The story you are about to read is of a man of humble beginnings, who defied the odds to rise to the pinnacle of entrepreneurial success. Formerly a fierce warlord in the creeks of the Niger Delta, a freedom warrior and liberator of his people. High Chief Bibopere Ajube, popularly known as ‘Shoot-at-Sight’ has now laid down his weapons and abandoned violent activism in favour of peace in the Niger Delta region. Instead, he is now an active player in the economy of the Niger Delta area, fighting poverty, unemployment, and creating job opportunities for unemployed youths.
It’s no surprise that the Interim Administrator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), Col. Milland Dixon Dikio (rtd), keeps referencing him. Ajube, according to Dikio, is a shining example of what is achievable in the Niger Delta.
If Ajube, despite his minimal educational background, was able to climb above the difficulties of the Niger Delta to become one of the most successful businesses among his colleagues, the amnesty boss believes that other ex-agitators can do the same.
Consequently, Dikio has set out on a mission to encourage other ex-agitators to think outside the box, as Ajube did, by making use of the many opportunities in the area to become successful entrepreneurs rather than relying solely on N65,000 monthly stipends provided by the government.
Ajube, a native of Arugbo-Ibe, a Ijaw riverine community in Ese-Odo Local Government Area of Ondo State, lacked formal education. He could not attend a primary school. But he’d always seen the river that ran through his neighbourhood as a good place to go fishing since he was a kid. So, he grew up with a survival instinct as a fisherman.
Asked to describe himself, Ajube, who is always economical with words, said: “I am a man of humble beginning. I had no formal education. I was brought up in a creek community called Arugbo-Ibe where fishing was predominant and so I naturally grew up to be a fisherman.”
Perhaps, the river, trees, mangroves and other natural creations that Ajube saw in his environment while growing up reinforced his belief in the God that created them. The former warlord said he grew up to become a spiritual man who relies on prayers and divine signs for decision-making.
“I am also a very spiritual man who doesn’t make decisions without a sign. I call God Onise Iyanu (the God of wonders) because he leads me. I see myself as a son of God, so I always commit to prayers.
Ajube set off from his Ondo fishing camp for Delta State, where he met another key figure in the fight, veteran agitator High Chief Government Ekpemupolo aka Tompolo. The meeting undoubtedly signalled the start of a period of violent unrest that crippled the country’s economy.
Though he avoided going into detail about their exploits in the creeks, Ajube claimed he accepted the Federal Government’s amnesty programme and promptly surrendered all of his weapons and ammunition.
In reality, Ajube has never looked back on his choice to hand up all of his weapons and accept the government’s offer of peace. It was the single choice that prompted him to don his thinking cap as he saw himself transform into a significant participant in the Niger Delta’s economy.
According to Dikio, the story of Ajube is a clear example of what is possible in the Niger Delta.
“Ajube today is a model of success and an inspiration to so many of our youths in the region. We are using his story to inspire and encourage others to change their mindset of depending on N65,000 monthly stipend.
“We are encouraging them to key into our new vision of transforming the ex-agitators into entrepreneurs and/or employable citizens who will become net contributors to the economy of the region and the nation like Ajube”.
Ajube reportedly declined to register for the N65,000 monthly stipend given to each protester. He also disallowed his “boys” from getting such a monthly payment, opting instead to pursue and develop other Niger Delta business possibilities made available by the amnesty scheme.
He decided to become an entrepreneur and founded Bradama International. He educated, supervised, and hired all of his boys in Bradama, where they earn excellent monthly incomes. Bradama has emerged as Nigeria’s rising star in the oil and gas services sector.
Bradama International, in fact, provides a broad variety of services, including pipe fabrication and pipeline construction, professional welding training, dredging, canalisation, and maritime services, to name a few. In reality, Ajube, who never attended an elementary school, employs and pays huge salaries to graduates with different higher degrees on a monthly basis.
The firm, which develops and builds complex pipes, has finished and delivered multibillion-naira projects for major petroleum and electricity companies.
Ajube described an opportunity he spotted during the early stages of the amnesty programme that led to the formation of Bradama.
He said: “After the proclamation of the amnesty, I travelled with my brother Kingsley Kuku to Ghana. I received complaints that there were issues with our boys in their schools. Only two men were allocated to train 150 students. This made me realise that there was no fully equipped vocational training centre where skills can be acquired for youths to be positively engaged.
“I noticed the quack training centres available was only a means to siphon money from the amnesty programme. So I asked my brothers in Ghana to join me back to Nigeria because I believed we can build a better training school for our people. “When I got back to Nigeria, I brought in experts from the United States and I told them I wanted to build a training facility, and that was how it all began. I named it Bradama, which means handwork.”
Col. Dikio, the interim administrator of the Amnesty Scheme, has made no secret of his love for Ajube. He aspires for all former agitators to be like Ajube. Dikio was especially pleased by the fact that the former agitator was already putting into practise a new model he established in the amnesty programme to replace the previous training method he inherited from his predecessor.
He was overjoyed to learn that his Train, Mentor, and Employ (TME) programme was being implemented in Bradama, transforming some of Ajube’s former foot soldiers into entrepreneurs.
Dikio has been travelling the Niger Delta, spreading the gospel of entrepreneurship to all ex-agitators, using Ajube as an example. He has been training the ex-agitators to take use of the region’s possibilities and comparative economic advantage to build riches and break free from the constraints of the N65,000 monthly stipend mindset.
Dikio began work on his idea of forming ex-agitators into cooperatives in three main areas of maritime security, food security, and maritime transit during his previous trip, with the image of Ajube in mind. He conducted a workshop where he showed the former agitators how to use the cooperative concept to effectively convert themselves into rich businesses.
Ex-agitators, according to Dikio, who fail to think like Ajube and take advantage of economic possibilities in their area to generate employment and build wealth would continue to cycle around poverty, believing that N65,000 is all they have. As a result, Dikio did not hesitate to characterise the monthly stipend as a stronghold from which the ex-agitators, like Ajube, must break free in order to maximise their potential.
He said to them: “You must think of how you can graduate from stipends after 11 years. I am offering you a platform. You have to form yourselves into cooperatives. You are better than this stronghold of N65,000. We can’t make progress sitting in one place. My job is to make you think beyond the N65,000 mentality.
“We are starting a process of making our ex-agitators self-reliant entrepreneurs and by extension employers of labour. We want to open their minds to see the numerous resources that are available in their environment and how adding value will make them become financially self reliant.
“When you form partnership, you become stronger. There is a spirit behind coming together. Stop making excuses to remain where you are. We want to see you rub your minds together. Develop business ideas. If you start, in six months, you will be shocked. Your lives will change.
“If what you get is more than what you spend, don’t bother. You must learn the language of money to be rich. The rich invest while the poor don’t. No matter how much you get, you must take something out. You must know basic things. If you choose to be rich, you will be rich. Change perception about you. Define yourselves through your actions.”
Ajube, in a same vein, believes that the Niger Delta cannot be criminalised. He claims that no society or region is free of crime, but that criminals must be shown the door. He said he derived his inspiration from his passion to lift his community out of poverty.
He said: “There is no community that doesn’t have criminal activities going on in them. What is important is curbing the criminal activities and gainfully engaging the youths in free education, access to social amenities and acquiring skills.
“These are the things I thought about and it inspired me to do it for my community. Ultimately, I look forward to having more graduates in the community”.