By Jide Ajani and Wahab Abdullahi
Fresh pressure is to be launched in the days ahead by the leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, MEND, Henry Okah, for the Federal Government to â€œquickly do somethingâ€ on his renal problems, his lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, has said.
Already, the Federal Government, following its consultations with the National Council of State at a meeting in Abuja, last Thursday, has approved N4 billion for the amnesty package for Niger Delta militants.
Government also said that the amnesty will take effect from August 6.
Okah, 45, who has been facing secret trial for treason, is one of the beneficiaries of the amnesty proclaimed by President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua.
Falana and Okahâ€™s wife, Azuka, are billed to see him in Jos, Plateau State capital, where he is being tried, as soon as possiblewith a view to getting his reaction to â€œthe on-going developmentâ€.
â€œWe have resolved to visit him to find out his own reaction to the on-going development. We will also take advantage of the visit to pressurize the government to quickly do something on his chronic renal problemsâ€, the activist/lawyer told Vanguard.
Falana did not explain the something government is expected to do.
He also said he had no instruction yet from his client to comment on the amnesty because, as he said, they only discussed â€œhis (Okahâ€™s) deteriorating state of his health the last time we met in courtâ€.
â€œAs at the time, based on the report of experts, the government had conceded that he has to be flown abroad for treatment because of malfunctioning of his kidneysâ€, he said
The lawyer continued, â€œAs you know, my client was facing a 62-count charge of terrorism, illegal possession of firearms, trafficking in firearms, treason and treasonable felony, etc. The Federal Government was compelled to withdraw 59 out of the 62 counts following our objection. My client was left with three counts of treason and treasonable felony. His wife, Mrs. Azuka Okah, contacted me on phone this morning (Friday) following the decision of the Federal Government to extend amnesty to him.
â€œFrankly speaking, the government will have to shelve its arrogance, as neither the government nor the militants can grant amnesty to each other. I thought the government would extend profound apology to the people of the Niger/Delta on behalf of Nigeria for the age-long destruction of their environment. The crisis in the Niger Delta is the survival of the parasitic Nigerian governing class, which has realized belatedly that the Joint Task Force (JTF) cannot guarantee uninterrupted flow of oil. What is required now is an intervention by a neutral body either from the United Nations or the African Union.
â€œIn other words, the government should urgently commence the implementation of the report of the Ledum Mitee Committee which had recommended amnesty since last year. The N50billion set aside for the so-called amnesty should be channeled towards the immediate physical development of the Niger/Delta.
â€œBoth sides need to cease fire urgently. The militants of the JTF and the Niger Delta should lay down their arms and give peace a chanceâ€.
N4bn for rehabilitation camps
The N4 billion approved by the Federal Government for the amnesty package in the Niger Delta, according to Presidency sources, would be majorly deployed to the construction of rehabilitation camps for the militants as the process of disarmament commences.
Sunday Vanguard can also disclose that the money would be channeled for utilization through the state governors in the Niger Delta who are said to have thrown their weight behind Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s magnanimity.
The directive for the disbursement of the funds through the governors was reportedly given by the president.
According to the Presidency source â€œstateÂ governors will identify school campuses they want to give out just as more structures would be added and old ones renovatedâ€.
This would appear to be a massive scaling down of the initial N50 billion naira suggested by the Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament of Militants in the Niger Delta.
The panel report had suggested thus:
â€œNo counter insurgency effort which culminated in Amnesty anywhere in the world has been a cheap venture.Â The Panel is also conscious of the overall desire of the government to channel all financial resources towards the accelerated development of the Niger Delta region.Â However, some money must be spent in the course of restoration of law and order to give room for construction machines to move in.
â€œThe projected sum of N50, 000, 000, 000 (Fifty Billion Naira) is envisaged would go a long way in the peace making effort.Â Future financial challenges will be addressed as they arise.
â€œThe C-in-C is invited to note this modest estimate in the course of deliberations with the governors and other stakeholders.â€
Sunday Vanguard can also reveal that the National Council of States at the Thursday meeting was able to take some far-reaching decisions which led to the immediate Presidential Proclamation by Yarâ€™Adua because governors of the Niger Delta States present at the meeting were very forthright and open.
The contributions of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, regarding operational issues in handling the amnesty and disarmament, also reportedly gave insights into how best to handle the situation.
Sunday Vanguard, for instance, gathered that the Niger Delta governors volunteered to spearhead an awareness engagement which would avail the militants the opportunity of appreciating the import of the presidential proclamation on amnesty.
â€œObasanjo used the experience of his eight years as president and commander-in-chief to provide illumination to some otherwise dark aspects of militancyâ€, a source in attendance at the Council of State meeting said..
â€œObasanjo made it clear that whereas it may appear that the agitation has lost focus, those claiming to be militants and who are criminalizing the struggle know exactly what they are doingâ€, the former president was quoted to have said at the meeting.
The governors of the Niger Delta states, were said to have equally open on the need to rid the region of the activities of criminals masquerading as militants, while at the same time devoting more resources to the development of the region, with a view to empowering the people and providing the dividends of democracy.
The possible arms collection points and holding camps are listed as follows in the panelâ€™s report:
Okirika â€“ Bonny axis
Buguma â€“ Calabari
Andoni â€“ Opobo â€“ Rivers
Port Harcourt 1
Port Harcourt 2
Port Harcourt 3
CROSS RIVER STATE
Amnesty takes effect August 6
Meanwhile, government said Friday, the amnesty for militants in the Niger Delta will take effect from August 6.
â€œWe have the 60 days period of grace from August 6, 2009 for all those who are willing to embrace the amnesty to surrender their weapons and renounce militancy,â€ Interior Minister Major-General Godwin Abbey told reporters.
â€œBetween now and 6th of August, discussions are continuing with the leadership of the militants,â€ Abbey, who heads the government amnesty panel, added, clarifying the grace period for the offer to be Yarâ€™Adua had said on Thursday that an amnesty would cease to be effective from October 4, and advised the rebels who have been attacking oil firms and personnel in the region in the past three and a half years to take advantage of the offer.
Abbey said the release of Okah, would depend on a diplomatic deal with Angola from where he was extradited in 2007 for alleged gun running.
â€œAs it affects Henry Okah, you would recall that he was extradited from an African country. It behoves on Nigeria to continue with the diplomatic relation by keeping them posted as to the decision to grant all the militants, including Henry Okah, amnesty,â€ he said.
â€œAnd until this process is over, it will be difficult to determine the exact date for his release. But, certainly, he is benefitting from the amnestyâ€.
The minister said the government would not pay cash for any arms surrendered by the militants.
The militants have yet to respond the government amnesty package after the proclamation, but MEND, the most prominent armed group in the region, said early last week that its acceptance of the offer would depend on how the government treated the issue of its detained leader, Okah.
MEND, which emerged in 2006 in the volatile Niger Delta region, has been accused of being behind a spate of abductions, mostly of foreign oil workers, the theft of crude oil, extortions and destruction of oil installations and facilities in the region.
It claims to be fighting for a fairer share of oil wealth for impoverished communities in the Niger Delta.
Its activities and those of other movements have caused crude production in the worldâ€™s eighth largest producer to plummet to around 1.8 million barrels a day, compared with 2.6 million in 2006.
Nigeria, once Africaâ€™s leading oil producer, has had to compete with Angola for that position since the troubles in the Niger Delta started three and a half years ago.
Oil prices rose on Friday as MEND said it had launched a fresh attack against an oil installation in the south of the country despite the amnesty offer.
New Yorkâ€™s main futures contract, light sweet crude for delivery in August, climbed 43 cents to 70.66 dollars a barrel.
In London, Brent North Sea crude for August rose 40 cents to 70.18 dollars.
Nigeria, a leading member of the international oil cartel OPEC, depends on oil as the mainstay of its economy.