By Emma Amaize
WARRI â€” THERE were indications yesterday, that ex-militant leaders, including Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, Ateke Tom, Victor Ebikabowei Ben, alias Boyloaf and others may distance themselves from the assumed leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta, MEND, Henry Okah, because of his alleged hard-line stance against their involvement in post-amnesty talks with the Federal Government.
The ex-militant leaders will assemble again, this week, in Abuja, for another meeting with President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua to present a blueprint on their position. However, one of them told Vanguard, ahead of the parley: â€œWe are angered by the report that MEND is saying that whatever decision we reach with the government is not binding on them, who is MEND, are we not the people that make up MEND? We are the leaders and we have decided to drop our arms and see what the government wants to do for the Niger-Delta. Is Henry Okah himself a militant, how can they be saying that they do not agree with our collective decision?
â€œWe are going to ignore him. That is the thinking of some of us. The decision of one or two persons cannot be above the decision of all us, we are going ahead, we have to give peace a chance for things to work out in the Niger-Delta, if that fails, we can review our stand, but, not now.
Let us give it a trial firstâ€, he said.
In an interview with Vanguard, Henry Okah distanced himself from the Federal Governmentâ€™s parley with ex-militant leaders, but said whoever wanted to participate was free to do so. He said he did not believe the government was adopting the right solution towards resolvingÂ the Niger-Delta crisis.
Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark who met with about 40 ex-militant leaders and their lieutenants recently was understood to have contacted Henry Okah on phone to get involved with others in the post-amnesty programme of the government.
Chief Clark who confirmed his interaction with Okah said he told him that nobody was ignoring him and that he should not distance himself from the post-amnesty programme.
A source, nevertheless, said, â€œHenry Okah is in South-Africa, he is undergoing medical treatment and watching the ex-militant leaders and the Federal Government, knowing very well that the romance will soon crash because itâ€™s not based on resolving the root issues involved in the Niger-Delta struggle but on what government wants them to do for Abuja and what Abuja wants to do to manipulate and empower them.
I think they should leave him alone but when the fog clears from their eyes, they will know who has fooled whomâ€.
Vanguard was informed that the ex-militant leaders told the President that discussions on the root issues which led to the agitation should be handled by Niger-Delta elders, leaders and other stakeholders, who were better equipped than them to do so.
But three committees: to oversee the post-amnesty programme; monitor the execution of the projects promised by the Federal Government under the programme and security were said to have been agreed at the last meeting.
Ex-militant leaders are expected to help the government manage the issue of welfare and rehabilitation of their men in terms of training and jobs, which is a very important part of the post-amnesty process.
It was learnt that while the ex-militant leaders were not against a negotiating team by MEND, which boasts such eminent personalities as the former Chief of General Staff, CGS, Rear Admiral Mike Akhigbe (rtd); Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka (observer) and others in its rank, they feel the team should be expanded to include other distinguished Niger-Deltans.
The Federal Government has not bothered to discuss with MENDâ€™s Aaron team since it was put in place by the militant group and Admiral Akhigbe, from our findings, does not want to force the group on the government unless it was recognised by government to play the role as MENDâ€™s negotiator.
Chief Clark who spoke to Vanguard, weekend, was not particular about any special team of negotiators, as he said the ex-militant leaders have told the President that Niger-Delta elders and leaders should handle the intellectual part of the discussions.
According to him, when the time comes for that, the elders, leaders and other stakeholders would discuss the issues with the Federal Government.