By Emma AMAIZE,Â Â Â Regional Editor, South South
SINCE the November 3 meeting of the ex-militant leaders and the Presidential Panel on Amnesty at Abuja where the former declared they were tired of meetings, thereâ€™s worry that things may snap between the Federal Government and the boys if the post-amnesty process was not handled carefully, particularly as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND) was not in support of the on-going arrangement. Under the leadership of the erstwhile â€œGeneral Officer Commandingâ€ (GOC) of the Niger-Delta militants, High Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, the ex-militants congregated at Effurun in Delta State on Tuesday to express themselves.
At the end, it was evident that they were not just raising alarm, there was reason to complain, as the Federal Government does not have on paper,Â a well-defined post-amnesty programme, itâ€™s only taking care of things as they come by the day with someÂ ad hoc measures.
However, at the Effurun meeting, the ex-militants showed how unruly they could be if things get out of handÂ Â they took a decision to tackle one or two of the vexing issues frontally with the government; they were clearly at home with the Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan; but they are not comfortable with the cold war still raging between Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers state and one of their leaders, Ateke Tom. What you could not take away from them is the fact that majority of them are with their senses in their dealings with the Federal Government and they know why they accepted to drop accept amnesty.
Their actions, particularly the latest decision not to report to camps for rehabilitation until certain things were sorted out are all meant to call governmentâ€™s attention to some observed lapses. Saturday Vanguard captures the complexities and other details in this report.
Initially, it was thought that the attendance was not all embracing, as only Tompolo, and former commanders, John Togo, Egbema I and Ezekiel Akpasebewa, the trio from Delta State, Shoot onÂ Sight, Young Shall Grow and a number of ex-militant leaders from Bayelsa State were at the venue of the meeting as at 5.00 pm, but, later in the evening, Ateke Tom, Soboma George, former â€œGeneralâ€ Ogunbos arrived to give the assembly the authority of full representation that was earlier missing.
Saturday Vanguard was reliably informed that contrary to the insinuation that the meeting was sponsored by the Delta State Government, it was Ateke that suggested the parley to enable the ex-militants review the post-amnesty programme and chart a way forward. He, it was, who also suggested that Tompolo should host the meeting, as he had always done with the Ijaw Youth Leadership Forum (IYLF).
Besides the ex-militants themselves, the national president of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Dr. Chris Ekiyor, human rights activist, Ms Ann Kio Briggs, secretary of the Presidential Committee on Peace and Conflict Resolution on the Niger-Delta, Hon Kingsley Kuku were at the Effurun meeting.
The venue of the meeting was packed full on that day with ex-militants and you could see them in various shapes and sizes and character. Saturday Vanguard overheard a policeman telling his colleague, â€œSo, itâ€™s this small boys that are causing fear forÂ everybody in this country, look at that small one there, you wonâ€™t even know that he can carry gun, see how innocent he looks like, but, when you see him in the creek, he is a war lord as you are seeing himâ€.
His counterpart replied, â€œMy brother, things are not the way you see it, they are deadly as you are seeing all of them soâ€.
The meeting was supposed to start at 12.00 pm but it did not start until around 4.00 pm , so people were tired of waiting and turned the hotel premises to a chattering and smoking arena. Some of them drank to stupor and threatened to disrupt the meeting if they were not allowed to sit in the hall where the governor would address their leaders. Some people panicked in the real sense.
But Tompolo who arrived earlier in an SUV car with police escort and went upstairs showed what made him to be the GOC when he came down after his attention was drawn to the â€œcommotionâ€ downstairs to address the boys and tell them to behave themselves.
There was pin-drop silence from all the men that were shouting, as he stepped into their midst and he told them that everybody would not be inside the hall for the meeting, but, their leaders would be there and brief them later. Nobody questioned him as he spoke and they all accepted his ruling.
Saturday Vanguard has it on good authority that the pervasive complaint at the meeting was the dissatisfaction of most of the ex-militants with the activities of the Amnesty Committee and the preparations for them to report to camp the next day, Wednesday, November 11 took the centre stage.Â They were angry with the modalities, as they said they were kept in the dark and resolved not to report to camp on November 11 as ordered by the government until the grey areas were sorted out.
A team was raised to liaise with the chairman of the Amnesty Committee, who is also the Minister of Defence, Major-General Godwin Abbe (rtd.). The team is already talking with the Minister and itâ€™s believed that the matter would be sorted out in no distant time. Also, the ex-militants have decided to intervene in the cold war between one of their leaders, Ateke Tom and the Governor of Rivers States, Rt. Hon Rotimi Amaechi. SomeÂ Â members of the team left for Port-Harcourt on Wednesday and no communiquÃ© was issued at the end of the Effurun meeting.
Tone of the meeting
Tompolo set the tone of the meeting in his opening address when he said the ex-militants have done their own part by accepting amnesty and dropping arms as the government requested and commended his colleagues for their bold action. Pointing out that what was left was for the government to do its own part, he said after about three meetings at Abuja , there was practically nothing tangible to tell the people at home about the governmentâ€™s seriousness.
He said he knew that the boys were angry and he, their leader was angry too, but, he would not want to show his own, as there would be nobody to control him if he got angry
Money exchanging hands/rumour peddling
He said rumour had started spreadingÂ Â Â that someÂ Â ex-militants leadersÂ have collected money from Abuja , adding that is was not true. He said in his meeting with President Yarâ€™Adua, he did not ask for any personal favour and received none from him and for those who know him well; he is not the type of person that will collect money to betray those heâ€™s leading.
His words, â€œI have not gone to collect money to sell Niger-Delta or Ijaw land, I have not collected money from the Amnesty Committee, I did not go to school, I carry gun and know what I am fighting for, some people carry gun but donâ€™t know why they carry gunâ€.
He also said some people hadÂ gone to mouth him to Mr. President that he did not surrender all his guns, declaring that it was not good for us to fighting themselves in the Niger-Delta.Â To some extent, he said Mr. President looked genuine in his statements about the Niger-Delta, but, his problem was with the men around him. â€œThose I donâ€™t trust are those around the Presidentâ€.
â€¦Sues for peace
The GOC stated that almost all investors and oil companies fled the Niger-Delta as a result of the crisis and pleaded with the boys to maintain the peace now that they have all accepted amnesty.
He said the region would be the loser if investors continue to distance themselves from the region, pointing out, â€œWe canâ€™t follow militancy to the endâ€. (Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan walked into the meeting at this stage of his address and they all rose to receive him after which Tompolo continued with his address).
Tompolo said if it was the way it was paining the ex-militants that they decided to tackle the matter, there would be no peace, but, they have to give peace a chance. He added that the leaders of the ex-militants have a lot of work to do in that regard, as it will not be a good signal if some boys wake up and start shooting or kidnapping people afresh in the region when there is supposed to be calm for the government to develop the place and for investors to do their work also.
He explained that what is very crucial at this moment is how to manage the success of the amnesty programme and told the ex-militants, â€œIf anybody comes to you to kidnap Oyibo, you will have yourself to blame, so just tell him that you have repentedâ€. He admitted that hunger was already telling on some of the boys, as he could not even recognized some of his â€œsoldiersâ€ he saw recently because of their hungry-looking appearance, but, he urged them to persevere as having accepted amnesty, they should not go back to the things that they haveÂ already dropped.
Delta state is home of N-Delta struggle
As if putting the records straight based on the insinuations that were making the rounds on the leadership of the struggle at the moment, he said that whatâ€™s today known as the Niger-Delta struggle after the late Major Isaac Adaka- Boro episode started from Delta state and it was the war between the Ijaw and Itsekiri ethnic nationalities over the relocation of a local government headquarter from Ogbe-Ijoh to Ogidigben.
He asserted that some commanders are known to be claiming to be leaders of the struggle also and said there was no problem about that but everybody knows who he is or is not in the struggle no matter the pretensions on the pages of newspapers. Hon Kuku cleared the air on the leadership question when he declared categorically that Tompolo is the leader that everybody knows and that itâ€™s not by age but by wisdom, which he has displayed on various occasions.
N-Delta canâ€™t be developed in a hurry
Tompolo further said that those expecting the government to develop the region in one or two years were deceiving the ex-militants, as it would take a longer time to put the expected infrastructures on ground. He agreed that the boys were hungry and some of them have not been doing anything since they dropped arms but insisted that was not enough reason for them to get involved in criminal activities. By granting amnesty to militants, he said God has freed Ijaw and the Niger-Delta people and government should, saying that those who wanted to kill him because of his involvement in the struggle should know that he has a covenant with the gods.Â He said investors were already returning back to Rivers state and nobody should go to kidnap anybody there under any guise, adding that if you kidnap somebodyâ€™s father or wife and demand for ransom, God would not be happy with you.
Uduaghan is the best governor
He said the governor of Delta state is the best among all the Niger-Delta governors as far as management of the Niger-Delta crisis is concerned and if the Federal Government drew from his counsel, the problem would not have deteriorated to the level it went in recent past.
Advice to ex-militant leader
To his fellow ex-militant leaders, he said they should report accurately what transpired at meetings with government to their followers after each meeting to avoid disinformation, stressing that it was time the Itsekiri, Urhobo, Ijaw in Delta state and other ethnic groups in the region come together to fight a common cause and no matter how it is, one person carries the cross at time in a struggle like this for everybody.
My pact with the gods
He said he signed a pact with the gods before he enlisted in the struggle that he would never hurt women and that was why he had to travel even at odd hours to Bayelsa , Rivers and other states of the region to negotiate the release of women, children when they were kidnapped by hostage takers. Tompolo recalled that he had spent N220 million over the years to free hostages in this category
Tompolo, arrowhead of the Amaechi/Ateke Tom rapproachment
It was learnt that Tompolo is to lead the team raised by the ex-militants to reconcile the governor of Rivers state, Rt. Hon Rotimi Amaechi with Ateke Tom. It was reported, some days ago, that the team left for Port-Harcourt on Wednesday, but, Saturday Vanguard confirmed yesterday that Tompolo was still making contact with Governor Amaechi and has not concluded. â€œItâ€™s when Tompolo completes arrangement with Governor Amaechi that the team will go to meet with the governor, we have not gone to see him yetâ€, one of the ex-militant leaders told Saturday Vanguard in Warri.
Weâ€˜re in a critical stage â€“ Uduaghan
Governor Uduaghan who listened to Tompolo as he spoke must have been impressed, as he not only gave the ex-militants the advice any government official would give at an occasion like that, but, also sermonized as well. He commended them for convening the meeting, explaining that he would have been at Abuja for the National Executive Council meeting on that day but had to take excuse because of the importance of their gathering to the nationâ€™s economy.
Contrary to the contention by some people that the acceptance of the amnesty was not total, he said it was 100 per cent and commended President Yarâ€™Adua for allowing God to use him to grant amnesty to militants. He said the amnesty was only a month old as at the day of the meeting and there have been various challenges. In his opinion, it was more difficult to manage the post-amnesty part than to get militants to drop their arms but he pleaded with the militants to be committed to the process, as the violent phase of the Niger-Delta struggle was over.
He said the country was not at the critical phase, which is resolving the issue that made the ex-militants to carry guns in the first instance and that what should bother them is how the oil producing communities should get enough benefits from oil production going on in their areas.
He said theÂ first thing was for the ex-militants to organize themselves and stop backbiting each other, as it had come to his ears that some were spreading false information about their leaders. He said he heard as Tompolo said that government had given him money, pointing out that there was no truth in the allegation and the ex-militants should not allow those who want them to be divided to succeed in dividing them with such cheap rumour.
The governor also said that not all of them would attend meetings at Abuja and urged them to have confidence in the ability of their leaders to attend such meetings and report back to them. For Delta, he said the state government would incorporate all ex-militants, whether leaders or followers in its post-amnesty arrangement for ex-militants according to its limits