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T. K. Ogoriba: How I Was Liberated From Bayelsa Govt House

By Ibiba Don Pedro

Until July 20,1998, Timi Kaiser-Wilhem Ogoriba, was largely unknown outside a few Izon circles in Port Harcourt and parts of Bayelsa State. Also, his organisation, the Movement For the Survival of the Ijaw Ethnic in The Niger Delta (MOSIEND) got a brief mention now and then alongside other such activist groups when agitation in the Niger Delta communities drew public attention. However, the events of July 20 when members of MOSIEND in a commando style operation that had all the ingredients of a thriller, freed him from detention at Yenagoa's Creek Haven Government House, before the very eyes of the armed security operatives stationed there have changed all that. Staff Reporter, Ibiba Don Pedro, who visited the Niger Delta recently managed to track Ogoriba down in Port Harcourt after four days of search, and got him to talk "very briefly" on his group's activities. Excerpts:

Could you tell us basically what MOSIEND is all about?

We found out that the elders in our communities in whose hands we reposed our confidence tended towards a derailment in our march towards a total emancipation of our people. Our group, the Movement For The Survival of The Ijaw Ethnic Nationalities in the Niger Delta (MOSIEND), therefore prepared to provide succour for the neglected Izons in the Niger Delta, knowing that what the Federal Government gets from that area by way of resources is what sustains the Nigerian economy without the people of the area getting anything in return. We realise that not getting any part of these resources in return means that we are an oppressed people. No one wants oppression. MOSIEND's objective is to tell the powers responsible for this oppression tostop perpetrating this. If they consider themselves invincible, hegemonic, in the fullness of time, the down trodden, the righteous will take over the earth. The Izons are moving forward, possessing their own possession as stipulated in Obadiah chapter I, verse 17 "Nobody pays the price for keeping us where we are and we will get to where we are gong without firing one shot, I Isaiah 52."

For peaceful coexistence, (shifting forward on the hard backed chair and gesticulating for emphasis), we implore the Nigerian government to recognise that in the comity of nations, everybody is equal. No one is a second class citizen in this country. In view of the many ills visited on the Izons despite the enormous human and natural resources we provide, which have always been exploited by the Nigerian government we would not want any further marginalisation. Bodies like MOSELND, MORETO, ND-HERO, CHICOCO and others are determined to address the issues at stake. Modern amenities which have turned Abuja into a world class city should be provided in the Niger Delta also and until these are provided, we shall continue to agitate. <P>How does MOSELND intend to compel the military authorities to address these issues without a degeneration into violence?

We are all witnesses to what became of the agitation by the Ogonis.

Our major weapon is the power of persuasion. If that fails, because we are not in control of all the groups which exist in the area, we will not know what the next line of action will be like.

Are you carrying the generality of the people along in your struggle?

MOSOP succeeded as much as it did because most Ogonis and indeed, many others in oil producing communities in the Niger Delta, identified with its objectives.

Really, we do not consider the struggle a fight. The consciousness of the generality of the Izon people has been so heightened that we do not expect it to dwindle again until these oppressive laws and tendencies which have kept our people in sorrow and poverty are abrogated. The perpetrators of this oppression are themselves aware of the dangers imminent. That is to say if the country is still expected to remain together, the contentious issues would be addressed immediately. Nigeria is at a snapping point, we want to remain together but if the otherwise becomes inevitable, the Izons will never, ever regret it.

In particular, the Hausa/Fulani oligarchy which is fanning the embers of disunity daily. And when you are disunited, you must part ways. We do not want to re-enact the biblical injunction which stipulates "what portion have we in the house of David? To your tents O Israel."

Can you give an account of the events surrounding your detention and eventual release from Government House, Yenagoa?

Navy Captain Olubolade, the past administrator of the state, came and tried to hold the people of Bayelsa hostage. Among human beings, not everyone is docile in the face of intimidation. Those of us considered courageous and who have access to the use of words and the wherewithal to defend what we say, became critical and told the world what Olubolade was turning the state into.

On June 22, after General Abdulsalami Abubakar became head of state, we wrote a petition titled "Olubolade's profligacy in Bayelsa state" which received the attention of the Head of State and which resulted into Olubolade being invited to Abuja for questioning. He was angry over this and asked how a bloody civilian could cause him such embarrassment. I was picked up on 16th July at the Bayelsa state liaison office in Port Harcourt and taken to Bayelsa and kept like Nichodemus locked up in a guest house attached to Government House, Yenagoa. Later, news went out that I was being held at Government House. Where? Members of my organisation did not know.

However, on July 20, some members of my group marched on to Government House, on information that the man they were looking for was there. They divided themselves into four platoons made of 12 people each and stormed Government House. They got to the gate and dislodged the security men, arrested them and took their guns, then headed towards the quarters unharmed.

Naturally, security operatives noticing an insurgence will definitely fire to quell it. They fired at these boys but not one was harmed. When the boys got to any of the security operatives, they brought them down and removed their guns without any blood spilled.

Then, they got to the Milad's lodge, disarmed the men stationed there and began looking for me without knowing where I was. They ransacked the whole premises and when the guards, guarding their leader (myself) saw the boys approaching where I was incarcerated, they fired at the boys without a single one of these boys being injured. The boys got the people firing at them and locked them up in a room there. By this time, I had come out on hearing noise and commotion. When they saw me they became jubilant and with the guns they had seized from the security operatives, we marched out. Government House,  Yenegoa became naked.

We marched majestically out of the road and had an Ogele procession to the waterfront arranged from boats and went downstream. We went through many towns and finally returned the seized guns to them through Peremabiri, at the police station there. We handed over the guns to the Inspector we met there, one Frank Bassey, who took them to the D.P.O. at Oporoma. It was a miracle. People who were not there may disbelieve but it did happen.

The story of your release definitely has all the elements of a fantastic tale. Since your release there have been all kinds of stories about Juju, Egbesu and so on.

Ogoriba cuts in, "I must say to those carrying all sorts of stories that there is no one among our group called an Egbesu boy. Nobody. Everybody has a deity or deities in his domain and it all depends on how you service your deity. The Izons have serviced theirs to the point where they assist them in their moments of need. So, if any tribe has failed to service theirs to assist them in time of need, nobody should be sarcastic about that of the Izons. And also, those (looking angry) persons who take delight in coming into our rank and file to cause squabbles within the Izon territory will definitely be brought to book. We are a peace loving people and will continue to be that until pushed.

Who really is T.K. Ogoriba?

Ogoriba (smiles, then looks meditative for a while and finally says) A common teacher. I teach, chemistry at an International School in Port Harcourt. I read Chemistry and graduated in 1983. I am an Odi man from Kolokumo Lopokumo Local Government area in Bayelsa state, married with three children. That's all.

There is a new security outfit in Bayelsa "Operation Salvage" which was launched with the brief among others to protect oil installations in that part of the country. Do you foresee the possibility of the heightening of tension within the oil producing communities with the presence of this outfit among the people.

(Agitated) Operation Salvage is an instrument of oppression to intimidate, to cow us and make us appear sheepish so that they can gloss over our rights. We want government to tell the oil companies to pay their dues to the host communities in order not to allow the  situation degenerate into an imbroglio that might transform into conflict.

If every one is alive to his/her duties, there will be no cause for alarm. Self discipline, they say, is the best form of discipline. We
do not want an imposed form of discipline. Some of these security operatives are indisciplined and overzealous and if this becomes clear, resistance is bound to follow. MOSELND is trying hard to keep the peace and I think peace will reign. Our roles must be seen as complimentary.

Reports indicate that some youths in the oil producing areas hold up the activities of oil companies in their areas with demands for cash, not development. How do you view such acts?

We are aware of such activities but there are plans to reduce such incidents. We have a plan in the pipeline to organise between now and the end of November, an all Izon youth organisations conference where the activities of groups in the area will be streamlined. A coordinating body is expected to emerge from that conference. It aims to put on course, the struggle without dissipating energy.

How would your describe the relationship between your group and the present military administration in Yenagoa?

It may be too early to talk about our relationship with the new administration. The ways of military men are usually unpredictable. If you take the new Bayelsa milad at face value, you might be tempted to say he is nice and has come to salvage Bayelsa people. Still, I think he is hundred times better than Olubolade.

Does MOSIEND have a political agenda?

We are a political organisation. Within the present political dispensation, we are not involved. Suffice it to say that we are in
support of the transition to civil rule so that Nigeria can get democratized. Our group will never, ever serve as a cog in the march towards genuine democracy in Nigeria which is what we desire, ultimately.

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