By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
“CAPTAIN” Mark Anthony was the spokesperson for the Niger-Delta Liberation Force, NDLF, a defunct militant group, led by “General” John Togo who was killed in a bombardment by the Joint Task Force, JTF, on Niger-Delta in 2010. Togo initially accepted amnesty in 2009, but reneged when he returned to the creeks to wage a fresh oil war.
He, however, did not live to tell the tale and, because of his action, the Post-Amnesty Office, Abuja did not enlist his boys, who surrendered thereafter in the post- amnesty programme, until lately, when the Federal Government reviewed its position. Anthony, now breathing an air of freedom, spoke to Sunday Vanguard in Warri on his days in the creeks, how he escaped the manhunt by the JTF in which his boss, Togo, paid the ultimate prize, and his new resolve.
You were reported to have been fatally injured and flown abroad secretly by a prominent Niger-Deltan after you were injured in the bombardment on Israel Barracks of the defunct NDLF, in 2010. How did you survive?
Which prominent Niger Delta indegene is that and which country did I escape to? Our major problem then was not JTF, but our Ijaw people, who wanted all of us dead. They were our problem. My protection was not because I was too intelligent or flown abroad, but let me tell you the secret of being alive today.
Until this final pardon by Mr. President, God covered me in his bosom and, as a Christian, I believe in the power of God. So, while we were in the creeks, I did not believe in those charms they hung around their necks. However, for the fact that you had no choice, you had to tie and drink whatever charm they passed over to you.
Nevertheless, to answer your question, my being alive is a miracle and I have given the testimony in my church. I was like a walking corpse for two years, without calls from anybody apart from my organization members. My parents hardly called me on my usual phone and, most times, my line was switched- off and they did not know the reason why it was usually off.
I used three or four SIM cards a month, the more I felt my SIM was being tracked by security agencies, the more I destroyed the SIM cards. These went along with the modems for my laptop. It was a special operation and I was ready for the worst. I never thought that one day; I could regain my freedom. I am now enjoying my freedom, I meet with JTF officials often, and we talk and have fun.
What is your new resolution? Any intention to go back to the creeks after the state pardon whenever the time arises?
(Laughter) Do you know why I am laughing? Your question amused me. Are you asking me to go and commit suicide or drink poison? Did you not hear when I said I am enjoying my freedom? Besides, I have sworn to an oath with the Bible with the Federal Government never to go back to militancy or any kind of violence to create insecurity in the country.
Although what happened in the last two years was similar to a suicide mission, I will never try it again. However, for the fact that the things that made us to go to the creeks have not been achieved, I will not abandon the intellectual advocacy for the betterment of Niger-Deltans, which is through non-violence.
‘My wife eloped with my children’
Let me tell you, do you know that after two years of hiding in the creeks, I lost almost everything I had; my wife abandoned me and got married to another man? I do not know where my three kids are. I do not know where to start. The only hope I have is God and my university certificate, which nobody can take away from me. Whether Amnesty Office disappoints me or not, I will dust my certificate because I am a professional.
On official pardon
However, I thank Mr. President for granting all John Togo’s NDLF men official pardon. I also commend the present National Security Adviser, NSA, Sambo Dasuki, and the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs and Chairman, Post-Amnesty Programme, PAP, Hon Kingsley Kuku, who recommended to Mr. President that General John Togo’s boys should be granted amnesty and Mr. President endorsed it.
I also commend Ijaw national leader, Chief E.K. Clark, and President, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, who also pleaded with Mr. President to grant NDLF members pardon. My gratitude also goes to Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, who directed the Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Comrade Macaulay Ovuozorie, to hold series of meetings with the leadership of NDLF before the final arms surrender/disarmament in Delta State and instant payment of stipend to solve our immediate rent problem after leaving the city for two years.
I particularly laud the courage of the SSG, who exhibited good leadership and leadership by managing us until the final day of arms surrender on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria. I use this opportunity to thank every other person who contributed towards the success of the NDLF state pardon.
Community shuts out ex-militants
I am appealing also to the community executive of Ayakoromo town not to make things difficult for members of NDLF, who hail from that town. The boys are complaining to me that the community shuns them for participating in militancy and that they should pay fine before they would be allowed to live in the community.
I want to appeal on behalf of my organization to the leadership of the community to embrace the boys, as they have taken an oath with the Federal Government to turn to a new leaf. These boys living in exile may not help matters in the future. I urge the Delta State government and JTF authorities to intervene in the matter.
Iexclusively got information that your late boss, John Togo, was killed in the JTF’s 2010 bombardment, unknown to the soldiers, who carried out the raid, but when I got in touch with you, you denied the information. Why did you lie to me then?
It was not Capt. Mark Anthony’s sole decision to keep the news of the death of General John Togo out of public knowledge. It was the decision of the entire leadership. In Ijaw culture, when prominent persons die, the subjects withhold the news from the ears of neighboring villages. It is some privileged persons that are privy to such information and NDLF had not done anything strange by keeping the news of his demise.
General John Togo was to us a hero and now a martyr, so it is in line with our culture. He was a great warrior and freedom fighter of the Niger Delta Republic, declared by the late Isaac Adaka-Boro. It would have amounted to an abomination for us to declare the news of John Togo’s death on the pages of the newspapers, just 24 hours after his death.
That means we, his foot soldiers, did not give him the desired respect at death. However, I can tell you that John Togo is not dead because his boys are alive and the record he created remains forever.
‘Why Togo returned to the creeks’
The government of Nigeria got all the ex-generals after the 2009 amnesty by the late President Yar’Adua to say all was well in Niger Delta, but John Togo proved both the Federal Government and those ex-militant generals wrong. He maintained that the amnesty was a political amnesty and a deceit to the people of Niger Delta and the world has seen the record.
It is only Federal Government and the oil companies that are benefitting from the amnesty programme. What I am saying is that he did not die for nothing; he died like every other hero, like Isaac Boro and Ken Saro-Wiwa. It is only men without vision that die, men with great vision and achievement never die. We are appealing to Mr. President to release the corpse of our leader, John Togo, to enable us give him a befitting burial for his ghost to rest in peace.
The Delta SSG raised the alarm, last month, that your men did not surrender all the arms in their possession. What really happened?
No, NDLF surrendered all arms/ammunition in its possession. The Delta SSG position was not wrong and he made a good observation based on the security report available to him. However, what he did not know was that NDLF was a joint force from different parts of Niger Delta.
We, sometime ago, raised the alarm that we lost a large quantity of arms to a militant commander who was in the Bayelsa wing. He latched on the delay of Federal Government to disarm NDLF promptly to break into our armory and made away with a cache of sophisticated weapons, such as RPGs, GPMGs and other mortars. He went away with these arms, recruited fresh boys and formed a militant camp.
He then called me to announce him as successor to John Togo to continue the arms struggle where John Togo stopped. Nevertheless, I told him no and that the NDLF had surrendered, and, again, that he was not the most senior in rank to succeed John Togo.
By hierarchy of NDLF, the person to succeed John Togo was Peter Doloebiwei. I warned him to return our weapons to us, but he refused and, at last, he collaborated with MEND and championed MEND’s fight. The militant commander was a good fighter; he exhibited his potency of arms management, but he died with all our heavy weapons in one of his encounters with JTF in Bayelsa creek, which was why NDLF’s arms was reduced.
Even at that, we submitted awesome weapons that deserve applause from government. This is because if those weapons remained in the hands of civilians, it portends a great danger tomorrow. Therefore, the Delta State government did a good thing by taking the courage to disarm the dreaded NDLF on behalf of the Federal Government.
Are you satisfied with the level of development in Niger Delta in terms of infrastructures?
No, I am not satisfied with President Jonathan administration on the development of Niger Delta. Mr. President should open his eyes very well. I know Mr. President has good intention for Niger Delta, but the problem is his close associates, who he delegates power to. They portray Mr. President in bad light before the society.
My greatest worry is that after Mr. President’s tenure, we will not have this excellent opportunity to develop Niger Delta again, and we will have nobody to blame. The knife and the bread are in our hands, and yet, we are dreaming in daytime. Mr. President is dancing round without music and when the music starts playing, he would have been been exhausted. At that time, they will laugh at him and say,”Ijaw President failed his people when the whole power was with him”.
Yar’Adua was to meet with MEND’s Aaron team
When we talk of Niger Delta development, General John Togo’s oil war was to push government to convene a post-amnesty conference, where fundamental issues of development, such as abolition of Land Use Decree, equal sharing formula of oil and gas revenue, strategies for massive infrastructural development, among others, were to be deliberated in a round table. However, our Niger Delta President, Goodluck Jonathan, was scared of the North (our slave masters) and failed to convene such a golden conference to discuss Niger Delta development issues.
Nevertheless, at a point in time, President Goodluck Jonathan pleaded with Boko Haram to negotiate with them. If he can negotiate with murderers, what stops him from negotiating with the Niger Delta freedom fighters? Do you know that before the death of the late President Yar’Adua , who was a northerner (not South-South President), he boldly showed readiness to convene post-amnesty conference with MEND’s Aaron team before the unfortunate thing happened.
Why is Jonathan afraid of post-amnesty conference?
Somebody should help me to ask President Goodluck Jonathan why he is scared of Niger Delta post-amnesty conference. He made the whole thing appear absurd by undermining the Niger Delta to only vocational training, as if we fought because of job creation only, there are fundamental issues bigger than job creation.
I tell you, if these issues are not tackled, amnesty or no amnesty; permanent peace will be unattainable in Niger Delta except justice reigns. If the many years of Niger Delta arms struggle ended in only vocational training of carpentry and welding, what it means is that it is an insult to the sensibility and psyche of all Niger Delta oil- bearing communities.
If the oil in Niger Delta was found in the North and they are being maltreated the way the South-South people are suffering in their hands, the entire northern youths, elders, women, men and children will turn to militants and go up in arms to kill all South-South people one day or disintegrate Nigeria.
When the former leader of Libya, the late Gaddafi, predicted that Nigeria ethnic groups would go their separate ways eventually, they were calling for his head. Some called him a mad man. Now, what is happening in the country? People are killing innocent persons in the North because a South-South man won a presidential election.
Nigeria is standing on a keg of gunpowder, which will explode one day. We do not need Prophet T.B Joshua to confirm it. When we struck in 2010 because of the failure of the Federal Government to implement the promises by the late Yar’Adua on amnesty, everybody went up calling for our heads. Even at that, we did not go to the streets and continue to throw bombs to kill innocent people; we only bombed oil pipelines/stations to draw government attention to our demands.
‘Increase Amnesty Office allocation’
Look, we had expected that there should have a developmental agency under the Amnesty Office. However, what do we see? A paltry N80 billion annual budget for the Amnesty Office is only three days oil/gas daily production revenue and people are complaining that the whole money of the country goes to the Niger Delta people.
I want to suggest to the lawmakers from the Niger Delta to lobby their colleagues for the passage of a bill that oil and gas production revenue for seven days, which translates to between N190- N200 billion, should be the annual budget of the Amnesty Office.
This fund can enable the office to create developmental office in the amnesty programme to carry out development in the oil- bearing communities. It is only then that the Niger Delta oil- bearing communities could directly benefit from the amnesty programme.
Again, some of my boys are asking whether amnesty programme will end in 2015, I told them that the amnesty programe would not end, as it is guided by law, endorsed by government and that it is like any other parasatal in Nigeria.
If one says or fears that amnesty program shall end, that means the Ministry of Petroleum, which is created by law, shall also end. I made them to understand that as far as oil flows in the land of Niger Delta; they will be receiving amnesty payment until death, even to be inherited by their next of kin. There is no job from oil companies for our communities. Presidential amnesty payment is the only advantage for the unemployed youth in Niger Delta.
‘The name ex-militant is insulting’
I want to suggest that the name should be changed by law to Niger Delta Youth Empowerment Scheme. How can you call me ex-militant and be paying me salary in that dirty name that is incriminating wherever I go. Many of us have no option, that is why we allowed them to document and film us in the name of ex-militant with thumbprint. Government should rethink the name of that office.
NDLF recently offered to help in combating kidnapping/robbery in Delta State. How do you plan to achieve this?
Well, I will not announce our strategies on how to fight kidnapers and armed robbers on the pages of newspapers. When the enabling environment is provided, you will see the result. Look, we know some of these bad boys and they know us. We have penciled down some of their names already.
It is a matter of full support by government, I am optimistic that the Delta government will cooperate with us and Deltans will see the result. This is a warming to kidnappers/robbers in the state; they should flee, as the state will be soon a no- go- area.
We are not boasting and we do not believe in making noise. This is not to say that security agencies are not working. They are doing their best, but we want to complement their work. It is a kind of civilian/military joint force. Look, fighting kidnapping and terrorism is the strongest and most intricate battle on earth.
It sometimes appears that you are fighting ghosts; in some areas, victims kidnap themselves. That is what we call arrangee kidnapping. While in some cases, close family members are members of the kidnap gang. Such groups normally give out some of the wealthy persons in their families to their group.
Therefore, such persons are privy to information on the movement of the family members and security men, and they always counter positive attack by police by acting as informants to their gangs. Majority of kidnapping have insiders and so, the fight against kidnapping/terrorism should be anchored on technology. Nevertheless, by the grace of God, we will do our best if our offer is accepted.
What is your panacea for permanent peace in Niger Delta?
There must be sincere infrastructural development in Niger Delta. Justice and equity must reign, that is the only recipe for peace and create jobs for the large army of unemployed graduates. Look, the only major road project in the Niger Delta, the dualization of the East West Road is in limbo. It is like an abandoned project; where are we going?