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A reminder of Timipre Sylva’s ‘Operation Famou Tamgbe’


*Remembering the past in deciding the future of Bayelsa

It is a known fact that true democracy will make possible the full enjoyment of Human Rights. However the enabling ground and environment that will make this possible is an environment of peace, tranquility and security.

As we are also aware, the primary purpose of a government is the Security, welfare, wellbeing and happiness of the people or citizens residing in its territorial confines. Apart from the provision of the Nigerian Constitution which says the security of the citizen shall be primary responsibility of government, various international charters and treaties to which Nigerian is signatory imposed similar obligation on the Nigerian Government, including the federating States. 

As with every other obligation imposed by international charter or treaty, the Nigerian Government is not only bound to refrain from violating the Security and Safety of the citizens, it is equally bound to take positive, specific to address security issues once they emerge.

It will be an extreme academic exercise to go into any definition of the term “security”. It is convenient to borrow the descriptive perspective of the term “Security” by the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights. In its interpretation of right to Security, the African Commission describes the rights to Security to include “national and individual Security”. According to the African Commission “national security examines how the state protects the PHYSICAL INTEGRITY OF ITS CITIZENS from external threats, such as invasion, terrorism and violence.

 Individual security on the other hand can be looked at in two angles, public and private security. By public security, the law examines how the State protects the physical integrity of its citizens from abuse by other citizens. One way to comply with these positive obligations in the area of citizens’ security and safety would be for the government to monitor, evaluate and improve the effectiveness of its law enforcement and security agencies. 

In addition, the government must truly make security and safety of those who live in the society, a public policy priority by tackling the root cause of violence and crime, which is extreme poverty and lack of opportunities and freedom for people to seek personal development and prosperity. The government should also ensure that law enforcement and security agencies have the personnel and infrastructure to provide quality services without discrimination or distinction.

In implementing these steps, the government must also uphold the rule of law and respect for human rights in its law enforcement response to violence and crime in the Society. Preventing and combating violence and crime must not put security before human rights, which can lead to erosion of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms of the citizens.

While we reckon that security is the first law of nature and no administration will do anything to compromise the security of her citizens. However, there are times political power holders because of overzealousness and the tendency to protect their personal estates, are tempted to use official security for their personal advantage. 

This is exactly what happened to the existence of “Operation Famou-Tangbei”, an outfit created under the administration of Chief Timipre Sylva [image above], while in the saddle as the Governor of Bayelsa State. He introduced the outfit as an approach by his administration to tackle the challenges of militancy, which was at its peak at that time. We must also remember that this was the same period that the Federal Government initiated the Amnesty Programme in the Niger Delta Region.

At that moment of history in Bayelsa State, so many stories surrounding the operations of Operation Famou Tamgbe, many too unpleasant to reiterate we in the knowledge of the public particularly, the people of Bayelsa State. It was discovered that while the outfit was established to reduce crime; it has rather exacerbated criminal activities.

As time went on in the State, Operation Famou-Tangbe became an instrument of political repression and intimidation by the government of Timipre Sylva. The administration used the outfit to intimidate, maim and harass members of opposition parties in Bayelsa State. Rather than maintain peace and security, Famou Tamgbe became an instrument of intimidation like the Gestapo under Nazi Germany.

Also under the watchful eyes of the Timipre Sylva’s administration, there were several reported cases where people paid sums of money to operatives of the outfit to beat people up for trivial matters such as boyfriend – girlfriend relationship, etc. in fact, a time came that Famou Tamgbe began to play the role of debt collectors and settlement of matrimonial issues. These are civil and domestic issues that have no relationship with security. The outfit easily became a handy tool in the hands of political office holders in Bayelsa State to seize land from the less-privileged and those who are not politically connected.

The truth be told, the primary motive for which the Sylva’s administration maintained the outfit despite public outcries was the then desperation of Chief Timi Sylva to commit violence and rig the gubernatorial elections which he had wanted to contest then, in Bayelsa State.

Another sad reminder of the Sylva’s administration and his Famou Tamgbe outfit was how the operation became colossal drain pipe on the resources of Bayelsa State. It is on record that the sum of N150 Million was spent monthly to maintain the outfit. Investigations however showed that the Government spends a paltry sum of N40 Million while the remaining N110 goes down the pockets of the sponsors and operators. Till date, Bayelsans are still demanding accountability from Chief Timi Sylva on expenditures such as this and others under whose guise the administration looted Bayelsa state dry.

For every reason that one may have to remember the Sylva’s administration and its operation Famou Tamgbe outfit, what flashes back is that of an outfit which operators, saw themselves as being above the regular Nigerian Police Force. The head of the squad executed directives only from Government House and other corrupt government officers. The Commissioner for Police was not rich enough to give instructions to the body. If the operations of the squad are legal and within the ambit of law, why did the Commander refuse to take directives from the State Police Command?

Bayelsans need to be reminded of the death of the Plant Manager at Gilly-Helena Hotel Late Mr. Karina Frank-Oputu – who in September 2011, was beaten to death by Famou Tamgbe operatives in Yenagoa, this is just one of several cases of unreported extra-judicial killings. Such cases are numerous in Bayelsa State and most of the victims could not complain for fear of been maimed or killed by the operatives of the outfit, without any hope of redress from the government under the Timipre Sylva’s administration.

Today, Bayelsans are relieved of the sad experiences of those years and are never willing to have a Governor that will return the State those days in the Zoo. The people have continued to compare the administration of Governor Henry Seriake Dickson to that of Timipre Sylva, and the difference they say is clear. The security arrangement currently in place is better, even though there may be room for improvement. Apart from direct observations; from the pulse of Bayelsans, information about the exploits of Operation Doo Akpo is felt; especially in the areas of swift response to distress calls and Human Rights related issues.

And, although the current security outfit is a great improvement when compared to Operation Famou Tamgbe; that wicked, lawless and violent security outfit put in place by the Timipre Sylva’s administration.

The Seriake Dickson’s administration has ensured that the Rule of Law is not only upheld, the fundamental rights of citizens are also protected.

Today in Bayelsa, whosoever is arrested is handed over to the regular police stations after documentations for proper investigation of alleged offences and they are prosecuted in courts of competent jurisdiction.

For, during the reign of Operation Famou Tamgbe, night life in Yenagoa was restricted and Bayelsans moved about with fear at all times of the day. Today, members of the public are enjoying night life in Yenagoa now without the usual molestation/harassment, arrest and detention associated with Operation Famou Tamgbe.

It therefore imperative that as we approach the December 5, 2015 governorship election, a critical look is taken into our past as a people of Bayelsa state in determining the future of our people which will greatly be affected by the choices we make as to who govern us in the next four years.

The Restoration is the answer.

God bless Bayelsa!

God bless Nigeria!!

Chief Godknows Adaye

Community Leader and Clergy, Brass, Bayelsa State

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