By Kenneth Ehigiator
Elder Statesman, Chief Edwin Clark, has appealed to President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua to implement recommendations of the South-South Elders Conference in Uyo and Bayelsa State Elders meeting in Port Harcourt, saying there lied the sustenance of peace in the Niger Delta.
The Uyo meeting had, amongst others, recommended that the Federal Government dialogue with the people; withdraw the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger Delta from the region as well as implementation of report of the 45-man Technical Committee set up by the president on the Niger Delta.
Similarly, the Bayelsa State Elders meeting recommended that the Federal Government should, in the interest of peace and confidence building, rehabilitate and accommodate all displaced persons affected by recent crisis in the region; come up with and implement post-amnesty programme conscientiously for peace and confidence building and extend period of dialogue and implementation to December 31, 2009, for the amnesty programme to succeed.
Clark also urged the militants to surrender their arms, close ranks and to allow the federal government take on the task of developing the region.
He said in a statement: â€œ I whoie-heartedly support the decisions taken at that meeting on the implementation of amnesty.Â Once again, I appeal to Mr. President, in the interest of peace in the Niger Delta, to consider seriously the advise of the South-South Eldersâ€™ appeal at Uyo Conference and Bayelsa State Elders meeting held in Port Harcourt.
â€œFinally, I also wish to use this opportunity to appeal to all freedom fighters wherever they may be, including those that have accepted the Amnesty and those waiting to accept it to sink their differences and grievances because you have all been fighting for a common cause and the hour has come for you to speak with one voice because you fought for your liberation with a common purpose and common destiny and do not allow politicians and other detractors who have been gaining from the arms conflicts to cause division amongst you.
â€œI am confident of President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s sincerity and commitment to the development of the Niger Delta.â€
Chief Clark noted that relative peace had returned to the Niger Delta since the release of leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Mr. Henry Okah, adding that revenue from oil and gas had also shot up.
He reminded the government that normalcy could hardly return to Gbaramatu unless steps were taken to withdraw the JTF from the area.
These include dialogue with the people, withdrawal of JTF from Gbaramatu, release and the implementation of the 45-Man Technical Committeeâ€™s recommendation. Is it not surprising that the Federal Government and the Amnesty Committee in particular has made no efforts to reach out to the leaders?â€ Clark said.
He said while militants in Bayelsa State have embraced the amnesty with the cooperation of the Governor Timipre Silva, who has thrown his weight behind the programme, and some progress made in Rivers State, nothing had happened to the implementation of the amnesty deal in Delta State, where conflicts witnessed the highest casualty, including destruction of such communities as Okerenkoko, Kuruntie, Oporoza, Benekrukru etc.
Clark observed:Â â€œEven where these achievements were made, it is obvious that the Amnesty Committee was not adequately prepared thereby leading to some protests by the militants. No effort has been made by government to contact the elders and leaders of the area.
â€œThe appeal made to the Federal Government to direct JTF to withdraw from Gbaramatu kingdom in order to allow the militants to come out to take advantage of the amnesty, has not been heeded.
â€œTherefore, how do you expect the militants, including its leadership who until yesterday were being hunted for by the military to have the courage to come out to surrender their arms faced with the JTF still occupying their area.
â€œThere is the need to build confidence through dialogue and not to treat these militants as a conquered people who have repented and must therefore surrender their weapons under demeaning conditions.
â€œNormalcy must return to the destroyed kingdom of Gbaramatu to enable them go about their normal businesses but this cannot happen with the military occupying the area including Camp 5.
â€œI am aware of the serious efforts being made by the agencies of the Federal Government i.e. the Ministry of Niger Delta and the NDDC to execute projects in the area but this must be fast-tracked. This is the main reason why there is urgent need for the federal government to release and implement the Report of the 45-Man Technical Committee which some of the immediate, medium and long term areas of development.
â€œThis will definitely go a long way to build confidence in the people of the Niger Delta. We have accepted and embraced the federal government amnesty thus far, and we must not therefore give the federal government the excuse not to execute the amnesty programme in its totality by bringing the truce to an end.â€