By Jimitota Onoyume
Port Harcourt – WHAT does Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Â Â Â Delta (MEND) really want? Whose interest is it championing at the moment? These and many more areÂ questions agitating the minds of many in the region and the country since Saturday when the body in an online statement claimed to have ruptured an oil pipeline belonging to Shell and Chevron in Abonnema community, Rivers State.
The militant body, in a statement signed by Jomo Gbomo described the alleged attack as a warning strike. It said about 30 of its fighters in five speed boats and armed with assault riffles, rocket launchers and heavy calibre machine guns blew up the oil pipeline in the community.
Meanwhile, community sources in Abonnema could not confirm the alleged attack on the oil facility. Contacted for comment, Mr. Precious Okolobo of Shell denied attack on its facility in the community. Spokesman for the Joint Task Force in the region, Lt Col Timothy Antigha also told the Sunday Vanguard that there was no such attack. He said all efforts by his men on ground to confirm the alleged attack led them to the conclusion that nothing of such happened.
On its part, the Rivers state government when it first heard of the allegation was really disturbed but it later overcame its fears when it confirmed that the alleged attack was a ruse and then issued a statement signed by its Commissioner of Information, Mrs. Ibim Semeniteri urging the public to ignore the allegation as it was devoid of truth.
Rivers State Government certainly had every reason to be worried because the allegation came a day after it celebrated the return of lasting peace to the state in a very colorful manner.Â The event code named Carniriv saw governor Chibuike Amaechi, his commissioners, the business community in the state, people drawn from the 23 local governmentsÂ areas of the state etc, dancing from Aba Road down to Aggrey Road. It was natural for the government to be apprehensive with the news. It later heaved a sigh of relief after it confirmed that the allegation was empty and assured the world that the state is truly safe for investors which was really the situation on ground.
Reacting to the alleged attack by MEND on the oil pipeline in Abonnema, a former militant commander, Mr. Soboma Jackreec, aka, Egberipapa said it was sad to hear that anybody or group could still wish crisis and tension to return to the region. Urging youths of the region to embrace dialogue he said the federal government should be given a chance to develop the region.
And this development he noted would only be possible in an atmosphere of peace. â€œI am strongly calling on all ex-militant leaders in the Niger Delta region to contribute their quota to maintaining peace and development in our region. A major responsibility of re-orientating our boys lies on our ability to develop certain opportunities for them to partake so as to identify the potentials useful for their growth and the betterment of our society at large.
â€œThis is not a time to shoot guns or train people to shoot guns, rather it is a time to discover and encourage the potentials of those that have fought for our beloved Niger Delta. It is in the best interest of our people to desist from all sorts of activities that are inimical to sustaining peace and development in our region, for now let us give the government the opportunity to execute their promises.
We advise all ex-militant to desist from attitudes not be-fitting a freedom fighter… How can you assault the people you claim to be fighting for? Such acts will not be condoned any longer, while some of us are struggling to genuinely present the case of our deprived people others are bent on sabotaging and giving us bad image.â€
He also charged ex militant leaders in the region to take it as a duty to re direct the path of youths in their area from the culture of violence. Ijaw National Congress (INC) and the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) in separate publications have also spoken against return of violence in the region.Â President of INC, Dr A. W. Obianime and that of IYC, Dr Chris Ekiyor said intellectual militancy should be promoted against culture of violence.
But what does MEND really want? This question was put forward to Jomo Gbomo online. And his response was thus: â€œMEND wants peace that comes after justice. The fact that the government has refused to release the white paper of the Ledum led Technical Committee report is a clear indication that the government wants to achieve a short term peace. Our statement was very clear in stating that the process of dialogue should not be tied to the availability of the president. We expect the government to see this warning strike as a wake-up call and put a system in place where dialogue will continue irrespective of the absence of an individual. We feel the same way any individual or group with a mission feels when opposed and that is by being indifferent. Mandela was opposed by those who did not share his vision and were prepared to endure under the apartheid regionâ€
On the claim that its alleged attack on the oil pipeline in Abonnema was a ruse, Jomo Gbomo said this reporter should access the spot in the community if he would be allowed by security operatives in the area â€œ I suggest you personally visit the community and inquire from locals about the explosion that was heard in the night in question and also ask the army to allow you access to the area they have cordoned off. This is an obvious cover-up to save a post amnesty that has not addressed the core issues.â€
In its statement announcing the alleged attack on the pipeline, the militant body also gave the following reason for the alleged incident, â€œWhile the Nigerian government has conveniently tied the advancement of talks ron the demands of this group to a sick president, it has not tied the repair of pipelines, exploitation of oil and gas as well as the deployment and re-tooling of troops in the region to the presidents ill health. While wishing the president a speedy recovery, a situation where the future of the Niger Delta is tied to the health and well being of one man is unacceptable. The government through the Bayelsa state governor, ministers for defense and information has been disseminating propaganda aimed at foreign investorsclaiming that the situation in the Niger Delta is under control. This assertion is far from the truth.
Also the government has been offering bribes to a number of militants who surrendered their birth rights under its amnesty program in the form of contracts. The government perceives this individuals to wield some kind of influence in the region. The group wants to make it abundantly clear that all those who have capitulated are of no significance to the continuation of the struggle.
MEND is committed to continue its fight for the restoration of the land and rights of the people of the Niger Delta which has been stolen for fifty years.
MEND remains open to dialogue, however the indefinite ceasefire ordered by the group on Sunday, October 25, 2009 will be reviewed within thirty days from today, December 19, 2009.â€
For the likes of Egberipapa, there is no justifiable reason at the moment to rock the boat. Peace should be given a chance. Adding, Mr. Peter Somina, said the federal government should also be given a chance. â€œAt least let us give a chance to the federal government to show us what it has for the region as post amnesty plan. If we donâ€™t create that atmosphere of peace then nobody can blame government for not doing anythingâ€. The foregoing is the dominant trend of thought in the region. For many, peace should be given a chance.
â€œGive the federal government opportunity to prove itself to the region and the people, â€œPeter said.