Last month, YNaija.com launched its Monthly Citizenship Dispatches, which explores in detail, the lives and realities of Nigerian citizens across the country.
This month, the dispatches come from the Niger Delta, where our reporters have spent weeks digging deep into a part of the country oft reported about and sadly still mis-understood.
These are the stories we will share with you daily over the next two weeks – for the voices, the issues, the realities that fellow citizens living in the Delta have dealt with, and continue to deal with every day.
Williams Perembowei* was in Gbaramatu on one of the days the Nigerian Army invaded his hometown, Oporoza. The Egbesu shrine, home to the revered god of his people was broken into and figurines either carted away or destroyed. Old women cried over the arrests of their children and swore that it would not be well with the president and the soldiers. Small children cried even though they had no idea what exactly was going on. He remembers that it was in May 2016.
“The soldiers raped our women and destroyed everywhere,” he reminisces. “They were looking for Chief Tompolo and the Niger Delta Avengers.”
The soldiers came just after midnight at 12:30am, in four gunboats with rifles and ammunition, going about from door to door like exasperated landlords looking to collect their rent or activate a showdown with defaulting tenants. Everyone was roused from their sleep. Many fled the town, including Williams and his aged mother.
Since Government Ekpemupolo, de facto guardian angel of the entire Gbaramatu kingdom and its constituent communities like Kurutie Town, Okerenkoko and Oporoza, was declared wanted by the Economic & Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) last year, the town has been in turmoil.
His father, Chief Thomas Ekpemupolo was one of the first victims. After being harassed and beaten mercilessly on May 28, the 84-year old Tunteriwei of Gbaramatu had to be hospitalized in Warri. His injuries were so bad that one of his lower limbs had to even be amputated and in September, he finally died.
“They killed him,” laments a teary Williams. “What did that old man do to the soldiers and the Nigerian government? Is he a militant too? Nigeria has marginalized us for years over a product that flows out of our soil.”
“Now they won’t even let his son come back and bury his father properly. How do you kill a man and let his father be buried in his absence?” he asks.
With both chiefs gone – one permanently and the other temporarily – Williams N.S Ogoba has been crowned the 26th Pere of Gbaramatu after a two-year vacancy to keep things flowing, explains Williams. The new king was crowned with the usual fanfare that accompanies the ascension to the throne of a monarch – plenty food, plenty dancing and plenty alcohol to forget their troubles temporarily.
The Pere was introduced by his prime minister, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, the Bebenowei (Mobilizer) of Gbaramatu kingdom. Prayers were offered for Tompolo who is also a chief of the kingdom, for his present travails to end in his favour.
Even at the coronation ceremony, a few soldiers were lurking around to see if Tompolo would show up. “They were disappointed that he didn’t but they still drank our drinks.”
*not real name