President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua overruled, yesterday, his defence minister, Major General Godwin Abbe and dialogued with the Aaron team which was set up two months ago by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) on the way out of the crisis in the region.
At the closed-door meeting at Aso Rock PresidentialVilla were former Chief of General Staff, Vice Admiral Mike Akhigbe (rtd), Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Major General Luke Kakadu Aprezi (rtd), Mr. Henry Okah and Mr. Farah Dagogo, all representing MEND.
Okah had insisted at an earlier meeting with the President that the only group empowered to discuss on behalf of MEND was the Aaron team.
However, last week, Gen. Abbe, who doubles as chairman of the Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament of Militants, told Sunday Vanguard that the Aaron team did not enjoy the backing of the ex-militants and had not officially communicated with government on its mission.
Sources said President Yarâ€™Adua, after consultation with other stakeholders decided to meet with the Aaron team because of its strategic importance in the peaceful resolution of the crisis. Yesterdayâ€™s meeting was largely exploratory, Sunday Vanguard, gathered. President Yarâ€™Adua took advantage of the talks to brief the Aaron team on the steps being taken by his administration to address the Niger Delta problems, and what it plans to do.
He also spoke of his intention to visit the region with a view to accessing the problems personally and feeling the pulse of the ordinary people. He reportedly told the Aaron team to work with other Niger Delta stakeholders in resolving the issues in contention in the region.
The Aaron team, on its part, recommended some quick fix solutions to the President. Prof. Soyinka was said to have exhibited a great deal of wisdom at the meeting.
The two sides agreed to meet again. But repentant militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, yesterday, dissociated himself and other ex-militants from the meeting of the Aaron team with President Yarâ€™Adua.
In a text message to Sunday Vanguard, he said, â€œThe team do not have the blessing of the freedom fighters hence should not be taken serious by the Federal Government and other well-meaning Nigerians. The Aaron team is out there to jeopardize the post-amnesty programmeâ€.
A member of the Aaron team who spoke to Sunday Vanguard said, â€œI am aware that a powerful PDP chieftain who is driven by selfish motive is using a senior government official to scuttle the meeting with the group by contacting some ex-militants to disown the teamâ€. He said the Aaron team was not perturbed by the move and would forge ahead with its meeting with the President Yarâ€™Adua in the greater interest of the region and the country.
Presidential spokesman, Mr Olusegun Adeniyi, who confirmed the meeting, gave no details but said the discussions were â€œfrank and fruitfulâ€. He said: â€œthe President used the session to reiterate his commitment to the overall peace and development of the Niger-Deltaâ€