By Emma Amaize, Editor, South-South, George Onah andÂ Samuel Oyadongha
LEADER of the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND), Mr. Henry Okah who was released from 23 â€“month detention, Monday, has directed the militant group to calm down on its tough stanceÂ Â that the Federal Government should pull out the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta from Gbaramatu communities in Delta State before the group would dialogue with the government.
Meanwhile the call for the removal of the Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta by the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta has come under severe criticism by the Rivers and BayelsaÂ States Government.Â Â Rivers State described the callÂ Â as ridiculous, obnoxious and jaundiced.
â€œThe JTF will not leave the Niger Delta until the militants have handed over all their guns and the troops have rid the place of all illegal guns.
Those making that call are not having the interests of the common people at heart. In truth, if their actions are sincere they would not ask for the removal of JTF, because if there was adequate security and people are going about their businesses, we certainly would not worry about JTF.
In an interview with Saturday Vanguard, Chief Press Secretary to the governor Mr. Blessing Wikina said the government was comfortable with the presence of the JTF in state and region and â€œwe will continue to encourage their stay until the situation returns to normalcy.
The Bayelsa StateÂ Â Governmentâ€™s on its part saidÂ that the JTF has succeeded in restoring peace and doing a very good job in the region. The troops would remain until the business climate thrives again and by the way it is a security matter.
â€œIt is a federal government decision to send a combined team of military to come and restore peace in the Niger Delta region and since the military is in the federal government exclusive list the states that make up the region has no control over it.
Senior Special Assistant to Bayelsa State Governor on Media, Mr. Preye Wariowei said that the only thing the states can do is ifÂ theyÂ Â Â are convinced that the peace the JTF came to restore has been restored they can only appeal to the federal government to withdraw the troops.
I believe the presence of the JTF has to a large extent led to the restoration of peace in the Niger Delta.â€
JTF would stay until all the militants have handed over their guns and we are sure that they have rid the place of all illegal guns, we can now cross the bridge when we get there.
Saturday Vanguard gathered that Okah advised the militant group to raise its fears and reservations with the government at the pending discussions.
MEND has also denied appointing business tycoon and politician as a mediator for the insurgent assembly, saying if it were looking for people to make up its team of negotiators, dubbed Aaron team, it is people like Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, former governor, Balarabe Musa and Colonel Abubakar Umar (retd.) that would make such a critical team.
On Tuesday, MEND declared a 60-day ceasefire to create room for dialogue with the Federal Government, which released its leader, 24 hours earlier, but, it stated, â€œA compulsory prelude to talks is the withdrawal of the military Joint Task Forces from the Gbaramatu communities and the return of all the displaced persons back to their various homesâ€.
The Federal Government through the Minister of Defence, Major General Godwin Abbe (retd.) denounced the condition attached to the talks by MEND and it appeared as if there was going to be a stalemate once again when Henry Okah, according to our reliable source, intervened.
Spokesman of MEND, Jomo Gbomo in an exclusive electronic mail response to inquiry by Saturday Vanguard confirmed our findings that Henry Okah has asked the group to simmer down on conditions for talks with government.
His words, â€œOkah asked us to soft- pedal on the compulsory prelude to talks as that will be addressed in the course of the talksâ€.
On the second condition, which is the return of Gbaramatu people to their homes, he said, â€œWe were specific about the Gbaramatu area.
However, this is the beauty of talking. They say not yet, so we ask when? Likewise, it is not every proposal the government presents that we will acceptâ€.
It was gathered, however, that the Delta State Government had, few days, before the release of Henry Okah, constituted a committee in collaboration with the JTF to facilitate the return of Gbaramatu indigenes who fled the kingdom in the course of the Cordon and Search operation, declared in May by the security outfit.
Coordinator of the Joint Media Campaign Centre (JMCC) of the task force, Colonel Rabe Abubakar confirmed to Saturday Vanguard that the security outfit has called off the Cordon and Search operation but would still carry out its assigned duty in Gbaramatu kingdom and other parts of the region.
He said the JTF was bound by the decisions taken by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Alhaji Umaru Yarâ€™Adua and as soon as he proclaimed amnesty for militants, it was automatic that the search be discontinued and the task force complied immediately.
On Rochas Okorocha, Jomo Gbomo asserted, â€œMEND categorically denies ever presenting the politician, Rochas Okorocha as a mediator. We have only heard about him but have never had any contact whatsoever with this individual. Certain persons may have impersonated the group to champion a cheap political pointâ€.
â€œNow that Okah is out, we will put together the group to present our position to government. It may interest you that we may seek even the likes of Col Abubakar Umar, Balarabe Musa, Wole Soyinka and others not from the region as apart of the Aaron teamâ€, he added.