Again, this post is to seek your input and critical eye on what could be wrong with this work. At best a smile for what is being done. But say it like it is. I have thick skin.
At thirty five years of age, Benjamin Oknan of Bulgarian Driscow Helicopters was not married, but maintained a slew of girlfriends in Nigeria. He had not made up his mind yet. He considered himself still searching for his inner being. He would only make up his mind on a wife when he had decided on where he would finally live, either Nigeria, or Bulgaria. There were lots of girls in Bulgaria to keep him happy if he finally settled there. But should he choose to live in Nigeria, there was no need to burden his life with a white woman who would not like the competitive nature of the Nigerian women. He would just settle for one of the girlfriends he had right now.
While in Nigeria, he had picked up a smattering of Nigerian languages, Ijaw, especially the Ogbia dialect because he had done a lot of work at Kolo Creek and its outstations in Ogbia; some Yoruba because of one of his girlfriends; some Ogba and Ikwerre because of his male friends in Port Harcourt, and some Igbo because of his friends of both gender.
Right now, he was listening to an Ogbia dialect that he had not heard before. The farmers who were watching them spoke Ogbia. He had heard of Enwhe Oilfields and Ogbogolo, but this was his fist time of coming here.
The surrounding forest was of virgin land, and the equatorial rainforest was in its glory. The trees reached out their mighty branches into the air, and little animals, especially monkeys twittered on their branches. Numerous birds of assorted plumage made mating calls; they sang and basked in the noon sun.
The nearby creek he knew to be Enwhe Creek was quiet and contrasted with the bushes. Fishes bubbled at periodic intervals. The creek appeared to be lifeless. A film of oil floated through the muddy waters of the creek. He sighed in sadness at the damage done to the environment as a result of crude oil exploration and production. This creek should be a source of livelihood to hundreds and hundreds of families, but it won’t be. This had more to do with oil spillage which had left the creek bereft of fish. Only scavengers, which were inedible and hardy were left behind. Fish that no one wanted.
This was the aspect of Nigeria he detested. The government and oil companies took everything, and leave the communities poor and wretched. Even the people’s sources of livelihood were taken away from them. How can someone with a tradition for fishing in inland water ways suddenly become a city dweller and may be a low paid worker? Or to all of a sudden become an offshore fisherman with trawlers and other sea going vessels? Where will the capital for that kind of fishing come from?
If there was anything that would make him not to live in Nigeria, it was the expected storm from protests in oil producing communities and the militant activities that would shatter the peace and quiet of the country.
The political leaders of the Niger Delta and Nigeria do not know it yet. When a people remain quiet in the midst of oppression or deprivation for a long time, the protests that result easily become violent as a result of the bottled up anger. And if that happens, Nigeria was headed for the rocks and he would not want to be around when it happened.
Benjamin woke up from his reverie, he looked at his wrist watch and they had been here for twenty five minutes. Where are Niyi and Iyaye? He thought. What dark deeds are these people up to? Are they sharing the spoils of the flow station? God help me! He thought to himself.
He turned around to look at his co-pilot, a Nigerian of Ijaw extraction, Agudama Anyador, who was reading through a stack of newspapers he kept in the helicopter to pass much of the time they spent waiting to load and off load their passengers to different oil locations in Rivers and Bayelsa States.
Just then Niyi led Iyaye out of the guard house. They were followed by two security guards who hauled their heavy tool boxes as the resident supervisor hurried after them, and buttoned his coveralls.
Benjamin sighed in relief and looked to his right hand side. He saw a handful of youths watching them ten meters away, under the shade of a shrub bush. They were not there before. They just got out of the canoe. The youths stood there and gazed at the pilots. Benjamin nervously reached out for the bottled water set beside the wooden bench he sat on. He unscrewed its tops, took a drink of the cool water. The engineers were close by.
The mid day sun sent strong rays into the shade of the tree they sat on. It was hot, just as if the clouds had vanished from the sky, and the raw power of the sun sent dry heat on to the ground. Sun devils could be seen on the tarred gravel pathway, as the rays of the sun radiated from the surface of the path that led to the well heads. The engineers had reached the pilots and Niyi nodded at Benjamin.
“We had to straighten out a few records in the office, but that appeared to be the most delay we are likely to encounter. Based on the station dairy, we are going to get out of here in a split second,” said Niyi.
“Okay, you know how our offices are. Soon, they will be calling to find out what is wrong,” replied Benjamin, as he turned around to see the youths move in closer, there was a nagging feeling that made him uncomfortable, but he shoved it aside. The people of the Niger Delta had been kind to him, and they were a peace loving people. He knew sitting out like this was against safety regulations, but he was tired of breathing the air of the helicopter, he preferred the fresh air of the Niger Delta country side.
The green shoots of the evergreen forest and the bloom of the shrubs made him shove off the fear that had been instilled in him over security and safety matters. Niyi and his group turned around to go, but came face to face with six youths who came out quietly from the nearby bush. Benjamin saw them; he turned around and saw the other three youths who had come out of the canoe, watching him and Agudama. They moved in closer.
Niyi opened his mouth to speak, but was waved into silence by a man of about thirty four years, short of stature and dark brown. The man had burnt lips that were pink on some spots and black on others like often found with heavy smokers. He reeked of cannabis. He spoke in a low rasping voice that tended to break at intervals as he formed his words. He extended his hands out, and one of the youths opened his robes to bring out an automatic machine gun.
“My name is Trooper. I am one of the leaders of Enough is Enough. We do not mean to harm any of you. Just follow us, and you will be alright. It is Shell we are after. They have raped our land and stolen our God given resources, leaving nothing for the owners of the land. Look at Enwhe Creek, killed by oil sleek from broken and ill maintained pipelines. And Shell pays less than the farmer can make from planting cassava or bailing his pond. If you do not help us by being peaceful, we shall kill you and nobody can do anything about it. Enough is Ee……!”
“Enough!” completed the others. Three of the youths raised up their guns, as Trooper took one from the fourth youth, lifted it high above his head and shot into the air, breaking the still and quiet of the forest.
“Guns! Guns! They are shooting guns!” screamed the farmers as they broke into a run, away from the Shell installation. The security guards at the station house, who kept watch, abandoned their duty post. A couple of them ran into the bush track leading to Egboama town, but ran into a couple more youths, who materialized from the nearby forest and leveled their guns at them. The youths shot into the air, and the guards raised their hands high above their heads, shivering. The gun men beckoned on them to kneel down, and they hurriedly obeyed. The guards lifted their hands high above their heads.
Under the mahogany tree, Trooper aimed his gun up and shot once more into the air, and his charges trembled in fear.
“Everybody lie down! Raise up your hands!” Trooper shouted, as they hurriedly obeyed and went flat on their stomachs, with their hands raised high.
“Who is the pilot of this plane?” Trooper asked, as Benjamin shook his hand.
“Yes oyinbo man, you are going to help us and work with us to make sure we get what we want,” said Trooper.
“Yes sir, anything you want,” Benjamin replied
“Who is the leader of the Shell crew here? I do not mean the guards and the resident supervisor,” Trooper asked.
“Yes, I am the one. Do you think you are……” Niyi tried to respond, but Trooper never let him finish, as he kicked Niyi’s right rib cage, who rolled on the ground in pain. Trooper lifted up the butt end of his gun, and aimed it at Niyi’s stomach.
“Trooper please don’t. You want something from Shell; you will not get it by spending time with one useless worker. The more time you delay here, the more likely you run into trouble. So ignore him,” Benjamin said in a rushed tone.
“As for that aspect you are right; a useless worker indeed. Everybody up and about! March to the helicopter!”
“Left, right! Left, right! Left , right!” Trooper commanded in military fashion. They got up and started marching to the helicopter. Benjamin led the line of seven, two Shell engineers, two Driscow pilots, two station guards, and the resident supervisor, altogether seven Shell related workers, and the nine invaders who had Shell employees surrounded and they sang a popular song.
“ We shall conquer
We shall conquer
Enough is Enough
We shall conquer.”
They marched with Trooper coming up at the rear and commanding the line.
They got there, and Trooper came to the front of the line. He tapped Benjamin, and pointed his gun at him, motioned for him to open the plane.
“If you try anything funny, we shall all die, and we do not care. We are ready to die for the cause of the Niger Delta. If we die, others will take over from us,” Trooper said.
“You do not have any cause to worry from me,” said Benjamin as he opened the cockpit of the plane and Trooper motioned one of the youths into it.
Benjamin sat at the controls, the armed youth sat at the co-pilots seat. He leveled his gun at the pilot.
The other youth beckoned at the guards.
“Help your master into the plane,” he said, as two security men helped Niyi into the plane, then Iyaye and Agudama followed. One armed youth went in after them, pointing his gun at them. He maintained his gun at the engineer, then he moved it to the co-pilot, and then to Niyi who was hugging his right rib cage in pain. Five armed youths, the helicopter crew, and the two engineers were in the plane ready for takeoff.
On the ground, Trooper gave out more commands.
“Everybody hands up, and lie down!” He ordered and he lifted up his gun and released a shot into the air. The guards and the resident supervisor fell flat on their stomachs in fear and raised up their hands high above their heads.
“Put your heads down! All of you, now!” the armed youths shouted, and more shots as those on the ground obeyed.
Trooper lifted up his gun and released three shots into the air, then two more in rapid succession. And the reply came back with two quick shots, followed by a single shot.
Momentarily, the tall elephant grasses swayed and from the corner, the two escaping guards appeared with their hands held high, with two youths behind them. The guns were leveled at the guards. They were hurried to the base of the helicopter.
“Both of you lie down! Your hands up in the air, and your faces to the ground!” Trooper shouted and the guards quickly obeyed. The armed youths entered the helicopter and a lanky one pointed his gun at the pilot.
“Start this thing now!” the lanky youth shouted.
“What of Trooper, won’t he come in?” asked Benjamin.
“Shut up! Do what you are told, or I will plug open your dirty head!” The lanky youth screamed as the helicopter started with a gentle humming which soon became a whine and Trooper spoke to no one in particular.
“There are some of our boys nearby in the forest. You should not move until this thing gets up and is out of sight. If you do, my boys will shoot you,” He lifted up his gun and released a volley of shots. The guards cowered in fear.
The whining of the helicopter gained in intensity and the rotors swirled rapidly. Trooper scrambled aboard, he took a position and released another shot through the door. He closed the door behind him and took a seat.
The plane vibrated from the effort of lift off, then it took off in one swift motion. It flew at tree top level, banked right, and then turned northward as it gained altitude. The whining sound of take off gave way to the explosive cruising sound, and it flew out of the view of Enwhe Oilfields and flow station.
The rest of the armed youths disappeared into the nearby forest. They left the local flow station workers on the ground, with their faces buried in the sand.
Trooper reached into his pocket and gave the co-ordinates of their destination to the pilot, who took one look at it and did not argue, but directed the helicopter to the destination that the co-ordinates pointed.
The thought was alarming; a Shell hired helicopter has just been hijacked by a bunch of rag tag agitators that no one took seriously. The era of peaceful protest in the Niger Delta was gone for good.
NOTE TO READERS: This is fiction based on a true story. The hijack of a Shell helicopter at Enwhe Oilfields and Flow Station by a Niger Delta militant group that called itself Enough Is Enough. The event happened on 11th July, 1999. It was reported in the Punch, Vanguard, and Guardian Newspapers.