By Oscarline Onwuemenyi with Agency reports
ABUJAâ€”LEADER of the infamous Suicide Squad, South Wing of the militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, Selky Kie Torughedi, also known as General Young Shall Grow, has warned officials of government to â€œdo the right thingâ€ with regards to the continued absence of President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua or face an increase in violence and mayhem in the Niger Delta.
The right thing, according to the ex-militant leader is for the President to â€œensure a peaceful resolution of the impasse by officially handing over the reins of power to the Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, to act on his behalf, pending his return to full health.â€
Torughedi, who was speaking in an interview with our correspondent in Abuja, said the Presidentâ€™s protracted ill-health has brought untold hardship to the nation, and especially to the people of the Niger Delta.
He said: â€œYarâ€™Adua has prided himself on abiding by the rule of law; we, therefore, implore him to hand over the reins of power to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, to act as President. Failure to do this in the next few weeks, the Niger Delta militants will go back to the creeks and resume vandalism because we cannot continue to live in the pains that are brought on our people by his continued absence.â€
Torughedi also observed that the Presidentâ€™s absence has jeopardized security in the Niger Delta, noting that former militant leaders who gave up their arms in the amnesty are now â€œhelpless and abandoned, without any security to protect their lives and property.â€
According to him,â€œthese former militants feel betrayed and helpless, and may be forced to take up arms all over again and pursue the struggle to its logical conclusion. Before he left for treatment in Saudi Arabia, President Yarâ€™Adua implored us to drop our weapons and embrace peace in exchange for enhanced development of the Niger Delta, and since then nothing has happened.â€
He said the militants sympathized with the President on his ill-health and wished him speedy recovery so that he could continue with his work, but urged him to, in the meantime, delegate the Vice President to carry on with his duties in acting capacity.
The militant leader said: â€œOur people in the area are still suffering, a situation which has been made worse by the lengthy absence of the President. The pains in the Niger Delta are beyond human endurance.
â€œWe, therefore, are getting tired and would request that the Vice President be empowered to act immediately so that people in the Niger Delta would reap the benefits of the promises made by this administration.â€
Militants replenish ranks
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, on Saturday ended a three-month old ceasefire and threatened to unleash â€œan all-out assaultâ€ on Africaâ€™s biggest oil and gas industry. Security sources said the industry was taking the threat â€œvery seriouslyâ€ and believed MEND could attack a vulnerable pipeline, flow station or other oil facility if the government did not quickly show willingness to negotiate.
A security source said: â€œDefinitely something will happen. We had expected MEND to attack over the weekend. They know the places to attack where they canâ€™t get caught … getting the credibility they need to push their political agenda.â€
An oil pipeline was sabotaged on Sunday, forcing Royal Dutch Shell, to shut three pumping stations in the Niger Delta. But a MEND spokesman said its fighters were not â€œdirectly responsibleâ€ and security sources believed oil thieves were behind the incident.
Attacks by MEND on the nationâ€™s oil sector in the past few years have prevented the OPEC member from producing much above two-thirds of its capacity, costing it about $1 billion a month in lost revenues.
MEND, a loose coalition of militant groups, was severely weakened by the departure of many key field commanders that accepted President Umaru Yarâ€™ Aduaâ€™s amnesty offer last year. But the group said it has since replenished its ranks. â€œMEND has replaced every single commander. Those that have taken over were affiliated with MEND in the past but are not known by their predecessors for security reasons,â€ the group said, adding â€œa two pronged approach of attacks and dialogue will form the new way to go.â€
Ex-militants reconsider amnesty
Some former militants have also indicated they may soon rejoin the fight after the government failed to follow through on its promises of giving them training and jobs. General Monday, who commanded 175 militants in Bayelsa State before taking the amnesty said: â€œWe are in support of MEND. We are going back to the creeks. The federal government is playing games with us so before the end of the week you will hear things, you will see things – all the oil companies will fold up.â€
Under Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s amnesty programme, Abuja promised to provide a monthly stipend, education and job opportunities to the thousands of ex-rebels that surrendered their arms. But the programme has stalled since the president left Nigeria for medical treatment at a hospital in Saudi Arabia more than two months ago. Yarâ€™Adua has refused to hand over executive powers to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, sparking questions over the legality of government decisions in the presidentâ€™s absence.
Calm before the storm
The amnesty has been successful in providing a relative calm in the Niger Delta, allowing oil companies to repair and resume operations at some facilities. Most of the amnestyâ€™s success stems from the participation of former top MEND leaders Government Tompolo, Ateke Tom and Farah Dagogo, who each commanded hundreds of fighters before surrendering their weapons last year.
The new MEND leaders are unlikely to have as many followers or command the same respect in the Niger Delta as their predecessors, limiting the groupâ€™s operational capacity. But even with fewer fighters, MEND is still capable of attacking pipelines and oil facilities that have little or no security, potentially forcing the shutdown of hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day.