One heartrending occurrence at Akwa Ibom State border communities is the nefarious activities of sea pirates on waterways. The Nwaniba community in Uruan Local Government Area is blessed with a beach that serves as a source of livelihood for many indigenes at the coastal area. But sea pirates have continued to unleash terror on them. Not only do they kidnap people and use the beach as an escape route to take their victims to captivity, they also rob business people of their money and property in staggering proportions. Daily Trust reports the trend and plights of the embattled people whose lives and sources of livelihood are at stake.
In Akwa Ibom State, waterways business is phenomenal. At the coastal areas, particularly the beach, many people engage in water- related businesses such as trading in sea foods, boat making, water transportation among others. Indigenes who reside in the areas take advantage of the sea to either travel to neighbouring communities for different purposes, while others earn a living through business potentials guaranteed by the beach.
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One of the communities is Nwaniba in Uruan Local Government Area of the state. The people are blessed with a beach which serves as a source of livelihood for them. Scores of women in the community travel by water to Calabar in Cross River State to buy fish and crayfish which are sold at nearby markets, while men trade in wood bought from Calabar. Also, some youths serve as boat or canoe apprentices around the beach. Interestingly, wood is a handy raw material used in the trade.
But appallingly, business owners and their fortunes are under serious threats due to attacks by sea pirates. Our correspondent gathered that they occasionally harass people on the waterways with gun shots and forcefully collect money from them. They also kidnap others and use the beach as a route to take them to captivity.
Daily Trust Saturday gathered that the activities of the pirates have also crippled the Ibaka fishing community and its environs as fishermen can no longer go for fishing due to fear of attack.
But after attack, they return to the base the following day to continue their businesses since they need to survive.
Indeed, the activities of pirates in Akwa Ibom are like those of bandits in Zamfara, Sokoto and Katsina in the North West. The only difference is in name.
Daily Trust Saturday reports that a recent arrest of four sea pirates in Mbo Local Government Area by the Akwa Ibom State Police Command as well as the recovery of outboard engines and firearms from them has rekindled hope for the communities.
The village head of Nwaniba, Obong Emmanuel Akpan, who is also a wood seller at the beach, said the nefarious activities of the pirates had become a regular occurrence they had learnt to live with.
Akpan explained that their businesses and sources of livelihood are being threatened as they are constantly harassed by sea pirates who steal from the traders and even use the beach as a route to transport their kidnapped victims.
“Sea pirates on our waterway are common, especially when we go to Cross River State to supply woods. Whenever they come around, they fire gun shots and everybody scampers to safety. We don’t know where they come from.
“The attacks are frequent and they come in speed boats, armed with very sophisticated weapons which they tie to their bodies.
“There is a police station around and we have reported to them to the police. But they have not done anything. We want the government to send security personnel with gun boats to come and stay here.
“The government collects revenue from this place. We pay money to the state government, the department of forestry and even the local government. Yet, we see no benefit.
“When the thieves come and meet the wood boat on the water, they catch them and take money from them. They even take away the engine of the boat. Many of our people have lost the engines of their boats to sea pirates.
“Sometimes, they even kidnap people and demand for a huge ransom. Somebody who was recently kidnapped was brought to one of the beaches around here. It may have been former Senator Nelson Effiong but the police came to harass and arrest us. We were taken to the state police headquarters in Ikot Akpanabia.
“The kidnappers brought him here with a vehicle smeared with blood. They took him from the vehicle into a speed boat and took him away but we were not aware, and we ended up spending a lot of money. They even steal fish from the market women and collect their money. So, we need security here,” he stated.
Obong Akpan called for the intervention of government at the beach either by empowering the people of the community or taking over investment in the beach so as to boost the revenue realized from the area, as well as enhance their sources of livelihood.
He added that provision of adequate security, especially the use of gun boats to patrol the area, was cardinal. He stated that the new Nigeria Immigration Service outpost constructed beside the beach was an evidence that the area needed the presence of marine security agencies.
“These woods are from Cross River State. The little we have here are also cut and sold here. Woods from Cameroon are not many because if they bring them, Gendarme arrest them on the way. Even Nigerian patrol team arrest them at the border before they are brought here. What we have here are woods from Nigeria.
“The big boats you see there are used to bring the woods and not the speed boat. The speed boats cannot carry up to 10 woods because it would capsize. But the big boats carry as much as 400 or 300. This is what we use to eat here,” he said.
“If the government empowers us with money here, we can use it to buy wood and fish from Cross River and even farm. We have about 20 communities here in the creeks but the money for us to invest in our business is not there.
“The speed boats you see are used by the women to buy fish from Cross River: Ikongiko, Odukpani, Obanban, to sell in the market here. The market operates on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and all we sell here are fishes.
“If the creeks are cleared, rice could be planted there. But it would be difficult for an individual or the community to do it. It is only then that the government generates revenue from this place,” he stated.
Aside Nwaniba Village, Ibaka in Mbo Local Government Area is another community that has constantly suffered attacks by sea pirates.
The fishermen who carry out their trade on the Altantic ocean have been robbed by sea pirates who have seized their outboard engines and left them stranded on the high sea.
Following the kidnap of some of them on the sea and a ransom of N4 million paid for their release recently, other fishermen under the auspices of Watch Out Cooperative Society protested against the incessant attacks and abduction of their members.
Counsel to the fishermen, Oluwajuwon Ogunbiyi, said some of the fishermen had stopped going to sea for fear kidnap.
“The activities of sea pirates have crippled the Ibaka fishing community and its environs as fishermen cannot go for fishing due to fear of attack. The Akwa Ibom waterways are no longer safe,” he said.
The Police Public Relations Officer, SP Odiko Macdon, who said the arrest was in response to the complaints about sea pirates, added that the efforts would lead to a safer waterways.
“Piqued by complaints about sea pirates in some parts of Akwa Ibom State waterways, the Commissioner of Police, Akwa Ibom State, CP Andrew Amiengheme, commenced special tactical deployments to make the waterways safer. The deployments are beginning to yield positive results,” he said.
It is hoped that the collective effort of the state government and security agencies will put an end to the activities of sea pirates against coastal communities in the state.