EXISTING reports indicate that he is the leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND), the chief militant group in the Niger-Delta region, but, Henry Imomotimi Okah, the son of a navy officer from Amassoma in Bayelsa state, who was released, July 13, from approximately 18 months detention has not sworn to anyone that he is the leader of the insurgent group.
However, it is obvious that Okah who was arrested in Angola on September 3,Â 2007 while on a business trip and extradited to Nigeria in February 2008, where he was detained and charged with treason and gun-running has more than a passing relationship with militants in the Niger-Delta.
It is doubtful if the prevailing 60-day ceasefire ordered by MEND on July 15, two days after Okah was released, which has brought respite to the government and oil companies, would have been feasible if he was not released at the time he was, but, whatever you say about father of four children, he has contributed hisÂ Â bit to the Niger-Delta struggle.
When MEND insisted that the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta should withdraw from the Niger-Delta, among other things,OkahÂ spoke to the leaders to pipe down and present such demands when negotiation starts with government.
MEND spokesman, Jomo Gbomo confirmed in an exclusive response to an electronic mail inquiry by Saturday Vanguard that Henry Okah intervened and asked the militant group to simmer down.
He has tried since his release to get Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka and other eminent Nigerians, including the former military chief, Rear Admiral Mike Okhai Akhigbe (retd.) to negotiate on behalf of MEND with the federal government.
It is not known whether Prof Soyinka and Rear Admiral Akhigbe accepted the role, but, it is obvious that they have sympathy for the unadulterated struggle of the Niger-Delta people.
At the moment, Henry Okah is working closely with the Special Adviser to the President on Niger-Delta matters, Mr. Timi Alaibe to tinker an acceptable peace programme with the Federal Government and he had met with him severally.
MEND had, quite unlike it, also spoken very well of Mr. Alaibe and it isÂ believed that with the way the former NDDC boss is carrying out his assignment, he would be able to bridge the gap between the government and MEND in no distant time.
Saturday Vanguard learnt that it was the briefings he gave the Presidency and the acceptance of amnesty by the former commander of MEND, â€œGeneralâ€ Boyloaf that gave the Federal Government the confidence to declare, some weeks ago, that militancy in the Niger-Delta would end by this year.
Whether you love or hate Henry Okah, he is a symbol of sorts for the Niger-Delta struggle. Leader of the Niger-Delta People Volunteer Force (NDPVF), Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, who recently declared Okah as his enemy was the first to publicly proclaim him a gun runner. The Federal Government came up with the same charge, which had been withdrawn and the latest is â€œGeneralâ€ Boyloaf, who people use to refer to as Okahâ€™s â€œsecond-in-commandâ€.
Okah was said to have promised to help the government to quell the crisis in the region after his release.Â A news magazine , reported sometime ago that he made two requests from government during a meeting in Abuja . â€œFirst was to be permitted to keep three pistols for self – defence. The second request was that the federal government should provide him with â€˜logisticsâ€™ to take care of his ailing healthâ€
It claimed that the federal governmentâ€™s representatives at the meeting rejected the first request but promised to provide him with security to guard him while the government was said to have accepted to foot his medical expenses, within or outside the country, as soon as tension reduces in the troubled region.
He was living with his family in Johannesburg, South Africa before his arrest by Angolan Police at the Luanda Airport over allegations of arms smuggling and funding of a coup attempt in Guinea . He was also alleged to be the major source of weapons to the militants in the Niger Delta but much of his contributions to the struggle were not known before then, except by insiders.
Even in the midst of the accusations against Henry Okah by Dokubo-Asari for allegedly defrauding him and plotting against him, Okah and others under the auspices of MEND fought for his release when he was arrested and detained by the former President Olusegun Obasanjo government. In fact, MEND was formed principally in 2006 to force government to release Dokubo-Asari. Obasanjo played hard and refused to release him. It was President Yarâ€™Adua that the lot fell on to free him, Chief Ralph Uwazurike of MASSOB and others later.
Strangely, the same government that showed such generosity of spirit to him extradited Okah that the Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and others had already met in South-Africa to discuss the peace process on the Niger-Delta with, and charged him withÂ gun running and treason. As it were, the lot fell this time on â€œGeneralâ€ Boyloaf and others to use the instrumentality of MEND to arm-twist the government to release OkahÂ by bombing oil installations and wreaking the economy. But at the moment, Okah and Boyloaf are not seeing eye-to-eye.
What is still foggy is why these key militant leaders and their followers are at war among themselves. Dokubo-Asari and Boyloaf have had cause to ventilate their anger, but, Okah has remained reluctant in openly joining issues with them.
However, Boyloaf thinks that the â€œnegativeâ€ reports concerning him since he opted to accept amnesty and surrender arms were sponsored by his former boss.
Whatever is the case, the trio of Dokubo-Asari, Henry Okah and Boyloaf have played their part in the Niger-Delta struggle and the tendency of washing their dirty linens in the public may not do themselves or the their agitation any good.
However, Saturday Vanguard gathered that some Niger-Delta leaders were already working on unifying them but a lot of rumoursÂ making the rounds on what one militant leader mouthed or did not mouth about the other, and it is causing more division in the fold. There is already a dangerous crack in the once united militant family and unless urgent steps were taken, militants may soon start attacking themselves in the cities.
It was on the strength of such talks that Boyloaf vowed in an interview with this paper that he would crush anybody that want to stop him from surrendering his arms.
To unite once again, some people are suggesting that the trio should stop their press war and summoned by respected Niger-Delta leaders, who have the wisdom of Solomon to pour out their grievances and settle their rift.
Specifically, Saturday Vanguard learnt that Admiral Akhigbe may be playing such a role already, as the coordinator of the Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG), Comrade Joseph Evah, who sounded quite disturbed when he spoke to Saturday Vanguard on the matter, confirmed that the Edo-born naval officer contacted him on the issue.
We have on good authority that some Niger-Delta personalities have contacted Dokubo-Asari, Henry Okah and Boyloaf in respect of the misunderstanding among them but it is not known whether they have agreed on a time to meet.
Investigations by this paper showed that the trio were not against resolution of their differences but they are apparently waiting for who will blink first. Boyloaf said there was nothing wrong with such a peace move only that he has not seen sincerity on Okahâ€™s part.
A close source to Dokubo-Asari said he was willing to talk peace with Henry Okah until some recent happenings in Port-Harcourt concerning the arrest of some NDPFV members by the police.
Most of the accusations and counter-accusations, according to our findings border on hearsay, but, those looking into how to forge peace among the three brothers should think of the leader of Camp 5, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, who Dokubo-Asari once told Saturday Vanguard one militant leader the Federal Government could use to bring peace to the Niger-Delta region.
Tompolo is the militant kingpin whose acceptability cuts across the region and he has a large heart to accommodate things others would not stomach. Before the incident that led to a Cordon and Search operation by the JTF in his Gbaramatu base and overrunning of his camp, he was the major arrow_ahead of the both the federal government peace effort in the Niger-Delta under the auspices of the Ijaw Youth Leadership Forum (IYLF).
He is a participant and knows the story of Henry Okah, Dokubo_Asari and Boyloaf and whenever anyone of them decides to stand the truth on the head, he knows the facts and would be able lay it bare since only the truth can resolve the dispute.Â As a trouble shooter, Tompolo, who recently met with Okah to discuss the way forward in the Niger_Delta given the floundering amnesty programme of the federal government is at home with Asari, Okah and Boyloaf, what is needed is a little more diplomacy and honestyÂ to make all them be friends again.
Niger-Delta militant leaders cannot afford to quarrel among themselves at a time that their struggle has yielded something. Firstly, proclamation of amnesty to them by the Nigerian government, which is their common enemy and realization by the government that have made a point with their arms struggle, and this should be the time for peace to enable government to deliver on its promises to the region.
Everybody has contributed his own quota to the struggle from Dokubo-Asari, the modern-day reincarnation of Isaac Adaka â€“Boro to the silent generalissimo, Tompolo, theÂ stormy petrel, Henry Okah ,Â the storm trooper, BoyloafÂ and all others, including Farah Dagogo, Ateke Tom.Â For now, however, the struggle has moved from the violent phase to the engagement phase, the stage is now for intellectual militants, not for armed militants.