*Council of State ratifies package
*IBB, Buhari, Abdulsalami absent
*Tompolo, others pardoned
*Offer lapses October 4
*How amnesty can succeed, Ijaw chief
By Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief, Luka Binniyat, Chris Ochayi, Chinyere Amalu & Daniel Idonor
ABUJA â€” PRESIDENT Umaru Yarâ€™Adua, yesterday, proclaimed an unconditional amnesty to all Niger Delta militants in the creeks as well as those facing prosecution in the law courts, including Henry Okah, standing a secret trial on a 62-count charge of treason, terrorism, illegal possession of firearms and arms trafficking and Government Ekpemupolo (Tompolo) and other militant leaders declared wanted by the Niger Delta security unit, Joint Task Force (JTF).
The President added that the Minister of Interior and Chairman of the panel on amnesty will release the details later today.
The amnesty offer was also ratified yesterday by the Council of State, and would take effect upon the surrender and handing over of all equipment, weapons, arms and ammunition in the possession of the militants, according to the President.
Centres are to be established in each state of the region for the execution of renunciation of Militancy Forms by the affected persons.
The President said the amnesty could only be effective if the militants were prepared to lay down their arms and therefore urged all those in hiding to take advantage of the proclamation and be re-integrated into the society.
His words, â€œthe offer of amnesty is predicated on the willingness and readiness of the militants to give up all illegal arms in their possession, completely renounce militancy in all its ramifications unconditionally and depose to an undertaking to this effect.
â€œIt is my fervent hope that all militants in the Niger Delta will take advantage of this amnesty and come out to join in the quest for the transformation of our dear nation.â€
The President, however, gave an October 4, 2009, deadline for all those who want to enjoy the amnesty take advantage of governmentâ€™s magnanimity.
The full proclamation:
Pursuant to Section 175 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
â€¢Whereas the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria acknowledges that the challenges of the Niger Delta arose mainly from the inadequacies of previous attempts at meeting the yearnings and aspiration of the people, and have set in motion machinery for the sustainable development of the Niger Delta States;
â€¢Whereas certain elements of the Niger Delta populace have resorted to unlawful means of agitation for the development of the region including militancy thereby threatening peace, security, order and good governance and jeopardising the economy of the nation;
â€¢Whereas the Government realises that many of the militants are able-bodied youths whose energies could be harnessed for the development of the Niger Delta and the nation at large;
â€¢Whereas the Government desires that all persons who have directly or indirectly participated in militancy in the Niger Delta should return to respect constituted authority; and
â€¢Whereas many persons who had so engaged in militancy now desire to apply for and obtain amnesty and pardon.
â€¢Now therefore, I, Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, after due consultation with the Council of State and in exercise of the powers conferred upon me by the provisions of Section 175 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, make the following proclamation:
â€¢I hereby grant amnesty and unconditional pardon to all persons who have directly or indirectly participated in the commission of offences associated with militant activities in the Niger Delta;
â€¢The pardon shall take effect upon the surrender and handing over of all equipment, weapons, arms and ammunition and execution of the renunciation of Militancy Forms specified in the schedule hereto, by the affected persons at the nearest collection centre established for the purpose of Government in each of the Niger Delta States;
â€¢The unconditional pardon granted pursuant to this proclamation shall extend to all persons presently being prosecuted for offences associated with militant activities; and
â€¢This proclamation shall cease to have effect from Sunday, 4th October 2009.
IBB, Buhari, Abdulsalami absent
The Council which comprises the president, Vice President and past heads of government, governors, former Chief Justices and the leadership of the National Assembly is the highest advisory body in Nigeria, according to the 1999 Constitution.
The council meeting which lasted over two hours was attended by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, retired General Yakubu Gowon, Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Chief Ernest Shonikan as well as 32 State Governors and three Deputy Governors from Ekiti, Rivers and Cross River States who were sighted around the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa.
However, three former Presidents, namely retired Generals Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar were absent at the crucial meeting.
Briefing state House Correspondents after the meeting, Governors Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa); Ikedi Ohakim (Imo) and Modu Sheriff (Borno) disclosed that the approval followed exhaustive deliberations and commendation of Yarâ€™Adua for adopting the approach.
Sylva further declared that genuine militants in the Niger Delta have expressed willingness to take up the amnesty offer and that after the offer elapses, government would consider any other violent agitator as a criminal.
Sylva commended the boldness of the initiative of the Federal Government aimed at tackling the crises in the region.
Pardon for coupists not on agenda
Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, who was also at the briefing, described the action as evidence of the Yarâ€™Adua administrationâ€™s commitment to respecting human rights and resolving the problems of the Niger Delta.
Aondoakaa, also speaking on the amnesty said that Mr. Presidentâ€™s action is based on Section 175 of the constitution.
He also noted that the endorsement by the countryâ€™s highest advisory body â€œis to assure the international community and all Nigerians that we are prepared to follow the due process, we are prepared to respect the human right and follow the law in resolving this issue of Niger Delta.â€
On the purported presidential pardon to be approved by the NCS for certain convicted military officers, Aondoakaa said such never featured at the Council meeting as it was not on the agenda.
â€œOne other issue is that I was surprised to see on the pages on paper today that the Council will today give pardon to certain categories of military officers. That did not come before Council today; it was not part of the agenda today. It can be considered on a later date after due consultation with military authorities, then it can be presented to Council,â€ the countryâ€™s number one law officer said.
Back amnesty with law, IYC tells Reps
The Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) yesterday said that the best way of assuring amnesty for the proposed amnesty for militants in the Niger Delta is for the House of Representatives to provide it with legislative backing.
In a paper presented to the House of Reps ad-hoc committee on Niger Delta crisis chaired by Honourable Abdul, the Chairman Ijaw Youth Council committee on security and economic development, Felix Tuodolo, also said that the military action in the region has turned thousands of people into refugees in their own land paralysing economic activities and reducing the nationâ€™s revenue from oil and gas.
â€œThe glamour of amnesty is not the end of itâ€, he said.
â€œThe proposed amnesty is alright, but it needs to be backed by law, to make it legalâ€, he said.
â€œI therefore plead with the House of Representatives to propose the right legislation and collaborate with the Senate to back up the amnesty with a lawâ€, he said.
â€œThis is one of the sure ways of having sustained peace in the regionâ€, he said.
How the amnesty can work, by Ijaw Chief
The National Chairman, Host Communities of Nigeria Producing Oil & Gas, (HCNPOG), Chief Alfred Buhor yesterday gave a recipe on how the amnesty granted militants in the region by President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua can succeed, saying that host communities should be given the responsibility of protecting oil installations.
Speaking during an interview in Vanguard office in Abuja, he opined that host communities should henceforth be held responsible for any attack on oil pipelines, flow stations and other oil and gas facilities in their domains.
Chief Buhor stressed further that, the amnesty package should be very clear on the role of community leaders in permanently addressing the menace of militants under which many unscrupulous elements have hidden to perpetuate criminality.