In this report, Ebenezer Adurokiya visited Enekorogha community where Dr Ian Squire and his colleagues were kidnapped where the residents revealed that four British missionaries and social workers were kidnapped a day before their departure from their host community but one died before rescue came. Since then their hosts have been in a state of shock.
IJAW natives of Enekorogha and other neighbouring communities in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State are currently in a state of shock and mourning the death of Dr. Ian Squire. The 57-year-old British optician was said to be on his fourth visit to Burutu, on health charity work, as a Christian missionary. A day to return to the United Kingdom (UK) from the creeks in preparation for next February’s medical outreach already earmarked for 100 patients diagnosed with eye problems, Dr Squire and David Donovan, Squire’s wife, Shirley and Alanna Carson fell into the murderous hands of suspected militants on October 13.
For almost a month, the quartet were in custody of the militants said to have been masterminded by an ex-militant on the amnesty payroll, identified as Karowei Pere Gbakumor, who’s currently being by security agents.
Karowei, as gathered by Sunday Tribune, hails from one of the neighboring villages in Burutu, but as a marauder, he had set up a militant/kidnap camp deep inside the creeks where untold vices were being daily perpetrated.
It was gathered that after the kidnap of the four British missionaries, the abductors allegedly requested a ransom of N10 million. Hours became days and days became weeks as security agents kept combing the creeks for possible rescue of the captives with no success.
However, about the fourth week on November 6, their eventual release was announced by the British Foreign Office after much synergy with the Nigerian authorities, but Dr Squire, a man who was said to have abandoned his thriving practice in Shepparton Surrey, United Kingdom to offer humanitarian services to indigent Ijaw natives, did not survive as he was pronounced dead. Details of what led to Dr Squire’s death , the founder and chairman of the Christian Charity Mission for Vision that birthed in 2003, at the hands of the hoodlums are still sketchy.
State of Enekorogha community
A journey to Enekorogha community on a speedboat on river from Warri will take about three hours, while on road through Ughelli to Burutu river jetty, is about two hours. From the jetty, one is expected to board a speedboat across the river to the community. Invariably, since there’s no bridge built across the river, the only means to finally access Enekorogha, either through the river from Warri or from Burutu jetty is through a boat. Inside the community, no road exists. So, what could have propelled the Britons to berth at Enekorogha community instead of Burutu, a local government headquarters with tarred road. Sunday Tribune gathered during the visit with three other journalists on November 10 that no health centre existed in the village before the coming of the charity workers.
Dr Donovan and his wife, Shirley’s sojourn and acceptance in Enekorogha community and environs underscored the dearth of basic social amenities unavailable in the bucolic environment. Donovan’s crew made incursion into the community liberating pregnant women who had hitherto been dependent on local means of delivery or were ferried across the river on a boat for onward vehicular movement to Burutu, a journey that could last an hour and costs a fortune.
However, with the advent of the Christian aid workers, a clinic was built and equipped with modern gadgets and health outreaches on various health challenges were carried out on folks in the community as well as other adjourning ones free of charge almost biennially. Eyeglasses, check-ups, diagnoses, drugs and even minor surgeries were carried out on patients each time the Britons were in the community.
As the population of beneficiaries increased, four natives, Sunday Tribune was reliably informed, were taken abroad by the missionaries and trained in specific medical lines to up the workforce and had been adding value to the health initiative in the community since their return.
Besides, the clinic has no fewer than 15 locals working with the Britons and earning salaries. The Ijaw community, to the obvious envy of others around the area, has begun to enjoy gradual development through the opening up of the land. The white men had built a bungalow flat with a boys quarter directly behind a primary school close to the forest. There are two schools, Enekorogha Grammar School and Pramode Primary School, in the community, and these missionaries were said to have often strolled into the classrooms at their leisure to tutor the pupils.
Reaction of the community
Few days after the death of Dr Squire and release of the three others, the angry villagers embarked on a procession to mourn the deceased and the exit of others from the community. In their local dialect, both old and young, men and women, sang a dirge translated to mean: “Ian’s death is a painful death to the entire community.” An old woman, returning from the farm on a wooden boat, disembarked from the boat and began to roll on the river bank beside her bunch of banana in tears.
From one end of the community to another, Sunday Tribune followed the mourning procession of the ‘bereaved’ members of the community. The procession made its way to the clinic and thereafter to the lodge where David Donovan, Squire’s wife, Shirley and Alanna Carson were abducted midnight of October 13. Painted with green emulsion paint, the structure of the lodge betrayed a typical simple European architectural style of a bungalow with good ventilation. The structure, sandwiched between a block of classrooms of Pramode Primary School and a thick forest has a colonial era style. A few domestic staff—cleaners, cooks and others – were at the boys’ quarters. A maid, who spoke to Sunday Tribune privately, was in the main house. The compound, with greenly palm trees, banana, other fruits and flowers, has an average fence with no barbed wire to prevent intruders.
The marauders obviously forced their way into the main door of the apartment after capturing Dr Donovan. Donovan was said to have responded to the sudden stop of the Lister generating set that was in use the fateful night, by going outside to find out what had halted the engine. There, he was grabbed at gunpoint by one of the intruders and forcefully led back to the main building. The hoodlums then broke into two other rooms, ransacked them and dragged a couple and one other into the dead of the night, thereafter into a waiting boat in the large river and ferried them to their camp far into the creeks. Laptops, traveling bags and other valuables of the missionaries were still intact as of the time of the visit.
Mrs Peter, who witnessed the abduction, further related the story graphically to Sunday Tribune.
“That very night, I was with them in this camp sleeping in one of the rooms of the boys’ quarter. All the women were together in another building that was newly built (the boys quarter) while the men were in the former one.
“All of a sudden, in the night around 12:45a.m, one of the women woke up and said ‘Rose, wake up. Something has happened!’ I was so scared that as I got up, I said, ‘what’s happening?’ She said ‘they’ve stolen our white men, how and why?’ So, we all now ran to this place (the main building); when we got here, there was no one. We couldn’t find any of them.,” she said.
Mrs Peter added that the fifth expatriate in the third room of the apartment escaped, as it did not occur to the marauders that someone was inhabiting the room and perhaps they missed him as they left in a hurry. So, shortly after the hoodlums left with the quartet, the escapee was quickly evacuated to the relevant authorities for safety.
Dr Squire, others rejected local security
Perhaps if Dr Ian Squire and his team from the UK had not refused the offer of protection from the locals or even soldiers, the story would have been different. It is a well known fact that expatriates plying their trades in the Niger Delta region do so under the watchful eyes of hired law enforcement agents, especially members of the Joint Task Force. Having known the volatile security situation in the region, how come Dr Ian and others did not have armed security agents providing security for them? This question was posed to the chairman of the community, Comrade Michael Ogobiri.
“When Dr Donavan and his crew located the village as suitable to establish their foundation, we provided a local security for them, but because you know, they are missionaries they believe in God; there was a time they came to us and said ‘no, forget about this local security and whatever, nothing with happen to us.’
“Nobody in this community believed that this would ever happen because they have been with us for over 10 years and nothing like this has never happened before. We were all living very freely and since after the Amnesty programme, we know that there is no criminal activity like kidnapping in this region. Karowei himself is a partaker of the Amnesty programme, he is receiving his salary from the government and we all believe that nothing of such was going to happen to us,” Ogobiri explained
State of the New Foundations clinic
Since the kidnap and death of Dr Squire and the eventual release of the three others, the clinic known as New Foundations Clinic has been under lock and keys. Gloom literally envelops the entire space! The colourful clinic building stands conspicuous in the midst of shanties built with straws and mud belonging to the locals. From the sliding glass door and windows, one could see the relics of hardworking social workers: traveling bags, stethoscopes and other medical instruments in one of the rooms while at the waiting room, colorful chairs for patients and children lie idle, denied the warmth of patients.
Testimonies of beneficiaries of the clinic
Sunday Tribune sought the views of the villagers on Dr Squire, whom they fondly call Dr Ian, and the exit of the New Foundations crew from the creeks.
A mother, Mrs Deborah Inakposia, who had enjoyed safe deliveries of her babies at the clinic, disclosed in pidgin that: “when I got pregnant, I come here for treatment, if I sick, I come here, them go give me tablet; they’ll take care of me until I give birth. We don’t pay. We don’t know how we are going to do now, we are suffering now.”
Jethro Etonwe testified of how the white men operated on his son to save his life without any form of payment. An elderly man and activist, Comrade Andrew opined that the people are currently in a deep distress over the death of Dr Ian and the relocation of others back to the UK after their release.
According to him, “We are in a big distress now; we don’t know what to do especially we the family heads. For us to now carry our patients to even Bomadi cost us a lot and we’ve been giving free treatment since 2007 till date and now that they have closed this clinic and you see, it’s not all of us that are buoyant to carry our patients to Bomadi and its even the nearest place.
Dr Ian Squire’s close friend, Paul Allan, as reported by BBC Online, described Ian as a ‘good friend’ and a ‘very straightforward, nice, gentle guy.’
“I just can’t believe what’s happened. I find it shocking to believe for someone who has gone out to do good in the community overseas that that the action has cost him dearly.
“It has cost him his life. It is beyond belief. It’s a sign of this day and age, but he wasn’t concerned about that. He just wanted to go out and help people in less fortunate situations than ours,” Allan enthused.
What happens next?
Although, the hunt for the killer of Dr Ian by the Inspector General of Police Intelligence Response Team led by Assistant Commissioner of Police Abba Kyari has cost the life of Sgt Lanre Sanusi and one of the kidnappers, a few other members of the Karowei gang have been caught while security agents are still on the trail of the ring leader.
Meanwhile, after the killing and arrest of some of the suspected criminals youths of Enekorogha have taken their destiny into their hands as they have formed a formidable vigilance group to repel threats from Karowei and his gang.
Commanding Officer, Sector 1, Operation Delta Safe (OPDS), Col. Alhassan Grema, who was on a gunboat patrol to the community last Tuesday, assured the people of adequate security, but added that the kidnap kingpin and other remnants, who are still in their midst in the creeks, must be smoked out of their hiding place.
As Enekorogha community comes to terms with the reality of living without their benefactors, and continues to pray for another God-send in the mould of Dr Ian and his foundation, t is hard to figure out if the community could be two times lucky.