‘It should be concrete’ – Alaibe
WARRI- AGGRIEVED ex-militants, under the aegis of the Niger-Delta Liberation Force, NDLF, led by “General” John Togo, who breached the 2009 amnesty agreement they signed with the Federal Government by returning to the creeks, mid-November, have now agreed to a cessation of hostilities.
Counsel to John Togo and national chairman of the Human Rights Defense Organization of Nigeria, HURDON, Casely Omon-Irabor Esq. in an interview with Vanguard, weekend, said, “John Togo has agreed to a ceasefire and I have held preliminary discussions to that effect with the Joint Task Force, JTF, on the Niger-Delta and the Presidential Committee on Amnesty, headed by Mr. Timi Alaibe.
Omon-Irabor said, however, said further discussions would be held with the JTF and Post-Amnesty Committee to iron out the grey areas.
Special Adviser to the President on Niger-Delta and coordinator of the post-amnesty programme, Mr. Alaibe told Vanguard when contacted, yesterday, that Omon-Irabor had discussed with him the intention of John Togo to ceasefire and surrender.
He said the Federal Government was willing to explore every option for peace to reign in the region, saying, “What I told Omon-Irabor is to ensure that what John Togo is saying is concrete, not to say that he is surrendering and going back again”.
Alaibe said he had spoken to him in the past and advised him that armed violence was not the solution to the Niger-Delta struggle, but he remained recalcitrant.
He said John Togo gave four conditions for his total surrender to wit: Immediate convening of a post-amnesty conference of all aggrieved ex-militants by the Federal Government to address the vexing issues with the United Nations and the international community as observers; and recovery of the oil blocs given to some ex-militant leaders by the Federal Government, knowing fully that the Niger-Delta struggle was not for personal gains.
“Other conditions are grant of total amnesty to all ex-militants and all those arrested or facing trial in relation to militant activities, including Henry Okah and rehabilitation of all ex-militants by the Federal Government”, Omon-Irabor added.
He said John Togo was prepared to surrender his arms as long as long as the government was ready to address the grievances of the ex-militants that returned to the creeks.
Omon-Irabor said the signal he received from both the JTF and the Presidential Committee on Amnesty was that they were disposed to anybody renouncing violence and surrendering arms.
Vanguard could not get the comments of the spokesman of the JTF, Lt. Col. Anthony Antigha, yesterday, as his phone rang out, but it was learned the task force was not happy over its men that allegedly killed by the NDLF in a clash on November 17.
Officially, the task force had not acknowledged the death of any soldier, but independent investigations at the Central Hospital, Warri showed that up to nine soldiers were killed. Lt. Col Antigha only admitted to Vanguard that few soldiers were injured.
Many people were stupefied, mid-November, when John Togo announced the formation of NDLF and set up a fresh militant camp, near Ayakuromoh, his country home in Delta state shortly after the Ministry of Defense, Abuja ordered the JTF to wipe out all new militant camps in the region following resumption of hostilities in parts of Akwa-Ibom and Bayelsa states by the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger-Delta, MEND. The country home of Mr. Alaibe in Opukamah, Bayelsa state was also bombed by irate ex-militants.
Across the region, other ex-militant leaders, including “Commander” Frank Akiefa, alias Ebi Kokos and “Commander” Ebi, based in Bayelsa state lambasted John Togo for breaching the amnesty agreement with the Federal Government.
On November 17, men of the JTF drafted to overrun John Togo’s camp met a very stiff resistance, as a number of them were injured and their gunboats damaged by the NDLF fighters, who apparently laid an ambush. The real casualty figure is not known till date.
The JTF reinforced and cordoned off waterways in Delta state for a fresh offensive on John Togo, but the militant leader used explosives to blow up his camp and fled to an unknown hideout in the creeks, christened, Israel Barracks.
From Israel Barracks, near the southern coast of the Atlantic Ocean, he monitored the operations of the JTF and issued a two-week ultimatum to the government to address the complaints of the ex-militants or they would cripple the economy of the country by blowing up oil pipelines and facilities.
A militant group, “The gods”, headed by Godday Smith rose in solidarity with the NDLF and bombed the crude oil pipeline to the Kaduna Refinery, but clashed with MEND when it claimed that its local fighters carried out the bombing.
Last week, NDLF spokesman, “Captain” Mark Anthony warned that the militant group would down any military, commercial and oil companies’ aircraft that comes three miles near its location, just as he confirmed report by some community leaders that the group’s fighters were sighted planting explosives on some pipelines in the night with a view to detonating them at the expiration of its two-week ultimatum.
While the manhunt for John Togo and his men lasted, residents of oil communities in the affected areas, particularly, Ogodobri, Ayakuromoh, etc in Burutu and Bomadi local government areas of the state had their hearts in their mouths, as soldiers laid siege on the waterways, shooting indiscriminately in the night.
The councilor, representing Ogodobri in Bomadi council legislature, Hon. Geofrey Dibofa had led his community chairman, Terry Youdowei and others to the Kiagbodo country-home of the former Federal Minister of Information, Chief Edwin Clark to urge him to use his influence to prevail on the Federal Government and the JTF not to attack villages under the guise of searching for John Togo.
As at the time John Togo indicated his wish to surrender, Saturday, the JTF was still in search of him in the creeks with reports that most residents had fled from neighbouring oil communities to Ayakuromo despite assurance by the task force that soldiers would not attack communities.