By Kingsley Omonobi & Luka Biniyat
ABUJAâ€”STRONG indications emerged yesterday that top politicians from the South South geo-political zone have started lobbying members of the leading militant group in the region, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, for support ahead 2011 polls.
Speaking at a press conference in Abuja, spokesman of a faction of MEND, controlled by High Chief Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, Prince Joseph Ettela HarryÂ said that some politicians had already started falling over themselves to acquire their guns for use in the 2011 general elections.
Prince Joseph Ettela Harry, who produced evidence of Right-of-AttorneyÂ from the militant leader,Â also said all the â€œgeneralsâ€ and â€œcommandersâ€ under the Tompoloâ€˜s command were ready to surrender these weapons if government was ready to buy back, build accommodation for them andÂ allocate some oil wells to them among other demands.
â€œI have been reliably informed that some of the boys have been contracted by some of these politicians to bring in their guns for them to buy against 2011 elections. But the â€œgeneralsâ€ are saying that they have been used and dumped before and would not succumb to the dirty tricks of politicians this time around. Every politician must win votes on his merit, not on strength of his arms,â€ he said.
According to him, the group also said it was ready to surrender at least 50% of its weapons made up of 7000 Ak-47, 1000 General Purpose Machine Guns (GPMG), unspecified number of bombs, other explosives and full military and police uniforms in its possession in one weekÂ if the Federal GovernmentÂ met its demands.
Among the items to be returned are surface-to-air missiles, grenade launchers and gun boats but the group is insistingÂ that it wants a fool-proof inventory of all arsenal surrenderedÂ before it gives it surrenders the rest.
While acknowledging, â€œthere are all kinds of criminals, bandits, thieves and miscreants parading themselves as militant freedom fighters today,â€ he said he had well-guided records of all the commanders under Tompolo and that they all knew themselves.
â€œAs far as I know, all we have been seeing are double barrels, locally made guns and low caliber-weapons being returned by unidentified youths claiming to be militants all in the hope of getting a share of the amnesty,â€ he said.
â€œYou cannot humiliate a â€œgeneralâ€ by making him to queue in order to handover his heavy weapons in the full glare of the public and for free. That humiliation would be worse that being captured in warfare. I know there psychology. I have worked to help them repent long enough,â€ he said.
According to Harry, the way government is handling the collection of weapons, shows that politicians saddled with the job, have no idea on how to go about it. Or that they are also interested in acquiring them after collections.
â€œWe are going to have specific spots for collections ofÂ Â these heavy weapons in the creeks, and one particular spot for collection of 10 gun boats in one week if government is serious. But that is subject to governments fulfilling these demands, or at least approving them in the first place,â€ he said.
â€œLet all the politicians that have dragged some of these boys to Aso Villa last week show us where they have surrendered in one real weapon.
Just one, say surface-to-air missiles. It is foolhardy to think that these weapons, some which were bought for as much a N5 million a piece would be given for free,â€ he said, adding: â€œI heard that they want to train the boys on how to become barbers or how to make soaps. That is a wrong approach, because most of them have seen money and would not settle for anything out of oil business.
â€œSome of the boys want government to build filling stations and allow them to operate with their â€œsoldiersâ€ and communities.â€
According to him, he has already discussed with some Local Government Chairmen in Rivers and Bayelsa States and that they have agreed to facilitate the acquisition of 100 hectares each both for the accommodation and business ventures of the repentant militants under the Tompolo camp
â€œBut some of them are born soldiers and would want to continue to see action, by being integrated into the Nigerian Armed Forces as Coasts Guards or any other special branch,â€ he said.
Amnesty Committee speaks on dead militant leader
The federal government yesterday denied any link between the death of militant leader, Mr. Woki Godswill alias Kitikata and the amnesty programme, saying the militant leader only engaged security forces sometime in April 2009 during which he sustained wounds and died as a result of the wounds at the weekend.
According to a statement signed by Dr. Timiebi Korikpamo Agary, the amnesty committee said, â€œmedia reports which have linked the death of a militant leader, Mr. Woki Godswill alias Kitikata to the Amnesty programme are incorrect.
There is no truth whatsoever in the story that the late Kitikata was on his way to an arms collection centre to surrender his arms when he was ambushed and killed.
â€œHe was indeed engaged in a confrontation with security forces sometime in April 2009 during which he sustained wounds and died as a result of those wounds at the weekend.
â€œWhile we are sad that any youth should lose his life at this time, it is necessary to inform the Nigerian people that the confrontation between him and the security forces took place about three months before the Proclamation and commencement of the Amnesty programme.
Therefore, those who have tried to link his death with the Amnesty programme are being unfair and deliberately misinforming the Nigerian public.
â€œWith the commencement of the Amnesty programme and cessation of hostilities, it is our hope that the spate of avoidable deaths such as that of Kitikata would be stemmed.â€
â€œWith the amnesty reintegration and development programmes, we believe that no Niger Delta youth needs to endanger his or her life or die needlessly.
The Amnesty programme still has fifty five days to go and the Inter agency Coordinating Committee calls on all militants and those who have directly or indirectly been involved in the militant activities in the region to take advantage of the programme, lay down their arms and embrace peace and dialogue.â€
â€œOnce more it is necessary to reiterate that there shall be no cash for arms, and rumours that some militants are being paid for arms they are surrendering to the Committee are inaccurate.
â€œThe Committee is quite encouraged that within the first few days of the 60-day amnesty, so many militants have come forward to accept the offer. We did not expect a floodgate from day one, but the flow of militants so far has exceeded our expectations.
â€œWe expect the flow to increase significantly, as the Committee in response to calls by some militant leaders will go the extra mile to arrange for the collection of their arms in the field, at mutually agreed points and bring these militants into the reintegration programme.”