With the recent acceptance of amnesty by key operatives of the Movement for the Emmancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), following the expiration of the presidential amnesty for erstwhile Niger Delta militants, the question arises as to the future of the shadowy organisation.
By Samuel Oyadongha
Yenagoa-FEARS that the Niger Delta mayÂ be plunged into another orgy of violence following the expiration of the presidential amnesty to militants in the troubled region may turn out to be unfounded.
The recent acceptance of the Federal Government amnesty by the leader of Niger Delta Vigilante, Tom Ateke, a strong ally of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has further depleted the support base of the latter, the foremost insurgent group in the troubled oil rich region.
MEND, a shadowy insurgent group which in the last three years has waged a devastating war on the nation’s oil industry and succeeded in crippling oil production by 25 per cent appeared to have lost its central and eastern command outposts which staunch commanders have all keyed into the amnesty programme.
With Ebikabowei Ben Victor, aka, Gen Boyloaf, Commander Kile Selky Torughedi, aka, Young Shall Grow, leader south wing, MEND, Commander Africa Ukparasia, Commander Joshua Macaiver and Ezizi Ogunbos known as Commander Ogunboss, all operating in the central flank of the delta accepting the Federal Government amnesty it is clear that the foremost insurgent group’s support base in Bayelsa has been completely crippled.
Other fringe groups, which before the amnesty were operating in the creeks of Bayelsa masquerading as MEND affiliates such as Commander Toruma Ngogolo, the second in command to deceased Kitikata, General Karikoro from Southern Ijaw, Commander Emikor Bonny Don, and ‘General’ Reuben Wilson popularly known as Pastor in the Koluama area of Southern Ijaw axis on the Atlantic fringe, Edward Youdiowei, second in command to slain Odi militant leader Daddy Ken, Douglas Otoloko, farmer turned militant, Gilbert Isobo, Wisdom Fiebor, Areama Olali and Inilo Sinte have all renounced militancy and accepted the amnesty programme.
So far over 700 arms, 19 gunboats and Â Â Â 280,000 rounds of mix ammo ranging from AK 47, submachine guns, bombs, heavy duty brandy guns and Lar rifles have been moped up from the creeks of the state alone with the result that the initially troubled community folks can now go about their normal businesses knowing that all the camps in the hinterland have been dismantled. Though MEND, from which most of these groupsâ€™derived inspiration has stubbornly spurned the amnesty programme describing it as a charade.
The group, weekend, insisted that the renunciation of armed struggle by some of its erstwhile allies does not mean the end of insurgency in the Niger Delta saying as long as the fundamental issues that gave rise to armed insurrection in the region remain unresolved there is little or nothing the nation security forces can do to quell insurgency in the Niger Delta.
Undaunted by the Federal Government threat to descend heavily on all militants who refuse to disarm after the October 4 deadline, MEND warned that it would be an exercise in futility as it was prepared to launch a more daring and ferocious armed campaign ever witnessed in the region.
Jomo Gbomo, the group spokesman in a reply to Sunday Vanguard enquiry said MEND would be forced to embark on a new type of ferocious armed struggle given the threat of the defence minister who is also the chairman of the amnesty committee. The MEND spokesman who said Tom Ateke was not its commander as being speculated in some quarters but an ally added that it was a thing of joy that he yielded to its plea to step aside and move on.
He said: â€œAteke is not a MEND commander but has been an ally. We are happy with the development since himself and Farah Dagogo have yielded to our encouragement to step aside and move on. It has not been in the interest of the group to have commanders whose identities have been compromised.
This is the beginning of a new type of ferocious armed struggle. The group will perform better with new commanders that are not known but are equally efficient. Aside from the ex-commander in Bayelsa, no commander has denounced militancy because they have only stepped aside.â€
On the Federal Government threat to smoke out all defiant militants at the expiration of the deadline, he said, â€œIt is the minister of defence that should come to the negotiating table for the interest of the country. Threats are useless to us and very soon, if the government ignores the opportunity to address the root issues, it will be at its own peril.
The root issues have to be addressed. Now there is a team to talk for us, so it is now up to government to do the right thing. The government must address the root issues that led to the unrest through dialogue. We have a voice and a face in the Aaron team and they should engage them now rather than swallow their pride and beg them later to intervene.â€
Also, the Joint Revolutionary Council comprising alliance units of the Movement for the Emancipation of the People of the Niger Delta, The Reformed Niger Delta Peopleâ€™s Volunteer Force and The Martyrs Brigade took a swipe at the federal government describing its threat as arrogant and despicable.
The Joint Revolutionary Council, in a statement issued by its spokesperson, Cynthia Whyte, said, â€œWe abhor in strong faith, the arrogance and despicable attitude of the chairman of the Amnesty Committee, Godwin Abbe. If he continues to use hard words laced with threats, he will fail. Our people have been pushed to the wall for too long and have built a resistance to such threats.
â€œWe have earned the right to defend our people, resources and our heritage. This would be a wrong time to test our resolve. The pains of the attack on Gbaramatu Kingdom and the extrajudicial killing of men, women and children as well as the destruction of properties worth billions of naira is still too fresh in our minds. A word will clearly be enough for the wise.â€
But estranged Ebikabowei Victor Ben aka General Boayloaf, a former MEND commander in Bayelsa State said the invincibility of the group has since evaporated with the proclamation of the presidential amnesty.
His words: â€œMEND is a group of people, an organisation put together to fight for the people of the Niger Delta. We were the fighters and not those of them who sit in hotels and use their laptops to send out all sorts of write-ups.
What you see of MEND today is just an individual pushing out those write-ups through the internet, which is a reflection of the frustration on his own part. They threatened on September 15, 2009. What happened? Who is ready to fight? Is he going to bring his brother to fight? Nobody will fight. They just sit down in their hotels, with laptops in front of them and without the consent of any other person. Forget such people, they are paper-tigers.â€
Determined to build on the success of the amnesty and make the Â Â Â state the â€˜oasis of peaceâ€™ in the troubled region, Governor Timipre Sylva Thursday sounded a note of warning to all those who refuse to turn in their arms that they would be exposed as the state cannot afford to go back to the era where anarchy was the order of the day especially in the creeks.
â€œNo one will be allowed to take us backwards. In a few days, the amnesty will be over. The state will be willing, ready, and available to give up anyone who fails to take advantage of the Presidentâ€™s amnesty window after the deadline,â€ he warned insisting that what the state needs for development is the sweat of its citizens, not their blood. While acknowledging the courage of the youths who have embraced the amnesty package, and decided to turn their backs on armed struggle he promised to continue to do everything within available resource to reintegrate them into normal society.
According to him, â€œthe government of Bayelsa State is in constant touch with the Federal Government and other partners on the issue of a comprehensive Demobilisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration Plan. Last year, I made the point that Bayelsa State needed the sweat of its citizens, not their blood. With the amnesty, we have put militancy behind us.
Any individual, no matter how highly placed, found to be sponsoring youths to engage in militancy and other vices against our collective interest will be made to face the full force of the laws of our land. We must muster our inner energy, that extraordinarily powerful force of the Ijaw man that we have exerted all through history to surmount situations that have tried to impede our progress. Our individual motivations are needed now than ever before to sustain our march to progress.â€
As at press time, the situation at the headquarters of the Joint Task Force was calm as the officers and men were seen going about their normal business. A senior military officer who spoke anonymously told Sunday Vanguard that though the security outfit has maintained silence all through the amnesty period its men have been gathering intelligence report in line with its mandate to restore peace in the region.
â€œThere will be no hiding place for the unrepentant militants,â€ he warned adding that Mr. President has been magnanimous enough and has shown commitment towards tackling the problem of the region.