Women in Ibaka in Mbo Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State have protested the frequent attacks on fishermen by sea pirates, especially in the areas around the Forward Operation Base (FOB) of the Nigerian Navy in Ibaka.
The protesters said that the rising activities of gunmen suspected to be sea pirates on the Ibaka/Mbo waterways have claimed many lives and had taken serious tolls on the economy of the area.
The women, who protested under the aegis of Ibaka Women Seafood Dealers Association, moved around the area in procession, saying that the attack on fishermen by the sea pirates is becoming a daily occurrence. They noted that some fishermen had stopped going to sea for fear of being kidnapped, losing their outboard engines, and their lives.
According to them, the most recent attack was the abduction of four fishermen just behind the Nigerian Navy, Forward Operation Base (FOB) in Ibaka waterways. Their abductors, they said, were now demanding N6 million ransom for their release. They added that the pirates after the attack seized some outboard engines from the fishermen.
The protesters carried placards with different inscriptions like: “The Navy and Other Security Agencies Are Not Helping Us; Fishing is Our Major Source of Livelihood; #End Sea Pirates; Navy Help us Now, we are tired of your silence; #Enough is Enough; Navy, wake up to your Responsibility; #End Sea pirates Now! and Over 15 People kidnapped within a week,” among others.
Speaking on behalf of the women, the Coordinator of the Ibaka Women Seafood Dealers Association, Mrs Hannah Etifit, lamented the situation, which she said had virtually halted commercial life in Ibaka, adding that pirates and militants had turned the business route to the rest of the world from them into a death trap.
She noted that living in Ibaka had become extremely expensive as everyday common commodities no longer come in as Ghanaian fishermen are unable to go to the high seas for fishing.
Etifit, who condemned the attitude of the Nigerian Navy in Ibaka for failing in its responsibility, called on government at all levels to come to the aid of the people by getting rid of sea pirates and militants in the area.
“We’re suffering and crying. That is why we’re protesting this morning. Our businesses are collapsing because of the evil activities of these militants. All boats in Ibaka beach have stopped going fishing for one month now. The ones that force themselves to go, militants would collect engines and sometimes kidnapped them,” Mrs Etifit cried.
Also speaking, a fish seller, Mrs Bolaji Ekubami, said: “We want the government to assist us by deploying soldiers into Ibaka. We don’t want the Navy again. At least, we have lost 10 people to the militants or sea pirates.”
Ekubami, a mother of 12, said she haf been in Ibaka since 1998 doing her legitimate fishing business. She, however, regretted that because of the activities of sea pirates, she had not been able to pay her children school fees.
She said during the bumper, she made an average of N50,000 as gain daily, adding that she has lost almost a million naira in the last one month as fishermen no longer go fishing owing to the activities of pirates and militants.
Captain of Sweet Mother company, Mr Joseph Niiodoi, a Ghanaian, who spoke in pidgin with CitizenDiary, said: “Militants and sea pirates dey attack us. If dey attack us, dem go collect our engines and demand money and we dey pay dem and dem dey return the engines. We dey settled dem monthly.
“It come reach time wey be say if dey collect us engines and we come carry money go give dem, dem go collect di money, dem no go give di engines, dem go pursue us. Those pipo dey maltreat us like animals. So we beg government make dem do somtin make we dey safe for dis our business because na legal business we dey do.
“In a day, di sea pirates dey attack us and collect like four and five engines. Now the cost of one engine (40 horsepower outboard engine) na N2.3 million. Now if dey collect engines, dem go commot human beings join. Right now, four of our pipo dey wit dem since Tuesday dem never release dem.Dem dey demand for N6 million. Our first pesin wey dem kidnapped we paid N1.5million. One of our brothers wey dem kidnapped,dey collect more than N50 million from us. Di sea pirates dey operates and shotguns opposite Navy base for Ibaka here.No Navy pesin go show face. Na when those pipo (sea pirates) go na dat time Navy go drag their gunboat come out come turn round.
“Look, Nigerians dey Ghana dey do business. Which dey una don hear say Ghana don kidnapped Nigeria’s pipo and demand for money.If una (Nigerians) want make we go, make una tell us, we go leave una land. No land wey strangers no dey because na strangers dey follow help developed land. We dey here and make dis Ibaka developed because no company work for here apart from dis our business.
“Na dis business we take survive ourselves for dis town. Na dis our business wey indigenes of this town dem dey take struggle go school. Old mama and widow pipo dem dey chop from here.”
Addressing the protesters, the Commanding Officer, Nigerian Navy, Forward Operating Base (FOB), Ibaka, represented by his assistant, Mr Anthony Sunday, assured the women that their grievances would be looked into and solicited for the cooperation of everybody.
“Today is not a good day both for you and for us (Navy). We feel your pain, but we’re not sleeping. We know that your only industry is this water.
“We are working tirelessly to safeguard this water, but just be patient with us. Everything will fall in place,” he said.