*JTF should remain in N-Delta to fight pirates
*Weâ€™ donâ€™t need Henry Okah to execute the project
*Thereâ€™s nobody like Jomo Gbomo
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South South
HIS name is Mr. Victor Ebikabowei Ben, a marine expert, but you are not likely to know him by that taxonomy. Call him Boyloaf and the incomprehension is instantaneously cleared. Before now, he was a very senior officer of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND), which needs no prologue to anybody, even a 70-year old cattle rearer in Kaduna that is able to listen to his radio or hear news on his television set, not to talk of any person that can afford to buy or borrow a Nigerian newspaper to read.
Addressed as ‘General’ Boyloaf, he was the first notable militant leader to embrace the amnesty programme of the Federal Government and he led no fewer than 31 other ex-militant leaders to Abuja to meet with President Yarâ€™Adua and formally accept amnesty long before the last-minute haul of the erstwhile ‘General Officer Commanding (GOC)’, High Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, Ateke Tom, Fara Dagogo and others.
In this interview with Vanguard, he spoke on life in the creeks as a militant leader, his expectations from the Federal Government, having accepted amnesty. He submitted he does not need rehabilitation from the Federal Government even though he accepted the amnesty, saying them there was no longer anything like MEND as Tompolo, Ateke Tom, Fara Dagogo, himself and othersÂ had pulled out of the amorphous group and other issues. Excerpts:
Do you think you made a mistake by accepting amnesty and surrendering arms to the Federal Government when theÂ main issues involved in your agitation as a former militant have not been addressed
I am very sure I have made no mistake by accepting the Federal Government amnesty; it was a decision borne out of advice from our elders and stakeholders in the region to give peace a chance for development to thrive. Yes I agree with you that the main issues are still there, but I also agree that some of the issues we are talking about are constitutional, political and developmental, which require time and atmosphere of peace for dialogue.
Since the arms surrender programme, some youths in Bayelsa State, your home state, who accepted amnesty, have been demonstrating and causing fear in the minds ofÂ people, what is actually at stake and what do you think should be done to tackle it?
Yes it is true that some youths have been demonstrating, this is because the allowances are not been paid as at and when due. You must also understand that these are boys that are meant to be undergoing rehabilitation, their psyche and ways of thinking is different from people who leave in a normal society, so the issues of rampage and demonstration are expected in this instance but they are being addressed.Â My advice is that funds should be released as at when due, and the boys properly taken care of at the rehabilitation camp.
You were one of the first known militant leaders to accept amnesty, can you compareÂ life in the creeks and that of the city?
Well, as you may have had, life in the creeks is quite tough and challenging, but we have to tow that path to restore our dignity and get the attention of the international community to the plight of our people because we live in a globalised world and whatever happen in the Niger Delta affects the international community and the world at large. Well city life is good.
I know you were once based in Port-Harcourt and you know about city life, tell me about your life then in the city, the things that made it groovy for you, what prompted you to take up militancy and abandon the good life you were living then, what year was it, the rough times you faced in the creeks, as you had to battle the JTF to evade capture almost everyday
I was a successful marine expert going about my legitimate business, and I was doing well. Before I decided to take up the struggle to fight for the emancipation of my people. I had always known city life and enjoyed it, but I decided to give up my comfort so that the Niger Delta region can get the desired attention, which to the best of my knowledge has been achieved. To me, there were no rough times because whatever happened, I took it in good faith because it is the life I have chosen and I have to do what I have to do to move on.
Tell me how life is now, you now fly in an d out of Abuja , the seat of power and dine with the mighty, both in your state and at the federal level, how is it like?
Well, like I said before life in the city is good, my flying and dining with the high and mighty as you put is something I have to do to push for the demands and interest of the people I took up arms for.
Would you want to talkÂ about some of your daring operations in the past as a militant leader and how you executed them?
I donâ€™t want to comment on this because they are all things of the past.
How were you able to manage the militants under your command then, it is not easy from what we can see from the demonstrations in Yenagoa, what is the secret?
Just like you have in the military, all my soldiers then where well trained to follow instructions, and they all know the consequences of going against orders. Our strategy worked because we recruited men who were really committed to the struggle and believed in what we were doing. I went into the struggle with my personal resources.
How were you gettingÂ moneyÂ to pay the fat salaries they were earning monthly because part of the ex militants’ complaints is that they were getting more than what they are being paidÂ in the rehabilitation camps set up by government ?
As I said before I had always been a successful marine business man. I went into the struggle with my personal resources and assistance from well meaning sons of the region who believed in what we were doing. And we took good care of the boys to keep them focused.
Did the Bayelsa State Governor give you N250 million to accept amnesty, the news is everywhere even though you have denied itÂ before now?
There is nothing of such, these Â Â rumours are fabricated by the governor’s detractors and those who do not want the amnesty to succeed, to undermine my personal belief and conviction that the amnesty must succeed to give peace a chance so that development can come to the region.
What is your relationship now with the governor of your state, Chief Timipre Sylva?
My relationship with the governor of my state is cordial. We are working together to bring about the dividends of democracy to the people of Bayelsa in a peaceful atmosphere.
HasÂ there beenÂ any to your lifeÂ since you accepted amnesty and surrendered your arms?
There is no threat to my life in any form. If there are anything like that, they areÂ mere statements on the pages of newspapers by unscrupulous elements who do not want the amnesty to succeed.Â They saidÂ I will not be able to come near the Niger Delta, but I was in Bayelsa, surrendered my arms, and I drive freely in the streets of Yenagoa, and Port-Harcourt without any single security. And I am not worried at all, nobody can touch me. I fought for the survival of my people and I still stand by myÂ word.
Do you prefer life in the city than life in the creeks, why?
Life in the city as everybody know is good, but in the creeks itâ€™s challenging and tough, but we have to face it and overcome it as I have done.
So far, do you think the Federal Government is keeping to the expectations of the people that it will develop the Niger-Delta?
Yes, as you can see the President has called for a meeting with all leaders in the struggle to discuss the way forward, which is progress in the right direction.Â I also advise the President on the inclusion of elders and other stakeholders so that we can collectively work out an amicable solution to the problems of the region.
What should Yarâ€™Adua do for the amnesty programme to actually succeed becauseÂ MEND has said that by October 1, 2010, the nation will know whether it is a success or otherwise?
My brother,Â forget about all these people who seat on their laptop and write rubbish on pages of newspaper, who is the MEND again when myself, Tompolo, Farah andÂ Ateke etc are on the table to discuss the way forward for the emancipation of our region. I have always advised the media to ignore them, if they want amnesty they should go and surrender their laptop and fill the amnesty form and be part of the process. Who is Jomo Gbomo? And why is he still hiding? He should show himself if he is existing.
The challenge is actually on you people, the ex-militant leaders – that is Tompolo, you, Ateke Tom, Fara and others to prove that you call the shots by making sure that militancy gives way in the Niger-Delta. Are you people equal to the challenge?
Of course, we are equal to the task if given the necessary support by government, the oil companies and the relevant agencies.
You all need Henry Okah to succeed in keeping the peace in the region. With your present relationship with him, doÂ you intend toÂ meet him to discuss such aÂ matter and I also like to know ifÂ both ofÂ you have settled your differences?
Let me use this opportunity to put issues straight. I, Mr. Victor Ben Ebikabowei,Â donâ€™t need Henry Okah to succeed in anything and I have no problem with him and have nothing to settle with him.
At a time, you were worried that Ateke Tom was delaying his acceptance of amnesty or that he was not ready to accept the offer.Â Is this true and how did you feel when he finally yielded?
Yes Ateke and I had always worked together very closely. He is a man I have trusted in the struggle, and he has a lot of followership, so,Â I had always wanted him to be part of the amnesty programme.Â I was delighted when he finally yielded to the voice of reasoning.
What of Tompolo, did you think he was going surrender whenÂ late in September; he was still talking tough. How do you feel about his eventual surrender andÂ that ofÂ Fara Dagogo?
I knew they would always surrender, that was why I personally kicked against the extension of the amnesty deadline. Well it was good they took the part of courage that I took and was widely criticized
Did you have cause to talk to them to accept amnesty as you did when there was a kind of indecision on their part before they finally accepted?
Well, apart from Ateke Tom that I had always had a close relationship with, the others I did not bother myself to talk to them because I knew they will definitely surrender.
How do you personally see President Yarâ€™Adua because you have met him one-on-one on several occasions, is he committed to the development of the Niger-Delta?
Yes, I have met with Mr President one-on-one on several occasions, and I saw in him the commitment and dedication to the development of the Niger Delta Region.
The Special Adviser to the President on Niger-Delta, Mr. Timi Alaibe used to be your friend, Yarâ€™Adua recently reconciled him and Governor Sylva, have you made up now with Alaibe because I know you were to have accepted amnesty through him, but, you chose GovernorÂ Sylva at the last minute?
Mr Alaibe is still my friend and brother, I have no problem with him in any way at all. We still have a cordial relationship.
Tell me how you feel when you see soldiers or members of the JTF on the streets now and your dispositionÂ towards them – do you see them as enemies before and friends now?
I have never seen them as enemies in any way at all.
Now that you are a friend to GovernorÂ Sylva, have you advised him to set up an oil commission in the state like other oil statesÂ have done?
Well,Â I have discussed with him on this issue but his response was quite convincing because almost all the communities in Bayelsa are all oil- producingÂ and I saw reason with him on that, owing to the economic situation of the state.
What of the N100 billion bond or so he is trying to take from the capital market, do you support it and what have you advised him?
My personal opinion is clear. The governor has to do what is right, if the bond is to the best interest of the state, I encourage him to go on and take the bond because I know him as a man that has the interest of BayelsaÂ at heart.
If the ex-militants are given security contracts by government to protect the oil pipelines, can they competently do it?
Yes, if they are given the opportunity I know they can do it very well.
In that case, what do you want to happen to the JTF on the Niger-Delta, should they remain or go?
For now I will suggest the JTF remains until government has worked out an alternative to protect our water ways from sea pirates
Did you make enemies in the course of your struggle as a militant leader, who are these people and have you asked them to forgive you?
As a leader I have no enemies in the cause of our struggle. I may have one or two disagreement with some people, but we always disagree to agree and move forward. We all have one objective, which is the emancipation of the Niger Delta region.
What of those who offended you, who are they, what are their offences and have you forgiven them?
We are all humans, who am I to bear grudges against any man, when God almighty says we should always forgive.
You are supposed to be in the Rehabilitation Camp for ex-militants.Â Have you been there and what is life like inside there, why are the boys complaining?
I donâ€™t need rehabilitation because I am mentally stable and okay. I donâ€™t need Government to do anything for me personally. All I want and have been agitating for is the development of theÂ region. The boys are complaining because the rehabilitation camp is not in a habitable condition, thatâ€™s why I have always been advising the committee to make the campÂ habitable for the boys to be properly rehabilitated.