Last week, the military and the Bayelsa Government came together in a rare collaborative effort to tackle insecurity in the state and around its axis. Emmanuel Addeh reports
For several reasons, the army remains one of the most revered, if not the most feared security-related institutions among the Nigerian Armed Forces.
But all the long-standing presuppositions and misconceptions literally melted away last week when the leadership of the Nigerian Army, dropped the entire toga that induces trepidation among the civilians when it freely mixed and related with residents and civilians in Elebele, Yenagoa, last week.
The event was the groundbreaking ceremony of the construction of 16 Brigade Barracks, Camp Buratai in Yenagoa, in a partnership that spans the army, the Seriake Dickson-led administration and the private sector.
To be sure, the issue of insecurity has been a major headache for Niger Delta leaders, against the background of years of crisis, which sometimes snowballs into violence in the oil-rich region.
Many innovative ideas, some of them novel, had been introduced in the past to tackle the various security issues of kidnapping, sea robbery, vandalism of pipelines and other oil facilities in the area, illegal oil bunkering and outright militancy. However, none seemed to have effectively stopped the hoodlums.
The idea of creating a new brigade in the state, may, however, help the security agencies to have a firmer grip of the security situation in the area, with a view to reducing, if not totally eradicating the feeling of insecurity among the people.
A day before the event the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, who flew into the state, savoured the usual hospitality of the people of Bayelsa when he was literally transformed into an Ijaw man by Governor Dickson, who will undertake to build a Command Children’s School, Officers Mess, as well as a Soldiers Canteen with immediate effect.
With their usual unique dressing, Buratai was quickly worn a big flowing long-sleeved dress usually worn by the Ijaw people, with a walking stick to match before stating his mission in the state to his host, the governor at the Government House.
The next day was the actual event and aside the governor and the high command of the Nigerian Military, private sector businessman were also on hand to support the military in their bid to end criminalities in the Niger Delta.
Delivering his remarks, an elated Buratai, described the event as a historical milestone, stating that about a year earlier, he was in Bayelsa State for the operationalisation of the brigade and was pleased to be associated with the developmental strides that had taken place since then.
He lauded all those who made the day possible, including the President, Muhammadu Buhari, the state government and commended the Brigade Commander for interpreting his vision “To have a professionally responsive Nigerian Army in the discharge of its constitutional roles.”
He added that the flag-off of the construction work was in line with President Buhari’s commitment to the welfare of troops, stressing that the President places a premium on the welfare of personnel.
Defying the intensity of the heat that afternoon, and standing to address his audience, Buratai said the Army was spreading its tentacles to have firm grips of all parts of the country to enable it deal with rising security challenges in conjunction with other security agencies.
According to him, following the various challenges, President Buhari desired a balanced and widespread footprints of the Nigerian Army to confront the threats in partnership with other sister security agencies.
He said the 6 Division and 6 Brigade of the Nigerian Army in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State were part of the expansion the army was embarking upon to rid the country of crimes.
During the event also attended by almost the entire state cabinet members as well as the Founder/President, Belema Oil Producing Ltd, Mr. Jack-Rich Pein (Jnr) and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Azikel Refinery, Dr. Azibapu Eruani, the Army Chief said he believed the project would lead to the construction of even more massive infrastructure in the area.
Aside the private sector, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 6 Division of the Nigerian Army, Maj.-Gen. M.S. Yusuf; Commander 16 Brigade, Brig.-Gen. Kelvin Aligbe and other security commanders; traditional rulers and host communities attended the ceremony.
Buratai explained: “The establishment of 6 Brigade in Port Harcourt, 6 Division in Port Harcourt and the 16 Brigade in Yenagoa forms an important part of Mr. President’s desire to have a balanced and widespread footprints of the Nigerian Army to deal with the myriads of security challenges facing the country in conjunction with other security agencies.
“Our current national security realities have compelled the armed forces and other government security agencies to act together in operations in many parts of the country to stem the tides of criminalities and other untoward behaviour that hurts us as a nation.
“To achieve this, we leaders and instruments of fate must, therefore, put in place necessary measures to look after the well-being of officers of soldiers saddled with the responsibility of keeping Nigeria safe.”
While harping on the President’s desire to have a truly happy fighting force, he added: “It is for this reason that the government continues to provide decent living and working environment for troops, their families and dependents while they are away in far-flung and isolated locations at the mercies of adverse weather conditions and sometimes enemies of the state.
“Thus, this barracks that we are about to commence its construction underscores the importance the government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari places on troops’ welfare.”
Specifically, he said the groundbreaking was made possible, following Governor Dickson’s fulfilment of his promise to allocate and approve the parcel of land acquired by the Army and his pledge to see the successful completion of the project.
“The Army has acquired the property and today Governor Dickson has kept his promise. From what we have observed, of the preparation of this new site, so much efforts and resources have been efficiently deployed. Today’s ceremony is a testimony that with determination and sincerity of officers and soldiers, we can build institutions and regenerate society.
“The brigade has demonstrated and achieved so much in infrastructural development and enhancement of troops’ well-being within one year of its establishment as well as meeting its trainings, operational and regimental responsibility.
“I commend the Commander, Officers and Men of the 16 Brigade for their innovation, determination and professionalism as well as the clear interpretation of my vision for the Nigerian Army which is to have a professionally responsive Nigerian Army in the discharge of its constitutional roles.”
He also applauded the GOC, 16 Brigade for providing the guidance and galvanising resources to keep the Niger Delta region safe and peaceful in collaboration with other stakeholders in each state.
He further thanked the founder of the Belema Oil for donating a block of 30 mini flats for the accommodation of soldiers’ families.
According to him, “The project will go a long way in addressing part of the immediate accommodation needs for the brigade.
“From the headquarters we shall continue to look the way of this brigade to ensure it is set up properly given the very difficult nature of the terrain in this part of the country.
“The construction parity of the brigade has been noted and will receive deserved attention immediately the 2018 Budget is passed with cash backing for implementation,” he assured.
Earlier, while receiving Buratai at the Government House, Dickson commended him for the establishment of 16 Brigade as well as the collaborative efforts of the Nigerian Engineering Corps at the Agge Deep Sea Port, which he noted, would enhance security and investments.
“I am pleased with what the Nigerian Army is doing in terms of security in the state and its development efforts at the Agge Deep sea port, which we are building to enhance our economic and tourist potentials.
“Going forward, we will like to work with the Nigerian Army to undertake the building of low cost houses, bridges and other developmental projects,” he said.
The governor said his government’s heavy investments in education had helped to drastically reduce militancy and insecurity in Bayelsa State.
Noting that his government has so far invested N70 billion on education in the last six years, the governor said education would continue to assume a top priority because according to him, the investments have paid off with the state becoming one of the most peaceful as well as one of the top in education index in the country.
The governor added: “We fight insecurity in vain if we don’t first educate our people, particularly our youths to be empowered enough to reason beyond their nose, to property know and situate the evil of crime, criminality and insecurity in the society.
“That is why in Bayelsa, we deliberately democratise knowledge by sponsoring many Bayelsans and Ijaws outside the state, by building world class educational infrastructure, more and more schools across the state.
“And making education free and compulsory with boarding facilities because we know, our efforts at tackling insurgency, militancy and other security challenges in the country will not make much impact without addressing illiteracy which we believe is their root cause.”
In his remarks, Brig. Gen. Aligbe, Commander of the new 16 Brigade, thanked the COAS for supporting the activities of the brigade, adding that the last one year of the brigade witnessed the beginning of the construction of Forward Operating Base (FOB) at Agge Deep Seaport site.
He said the past year also witnessed the construction of the 16th Field Engineer Regiment Base at Toru-Orua and the establishment of a command secondary school at Bedebiri.
“More resources will be invested in the future by the federal government to build this permanent site of the brigade and affiliated units across the state. We are determined to justify the huge investment in this fighting formation as a catalyst against criminality in region,” he said.
But in what could be described as a pleasant surprise, an oil magnate, Chief Tein jr. who is the founder of Belema Oil stressed that the Nigerian Army had done so much for the unity of the great nation.
He maintained that the officers and men who laid their lives in defence of the nation must be appreciated, stressing that in demonstration of his love for the Nigerian Army he was awarding a scholarship to 300 children of soldiers who died or were incapacitated in the line of duty.
According to him, this new commitment will cost about N45 million per annum. He also undertook to construct one-block of 30 family-unit Quarters at the camp, which he said would commence immediately.
As the event wound up later in the afternoon, many of those who attended the ceremony, including civilians, looked forward to the new security infrastructure being able to reduce crime in Bayelsa in particular and the Niger Delta in general.