Comrade Reuben Wilson was a dreaded militant in the creeks of the Niger Delta. For the number of years he engaged in armed struggle against the federal government, he did not enjoy freedom as a bonafide citizen of Nigeria, neither did he enjoy the comfort of his home and the love of his wife and children. OSA OKHOMINA writes on the life of a Niger Delta militant and benefits of amnesty
When Comrade Reuben Wilson's in-laws discovered that he was among the dreaded militants in the creeks of the Niger Delta, they were shocked. Why were they shocked? When Reuben was born at the Koluama community of Southern Ijaw local government area of Bayelsa State, he looked very quiet and God-fearing.
Is Commander Pastor Wilson, as he is popularly called, actually God-fearing, even in the midst of militant activities? While many Niger Delta militants arguably took up arms in the quest to share in the oil money and enjoy other economic benefits, Wilson argued that the struggle was for the love of the people.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP WEEKEND on his activities as a militant, he said, "I have the fear of God. I did not get involved in the struggle for personal gains. The truth is that I felt cheated and my people were oppressed. That was why I decided to carry arms.
"Even with the heavy arms and ammunition I usually went to church to serve and praise God. Any time I wanted to launch any armed battle against any multinational oil company and soldiers along the creeks and waterways, I went to church and prayed to God.
I believe in the biblical saying that since the "Kingdom of God suffereth violence, the violent must take it by force. I always committed my life and the lives of my boys to God. And we succeed."
How was life in the creeks? It was disclosed that the militants lived like kings in the creeks.
"To say the truth, while in the creeks we saw money. We lived like Kings. Any time we got broke we ordered the oil multinationals to bring certain amount of money. And they obeyed. But upon the acceptance of amnesty, such royal pleasures stopped. But I am happy as I am now. I enjoy freedom, which is very good.
It is painful when you don't have the freedom to move to places of your choice. We had money in the creeks but no freedom to spend it. The fear of being hunted down by soldiers tainted our lives in the creeks. That was the creek life.
"I can now move anywhere I want and built the kind of houses I want for myself and my family. There is much difference between life in the creeks and the city. We were scared and hunted," he said.
Commander Wilson confessed that militancy separated him from his wife and children, and thanked the federal government for introducing the amnesty programme, which he said had united him with his lovely family. "I missed my wife for over two years. She occasionally sneaked into the creek in the dead of the night, but she would not be comfortable. She was always afraid of the numerous presence of arms and ammunition. She may come in the night and leave early in the morning
"But since we accepted amnesty my wife has been with me, and has blossomed due to my presence. I was starved of sex for many years due to the struggle for the emancipation of the Niger Delta region," Wilson added.
Has the amnesty programme benefitted the people of the region? Commander Reuben Wilson, who is also the chairman of the Leadership Forum for Peace in the Niger Delta, revealed that amnesty has increased the production of crude oil. His words: "Production rate increased rapidly - from 600,000 barrels per day to 2.4million barrels. Most of our boys have gone abroad and are doing very well. My brother has become a commercial pilot in South Africa. Amnesty is truly working."
Many of the ex-militants also engaged in legitimate and lucrative economic and social activities. Commander Wilson is not left out. He runs a non-governmental organisation known as Reuben Wilson Foundation. He said he had used the platform of the foundation to reach out to the less privileged in the society. The foundation is also reaching out to those tagged "renegade militants" to stop crime and embrace peace.
"Through the Leadership Forum for the Niger Delta, we went down to the creeks and released the kidnapped six foreign workers.
We told the boys involved that crime can never fetch them good things, and advised them to accept amnesty," he said.
Commander Wilson is also of the opinion that President Goodluck Jonathan is doing a good job for the Nigerian project. He said that having critically studied the Nigerian project the president has been making noticeable efforts to fix the country. He disagreed with those who say that Jonathan is a weak president, especially given the security challenges that have bedevilled the country, saying that security is everybody's business.
"Jonathan is not a weak president. He is simply so democratic that he always allows those he appointed to do their jobs," he said.
He also dismissed the fear in some quarters that ex-militants might go back to the creeks if President Jonathan fails to get 2015 presidential ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), saying, "Nobody can upstage him.
"Nobody is going back to armed struggle. We support his style of governance and we believe Nigerians will vote for him. We are sure his party will give him the ticket and we are sure the people of Nigeria will give him their votes."
Commander Reuben Wilson advised those involved in kidnapping and sea piracy to stop: "My advice is for them to key into the peace process. The crime along the waters does not pay again. Militancy does not give room for development. Armed struggle does not pay anybody or community."