By Emma Amaize & Kingsley Omonobi
WARRI â€” THE amnesty promised militant groups in the Niger Delta by President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua commences today amid confusion as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has disowned its commander in charge of Bayelsa axis, General Boyloaf, who is already holding talks with the President in Abuja and relieved him of his position as its commander.
MEND said Boyloaf was in Abuja in furtherance of his personal pursuits. The group also denied that it was trading arms for cash declaring that whenever they choose to surrender their arms it will be for free.
FG warns militants to be wary
The Federal Government, on its part, warned militants to be wary of those who say amnesty should not be accepted until the Niger Delta is developed, 13 per cent derivation increased and true federalism put in place saying without peace, there can be no development while derivation is a constitutional issue.
The warning came even as government urged militant groups or youths still harbouring second thoughts about surrendering their arms and renouncing violence, to follow the example of MEND leader, Henry Okah, who today is free because he accepted the amnesty offer.
A statement from the amnesty committee signed by Dr. Timiebi Koripamo-Agary entitled â€œCommencement of Amnestyâ€ reads â€œThe Amnesty proclaimed on June 24, 2009 by President Umar Yarâ€™Adua formally begins today, Thursday August 6, 2009.
The programme provides amnesty and unconditional pardon to all persons who have directly or indirectly participated in militant struggles or the commission of offences in the course of militant activities in the Niger Delta.
â€œTo take advantage of the Amnesty, all such persons covered should go to the nearest screening centre, turn in their arms, register, take the oath of renunciation and receive the Presidential Amnesty and unconditional pardon. Thereafter these persons are to register for the reintegration programmes.
â€œThe Committee thanks the militants who have called to accept the amnesty or have made statements in support of it. We urge them to formalise their acceptance of the offer within the stipulated period. For those who may still be harbouring second thoughts, weÂ ask them to follow the example ofÂ the MEND leader, Henry Okah, who has not only taken the Amnesty offer but is today a free citizen of our country and the world.
â€œWhile the Amnesty is part of a holistic programme of building peace, delivering social services, providing basic infrastructure and sustainable development in the Niger Delta, it does not require the resolution of all issues in the region or the country before it can take effectâ€.
â€œIn this wise, we urge the militants to be wary of those who argue that the Amnesty offer should not be accepted until the area has been developed, the 13 per cent derivation significantly increased and â€˜true federalismâ€™ is put in placeâ€.
â€œFirst there can be no meaningful development without peace. Secondly, derivation is a constitutional issue which requires the prescribed process of amendment and thirdly, the issue of federalism is not a peculiar Niger Delta matter; it is a matter for every region and all Nigerians. So these cannot be the basis for delaying the Amnesty offer.â€
Meanwhile, MEND has said it is not against anyone, including its former Commander, â€œGeneralâ€ Boyloaf accepting amnesty from the Federal Government.
Spokesman of the militant group, Jomo Gbomo, in a response to an e-mail inquiry by Vanguard said, â€œMEND is not against anyone, including Boyloaf accepting the amnesty, after all, Henry Okah has also benefitted from itâ€.
His words, â€œWe are prepared to give the government a chance, which is why there is a ceasefire in place and negotiations are ongoing with the Special Adviser, Timi Alaibe.
There are also others who do not have faith in the amnesty and we are equally not against themâ€.
On the speculation that he (Jomo Gbomo) is Charles Okah, a brother to Henry Okah and was in a safe location in America churning out press statements to the media, he replied,
â€œAt one time, they said Henry Okah was Jomo until it was proven otherwise after his arrest. It is only normal to speculate and in a country that has rumoured thrice the death of Yarâ€™Adua, it should not come as a surpriseâ€.
He further clarified that â€œJomo Gbomo is the media department in MEND and does not assign the dissemination of information to one individual in case of capture or death.
It is laughable to suggest I am in America, and this again shows that those insinuating about my whereabouts and identity are only speculating. If you recall, some papers even carried the story at one time that Charles had been denied a US visa so the story does not add up.â€
He said the release of Henry Okah stopped the militant group from prosecuting its â€˜Hurricane Mosesâ€™ to a logical conclusion, pointing out that â€œRemember that it is even because of Henry Okah that there is a cessation of hostilities today.
His release stopped â€˜Hurricane Mosesâ€™ from delivering the next plagues and this must be a huge relief to the government and the oil majorsâ€.
No cash for arms, says Jomo Gbomo
On arms surrender, the MEND spokesman explained, â€œWhat I am aware of is that MEND will not be trading its arms for cash when we decide to disarm because of the negative implicationsâ€, adding, â€œAlready, we are being contacted by soldiers and policemen who have constituted themselves into emergency arms dealers that want to sell AK47 assault rifles for as low as N50,000 knowing that militants who are paid N300,000 can still make a profit.
â€œThe armouries of the armed forces and police will be emptied and many guns will be stolen from individual law enforcement officersâ€, he stated.
MEND disowns Harry, Boyloaf
Commenting on allegation that the militant group asked for houses to be built for its fighters by the government, he said, â€œMEND will also prefer that combatants are empowered with skills and education over houses as requested by the group that tried to impersonate us.
Let me use this opportunity to dissociate MEND from one Prince Harry who claimed to represent us as a negotiatorâ€.
On the parley between â€œGeneral Boyloafâ€ and President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua in Abuja, Vanguard learnt that it is not unconnected with the acceptance of amnesty and his readiness to surrender hisarms and also work with the Federal Government for peace to reign in the Niger-Delta.
But just as Boyloaf was parleying with the President, MEND relieved him of his position as its commander, saying he was in Abuja in furtherance of his personal pursuits.
Spokesman of the militant group, Jomo Gbomo in a statement said, â€œIt is true that Boyloaf who is a MEND commander in Bayelsa state has expressed a desire to return to civilian life and as such he is in Abuja in furtherance of his personal pursuits. Already, a replacement has been effected to take over his command.
â€œBoyloaf is not acting on behalf of MEND which is already in consultations with the Presidential Special Adviser on Niger Delta, Mr Timi Alaibe.
The outcome of these negotiations will determine MENDâ€™s approach to the governmentâ€™s offer. We deny speculations that Farah Dagogo, our commander in the Eastern Delta is in Abuja for the same purpose as Boyloaf.
â€œHenry Okah will not be leading the Boyloaf-led bunch into any kind of talks that will focus on monetary negotiations rather than address the root issues that has led to the Niger Delta unrest.
â€œMEND denies any involvement in cash for arms deal which we condemn in very strong terms. When we choose to disarm, it will be done freelyâ€, he said
Group slams amnesty package
Meanwhile a group, Front for Ijaw Survival and Hope (FISH) says the brand of amnesty proclaimed for militants by President Yarâ€™Adua is insulting and markedly different from what Ijaw and Niger-Delta leaders requested from the Federal Government.
It, therefore, urged the government to shelve the idea of Niger-Delta freedom fighters swearing to an oath as if they are convicted criminals, pointing out, â€œThe amnesty accepted/requested by leaders of Ijaw/Niger-Delta and which was first offered by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and extended by President Yarâ€™Adua was a call for inclusive dialogue towards peace for the region/nationâ€.
In a statement yesterday, its director of operations, Comrade Solomon Aloba warned that the wrong perception of the requested amnesty by President Yarâ€™Adua could destroy the quest for peace in the Niger-Delta.
â€œPresident Obasanjo, reading the terms of acceptance correctly, eventually settled for dialogue and didnâ€™t propose to criminalize generation of Ijaw/Niger Delta freedom fighters with a tag of â€œpardoned criminalsâ€, as President Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s amnesty seeks to do with renunciation oathsâ€, it stated.