31 May Hunter embedded in atack on oil facilities
The meeting with Boyd generated a lot of issues for Hunter to work on. He needed to confirm some of the claims. Besides, Boyd had announced a new attack was imminent, and the DNDR never tossed out threats—they made declarations.
Progress, however, was made on one particular issue: Boyd had convinced the rest of the DNDR, at least those members under his supervision, that Hunter was not a threat to their operation. Although they did not allow him to leave the camp on his own, this breakthrough did result in their willingness to allow him to leave his tent once in a while.
Hunter’s expectation to be released soon after the friendly chat with Boyd was never fulfilled; it dissolved into renewed anxiety about his life. Over the years he had learnt never to trust a man with a gun.
On the morning of his fifth day in the camp, Hunter was allowed to take a pleasant walk in a restricted area after another generous breakfast of scrambled eggs and tea. His ears immediately caught the sound of loud voices chanting war songs, reminding him of the belief of the militants in their local gods that were worshipped at night, so he was surprised.
He also heard husky voices chiming.
We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome some day
Walking slowly, Hunter turned toward the source, more confused. Approximately fifty metres away, he saw a large shady tree where a group of militants in tight black T-shirts were casually gathered.
Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome some day
He wandered over toward them, hoping they would be interested in engaging in some informal conversation. It was very hot and humid, and Hunter found himself covered in sweat after only a few steps out in the sun.
As he drew closer to the group, Hunter noticed a few white men sitting in the grass, looking terribly out of place. He assumed the men were hostages.
They could have been oil company workers or possibly people with connections to political figures. Hunter suddenly found himself walking more briskly, eager to join the group and possibly speak to the men who were being held at the camp.
The closer he came to the gathering, the less likely such conversation appeared possible. Several of the militants standing near the presumed hostages were heavily armed, and Hunter didn’t expect the guards to allow too many words to be exchanged. Despite that obstacle, he still decided to join the group.
He had another motive. He had no idea how long he would be forced to remain in the camp, and he wanted to make his stay there as useful as possible. This meant encouraging the guards to feel at ease with him. He hoped that hanging out with the men in their more informal moments might reduce the tension and allow for freer conversation.
Hunter smiled as he approached the group and was pleased to be greeted with a few almost-friendly nods. The heat was already getting to him, but the grass felt somewhat cooler in the shade, so he dropped down to the ground and took a seat at the outer edge of the circle. He copied the hostages, who tried to stay cool by fanning themselves with large leaves that fell to the ground.
A few minutes later, Boyd approached the gathering with a firm, purposeful stride. Walking briskly behind him was a tall man with a wiry beard, dark sunglasses covering his eyes. Hunter couldn’t tell if he was a guest or a member of the Movement, but he got the feeling that this particular man was not a regular presence at this camp.
The militants all snapped to attention upon Boyd’s arrival, but their leader was not ready for business just yet.
“C’mon, men!” he said. “Give me one more verse!”
After a loud burst of laughter, the men were more than happy to oblige.
We shall all be free
We shall all be free
We shall all be free some day
The men continued their performance by segueing into a raucous war song, which got them all clapping and stomping their feet. When they reached the final stanza, their voices rang out through the forest in a vibrant crescendo. They burst into cheers after singing the final note.
Boyd pumped his fist in the air and grinned broadly in approval. “That’s what I like to hear,” he said. “We need to maintain our spirit, even when the going gets tough. We must stop the exploitation.”
The men laughed, slapped one another on the back, and traded several high fives. Hunter couldn’t help but smile. These men certainly had a spiritual attachment to their cause. To anyone who didn’t know better, they would have looked more like a rugby team psyching itself up for an appearance at a major game. Hunter had to remind himself that these were militants, and that the hostages sitting among them, presently looking merely sweaty and unconcerned, could become corpses if the DNDR did not believe that its demands were appropriately met.
“Okay, gentlemen,” Boyd said in a more business-like tone. “Let’s settle down for a moment.”
The gathering immediately transformed from a raucous lawn party to a subdued congregation of men on a mission.
“I want to introduce you to our friend here,” Boyd said, gesturing to the bearded man at his side. “He is a lecturer in philosophy at the university. He would like to share his thoughts with you.”
Hunter leaned back and looked up at the broad-shouldered man. He wore jeans and a blue T-shirt, and felt no need to remove his sunglasses while he stood in the shade.
“Gentlemen,” the man said as he paced before the crowd in a manner suited to a university professor, “you don’t need me to tell you how important this Movement is—not just to the people of the Niger Delta, but to the entire country and perhaps even the entire continent.”
Hunter watched his audience. The men hung on every word. In the meantime, he tried to figure out who the man was. Boyd had not mentioned his name, and the lecturer did not feel the need to introduce himself before he began delivering his remarks. This lack of clarification did not bother the militants, leading Hunter to wonder if such secrecy was standard procedure within the DNDR movement.
“We have followed all of the rules of society,” the lecturer said. “We petitioned. We marched. We campaigned. We even begged, and yet no one would listen to our grievances. When they gave us something, it was with the left hand, and they took it back with the right hand. It soon became clear that the only way to gain control of our land was to reclaim it by force.”
The men nodded and grunted in agreement. Boyd stood back, firmly holding his ground with his feet apart and his powerful arms folded defiantly across this chest.
“We are not violent people,” the lecturer said, “but we have been pushed to the brink. The time for peaceful negotiations and compromise is over. It is a part of our history. The system has cheated us, and now the need for an uprising is upon us.”
The men pumped their fists in the air, showing their support for their guest’s every word.
“We have sacrificed so much for our freedom,” he said, “but we still have so much further to go. The road ahead will not be quiet, peaceful, or serene. It will run with the blood of many men—theirs and ours—but that blood will win freedom for our children, our grandchildren, and the children of all generations!”
Hunter glanced over at the hostages. They were obviously not sharing the militants’ enthusiasm. In fact, for the first time since Hunter had seen them, they looked depressed.
“Our team has been carefully monitoring the effects of the struggle,” the lecturer said.
Hunter wondered who exactly comprised his “team.”
“I can assure you that the government is facing intense pressure from the international community. They have sanctioned some heavy demands. The oil companies have been unable to produce in the affected areas, and despite the escalating oil prices, which the companies pass on to their consumers, the Nigerian government is experiencing an excruciating revenue leak.”
The men cheered and pumped their fists. Voices barked out from within the group.
“Serves them right!”
“Maybe now they will know how it feels to go without money!”
“I hope they learn what it feels like to be threatened.”
Hunter glanced around at the men. He understood how they could be pleased by their visible efforts, and that they had the potential to bring about the change they wanted for their country and their communities; but they didn’t seem to grasp the immediate picture. People were going to die. In fact, Hunter wondered how many of the men who sat under the shady tree at that moment would still be alive when the dust settled.
The lecturer, however, took pride in the men’s enthusiastic response. He continued his tirade, urging the men to keep fighting. He rattled on for another ten more minutes, although to Hunter it felt like an eternity.
“Remember, and on a final note” he shouted, “The future of this country is in your hands. You must continue to break them down until the robbery comes to an end!”
His conclusion brought the men to their feet as they cheered and stomped. The ovation went on for two or three minutes, and the unnamed lecturer drank it in as if he were a renowned actor or celebrated orator. The sight excited Hunter. He couldn’t help but wonder—would this man ever face down the government’s gunboats, or would he merely hide in the cocoon of academia and collect his tenured salary?
When the cheering began to wane, Boyd stepped forward. He held up his hand and the men sat back down in the grass and immediately came to order.
“Thank you, sir, for sharing your observations,” he said to the lecturer. He turned back to his men. “Now another gentleman would like to share his observations as well.”
Boyd motioned to one of the white men. The man wiped the sweat off his bronzed face with his sleeve and then pulled himself up to his feet. He was a huge, muscled man, but he looked a bit tired.
“Hi, guys,” he said with a tired smile. “My name is Paul. I can’t say I’m particularly happy to be held here. No offense, of course.”
The men laughed. Hunter was quite impressed with Paul’s humour and poise under the circumstances, but he scratched his reddish skin in a manner that acknowledged his ordeal with insects and the sun.
“I do, however, understand what’s going on here,” he said. “The environment in this region has been assaulted, and the resources the area has to offer have been decimated. The people have had their livelihoods destroyed by outsiders, and then they’ve been left to fend for themselves without drinking water, proper nutrition, or any means to support themselves. You can call it unfair, but in truth, it is downright immoral.”
The men listened carefully. They clearly appreciated the fact that Paul understood their plight.
Paul held up his hand. “I’m not just saying these things because I want to regain my freedom.”
“Are you sure about that?” one of the men cracked.
“Well…okay,” Paul said, “maybe just a little.”
All the men laughed. Hunter let out a loud chuckle.
“Seriously,” Paul said, “those of you who have visited Europe know that you do not see such abject poverty on the continent. Yes, there are many people who are extremely wealthy and many who struggle to put food on their tables. There are even groups of people who are homeless and camp out under bridges or sleep in bus stations. These people are homeless for many reasons, some of which are self-inflicted and many of which are not. Let me assure you of one thing: any country with a law-enforcing government has citizens that are being screwed by that government, regardless of where they are in the world.”
The white men nodded. One man gave Paul a thumbs-up sign.
“Despite all of this,” Paul said, “poverty in Europe affects individuals. It does not affect entire populations of people. In Europe and North America, there is always a sense that an individual afflicted with poverty always has a chance—even if it is minutely small—to pull his way out of it somehow. I must be honest, gentlemen. I don’t see such chances here. The poverty appears to be dictated and institutionalized. It’s not just one or two people, or even one or two families. It’s the entire Niger Delta—and there’s no excuse for it!”
The men gave Paul a round of applause.
“It seems to me,” Paul went on, “that you have enemies within. The money is misappropriated. Please make sure that once you gain control of your money that you spend it wisely so that it can bring its greatest reward for all of your people. Don’t let it seduce you. Money is a tool, much like a hammer. It can be used to build houses, but it can also be used to kill people. Use your tools for good, and that good will come back to you.”
One of the white men, a stocky Philippino, was uncomfortable with the homily. He cleared his throat but it was drowned in the ovation of audience.
Paul continued, “Just like the bad is coming back to the criminals.” “That is the rule of Karma,” Boyd said.
Paul nodded. “Thus far, I have been fortunate,” he said. “I have been treated well here. I mean, the men have treated me well. The mosquitoes, on the other hand, tend to be vicious.”
Once again, the men laughed, and clapped.
“Even so,” he said, “there is nothing like freedom. Therefore, I appeal to all of you to please do your best to see that I do not die here. I believe you are men of good conscience, and I trust you will do your best to prevent that.”
Hunter noticed that the men appeared unnerved by these words—not angry, but uncomfortable. Deep down, he knew they wanted to live in peace. Boyd had said as much. They had no desire to mutate into the very entities against which they were fighting. But at the moment, they were forced to wage war for their cause by any means necessary.
Sensing the men’s discomfort, the lecturer quickly jumped back in front of the group.
“Paul here is right to point out the misuse of funds,” he said. “Our states in the Niger Delta bring in more revenue than all other states, but we are never the ones who see it. The money needs to go to the creeks, otherwise you will simply be fighting and possibly dying in the creeks so that the crooked politicians will receive a bigger cut of the oil revenues.”
The lecturer paused to take a breath and to allow his message to sink in.
“They are all oppressors!” he said. “They are no better than the Abuja politicians!”
Hunter watched carefully as the lecturer savoured the thunderous response of cheers, growls, and grunts that followed. .
Once again, Boyd stepped up front, and the boisterous group of militants instantly transformed into a collection of serious and determined young men.
“We all understand the importance of our Movement,” he said in a business-like manner. “We must maintain our passion throughout the struggle—no matter how bad things get. We also must not allow our emotions to inhibit our workmanship. Our enemies will always try to use our passion against us. They will deliberately attack our homes and our families, and when we lash out at them, they will tell the world that we are nothing but vicious savages who do not possess the intellectual capacity to run our own cities, schools, or businesses. That’s how they justify allowing outsiders to come into the Niger Delta and assume their authority. We must be passionate, but we must also be focused.”
Hunter watched the men nod in unison.
“We have a crucial assignment scheduled for tonight,” Boyd said.
Hunter sat up, nervous and attentive.
“Please ensure that your areas of responsibility are covered,” Boyd said.
With that, he gave a military salute, declaring the meeting adjourned.
As the group dispersed, Hunter walked up alongside one of the white men.
“I hope you are doing all right,” he said.
The man glanced over at him, but did not completely make eye contact.
“Where are you from?” Hunter asked. “Are you a colleague of Paul’s? Do you share his views?”
The man looked like he was about to respond, but then he held back. Hunter thought he might need another gentle push.
“Have they allowed you to contact your family?” he asked.
Before the man had a chance to answer, two of the armed militants pushed their way between him and Hunter . One wore a menacing scowl as he shoved Hunter in the shoulder. The scuffle abruptly came to a halt when Boyd stepped in.
“It’s all right,” he said. “There’s no harm in such questions.”
The men moved away, but they hovered in the background. Boyd nodded at Hunter and walked away.
Hunter turned to the man. “I am a journalist,” he said.
“My name is Ruddy,” the man said. “Please tell my employers that you have spoken to me and that I am all right. They will send that message to my family.” He walked briskly away.
Hunter wandered back to his tent, where he made notes of many more questions he wanted to ask. He hoped he had developed a sufficient rapport with Boyd that would give him the opportunity to speak with more DNDR members at length.
As he stretched out on his bunk, Hunter recalled the young woman who had delivered his breakfast the previous day. He hoped that he might see her again at the next meal time.
That hope was dashed an hour later when a large, stern-faced man delivered his lunch.
As he ate his meal of tea and bread and reconciled the information he had collected, Hunter felt more secure in his surroundings. Boyd seemed to like him, which put him in good standing with the other militants. Barring a military attack on the camp, his safety appeared to be ensured. He hoped he had managed to convince Boyd that he was more valuable to the DNDR as a journalist than as a hostage.
( ( ( ( (
“Wake up, Mr Hunter. We cannot waste time.”
Hunter was jolted out of his sleep by a man with a deep voice who was violently shaking his bunk. When he managed to pry his eyes open, he discovered Boyd standing over him.
“What time is it?” he asked.
“Zero one hundred hours.”
“One o’clock? In the morning?”
“It’s time for me to leave?”
“Yes. Please hurry.”
Hunter shook his weary body awake and pulled on his trousers . Boyd handed him a hooded jacket just like the one he was wearing.
“Have I been drafted?”
“In a way, yes,” Boyd said. “As a journalist, you are now involved .”
He picked up a bulletproof vest and helped Hunter put it on.
“We promised an attack on the Mororo flowstation tonight,” he said. “As you know, the DNDR never goes back on its promises. This is your opportunity to see us in action, but don’t expect too much because it is a minor operation.”
“No, that is risky,” Hunter protested. “And it is unethical.”
“You leave from there to your freedom, unless you want to be one of us here?”
Hunter paused to think about the options.
The voices of the young men chanting war songs echoed outside the tent and he felt eager to follow them.
He allowed Boyd to drag him out of the tent.
Flickers of light flashed in the darkness, allowing Hunter to catch glimpses of heavily armed men dressed in hoods just like the one he was wearing. As his eyes adjusted to the night, he could see two men carrying grenade launchers. He followed Boyd to the bank of the creek, where an entire fleet of high-powered speedboats prepared to depart.
“Come with me,” Boyd said as he climbed into a vessel.
Hunter followed. Three other men were already on board. Heavily built and fiery-eyed, they made room for Boyd.
The men were silent as the boats pulled into the creek. Hunter could see eleven vessels in the convoy. He was riding in the third from the front. He understood there was no opportunity to escape.
The boats travelled through the creeks for nearly an hour, their engines disrupting the quiet of the desolate area. As it neared 2.15 a.m., Hunter saw lights in the distance, but he could not identify what they were. The boats drew closer, and words crackled back and forth over the convoy’s communication system. Hunter could finally identify the lighted area as an oil facility.
Suddenly, the sound of gunshots raked the night. One of the men shoved Hunter down to the floor of the boat and carefully aimed his rifle.
The attack was fully underway, but the security men at the facility were not caught by surprise. Shots from the boats were exchanged for bursts of fire.
This is an encounter with death, Hunter thought. He wondered how he could possibly escape if he had to. Remembering that he was in captivity in the first place. He counted on mother luck.
“Hey!” a shout from one of the boats cried. “Our boat has been hit, and water’s coming in.”
“Dummy,” Boyd got up to shout. “It is a speed boat, speed out of danger.”
As the boat sped away, the fire from the facility intensified.
“Hunter, get down on the floor of the boat,” Boyd shouted.
Hunter scrambled to the floor of the boat and took in a long breath.
When he turned his head to see that was happening, he saw Boyd take what looked like a grenade launcher from one of the hefty men. A loud bang from the facility ended the exchanges.
Nearly a minute later—one of the longest minutes of John Hunter’s life—the shooting stopped. Boyd knelt down beside Hunter.
“Don’t mind those cowards,” he said. “They were shooting back merely to say, ‘Don’t come near here.’ It’s okay. We weren’t going there anyway; this is not Mororo.”
“What was it then?” Hunter asked. “An opening act?”
Boyd laughed. “Yeah,” he said, “something like that.”
The boats continued down the creek. Hunter sat up, thinking very fast. Approximately twenty minutes later, the convoy of boats came to a complete halt near the one which had been hit earlier.
“You guys have fixed the damage ?” Boyd asked.
“The leak’s plugged and water drained,” someone said from the boat.
“ Patrick’s ankle bruised, Boss, but treated.”
“You are a Commander,” Hunter teased Boyd
“Mr Journalist!” Boyd said.
Just then Hunter peeked over the boat’s bow and saw the lights of another oil facility. His breath quickened as he watched one of the boats pull out of the convoy and charge the facility.
Moments later, heavy gunfire rang out from the speedboat. Hunter was not sure if they were taking any fire in return, but without being told he went down the floor of the boat. Again, he counted on luck. In about ten minutes, it was over—and the night was eerily silent. Hunter felt whoever was guarding the facility must have been taken unawares or run for safety. Oil facilities were routinely guarded, so he wondered why the militants were having it so easy.
Boyd sat on the floor of the boat next to Hunter and turned on his BlackBerry. Hunter looked over at the screen. A new text message had been sent.
“What does that mean?” Hunter asked.
“Mission accomplished,” Boyd said with a smile. “There usually isn’t much resistance at the flowstations; most of the workers have been evacuated, anyway.”
Boyd’s thumbs danced across his BlackBerry, relaying a message to the rest of the convoy. He then slipped the device into his pocket and helped Hunter up to his feet.
“We are heading to a mini-camp ahead,” he explained. “A car will be waiting for you. It will take you to Warri.”
Hunter was physically and mentally exhausted. He sighed with relief.
“We don’t kill journalists, but we watch what they write.” Boyd said.