By Jimitota Onoyume, Austin Ogwuda & James Uwm
PORT HARCOURT â€” MILITANTS in the Niger Delta who have been granted amnesty by the Federal Government and have been given Sunday, October 4 deadline to surrender their arms have reiterated their demand that the deadline should be extended. They have the support of Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark, who wants the deadline extended to December 31.
Meanwhile, two militant leaders, Ezekiel Akpasibewei, who heads the Lagos Junction Camp militant group, and John Togo turned in a large cache of arms, yesterday.
The militants under the aegis of Watch Dog of Niger Delta have described as unfair the firm resolve of the Federal Government not to extend the October 4 deadline.
Noting that the action cuts the picture of a government that had conquered a region and was giving it marching orders, the militants in an online statement to Vanguard and signed by Sam Ebiye said the amnesty should be allowed to run indefinitely.
The group viewed the amnesty programme as a fraud because of what they termed the failure of government to let it run side by side with reintegration programmes for those that have keyed into it.
They also said the Federal Government, as a way of convincing the world of its sincerity to develop the region, should commence immediate development programme in the area while the amnesty is in force.
Failure to do this, they argued, would show that the governmentâ€™s interest was only to mop up arms from the region and then unleash unprecedented terror on the people, an attempt they said they would resist.
Entend amnesty indefinitely
According to the group, â€œafter a thorough deliberation on the current ongoing Amnesty process, we wish to advise Mr President to critically look at his position of maintaining October 4 as the last date for acceptance of Amnesty by Niger Delta Militants. We are faulting the deadline given to militants in our region because Federal Government of Nigeria has abused the idea, processes and meaning of the term Amnesty. Mr. President should understand that the idea of Amnesty is not based on compulsion or force. By giving a deadline it implies that you are forcing a people to surrender against their free will.
â€œLet us also try to understand that one who repents cannot be forced to do so otherwise it will not yield any meaningful result as the person will only be pretending, but genuine repentance is based on the convictions of individuals to follow a new path. This conviction, as in the case of Nigeria can only come about by seeing how the system has been able to admit those that claim to have surrendered their arms. In essence what we are depicting is that the process of surrendering arms and re-integration must go hand-in-hand so as to convince other militants to surrendering their arms,
â€œThe committee on amnesty can testify to the fact that some militants have surrendered their arms, but unfortunately the processes of reintegrating and empowering those that have surrendered have not started. Based on this, it will be most difficult for others to continue in the process.
â€œIt is quite disheartening, as we have been made to understand that the Federal Government is only interested in mopping up arms from our people so that they can continue perpetuating their evil act on us. From what we have seen so far the amnesty is a fraud!
â€œIt is our strong opinion that the amnesty should be open, without any deadline until when the Government is convinced that it has made meaningful progress in addressing the problems that led to the insurrection. It is also our opinion that if the programme fails, then the Yarâ€™Adua Government would have failed in addressing the problems of our region because of its insincerity; as such any attack on our people will amount to a greater level of unrest in the Niger Delta.â€
Extend deadline to Dec 31, says Clark
In his own reaction to the deadline, Ijaw leader and former Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark, yesterday asked PresidentÂ Yarâ€™Adua to extend till December 31, the deadline for the Niger Delta militants to surrender their arms.
He said the extension of the deadline is the only way the amnesty deal by the Federal Government could be successful.
Chief Clark said that the proclamation of amnesty has been a laudableÂ Â overture that is welcomed by all, but that it is rather unfortunate that thoseÂ representingÂ government on the committee have failedÂ to honour in principleÂ theirÂ terms of reference.
For instance, Clark said that compensations and resettlement have not been implemented as promised, which Clark said is the crux of the matter
He however advised that President Yarâ€™Adua shouldÂ properlyÂ examine the situationÂ surrounding the amnesty andÂ give a reasonable deadline, judgingÂ from the fact that there has been some remarkable peace in theÂ areaÂ since the proclamation ofÂ amnesty, which, according to him, has given rise to the increaseÂ in oil andÂ gasÂ production outputs in recent times in the country .
â€œWe all welcomed the amnestyÂ proposalÂ especially with the release ofÂ Henry Okah, thatÂ gesture has brought relativeÂ peace asÂ the countryÂ isÂ witnessing marginalÂ increaseÂ in oil production. Total peace would have been restored, but for the failure on the part of government to fulfill their part of the bargain.
Imagine camping repentant militants who are able-bodied men, well-educated, some with families in Primary Schools without adequately compensating and resettling them as promised.
That seems to be the reason why others may not have subscribed to the amnesty. Mr. President should give a listening ear and give up to 31st December 2009 as earlier proposed by the Ijaw Elders Council. That way, government will consolidate on the earlier achievement recorded.â€Â Clark said.
Militant leader,Â surrenders arms
However, the amnesty has received a major boost with the turning in of arms by leader of the Lagos Junction Camp militant group, Ezekiel Akpasibewei.
Akpasibewei, known as â€˜The Generalâ€™ said they decided to lay down their arms in order to allow for peace and development in the region.
He called on the Federal Government to think of ways of empowering the boys who have decided to say no to militancy, by putting them through programmes and training that will make them useful persons to the society and also keep them away from the creeks.
He urged oil companies and multinational companies operating in the area to create employment for natives of the area where they operate.
The Special Adviser to the governor on land and security, Mr. Sheriff Oborevwori and the Chairman of the Local Government Mr. Godwin Ebosa commended the boys who came out in their numbers for their courage in accepting the amnesty programme.
They assured the boys that the Federal Government have plans to rehabilitate them and make them meaningful people in the society.
They both appealed to unrepentant militants to come out of the creek and embrace the amnesty.
A total seventy-one weapons and other arms were surrendered to Lt. Commander Chindo Yahaya.
Meanwhile, some youths in Ogbodobiri Community in Bomadi Local Government Area embraced the amnesty offer of President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua as they also came out to drop their arms.
The amnesty programme which has five days left witnessed the Commander of John Togo Camp surrendering his arms.
The commander, John Togo who spoke through an aide, Ebi Lagos, said the Ogodobiri community has been neglected since independence and explained that they chose to embrace the amnesty programme to give peace a chance and allow for the development in the community.
He also added that the community does not have any hospital, school, potable waterÂ and called for the assistance of the state and federal government.
The weapons include six A-K 47 rifles, three F.M. rifles, four S.M.G. rifles, two pump action, one GPMG, one navy riffle and one mark four.
Others are sixteen A-K 47 magazine, thirty dynamites and four tins of SMG Ammo, which were surrendered to the team leader, Lt. Commander Chindo Yahaya and the representative of the State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, Mr. Sheriff Oborowhore, Special Adviser to the Governor on Land, Security Matters.