It was one of the busiest fishing communities and seafood markets in Southern Nigeria.
Today, Ibaka is the stark opposite of its former glory. The fishing community located in the Mbo Local Government Area in Nigeria’s southern state of Akwa Ibom has become a ghost town and is under the suffocating grip of daredevil militants and sea pirates.
As I write, fishermen have downed tools in protest following the seizure of about 14 outboard engines by militants in the past week.
The strike action has gone into its third day.
Following the seizure, leaders of the fishermen’s union approached their members as usual, seeking to collect ransom for the militants.
But the affected fishermen have refused to pay up, insisting that the leadership of the union be investigated by security agencies over links with the criminals.
The fishermen do pay as much as N2 million as a ransom for each seized outboard engine.
The outboard engines of the fishing boats are sometimes sold by the militants to awaiting customers in the creeks. A used outboard engine now sells for about N7 million, according to a fisherman (name withheld).
Well, Ibaka’s plight remains a curious one. There seems to be more to the situation than meets the eye.
The glaring inability of naval personnel stationed at the terminal to combat the insecurity keeps eliciting suspicions.
A fisherman, who preferred anonymity had this to say: “Sometimes we receive information that the militants will come but when we inform the navy, they often ignore what we tell them.
“They will not even fire a single gunshot to repel the criminals as they approach. We (fishermen) sometimes give them (naval personnel) tips (money) for things like recharge cards, soap and food but they have not been protecting us.”
Another added: “The naval men always tell us to stop giving out information to journalists, that it is only the navy that has the right to address the press about insecurity in the area.”
Sometime in 2022, this reporter wrote and syndicated a viral report on a raid by the militants and sea pirates.
Naval spokesperson, Lieutenant Dike denied outright the attack when contacted by this writer.
Many national and state-based media houses published the factual story but one national daily exaggerated by claiming that about 600 sea pirates had stormed Ibaka during that particular raid.
Some correspondents of national dailies in Akwa Ibom State were later invited by the navy to Ibaka for “breakfast.”
They went and smiled home with handsome packages and were so happy to debunk, not only the exaggerated version published by that national tabloid but also the factual report on the incessant attack and robbery of fishermen and traders.
The navy has never admitted that there have been criminal raids in Ibaka.
Rumours of possible collusion between the naval personnel and the militants cannot be substantiated at this point.
There is also a strong claim that the militants work for some powerful politicians in the Niger Delta region.
Some Akwa Ibom politicians are named as their sponsors.
Most political officeholders in the state (especially the ones from the Oro axis) are always mute on the issue.
No condemnation, no visit to Ibaka, Ute Bramah, Effiat, Mbughu Unyenge, and other affected fishing communities. Relief materials have not been provided to victims, and most importantly no rallying of troops to combat the menace.
They seem to be allowing their “culpable colleagues” to run the “business” in peace.
Oro leaders who have paid a deaf ear to the situation should be probed.
Very importantly, leaders of the fishermen’s union should be investigated and made to explain their relationship with the militants. Security agencies too should come clean on their alleged role in aiding and abetting the issue.
Even the traditional rulers have been accused of aiding and abetting the situation, hence their loud silence.
Well, asides crippling economic activities, forcing fishermen and their families into hunger and hopelessness, and posing danger to lives and property in the area, the situation also poses a great danger to the entire state.
The internal security of the state is threatened. The Ibaka Sea is now a porous corridor which can be used as a launchpad for a large-scale attack on the entire state. It can as well be used for human and drug trafficking to neighbouring countries like Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Sao Tome & Principe, among others.
The Ibaka waters empty into these countries. The territorial integrity of Akwa Ibom State and Nigeria should, therefore, be protected without compromise.
From occasional attacks of past years, things have now assumed a dizzying dimension.
The robbers now launch regular raids, carting away monies, outboard engines and other valuables belonging to fishermen, traders, residents and visitors.
Some of their missions become bloody as they do not hesitate to open fire on fishing boats that attempt to flee.
Greater danger looms!
(Ofonime Honesty writes from Oron, Akwa Ibom State. email@example.com)