By George Onah,Â Bureau Chief,Â Port Harcourt
A FEW months ago the Federal Government muted the idea of amnesty to militants in the Niger Delta with a view to ending the rumble in the creeks, which has massively affected oil export and exploration, crashing the nationâ€™s revenue to its ebb. As it was expected, the amnesty announcement was greeted with mixed reactions. While some Nigerians hailed President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua for the magnanimity others called for the prosecution of the militants for their past sins.
There was even a plethora of disagreement between the â€˜creek militiasâ€™ whether to accept the amnesty or reject the olive branch. Leading the pack of those who disagree with the was the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, MEND. The group reasoned that the problems which triggered their action had not been adequately addressed by the Federal authorities, hence the need to be steadfast in the agitation.
But there were those who saw the need to end the â€˜warâ€™, because a crucial percentage of the demands had been met. These they argued, included adequate political representation at the peak of political office in the land, the creation of the Niger Delta Ministry, the setting up of various intervention agencies, Marshall plan for the Niger Delta, instituting the Niger Delta Technical Committee and a host of others.
But some political leaders in the region pointedly told the federal government to pocket its amnesty plan because the region had not been propelled to the intended â€˜Eldora doâ€™. However, the country at large hailed the gesture and urged the arms bearers in the swamps to harken to the voice of reason and turn over their weapons to the security agencies.
To discerning minds, it was obvious that those powers_that_be in the region that are opposed to the youths in dropping their arms must be reaping some selfish benefits. It was no wonder that when the Federal Government threatened to publish the names of suspected sponsors of militants in the region it generated plenty furore.
However, while this was going, a major militant leader in Rivers State , Mr. Ateke Tom blazed the trail by announcing that he was willing to call off his â€˜rebellionâ€™. Again, the pronouncement which came like a bolt from the blue triggered a cacophony of voices but it blew the mind of the presidency. Welcoming the declaration President Yarâ€™Adua promised to personally receive Ateke Tom in Abuja, while MEND urged Ateke Tom to have a rethink.
The Rivers State Government on its part received the announcement with skepticism, telling the public to ignore Ateke. The government felt that the manâ€™s past history of duplicity presents him as a monumental liar who lacks any iota of credibility. But the camp of the â€˜repentantâ€™ militant took the state government to task, questioning its reason for rejecting the wailing of a prodigal son.
Setting the stage for his planned reunion with the larger society, Ateke reeled out a five_point peace agenda and detailed his solicitor to marshal his position to the Federal Government. His counsel, Mr. Ikenna M. Enekweizu told the press in Port Harcourt that Ateke was willing to come out of hiding but with the following conditions.
1. â€œThat Chief (Comrade) Ateke Tom, the Niger Delta vigilante, and the Niger Delta patriotic forcesÂ are satisfied with the efforts so far made by the Federal Government of Nigeria as led by President Umaru Yarâ€™ Adua with respect to the matter of the grant of amnesty to militants. They are also convinced that the present Federal Government of Nigeria is sincerely committed to the granting of amnesty to militants and to the restoration of peace in the Niger Delta.
2. Hereby declares on behalf of himself and all members of the Niger Delta vigilante, the Niger Delta patriotic forces, that he is prepared to hand over all arms and ammunition in the hands of himself and his boys to the Federal Government, the moment the modalities for the grant of the amnesty is completed and announced by the Federal Government. Chief (Comrade) Ateke Tom hereby calls on the Federal Government to immediately make public the conditions for the said amnesty and put in place all necessary frame work (both legal and otherwise) for the facilitation of the grant of the said amnesty.
3. Is prepared and ready to return to his home town (Okrika), from where he hopes to continue to meaningfully and positively contribute to the peace and development of Okrika land, Rivers State , the Niger Delta and Nigeria as a whole.
4. Hereby calls on all his brothers in the struggle to lay down their arms and fully embrace the amicable solution of the Niger Delta questions, through the amnesty granted by the Federal Government to the militants.
5Â Also, hereby calls on Mr. President to match his words on the issue of the grant of amnesty to all militants with action, and show_ case governmentsâ€™ sincerity to the cause by stopping forthwith, all military operations in the Niger Delta, and immediately withdrawing itsâ€™ troops and men of the JTF from Gbaramatu Kingdom and all places where such troops are presently stationed. This is the only way, to convince the people of the Niger Delta that he has truly embraced the peaceful option in resolving the Niger Delta question and is sincerely committed to the grant of amnesty to the militantsâ€.
Closely following Atekeâ€™s move was the decision by three other militant leaders Farah Dagogo, Boyloaf and Soboma George, to surrender their arms and embrace the Federal Governmentâ€™s amnesty. Theâ€™ pronouncement by Ateke was hailed by the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, when its leader Mr. Goodluck Diigbo said â€œit was a new dawn for the Niger Delta regionâ€.
In the following week, another group, under the aegis of the Niger Delta Non_violent Movement said it was in support of â€œpeace, disarmament, rehabilitation and the removal of the injustices that have made the so_called militants to resort to armsâ€.
President of the group Mr. Onengiya Erekosima told the press in Port Harcourt that the militants were, however, frightened by governmentâ€™s â€œprevious insincerity towards peace. For instance, Soboma Jackreece a.k.a. Egberipapa came out from his hiding to negotiate peace only to be arrested by the JTF in Buguma town. Tompolo canvassed for peace among so_called militants, he became a target for assassination and arrest. Asari Dokubo embraced peace but was arrested, detained and prosecuted. Ateke Tom accepted peace; he was not encouraged rather a military assault was launched on his base, etc.
To cap their sermon in their demands for a soft landing for the militant chiefs, the non_violent group reeled out what must be done â€œfor them to accept the amnesty offerâ€.
1. That their interest should be represented by their witnesses who will be appointed by them to discuss on the amnesic and press for certain conditions and viewpoints.
2. That the names of those granted amnesty should be classified to facilitate their easy rehabilitation in society and not to be prosecuted by future government.
3. that their names should be expunged from criminal records on the logic that they are products of governmentâ€™s intransigencies on the Niger Delta question, victims of the political class extreme lust for power and rabid ambition, children of necessity of the highhandedness and violent suppression of the Niger Delta struggle by the JTF, fallouts of mercenary elders who feed fat from the struggle of the Niger Delta people. If the so_called militants are criminals, then all these parties are also criminals and therefore need their own amnesty.
4. That government should release unconditionally Henry Okah, strike out the treason charges against Alhaji Mujahid Asari Dokubo, release Soboma Jackreece a.k.a. Egberipapa from the detention of the JTF and close the case of jail break against Soboma George.
5. That government should discontinue military bombardment and operations in any Niger Delta communityâ€.