Normalcy is gradually returning to Ukanafun and Etim Ekpo communities of Akwa Ibom State, following the continued raid by security forces, on the camps of militants who have been terrorising the areas.
The raid has already yielded tremendous results, with last week's killing of two dreaded gang leaders, Mr Isaac, but popularly known as Stainless, but known in security community and close aides as Baggy Short.
Apart from Stainless, the kidnap kingpin from Ikot Akpa Idem, Item Peter Ebe, is believed to have been behind the recent kidnap of some pastors in his village. He is also believed to have played roles in the killing of a former secretary of Ukanafun Local Government, Ime Atakpa, alias Strong.
Ebe was said to have been caught by youths from Ikot Andem. The community was said to have used some voodoo means to identify the source of his powers-a charm he tied to his waist-and as they laid ambush and monitored him to know when he would visit his boys there, they first reached out to his waist and destroyed the charm, before tying him down and drawing the attention of security agents who then took him away.
Ebe, a dreaded terrorist, was said to have been killed a few days ago. With the killing of the duo, the search now seems to have shifted to their followers. Sources confided in TNN that there has been a dragnet across all the villages, to locate all the hoodlums.
Some village heads and youth leaders are also said to have been busy adopting unconventional means to track down the militants.
In the midst of this, a former militant leader who is currently a traditional ruler in Okochiri, Okrika Local Government of Rivers State, HRM Ateke Tom has denied grooming the likes of Stainless, Iso Akpafid and others currently terrorising Akwa Ibom State.
But he said he was ready and willing to assist the state government in putting an end to militancy and terrorism in the state.
Of late, there have been claims that some of the militants were actually operating from Okrika. Just recently, some of them were said to have been arrested in Okrika and moved to Ukanafun where they were executed. The militants, in a video they released, even mentioned Ateke's name, describing his as their godfather, a claim the traditional ruler has since described as untrue.
In a telephone interview, Ateke who spoke through his media assistant, Ifeanyi Ogbonda, said although he had followers from all parts of the country, including Akwa Ibom, in his camp during his days as a freedom fighter, he never groomed Stainless or any of the boys currently killing and kidnapping with guns.
He was asked: There are insinuations that the militants who are terrorising Akwa Ibom were actually groomed in the camp of HRM when he was in the creeks. What do you make of this?
The aide responded this way: “If you use the word 'they were groomed' by HRM,(His Royal Majesty), I will tell you it is a lie. He will never groom criminals. Anybody that holds the gun or carries the gun (unlawfully) is a criminal. When we were in the creeks of the Niger Delta, we were not criminals. That was why the federal government gave us amnesty. After the amnesty programme, everybody went to their different ways of life, which is normal life. Our principal, HRM, before he signed to accept the amnesty, he told his boys, his followers all over the world, that the era of gun has passed.
Talking about Akwa Ibom in particular, we saw the boys(in the video), they were all on masks, speaking in Akwa Ibom language, Efik language and later spoke in English language and they called the name of my principal(Ateke). We have talked about this. We can't identify those who are masked. If you are masked, I don't know who I am talking to.
This kind of thing happened the time of the Avengers. The avengers looked and they didn't see anybody; they said they should call on Wole Soyinka to come and mediate for them. Wole Soyinka said one thing, unmask yourself, let us sit down and talk, if you really know me, because I don't know you.
HRM doesn't know them, if they are his boys. And, if they are his boys, they will not hold guns because HRM does not hold guns. He believes in peace. And that is what he has said all over.
During the days in the creeks, he never blew one pipeline. He fought for the emancipation of the Niger Delta and till tomorrow, he still stands by that. You used the word, that HRM groomed the boys. How are we sure that HRM groomed the boys? You said the one that just died, his name was Stainless, abi?
We cannot make up any name of the so called Stainless. So, that aside, we never groomed criminals. After signing the amnesty document, HRM said 'era of using weapons or any object to fight has passed' and he stands by that.
I saw some Akwa Ibom people (in the creeks with us then), but all those people are good people now, and they live in Okrika. Some of them outside Okrika, some of them went for the amnesty programmes and some of them are working and some of them are doing well.
I am an Igbo man. He had Hausas who were with him. He had Yorubas who were with him. If you were with him, for instance, and you left what he believed, after signing the amnesty document, you are on your own. All the tribes were with him during the days of the struggle.
If HRM sees all the Akwa Ibom people that were with him in the creeks, he may know some of them and there are some he doesn't know. Some will claim that they know him. Just like the way he can identify an Igbo man or a Yoruba man who were genuinely working with him; those who were not working genuinely with him, he won't know them.
People can claim that they know him. People can come out, just because the man has a strong link, they can come and say they know him.
If those boys want HRM to mediate on their behalf, as a peace maker that he is, they should unmask their faces, drop their weapons. HRM will not tell you to use weapons to go and fight because he will tell you the era for that has passed. Now, we will always sit down and talk. So, I don't think he has any relationship with them.
HRM is a peace ambassador. Anywhere, he can talk to bring peace. If the people unmask themselves, identify whoever they are, I am too sure that HRM can always talk for peace. He has been helping villages that were fighting for years to come down and broker peace and today they are living together. He has been doing it for people. That is part of his life. But they should drop their weapons.
On the part of the government, if the government calls his attention to this, he will intervene. It is his personal decision. His doors are always open to mediate for peace as far as peace is concerned. He is a father.
If the government calls his attention, he will. My principal will always stand for peace. There is no discussion with him and the Akwa Ibom government on how to have peace there. There is none for now.”