By Emma Amaize, Daniel Idonor & Austin Ogwuda
WARRI â€” MOVEMENT for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND) said yesterday that militants would resume fresh attacks on oil installations in the country at the expiration of its ceasefire on October 15, just as it also distanced the group from tomorrowâ€™s meeting of President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua with ex-militant leaders and governors.
However, ahead of tomorrowâ€™s meeting with ex-militant leaders, President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua yesterday expressed his determination to fulfill all promises made to various stakeholders in the region, as part of the Amnesty package.
MEND threatens to resume attacks
In an e-mail statement, last night, by its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, the militant group said, â€œThe Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) will resume attacks on the oil industry at the expiration of our ceasefire.
MEND considers this next phase of our struggle as the most critical as we intend to end 50 years of slavery of the people of the Niger Delta by the Nigerian government, a few individuals and the western oil companies, once and for all.
â€œIn this next phase, we will burn down all attacked installations and no longer limit our attacks to the destruction of pipelinesâ€
On tomorrowâ€™s meeting with President Yarâ€™Adua, it stated, â€œMEND will have no representation at the Friday, October 9, 2009 meeting the government plans with so-called stakeholders. The government in trying to further insult the people of the Niger Delta has selected to â€œdialogueâ€ with a class of individuals it can very easily manageâ€.
It noted, â€œThis government has gone ahead negotiating to sell off more lands of the people of the Delta without deeming its people fit to be consulted. We warn all those interested in buying off our land, they will not go unpunished.
â€œWe will fight for our land with the last drop of our blood regardless of how many people the government of Nigeria and the oil companies are successful in bribingâ€, MEND added.
Furthermore, it observed, â€œThe Federal Government of Nigeria today (yesterday) through its Minister for Information and Communications declared the amnesty offer to militants and supposed disarmament exercise a successâ€.
In its words, â€œThis is obviously another feeble attempt at re-branding Nigeria; an attempt to force a glaring untruth down the throats of the international community.
â€œThe Nigerian government estimated a surrender of at least 10,000 weapons at the inception of this exercise. According to the government, an excess of 10,000 militants surrendered. Most of those who participated in this fraud were rented by the government in the hope that real militants would be persuaded to emerge.
â€œDespite the fact that most of the weapons â€œrecoveredâ€ were purchased for this purpose, the government does not have up to two thousand of the several thousand weapons in the delta to show for this shameless charade.
â€œIndeed, a few weapons were surrendered by commanders who decided to discontinue their participation in our struggleâ€, adding, â€œOil companies are warned as always to disregard this propaganda by the Nigerian governmentâ€.
Ex-militant leaders to meet with Yar’Adua
Former militant leaders, High Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, Victor Ben, better known as Boyloaf, Ateke Tom, Farah Dagogo, and Young-Shall-Grow are expected to participate in tomorrowâ€™s meeting just as the leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta, MEND, Mr. Henry Okah, said he will not honour the invitation.
The president had invited ex-militants to a meeting in Abuja on the way forward for oil-rich Niger-Delta.
Meanwhile, the presidency has said that the successful execution of the first phase of the Federal Governmentâ€™s Amnesty Programme following the completion of acceptance and disarmament, has jacked up Nigeriaâ€™s crude oil export and increased revenue even as Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta state says the amnesty granted the militants does not mean the end of the struggle.
South-South Governors are expected to be present at tomorrowâ€™s meeting and reports available to Vanguard indicate that the Delta State Governor, Dr. Uduaghan is a principal actor in the move by the Federal Government to get the input of the ex-militant leaders in the post-amnesty programme.
The governor of Bayelsa state, Chief Timipre Sylva, shares the same view with Uduaghan and the governors have been asked to help the Federal Government carry along the militant leaders in their respective states.
While Governor Uduaghan is at home with Tompolo, who, Vanguard learnt, was invited to the swearing-in ceremony of new Commissioners in Asaba, Chief Sylva is in good terms with Boyloaf, but the relationship between Governor Rotimi Amaechi and Ateke Tom cannot be said to be so rosy at the moment.
â€œHowever, since the Federal Government was interested in ensuring a good relationship between the governors and the ex-militant leaders, it is most likely that President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua will attempt to reconcile Governor Amaechi and Ateke Tom or ask the governor to carry him alongâ€, a source told Vanguard.
It was not confirmed at press time whether Egbema One, who is the principal ex-militant leader in Edo State would be at tomorrowâ€™s parley, but our source said he would not have any problem with the Governor Adams Oshiomhole of the state.
A source close to Tompolo confirmed to Vanguard yesterday that he (Tompolo) was invited to the meeting like others and would be in Abuja for the meeting. Vanguard spoke to Boyloaf, who was already in Abuja, yesterday morning, and he confirmedthat he was informed of the meeting by one of the South-South governors.
But Okah who sounded unperturbed when he spoke to Vanguard said he was not interested in attending a meeting just for attending sake, when it was evident the government was not interested in tackling the root issues that led to the agitation, adding that anybody who wanted to attend was free to attend. He declined further comments on the matter, saying all he would say was that government was searching for solution where there is no solution.
Okah who spoke exclusively to Vanguard from his base in South Africa yesterday said it was true he was contacted by somebody on Tuesday night about the meeting, but said besides the fact he (Okah) was undergoing medical treatment at the moment, the Federal Governmentâ€™s approach to the amnesty programme was wrong and gives the impression that it neither knows nor understands the root issues involved in the agitation.
FG yet to contact our negotiators â€” MEND
Independent findings by Vanguard showed that MEND does not believe the ex-generals and commanders, including Tompolo, Ateke Tom and Boyloaf were qualified to represent or negotiate for the group and the Niger-Delta at such a crucial level.
â€œThat is why MEND set up an Aaron team, comprising Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka (an observer) former Chief of General Staff, Rear Admiral Mike Okhai Akhigbe (rtd), former Commander of the African Mission in Sudan , Major-General Luke Aprezi (rtd), Dr. Sabella Abidde and female activist, Ms. Annkio Briggs.
The Aaron team is to negotiate with government on the demands of MEND and the way forward but instead of doing that, President Yarâ€™Adua is rather postponing the evil dayâ€, a source asserted.
MENDâ€™s spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, in an exclusive e-mail response to an inquiry by Vanguard confirmed that the Federal Government has not contacted the Aaron team. His words, â€œWe are not aware.
The government does not seem to show as much enthusiasm to receive them because it would rather sweep the issues under the carpet and to their thinking, the surrender of commanders is attractive since they believe it will guarantee the flow of oil but we will have to wait and seeâ€¦â€
Pointing out that the true test of whether the amnesty programme has worked or not would be known on October 1, 2010, he asserted in a recent interview, â€œThe quality of members in the Aaron team would suggest we did an intensive search and besides, their approval had to be sought.
Good things take time and effort. The Aaron team is not based on the amnesty deadline because they are going to be talking about the root issues that have led to the unrest whenever government is willing to talkâ€.
Chairman of the Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament of Militants as well as the Minister of Defence, Major General Godwin Abbe (rtd) was reported to have said that the Federal Government will not, for now, respond to the Aaron team, as MEND does not speak for all the militant groups.
â€œThatâ€, observed an ex-militant leader, yesterday, â€œcould be the reason for governmentâ€™s apparent failure to open talks with the group since it was announcedâ€.
However, MENDâ€™s spokesman said, â€œWhen a man pretends not to recognize a problem that affects him, heâ€™s said to be in denial and often needs psychiatric help.
The governmentâ€™s crude oil export is not determined by its policy or OPEC quota but by MEND, so when the Minister of Defence says he does not recognizes us, then it shows he has a problem with facing the reality on the groundâ€, adding, â€œAt the right time, the government will be begging for the Aaron teamâ€.
Vanguard tried without success to get Rear Admiral Akhigbe on his phone for comments, yesterday.
Steady increase in crude output â€”Economic Adviser
On the positive impact of the disarmament of militants, Chief Economic Adviser to the President, Alhaji Tanimu Yakubu, disclosed that the steady progress in the last 60 days the first phase of amnesty lasted resulted in steady increase in the countryâ€™s crude export.
Alhaji Yakubu who spoke to State House Correspondents, in the company of the Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, said â€œthe economic value of the amnesty has started to manifest in the rise of export of crude out of Nigeria, for the first time in Nigeria we are getting closer to our OPEC quotaâ€, he said.
The evidence of the economic value of peace in the Niger Delta, according to him, â€œis the return of contractors to the region who are now fast-tracking the repair of oil and gas infrastructure that has been destroyed which made the delivery of power not only challenging but, in fact, quite difficultâ€, adding that it has also led a rise in oil revenue that is accruing to the three tiers of government.
â€œMr President is very much willing to take unprecedented steps in coming to terms with the developmental challenges and demands of the various stakeholders in the region. Already the petroleum industry bill has sought to identify and sufficiently provide for those challengesâ€, he assured.
With amnesty, struggle not over, Uduaghan
Speaking during the swearing in of newly appointed Commissioners into the State Executive Council (Exco), Governor Uduaghan praised the effort of President Musa Yarâ€™Adua in granting amnesty to the militants.
While the ceremony was in progress, the ex-militant leader, Tompolo sauntered into the capacity-filled arena at the Cenotaph grounds, Asaba with a band of followers and was quickly ushered to the front row where the Governor, the Deputy Governor, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) and others sat.
Said he, â€œtoday is a great day for us. Today is a great day for Delta, a great day because we are meeting for the first time after the 4th of October. Many of us know what 4th of October has come to symbolise in the history of the Niger Delta struggle.
And I have the honour and pleasure of having with us here a key player in that struggle, a symbol of that struggle who has today come to join us in this ceremony. Let me highly welcome High Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo. With his presence here today, the violent phase of the struggle is over.
â€œBut let me say the struggle is not over because the challenge is now on us who are supposed to deliver to the people of Niger Delta to deliver what is required to the people.
â€œIn whatever position you find yourselfâ€, he went on, â€œif you be governor, govern well, Commissioner,Â Speaker,Â National Assembly member make you do well (pidgin). Wherever we find ourselves, please let us realise that the challenge is on us to ensure that we deliver to the people so that we do not go back to the arms struggle.
Let me welcome him (Tompolo) and all the other leaders especially those in Delta state and their followers I can see many of them that are here today, I welcome you to Asaba, the state capital, I welcome you to this ceremony and together we shall build a greater Delta state, in Jesusâ€™ name.â€