A former militant leader, HRH Ateke Michael Tom has warned the faceless terrorist group currently terrorising some parts of Akwa Ibom State to stop using his name to promote their activities, just as he has denied ever dealing with them.
Tom, currently the traditional head of Okochiri, Okrika Local Government Area, Rivers State, was named in a recent video released by the A'Ibom militants who gave the impression that if consulted, Tom could cause them to down their arms and allow peace to reign.
In the video which was rendered largely in Annang language, an indication that the terrorists were actually from Annang stock, the terrorists called Tom their father.
In the video, the masked militants spoke in a mixture of Ibibio, Annang and the English language. The first speaker spoke in an undiluted Annang dialect. He said “Welcome to Akwa Ibom, welcome to Ukanafun under Etim Ekpo. Welcome to Ika, welcome to Oruk Anam.
“Our governor, Udom Emmanuel, listen to our cry. We are your children. If you like, hear, if you don't like, you can leave it. This gun in our hands, we are not holding it deliberately. The guns we shoot, it is not as if we are enjoying it.
“We are running here and there; it is not as if we are enjoying it. The office you are occupying, we are also hungry for it. Hon Udom Emmanuel, Hon Godswill Akpabio, being our former governor, Hon Udom Emmanuel, listen to us, hearken to our cry, help us. But if you don't agree, we too, we will not agree.
“Take our matter, go and meet our Abuja daddy, alias Ateke Tom, the peace ambassador of Niger Delta amnesty, the only man that can ordain someone, the only man that can bring peace in Akwa Ibom.”
As he finished, a second speaker faced the camera and said “we don't have much to say. Mr governor, we are ready to submit our weapons of war because we want peace. We don't want to kill again. We don't want to steal again. We want you people to give us what to eat. If you don't agree, we will continue to kidnap people, kill them and throw away; even you sef.”
The third speaker also spoke in the same vein before the video ended. In between the speeches, there were sounds of gun shots. All the militants shown in the video carried guns and from the background, they all spoke of their readiness to continue killing and kidnapping, unless the government listened to them.
But Tom sees their utterances as blackmail. A statement by Samuel Iyoyo who is in charge of media, documentation and research in the Okochiri Kingdom said “the attention of the Okochiri Kingdom has been drawn to a video clip post on facebook and youtube by a faceless mischievous group claiming that the intervention of HRM King Ateke Michael Tom, JP, Sekuro l, Niger Delta, Amayanabo of Okochiri kingdom, is the only solution to securing their freedom and sustenance of peace.
“The Kingdom views linking our monarch's name with the video clips as cheap BLACKMAIL and a calculated attempt sponsored by the same forces who undertook a similar exercise just to tarnish the hard earned image of our traditional ruler as the tempo of political activities increase.
“We want to reaffirm that our monarch has in the past ten years spend his hard earned resources, energy and God given wisdom for the promotion of peace, empowerment of youths, women group's and socio-cultural organization in the Niger Delta. Our monarch believes that the era of using arms or force in achieving any legitimate cause is over and insists that only dialogue can bring about desired results.
“To this end, the Okochiri Kingdom calls on the security agencies to fish out these miscreants and their sponsors, warning all detractors that we will resist every effort to discredit, defame and malign his character.”
In a telephone interview with TNN on the issue, Iyoyo said Tom did not know the militants and that they could not have been part of those that were in the creeks with Tom, when he was in the creeks.
He also said since the people were masked, it was not possible to know who they were, neither was it right for them to claim that Tom was their father. He warned them to desist from dropping his name for whatever reasons.
Iyoyo said Tom did not know anything about the group. “The question we have asked is, what is his business in Akwa Ibom? He has no business; he does not even know them from Adam. We can attest to that.
“People would want to be relevant and so they may just want to name drop. I was with him yesterday and the man was really shocked. Yes, at some point in his life, he had tried to fight for the Niger Delta. But in the last 10 years, he has been committed to peaceful change.
“We are vehemently saying that we don't know them. It cannot be far from people wanting to dent the man's name. He does not have anything to do with that kind of a thing.
“Can we begin to imagine that a man he doesn't know...if he knows them, in an era of name dropping, anybody can say anything. You watched the video, did you see their faces? This is a situation where he did not see the faces of the people. So, how can he know whether he did anything with those people in those days.
“Sometimes, when people have worked hard and some people want to pull you down... I don't know.” When asked if the boys ever worked with Tom during his days in the creeks, he said “he has not said so and we have not said so.”
Meanwhile, the militants are still terrorising some villages in Ukanafun, despite efforts by security personnel to contain them. On Saturday morning, the militants stormed Ikot Udo Obobo village, looted and razed some shops.
They also killed a vulcaniser and youth leader, popularly called Udo Udo Anwanwa. His body was dumped in his house, while the boys fled.
Incidentally, the youth leader's mother has been in the mortuary for many months. It was learnt that the burial was not conducted because of the tensed situation in the village.
Sources in the village said his nephew was among those that were arrested and killed by security operatives on the suspicion that he was a member of one of the cult groups.
Up to 10 shops were said to have either been razed or looted. In some cases, it was both. Last month, the militants were in the village and took their time to cause havoc especially at Anwa Uyo Junction, where they looted people's shops.
Ironically, the local government's divisional police headquarters is located in that village. It is actually a few metres between the police station and the area where the terrorists have been unleashing mayhem.
Sources close to the village said a few hoodlums believed to come from the village have been arrested, while some of them have been killed by the operatives. Just last Wednesday, soldiers that were deployed in the village were withdrawn, leaving the place open again.
The authorities had sent the soldiers to keep the peace, following persistent attacks by the hoodlums. This was after a few kidnap cases were recorded. Throughout the period of their stay in the village, there were reports that the villagers had enjoyed relative peace.
The current development has forced many of the villagers to flee. Before now, a good number of the people had fled to either Uyo or Abak.
A community leader in the village confided in TNN that a lot of factors were responsible for the crisis in the village. It was learnt that a former commissioner from the local government was making it difficult for the local government chairman, Mr Uko Idiong to access the governor, Udom Emmanuel.
The chairman, sources said, had written up to 10 letters to the governor and sought audience with the governor but could not pull through. Only a security consultant engaged by the former commissioner is the one with access to the governor.
Apart from this, the community leader also complained about the withdrawal of soldiers from the village. He said the village was calm until the soldiers were withdrawn. The other reason he gave was that it was discovered that the police station had only nine functional guns and so could not contain the hoodlums when they strike.