Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
Renewed violence in the Niger-Delta signals that some repentant militants still have an axe to grind with government.
IN SPITE of the out-of-the-way attacks on oil installations and kidnapping of oil workers by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta, MEND, notably in Akwa-Ibom and Bayelsa states, after Henry Okah and his brother, Charles, were arrested in South Africa and Nigeria respectively for the October 1 twin -bomb blasts in Abuja, not much consideration was given to the return of militancy to the region until Friday, November 12.
Before that date, it was assumed that some reckless militants and former militants alike were being used by MEND to ambush the post-amnesty programme because the particular interests of the group were not catered for. With the trial of the Okahs and probe by the State Security Service, SSS, there was hope that the remaining renegades would soon be reined in.
Twist in the game
But, the November 12 bombing of the Opokuma country home of the Special Adviser to the President on Niger-Delta and Coordinator of the post-amnesty programme, Mr. Timi Alaibe, in Bayelsa State took many by surprise.
This is because the way Alaibe had steered the post-amnesty programme from turbulent waters since he was appointed to oversee programme after the period of the former Minister of Defence, General John Abbe (rtd), he has proved to be a skilled administrator/conciliator.
Alaibe had earlier been manhandled at Obubra, Cross River State by ex-militants undergoing training over allowances and other sundry matters and it was presupposed that such is the sacrifice he had to make for being a manager of such a collection of human beings.
The Defence Headquarters (DHQ), nevertheless, in a swift reaction to the Opokuma attack, ordered the Joint Task Force, JTF, on the Niger-Delta to commence destruction of all militant camps in the region to stem the fresh wave of attacks. It also advised citizens to steer clear of the militant camps, some of which MEND admitted to have set up.
Violent campaign is wron — Ofehe
The founder and president of the Hope for Niger Delta Campaign, HNDC, based in The Netherlands, which has been campaigning for accelerated development of the region, Comrade Sunny Ofehe, was flabbergasted by the bomb blasts.
Speaking on phone from The Netherlands with Sunday Vanguard, he said, “History has shown that the violent campaign by militants in the Niger Delta has not benefitted the people of the region but rather had been laced by greed and self- aggrandisement.
“The era of militancy is over and all aggrieved militants must key into the ongoing government amnesty programme of rehabilitation and integration. The process may have its shortcomings and challenges but the militants should see it as a succour to embrace peace and open the door for a proper dialogue which seems inevitable.”
According to Ofehe: “The non-violent struggle of Ken Saro-Wiwa to emancipate the people of the Niger Delta must be enshrined in the current struggle,” adding that, ”We are going to demand our rights peacefully, non-violently and we shall win”. This must be the slogan of the struggle as we commemorate the 15th anniversary of his violent death.
This isn’t N-Delta struggle — Bebenimibo
A conflict management expert in the Niger-Delta, Prince Clement Bebenimibo, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard, asserted, “I seriously condemn the bombing of Timi Alaibe’s country- home by unknown persons. Is this part of the Niger-Delta struggle?
“In fact, I call on the Federal Government to checkmate incessant bombing in Bayelsa State since the present political dispensation. My Ijaw brothers should stop the syndrome of crucify him because they perceive him to be against them. Think of how to manage the victory brought by freedom fighters, not to destroy or kill your fellow man.”
Stop before it’s too late – Akiefa
Ex-militant leader, Mr. Frank Akiefa, alias Ebi Kokos from Delta State also told Sunday Vanguard, “The recent attack made against Mr. Alaibe from Bayelsa State has shown that some Niger- Delta youths have not accepted the best thing that has ever happened to us”. He was of the opinion that the cow does not know the value of its tail until it is cut-off.
Akiefa said , “Despite the hiccups, the post-amnesty programme has been handled well by Mr. Alaibe and he should be given a chance to see it through”, adding, “We were all in this struggle before now, we know ourselves and I don’t see the reason for what they are doing now”
If Ofehe, Bebenimibo, Akiefa and others who turned up their noses against the resurgence of militancy in the region thought the deaf ought not to be told before he/she will know that there is trouble in the market, they got the wrong idea about the intention of some of the ex-militants.
Only last Thursday, the JTF disclosed that no fewer than 14 fresh militant camps had been overrun in the Niger Delta and occupied by security operatives in a bid to prevent criminal elements from further using the base to carry out their nefarious activities.
Among the camps seized by the special security forces were those operated by one ‘Commander Obez’ in Rivers State, three in Bayelsa operated by one Keiti Sese, also known as Commander Nomukeme (Mad man) in Foropa enclave of the Southern Ijaw council area and another one at Igbikiri in Nembe area.
Also occupied in Bayelsa by the security forces following voluntary handover witnessed by the Commander of the Sector 2, Col. Victor Ezugwu, were camps formerly operated by Ebikabowei Victor-Ben, otherwise known as Field Marshal (Boyloaf) and ‘Commander Pastor Wilson Reuben’ in Ezetu, Ekene and Polama communities of Southern Ijaw council area.
A total of 30,000 rounds of ammunition, dynamites, anti-aircraft rocket launchers, five machine guns and AK 47 were recovered in three separate operations launched in the three states.
JTF also moved last Thursday night to take over the Niger-Delta Liberation Force (NDLF) camp in Delta State, abandoned by John Togo.
The occupation of the camps by the security forces, it was learnt, was to prevent hoodlums from using the abandoned camps as base to carry out their nefarious activities.
In the Rivers and Bayelsa operations, the commander of the Joint Task Force, Major-General Charles Omoregie, said there were no violent confrontations between the soldiers and the militants, stressing that when the militants saw that the attack was imminent, they extended an “olive branch” to JTF.
He described the current campaign as a multi-dimensional operation that would involve the continued patrol of the creeks to dissuade the return of the criminals identified among the militants.
He stated that those willing to give up their arms and collaborate with the Federal Government would be allowed to do so after they have been quizzed by the police just as he announced the arrest of six persons, including an alleged cult kingpin in Southern Ijaw identified as Commander Dan over their alleged involvement in recent attack on the Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) facilities at Gbarain and Likogbene areas of Bayelsa.
Besides MEND, which resumption of hostilities could be traced to pressure for the release of the Okahs, the NDLF, formed by nine former leaders of MEND, but operating independently outside the militant group, gave an insight into the reasons for the renewed armed struggle, saying they were left out.
The umbrella body of Ijaw youths, Ijaw Youths Council, IYC, which under the leadership of its former national president, Dr. Chris Ekiyor, advocated for amnesty under President Olusegun Obasanjo and rallied militants to accept when it was offered by the Federal Government under the leadership of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua has expressed surprise at the turn of events.
Sunday Vanguard found out that Alaibe was having sleepless nights over how the Niger-Delta youths who embraced the Federal Government amnesty would be better persons after passing through a non-violence training and orientation in their Obubra Training Camp and acquiring skills that would make them productive in life.
Some of the ex-militants who had undergone the training attested that they were made to understand that arms violence is not the best way to actualise any struggle, and they would rather take up their agitation intellectually with government.
It was learned, however, that some of the militants did not surrender within the October 4, 2009 deadline by the Federal Government and, as such, could not be registered for the rehabilitation programme of the Post-Amnesty Committee.
About 20, 000 ex-militants were registered by the committee and after the deadline, some of the militants who sat on the fence came out from the creeks. By then, registration for those who kept to the deadline had been completed. Those who met the deadline were the ones who the Federal Government planned for.
No fewer than 5,000 others are, however, agitating that they surrendered arms, but were not accommodated in the post-amnesty programme. Some of them said they kept to the October 4, 2009 deadline, but were not included because they were not from the camp of preferred ex-militant leaders.
On its part, NDLF’s spokesman, Captain Anthony, insisted that members of the group were not militants but freedom fighters that were edged out of the post-amnesty programme by their own brothers in the region. He said that NDLF leader, ‘General John Togo,’ who was among the first ex-militant leaders to accept amnesty, was sidelined in the process by government and its favoured ex-militant leaders, and so, the group returned to the creeks to draw attention to their plight.
It’s obvious from his submission that what the rebelling ex-militants wanted was inclusion in the programme.
Alaibe had, in the past few months, met with different groups of ex-militant leaders, including some of those that recently returned to the creeks, and urged them to exercise patience. But investigations revealed that most of them wanted money to be given to them, claiming that other ex-militant leaders were settled by government, while they were left out.
They queried why they should not be given houses to reside in the city and vehicles as some of their colleagues, who even go about with security escorts.
Out of anger, they mobilised to bomb the presidential aide’s country-home, contrary to what they had been taught at their transformational training in Obubra. This is the worry at present. Why those who know that carrying guns illegally is an unlawful act would go back to the same criminality they had renounced and were granted official pardon.
They seem to be unaware that the post-amnesty programme is not a personal project of Alaibe, and that he did not register any ex-militant for the programme. Also, that he had no power to deregister an ex-militant that the Federal Government has registered for the programme and he was simply working on the register of ex-militants made available to his committee for the post-amnesty programme.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that Alaibe has since communicated to the Presidency the grievances of the ex-militants who were not among the registered ones for the post-amnesty programme and the government was looking into the matter.
He called for patience and understanding, which is not different from the dialogue the NDLF is preaching. Initially, concerned officials of the Federal Government were unenthusiastic about the residual ex-militants because it entailed a new budget that was not captured in the funding for the training of the 20,122 ex-militants that were already registered for the post-amnesty programme.
Like the NDLF observed, however, the essence of the Niger-Delta struggle was not merely for the government to grant militants amnesty and embark on a non-violence training and skill acquisition programme for them.
It is about massive development of the region in all facets – infrastructure, financial system and otherwise, which, if truth be told, have not been experienced yet in the region In fact, Jonathan has been on a retreat from his real expectations by the people of Niger-Delta since he assumed office.
The president should re-examine the Niger-Delta Technical Committee, NTDC, report for the way forward at this moment. The Federal Government is not known to have issued a white paper on the committee’s report, which contains a roadmap to peace in the region since it was submitted.
Unmistakably, the post-amnesty programme, as presently packaged, is not the way out of the crisis in the region, but a means to an end. The late Yar’Adua meant well but the programme was a hurriedly packaged one.
The Ledum Mitee- Committee foresaw some of the current problems and made some recommendations on how to plot a route through them. Why government has remained silent on the report remains a secret known only to those who bestride Aso Villa.
The indispensable steps for an enduring resolution should, however, be taken, for, at this phase of the Niger-Delta peace process, nothing, absolutely nothing, not even the battle for 2011, should be spared to keep going the already accomplished feat.
Nevertheless, if what the ex-militants want is really peace, empowerment and development of the region, they have to drop armed struggle and learn the verity that, that a mad man is not ashamed does not mean that his people are not ashamed.