-like plate and allow the smell of the urine to evaporate before they could drink it. They had no choice because they were faced with death. Another set of troops were added to them and against an initial command they were set to attack the rebels. I was told of how some had to get themselves high on drug for needed boldness to face death. He said that they shot and shot until his gun became so hot and unable to be carried. He was shot too if I am not mistaken. Yes, he showed us the spot. He was angry at some of the military generals and top officers who never had enough training or war experience as they the recruits had but are made to enjoy much more than they, and give commands as a demi-god. With this account I was able to understand better why the new officer had such fear. Perhaps he is one of the privileged few. But should he be completely blamed? He was a man with family; a man with flesh and blood who had feeling. But then, why join a job one isn’t prepared for?

The new officer started getting close to me in an unusual way. He gave me breads and food stuff, and I started becoming suspicious of his awkward looks. My curiosity became satisfied one day when he invited me and started making funny moves towards me. I was afraid because he was a military man who could shot me and bury me at once without anyone knowing. I was a little naïve and could understand just few things about life. Somehow, maybe touched by God he left me alone without abusing me. I came out of the base and told my friends who sold for their mothers like I do, but somehow they didn’t really believe I guess. I was only lucky, I am sure there are many who may have been abused by soldiers in the creeks. I got my experience and was enlightened the more.

At a point, the military left the base and the community became free from the presence of the military. But they had house-boats by the sides of the mangrove across the community and other part of the water ways. By then, oil bunkery activities had increased. As they always say: PRESURE DON COME. There is a fire that can be seen lighting on a max-like stand in the Soku Gas plant. Anytime the fire increased, it simply showed that the fuel used in transportation in the pipe had been pressured. Young men from all parts of the country sailed the river with their vessels. The vessels were headed by their various masters. POINT, as it is called was fixed in the extreme parts of the creeks. The creeks were quite narrow with broken branches of mangroves that covered the tiny path. Big hoses were fixed to pipelines where the oil ran and taken to the point where the vessels were anchored. Yes, I had been to a point before, so I speak as one who had an experience, though not as a bunker. Youths were entered the creeks in nudity to enable an ease of passage and work. No one was expected to enter the creeks with any metal. Anyone who does may even be beaten to death and no one would say anything. Metal, matches sticks and other fire or spark producing items were prohibited from entering any POINT because it could result to fire outbreak which will later lead to many death. No one was expected to also draw or start engines close to the POINT, because it could also result to fire outbreak. But despite all these rules, the mangrove was set ablaze in several occasions leading to many deaths. Sometimes up to 200 people died in a day. There was no week fire did not catch and the least number that may be recorded in a fire outbreak may not be less than 40. Anytime there is a fire outbreak, speed boats filled with burnt people will be taken to the water front. Some were burnt without recognition and others much alive. Eggs, milks and even engine oil were applied on the burnt people any time boats with burnt people anchored the water front. Many died from the heat because the corpses discovered in some cases had no fire touch. The fuel filled the water because of much pouring from the big hoses. The quantity of the fuel on the water was so much that anytime fire caught; the waters will be lighted with fire. Some of the victims died in the mangrove sometimes having being caught by a stubborn mangrove branch. Some died under the boiling water and the body of the death could be seen floating on the water. Yes, I saw these with my eyes; some from afar, and some very near.

Oil bunkery yielded much money for the sellers, prostitutes and workers alike. But the death and evil committed to get the money was my greatest worry, despite the fact that it was illegal. I wept and cried for many who died some of which I knew. The Military I must say are also part of it. Anytime they were sent for operations, most of them after being bribed by the bunkerers left those they felt like letting go and burned the boat of those who are not close to them or the boats of those they hated. In some cases, they shot the boats ablaze until they sank into the river down to the river bed. Other times they arrested the victims, took their boats along and detained them all. Family members got to their base to release the boats and the victims with huge amount of money. Sometimes only the victims were released. No doubt they sold the boats to interested buyers. Many of the officers posted to the waters ways got rich overnight, even the least of them. They sometime burned down boats because they must have a story to tell that they are working. These falsified stories helped to foster their promotion bait.  Prostitution increased in the area and the evil in the area as well. There were only few who escaped from the evil perpetrated against humanity and God.  

For me, I was struggling with youthful exuberance. I used to sell for my mother for the whole night without sleeping. The bunkerers who didn’t visit the points and those who waited for the time to visit always drank all through the night. I traveled to Port-Harcourt and Abonnena always to buy drinks and other items for my mum. I used to buy all kinds of party, highlife and party music for the customers. The gangsters liked me so much because of the music I played. Not just that, because I was bold. Sometimes I ended up having problems with some persons which resulted to fighting. In one occasion I fought with two mature men not knowing they were my relations. It was actually a tough fight. I was young while my opponents were men in their late 30’s and 40’s. I wondered they both of them attacked me at the same time. I drank all kinds of alcoholic drinks, got myself drunk in some cases and slept of unconscious. There was once I drank two bottle of Chelsea. I was so high that the last thing I remembered was when I promised a young man everything in my mother’s shop; that they are all his. The boy knew I was drunk. I opened my eyes and it was morning. My mother wept for me, because I was out of control. Cousin Comfort was the one who cleaned the vomit on me that day.

Each day that passed by, I became more stubborn and fearless and worse. My father became nothing to me and my mother a talkative. I actually feared no one. I wasn’t shocked at all because I made friendship with many gangsters who gave me the bloody mind. Besides many drinks I drag were drugged. Sometimes I was instigated by some anchor heads to even stab my offenders. I made friendship with some rugged and bloody men. People like, Cross, Super, White boy, Shehu the tortoise, Ambalasia etc. White boy was an albino. He had a POINT of his own which fetched him millions. He was admired by many for his prosperity. He loved wearing white cloths hence the name, ‘White boy’. I loved white too, until now, I do. It is my best colour. So, sometime before I got to buy anyone I liked, White boy had already bought it. It was understandable though. White Boy was a drug Baron who also dealt on cocaine businesses. Sometimes when I passed the old base I would see young boys of their early eighteen and nineteen wrapping papers of cocaine and captain black as it is called. I hailed them and passed. Sure I knew what they did but had no business with them. Indian hemp smoking was like a daily meal. The young and old were involved and so it was a normal routine. They smoked everywhere and there no strangeness it. What can one say? Even some military officials were part of it. I remember once having a problem with White Boy. I was invited by the members of his cult group to a round table. I sat down with them and Shehu who was a Don amongst them asked me to forgo the bone of contention. My rage was ignited. I picked up the bottle of beer presented me and poured it on the ground. Small Fly like me: If na kill sef them for don kill me. But I was bold, they looked at me in wonder and I left. But something surprised me. All through, White boy was busy laughing, I couldn’t understand then. But somehow we became friends. One day White boy and a faithful of his were on their way to Port-Harcourt to buy some equipment but never returned. Search was made but they weren’t found. Later we were told that they were killed by a rival cult group. This was the normal practice. Young guys were frequently adopted and killed in the river. Some were hanged to death or shot to death. I was angry and thought of joining his group to fight them back. One of the disciples asked me to join the group, but I didn’t take him serious then.
I had two other teenage friends then; one by name Nathan and the other by name Onoye. As for them their parents never took their matters seriously unlike my mum that sounded my matter so loud. My mum cried so hard asking if I will ever change. For the conscious of many, I won’t go too deep, but I must say, this period of my life was dark. I was exposed to an ugly way of life. I met many characters that are more or less like fictions but real. One Solid man smoked Indian herm like the way he took his breath. He was a carpenter and stayed in my mum’s lodge. Solid man sometime played pornography openly and those who cared to watch did. Well, I must say, down south is quite corrupt. I have actually seen corruption. Pornography was sometime played openly and men and women, workers and others watched openly enjoying themselves. These I wasn’t told. I saw them all. Day by day, boys died. Many people I knew did.

One day we were all outside when some group of armed men approached a house boat that was opposite the community. Not long we heard gun shots and there was a reply. This should be around 7: 00 pm or so. About 5 minutes later, the gun shots stopped. Many went to their normal business thinking all was well and when it was as if it was, that is to say some hours after, say, two, the shooting began again. The shooting was between the military and an armed group. The shooting lasted for hours. Everyone in the community hid themselves. My mum, my brother and father hid themselves in the house. But I and others ran through the back of the community. I could swim and so I entered the water. Flying bullets were everywhere. I could see them in the air since it was night. I jumped into the water on a thick blue trouser. At a point I got soaked and heavy and could not swim well. It became obvious I may drown so I struggled to remove my trouser and swam all alone in the water until I saw a boat containing persons who had escaped as well. I entered the boat in nudity before I was given a short by a folk to wear. We all sailed until we got to Oluasiri. The shooting lasted until almost the next day morning. When the shooting ended, we were all taken back to the community. Luckily for me, my family was safe. God was so merciful, none of the community member died except one prostitute. No one knew what killed her. But many believed she could not swim and that was why she died.

Oil bunkery continued, and it became a very big issue to the federal government. Soon a command was given and forwarded to the community that anyone caught harboring any one burnt from the fire outbreak would be dealt with. One day another fire outbreak happened. Many people were brought to land as usual. Those who had people took theirs, but there were two men believed to be from Akwa Ibom or so. No one could identify them. They were a little burnt. The community being afraid of the authorities took them to an Island to meet their fate. Until today, no one, not even I knew what happened to them. But I believe they died on the island. I felt pity for them, because their family knew nothing about what happened to them. Many people had died without their family knowing about their whereabouts. Many had died without anyone identifying them. More often than not, the dead bodies of those burnt are buried in the forest close to where the POINTS were. Outbreak after outbreak, more were buried almost the same way and place. There were rumours that each time there was a burial, head of dead men were sometimes seen in the process. It was quite a horrible site to behold.

Although I was stubborn, I did not stop seeking for the light. I loved God but never knew how to approach him. Each time I tried confessed my sin and tried holding myself; I ended up becoming worse than ever before. I guess the Devil was ready for me. I was sin personified. But I had hope that someday I would see the light. When I was small, say, 7 years of age, a neigbour preached the gospel to me. I was told a lot about heaven and hell as revealed by one brother Morris Kofi Odubo, God’s own anointed one. It was more like a fairy tale but I believed. Sometime I used to pick some of the old church manuals from the dustbins and read them. I used to preach to my friends and elderly neigbour at a small age. But one day, I was caught stealing meat from the pot, all my preaching ended that day. I was so ashamed of myself. That was in Port Harcourt. I left that neigbour of mine for a long time and so there was no one to remind me of the light. But I knew it. I recognized it anytime I saw it.

My courage and boldness became a talk amongst members of the cult group unknown to me. So they were settled to give me a trial and see if I would be a good asset to them. Shehu gave me something incriminating. I never knew what it was. I felt it was a working tool, so I kept it under my Cousin’s bed under the carpet. One day when I was passing, I heard from other members saying: “Na this guy hold that our thing.” That was when I became aware of what I was holing, I guess. I got home and confirmed it. But somehow I had to show I was strong too, so I had to let it be. I received praises from all corners as a brave guy, not knowing that it was all a bait. In line with their plan; one guy by name Super (different from the one who died with White Boy) approached me and asked me to join their secret cult. I was toasted the way a woman is toasted for marriage. I was told sweet words, and given good promises of how I would be protected and so I was set. I told him I had heard him and would get back to him. I knew cultists and related with them. I wasn’t a member then, but one could hardly different me from them. I heard of how people were made to join, and for the first time in my life, I was approached by someone to join the creek cult. It wasn’t enough that I was stubborn and out of control, Satan wanted to finish me up. I was in for it, because I was perhaps made to give him answer the next day.

[There is no star advocate of the Episode. On this note let me say: this period of my life enlightened me the more about the happenings around me. I was exposed to all these as a teenager. I was around 18 when I saw how my people were subjected to oppression and corruption. I saw the fishes die, the land polluted. The girls selling their body for a daily bread, the boys die in the fires, men and women beaten by the military. Are these not enough to trigger my dream of being an advocate, I wonder? ]

[Suspense – Next Episode, readers would know whether or not I became part of the cult group after I was toasted by Super as he was called]

WATCH OUT FOR EPISODE 6

1 comment

TBN said...

Quite interesting! Makes one anticipate the next episode