By Emma Amaize, Emeka Mamah, George Onah, Samuel Oyadongha, Jimitota Onoyume, Olasunkanmi Akoni & Monsur Olowopejo
LAGOS – IN his official reaction to Sunday’s bombing of the Atlas Cove Jetty by men of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND), Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, yesterday, warned the militants that the action must never repeat itself as the state was quite ready to respond to â€œthis new security threat appropriatelyâ€.
Fashola, briefing newsmen on the development after an emergency meeting of the state Security Council condoled with the families of the officers and men of the Armed Forces who were victims of the attack.
According to Fashola, the attack raises very new questions about what the agitation in the Niger Delta is all about.
He said that Lagos as the headquarters of the national press has been the medium of agitation and as a melting pot of nationalities; the people of Lagos have protected and hosted even displaced Niger Deltans.
He noted that it was quite unfair to have turned on Lagos, the Governor explained that the State itself has been a victim of years of neglect as a former federal capital which continues to serve as the host community to all ethnic communities and as economic nerve centre of the country.
He said: â€œIs Lagos not also a victim of years of neglect? Is this an agitation without limits, is a friendly and host State fair game?â€
â€œIf this (Atlas Cove Jetty bombing) was a mistake, we expect that it must never repeat itself as we will respond to this new security threat appropriatelyâ€.
JTF threatens ceasefire, says MEND
Meanwhile, less than twenty-four hours after it announced a 60-day ceasefire, effective 00.00 hours Wednesday, July 15, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND) said, yesterday that the armistice was under threat by the Joint Task Force (JTF), which allegedly dispatched seven gun boats with heavily armed troops from Warri, ostensibly to one of its camps located around border between Delta and Ondo states.
â€œIf this information from a very reliable source within the JTF happens to be true, the ceasefire will be called off with immediate effectâ€, spokesman of MEND, Jomo Gbomo said in an online statement.
His words, â€œWe are monitoring the armada and sincerely hope that the planned attack will be converted to a war exerciseâ€.
Group hails MENDâ€™s ceasefire
An Ijaw group, the Warri-Ijaw Peace Monitoring Group (WIPMG) in a statement by its chairman, Chief Patrick Bigha, on its part, commended MEND â€œfor declaring ceasefire in the troubled Niger Delta regionâ€, saying, â€œIt is a welcome development as the Federal Government has signified its intention to engage the youths in dialogue.
â€œIt must be pointed out that there cannot be a meaningful development in an atmosphere of rancour. We believe that the Federal Government has learnt its lessons that the age long neglect by successive governments of the Niger- Delta region cannot be resolved by military invasion of communities. Dialogue and sincere negotiation is the key to resolving the crisis in the region. Government must be proactive in dealing with the situation in the Niger Deltaâ€, he asserted.
OkiroÂ warns militants
Meanwhile, the Inspector-General of Police Mr. Mike Okiro, has told the militants to do themselves a world of good by accepting the amnesty granted by the Federal Government, just as he confirmed that some of the gunmen have been turning in their weapons â€œin tricklesâ€.
Okiroâ€™s appeal came on the heels of a statement by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta that the ceasefire which the group declared was under threat because the JTF allegedly sent seven gun boats from Warri in Delta State, heading towards one of its camps in Ondo State.
However, Okiro said, â€œthis amnesty is voluntary, it is not by force and no one would go to the creeks or swamps to force them to drop their weapons. They are being given ample opportunity to decide on what is good for them, so it is not by forceâ€.
The IG who was in Port Harcourt, yesterday, issued a veiled threat of governmentâ€™s action if some of the â€œsocietal rebelsâ€ refused to honour the 60-day ultimatum issued by the government, alluding to the fact that the repercussion may be unpalatable for those who may remain recalcitrant.
â€œWell, at the end of 60 days, those who refuse to surrender their arms should be prepared for anything that comes. Anything they see after that let them takeâ€, he said.
JTF denies MENDâ€™s allegation
However, the Joint Task Force, JTF, dismissed the claim by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) that it was amassing troops along the Delta/Ondo border area as unfounded.
Spokesman of the Joint Task Force, Col Rabe Abubakar described the MEND claim as yet another mischief against the military saying â€œthe JTF is in total observance and obedience to the recent amnesty proclamation by Mr. President.â€
The position of the JTF he said was partly explained its patience of not responding to the series of attacks by MEND on the nation economic interest.
Col Abubakar in an online statement said, â€œInformation reaching the Joint Task Force (JTF), Operation Restore Hope indicates that MEND has once again sent a misleading, unfounded and diversionary message that the JTF has mobilized its troops in seven gun boats to carry out an operation in Delta – Ondo border area.
â€œThis is yet another mischief by MEND against the JTF as the message is not only false, malicious but incredible.
â€œIt is on record that the JTF is in total observance and obedience to the recent amnesty proclamation by Mr. President.
This could be explained by its patience of not responding to the series of attacks by MEND on pipelines and installations.
â€œTherefore, the JTF as a security implementing outfit cannot carry out any acts contrary to achieving set objectives as far as the amnesty for militants is concerned. MENDâ€™s claim that we mobilized seven gun boats with armed soldiers to carry out an attack at a camp near Delta â€“ Ondo border today (yesterday) is divisionary and has no iota of truth, as our actions are guided by the prevailing situation now.
â€œWhy must JTF attack any body, group or camp now, knowing well that the amnesty is fully in place? The JTF is in all places within the Niger Delta region carrying out patrols and escort duties in addition to its normal military duties. Does MEND want the JTF not to carry out these duties?
â€œApparently, MEND are the aggressors going by the recent spate of bombings that were carried out on pipelines of major oil companies.
â€œThey are finding strategy to cover-up their shameful acts.Â They should leave the JTF alone to execute its mandate. A criminal will always suspect himself even when he is not being suspected by any other personâ€.
â€œMeanwhile, our response to MENDâ€™s declaration of a 60-day ceasefire period is that we were not at war with anybody in the Niger Delta region rather, we are here for the restoration of law and order and we are providing security to all, including MEND members.â€
AC condemns MEND
On its part, Lagos State chapter of the Action Congress (AC) through its Publicity Secretary, Mr. Joe Igbokwe, has also called on both the government and MEND to ensure that the Niger Delta crisis is effectively resolved without further loss of lives and damage to properties even as it condemned the attack on Atlas Cove jetty in strong terms.
AC said the Niger Delta crisis has been externalised to perforate the peaceful coexistence of Lagos. â€œWe fear that such pose great danger to the peace and unity of the country if not quickly resolved.â€
Donâ€™t blame North, says ACF
Also yesterday, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has condemned what it described as the â€œbellicoseâ€ attitude of the Niger Delta militants towards the efforts of the Federal Government to resolve the lingering crises in the area.
The ACF also said that some leaders of the Niger Delta militant groups were making inflammatory statements against northerners as if the north were responsible for the crises pointing out that it is diversionary as the north has nothing but goodwill for the people of the Niger Delta.
The ACF position is contained in a statement yesterday signed by its national chairman, Major-Gen. IBM Haruna (rtd).
According to the ACF, the belligerent attitude of the militants is not helpful as it contradicts the spirit of the amnesty offered them by the Federal Government.
The statement read, â€œthe attention of the Arewa Consultative Forum, as indeed many other Nigerians, has been drawn to the increasingly bellicose statements and declarations by some leaders of the militant groups in the Niger Delta.
â€œThey seemed to be picking issues with and contradict the spirit of the amnesty offered by the Federal Government.
â€œThe MEND, whose leader, Henry Okah, was released from treason trial in accordance with the offer, has declared that they would only observe a 60-day ceasefire. Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, leader of the other group, NDPSF, has been out making inflammatory speeches against Northerners in particular.
â€œHe was quoted by the newspapers as accusing so-called â€˜Northern Oligarchsâ€™ as being responsible for the crisis in the Niger Delta region.
â€œThese actions and statements by these partisan elements who claim to be fighting on behalf of the people of the South-South, must be deeply troubling to every Nigerian.
â€œThe impression conveyed by their remarks and actions is that they are not as committed to the search for the economic development of the Delta region as they are to the continuation of the violence.
â€œWhile the entire country is agreed and is determined to achieve a rapid and comprehensive resolution of the problems bedeviling the Delta region, the militant leaders seemed intent on sabotaging the efforts and on opening new theaters of hostility.
â€œSurely, their continued attempts to demonize the North and to blame Northerners for the troubles in the Niger Delta, can only distract attention from the urgent task at hand.
â€œThe suffering people of the North have nothing but goodwill and well wishes for their long suffering brothers and sisters in the Niger Delta.
â€œThis is the truth as can be attested to by leaders of the region older than Asari-Dokubo, a young man unfamiliar with recent history.
â€œNo one doubts that, to succeed, any group in a struggle needs allies and sympathizers and the likes of Dokubo-Asari are welcome to go in search of new friends.
â€œBut in doing so, it ought to be obvious, even dangerous for them to look in the direction of old foes or to discard old allies.
â€œIt is no longer in doubt that the present Federal Government, which a Northerner has the privilege of leading, has done more than any other government in our nationâ€™s quest to achieve a fast, just and comprehensive resolution of the problems in the Delta region.
â€œHaving put it on top of his seven-point agenda, the President has since rolled out a series of bold policy initiatives in his determination to address those problems.
â€œThe National Assembly has on its part passed many laws, establishing strong institutions and agencies, including the NDDC and a scaled-up Ministry of Niger Delta Development.
â€œThe country is channeling unprecedented volume of resources not only to build required physical and social infrastructure but also to address the environmental degradation which arose from oil-exploitation.
â€œToday, we have since gone past the point at which federal allocations and budgetary expenditure being committed to the six states of the south-south, is twice the amount coming to all 19 states of the north.
â€œWhat has been lacking is not a political will to act but the atmosphere of peace and security for the efforts to succeed â€“ thanks in no small measure to the violence which militants seemed determined to sustain.
â€œIn times such as this, we feel a duty to repeat our appeal we first made in our Memorandum to the Special Committee on the Niger Delta: for the consideration of all the stakeholders in the Niger Delta: â€˜The issues in contention (in the Niger Delta) are sure to be solved sooner than later but that will require reciprocal gesture of good faith, cooperation and patience by all of us.
Progress in this as in all human endeavours need a conducive atmosphere of peace and security. This is what the rest of the country expects and hopes to receive from the people of the region as we embark upon one of the most ambitious projects of reconstruction and development in any one sub-regionâ€™.
MEND urged to reciprocate FG’s goodwill
Following the release of detained MEND leader, Henry Okah, by the Federal Government, the militant body has been urged to reciprocate the goodwill of the government by halting further attacks on oil facilities in the region.
An online statement from a militant body, Watch Dog of Niger Delta and signed by Sam Ebiye, said there was now urgent need to allow a peaceful atmosphere to evolve solutions to the challenges in the region. And this according to the group would be made possible when MEND discontinues attack on oil facilities.
The statement also hailed the federal government for its decision to grant Okah freedom. â€œWe commend President Umaru Yarâ€™Ardua for the release and granting of unconditional Amnesty to Henry Okah, in response to this act, we call on all militia sect in the Niger Delta including MEND to throw in the towel in order to give the Federal Government and other stake holders the opportunity to address the developmental needs of the region. History consents to the fact that Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s administration has proved convincingly that it has the will to address the problem ofÂ Niger Delta, let us reciprocate by giving them a chance to see the extent of their goodwill. â€œ
Alaibe welcomes MENDâ€™s ceasefire
The Honourary Presidential Adviser on Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Timi Alaibe, has welcomed the 60-day ceasefire declared by the Movement for the Emancipation if the Niger Delta (MEND).
He said in a statement in Abuja, yesterday, that the cessation of hostilities was a positive outcome of the federal governmentâ€™s efforts at finding a lasting solution to the crisis in the oil-rich region.
Mr. Alaibe said MENDâ€™s decision was a beginning of the final phase of the process of restoration of normalcy in the region and therefore urged all other armed groups to quickly lay down their arms and embrace peace, adding that the point had been made.