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A Night in Akala-Olu Fire –Part 3 By Patrick Naagbanton

September 17, 2013

Continuous rainfalls on the Akala-Olu road worsen its appalling condition. The road was lonely, slippery, with bents and twists. Not up to a kilometre to the community were cautioning signs on iron boards all over the place like “Restricted Area. Vehicles not allowed. Well head.” These boards were installed sideways of the road and nearby farmlands. There were lots of flow lines and well heads scattered all over. Two bulky pipes, one of them, vomiting cloudy smoke constantly, led me to Akala-Olu village. The community sat of on a large expanse of fertile land, swamps and forests. Houses were built closer to one another.

Continuous rainfalls on the Akala-Olu road worsen its appalling condition. The road was lonely, slippery, with bents and twists. Not up to a kilometre to the community were cautioning signs on iron boards all over the place like “Restricted Area. Vehicles not allowed. Well head.” These boards were installed sideways of the road and nearby farmlands. There were lots of flow lines and well heads scattered all over. Two bulky pipes, one of them, vomiting cloudy smoke constantly, led me to Akala-Olu village. The community sat of on a large expanse of fertile land, swamps and forests. Houses were built closer to one another.

Around four p.m., I was in the community. I went to the house of a former youth leader in the community I had known over sixteen years ago. I waited in his house for an hour before proceeding to Richard Egbe’s house. Egbe, the thirty-four-year- old hunter of Akala-Olu was in one of the forests with his dune gun. He arrived some minutes later in his hunting regalia with a giant guinea fowl he had shot dead. He looked healthy, slender and short with sharp eyes like a genuine hunter. We sat at the balcony of his two bedroom apartment with his only child (a boy). The lad looked like his father. We talked about his exploits as a hunter, while his fine pregnant wife used the guinea fowl to prepare a delicious dinner for me.

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Richard Egbe appeared like a man in his late forties. The young man was amiable, intelligent, honest and welcoming. Hunting runs in his family. His deceased father was a celebrated hunter. His grandfather and great grand fathers were hunters. His father and later mother’s death dealt a big blow to his life. There was nobody to continue to support his secondary education in distant Ahoada town. He dropped out in junior secondary class. Richard is not happy talking about why he couldn’t complete his education. He vowed that he will do anything to send his child and others to school. Because of that, he had to switch over to full-time hunting from his early days. He showed me pictures of giant animals like bush pigs, antelope and monkeys he had shot dead and brought home. These are different from other “small” animals he either got through his traps or shot with his gun. He said that when his father was alive, he warned him against killing “wicked” animals like tiger, lion, and crocodile and bush cats. He said his father described them as spirits and can harm him. In late October, 2012 as the devastating flood which submerged the village had started ebbing; he recalled, he went to one of the nearby forests and met a deadly looking, 14-feet long crocodile rolling in a small lake. As he cocked his gun to shoot it, his father’s caution about killing such animals sped through his mind. “I moved back to leave the crocodile alone, but the animal wanted to kill me. I escaped and returned home”. He said. He combined his hunting career with welding work. I am told he is one of the best welders in the whole Ekpeyeland. Richard couldn’t realize his dreams of completing his education, nonetheless, remained happy and a successful man.

The unique Akala-Olu night was falling from the atmosphere like a plague. The three heavy duty generators used in oil production, a turbine and wild pipeline fire caused shocking noise pollution and released unprecedented heat. The Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC), the Italian oil corporation started crude oil production in Akala-Olu in nineteen seventy-two. On daily basis, it extracts nine thousand barrels of crude oil from the womb of Akala-Olu. The community belongs to the Ugbobi clan of Ekpeye. Its population is estimated at about one thousand five hundred. Ebiegberi Joe Alagoa and Sonpie Kpone-Tonwe are both notable Niger Delta historians. They jointly wrote an article, entitled “Traditions of Origins,” in the book, “The Land and People of Rivers State; Eastern Niger Delta (2002) which was edited by Abi A. Derefaka (an eminent archaeologist) and Alagoa. In that great book, they said that Ekpeye and his brother, Ogba migrated from the Benin Empire (in present day Edo State) about 11th century A.D. In addition, the duo historians also presented the argument of Ewo, D.N; the renowned Ogba historian countering the Benin migration story. Ewo said Ogba and Ekpeye migrated from Ogbo (the Igbo country) around same time.

From the hunter’s house, I saw a malfunctioned “solar powered water scheme”. It was a project of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). One Castle Rock Management Solutions Limited is the contractor. The firm’s office is located at No. 76, Ikwerre Road, Mile Town, Diobu, Port Harcourt. That was the only source of drinking water for the Akala-Olu people. Opposite the NDDC water was a board fixed by Agip in front of a two plots of fertile farmland with overgrown cassava root crops. On the board was written “Green River Demonstration Plot- Oshie location. Helping the farmers to grow more food.”

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I left later to visit Eunice Odum, the sixty-year-old leader of the Akala-Olu Women Association (AWA). Her compound was close by. Her house was a cluster of eight rooms constructed in a spherical shape. The compound had an entrance, but without a gate. Some of the houses were walled with mud, while others with cement blocks. They had corroded, low quality zinc on them. At the centre of the small compound was a big New Bouldia tree supervising the entrance. Greater parts of its trunk clothed with a spotless white piece of cloth. Below was a medium-sized clay pot with some water mixed with drops of drinks inside. It was deposited during libation. The pot sat on four sticks, pinned to the ground in a rectangular shape like a tripod which provided the balance to the pot. On both sides of the pot were two bottles of soft drinks (one Fanta and the other Coca-Cola).

Eunice’s husband, a ninety-five-year old fervent ancestral worshipper owned the shrine, and doubles as one of the oldest persons in the village. At the small shrine, he worshipped the spirits of his ancestors on daily basis. He poured libation to them and called for their protection. Many compounds in the village have such small shrines for their ancestral worships. Eunice’s husbands’ ancestors were the earliest settlers in the present day Akala-Olu community. I sat closer to the shrine while discussing with her. Her husband was there too. She was peeling off the back of tiny cassava tubers assembled in a basket with a small knife. After that she would wash it and put it in a bag and soak it in water for about three days to ferment. The next stage is to boil and pound it later. The end product is fufu, a high starchy staple food. The AWA leader explained that fufu can be eaten with any kind of soup. She also spoke about the special Akala-Olu native soup called Ogbolo. It is derived from filtered liquid from smashed cocoyam with that from fresh palm oil fruit. The liquid is added with small quantity of water, pepper, salt and cooked it either with fish or bush meat. It produces a good taste and sweet aroma.

Over the years Eunice had spearheaded several peaceful protests against the Italian oil firm operating in the land. The protests were to force the company to provide them portable water, health centre and other basic infrastructures. She said she had gotten tired of struggling because they have not achieved anything from it either from the company or government .She said the government is too far away from them and the company that is closer to them had not helped too. She said her group; AWA is currently run more like a cooperative society now rather than the activism it was known for. She lamented that the youth body that used to play supportive role in the past is no more. And for the past three years the chief council is also not there. Signs of frustration and anger were very visible on her face as we talked about the issues. The women are better organized and peaceful in the community than others.

Around mid-February 2013, in the nearby Ubeta community in same Ahoada West Local Government Area, an election into a youth body turned violent. One person was reportedly shot dead by thugs loyal to a party in the contest. Consequently, Robinson Opara Robinson, the Eze Ekpeye Logbo (King of Ekpeye), a retired air force flight lieutenant ordered the prescription of youth bodies throughout the Ekpeye country. An Ekpeye native from one of the communities is said to be challenging the decision in a nearby court. Becoming the paramount ruler of Akala-Olu is by election, not inherited. Three years ago an election into the position ended up in crisis. There were allegations and counter allegations of rigging and manipulation by parties involved. The election was cancelled. The parties are in court now over who won the chieftaincy election. Most of the Niger Delta Communities I have visited, especially, the oil producing ones, are embroiled in similar crisis. Even communities where getting to their thrones are determined by heritage are often times affected by such crisis of succession.

 I left Eunice’s compound around nine p.m., to retire to a hotel in the community where I would stay for the night. The weather outside brightened instead of darkened when fuming rainfall approached. Suddenly, rain fell. I confronted the rain and walked hurriedly to the hotel. I was soaked a bit. I was told that the community in recent times had witnessed frequent torrential rainfall than other communities around.

After few seconds, I got to the hotel, Amatex International Hotel. It was the only functional hotel in the community. A senior staff of Agip who hails from the nearby Engenni, an Ijaw community situated on the bank of the Orashi River, a fresh water branch of the Atlantic Ocean owned the hotel. At its small veranda, they were about ten youths from the community, sitting round a plastic table. Some looked hungry and skinny. They were drawing deep from various sizes of wrapped white papers which contained marijuana and produced small clouds of smoke and repulsive smell like the Agip gas flaring. Some of them didn’t ever want the marijuana smoke-laden air to escape. They got up at intervals and raced after the disappearing smoke clouds with the aid of their tongues to entrap it into their mouth. They made some kind of sound like the made by one who had swallowed an overdose of hot pepper. Their eyes were bloodshot like wounded crocodiles.

Several groups have their pet names for this awful weed (marijuana). Addicts around some Port Harcourt suburbs called it, “Old Boy,” “Wiseman,” “Sense man” among others. On the table before the boys smoking the “Old boy”were two bottles of Chelsea, one of Nigeria’s equivalent of the London dry gin. Before drinking it, they removed the emblem on it and drank like starved hawks. I knew they were members of the Deebam, one of Nigeria’s notorious secret cult gangs.  The Deebam, in the KK jargon means ‘be strong’. The group started in the early nineteen ninety-one in Rivers State as a street wing of the Klansmen Konfraternity (KK). The KK is a dreaded campus cult which was founded in nineteen eighty- three at the University of Calabar, Cross River State by five students of the institution who called themselves, ‘ Non Jaw-Jawed’. KK at its inauguration was called the Eternal Fraternal of the Legion Konsortium(EFOLK). KK is different from the USA’s Ku Klux Klan(KKK), neither do they have any bond with them.

I had to get to my room and dropped my bag and returned to join my new friends. In the room, there was no electricity and the mosquitoes had just declared war on me. I paid one thousand five hundred naira for that room. I was not afraid of the Deebam men because in their world I was a “bloody civilian”, it means I am neither a threat nor an enemy. I sat with them to discuss. I bought for them few bottles of beer. I had one too. They also removed the labels on them before drinking. Those are some of their known trademarks. The rival Deewell cult has theirs too. Avoid drinking squadron, the Nigeria’s equivalent of brandy, where members of the Deewell are. I spent an hour and thirty minutes with them before returning to the vicious hands of the Akala-Olu mosquitoes. Many villagers complained about the mosquitoes. I hope the male mosquitoes were the only ones that suck my blood, not the deadly malaria causing Anopheles, the female specie.

A former youth leader from the Akala-Olu during his tenure had introduced the Deebam to the community. Many poor, promising village youths were initiated. The boys I drinking together with were victims. The man who brought the Deebam to the village now works with Agip as a contract staff. He had abandoned erstwhile his comrades-in-arms to the realm of drugs, alcohol and crime.

I went back to my hotel room afterwards. The room had a hefty foam, one pillow, no table, no television, no fridge or other facilities seen in hotels. Amatex International Hotel had ten rooms with one central toilet and a bathroom for all guests. I couldn’t sleep throughout the night. The noise from the nearby Agip oil production plant, the heat and sound of the Akala-Olu mosquitoes’ war drum were an abysmal experience.

I left “the land of milk and honey and milk with oil and gas” in the morning hours of Sunday, 1st September, 2013. The irony of Akala-Olu, of squalor and abject poverty amidst stupendous oil and gas wealth is the irony of other oil and gas rich communities and its environs in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.


  • This is the end of the travel article or travelogue.


Naagbanton, the writer lives in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, Nigeria.


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