June 19, 2009

Defence HQ warns-Amnesty to militants or not, military ‘ll defend national interests

By Kingsley Omonobi
The Defence headquarters warned today (Friday) that the offer of amnesty to militants by the federal government to lay down their arms and embrace peace and dialogue in resolving the crisis in the Niger Delta, did not mean that vital national interests in the area would not be safeguarded if threatened or attacked.

The warning came just as DHQ also said that investigations into the impounded Ukrainian plane discovered to be carrying large amounts of arms and ammunition have been referred back to aviation authorities adding therefore, that it would be pre-mature for it to comment on the outcome.

Colonel Chris Jemitola, outgoing director of defence information who made the disclosure in Abuja, noted that the offer of amnesty was not a counter productive measure as some people including militant groups were envisaging noting that “rather, we should exercise some patience and see the terms being put forward”.

Reacting to a question as to the fact that while the military is pounding militant positions on the one hand, government is talking of amnesty, Jemitola said, “Amnesty or no amnesty, vital national interests must be safeguarded at all times. But the militants should take advantage of the amnesty and join in the dialogue to genuinely address the problems there.

Regarding new attacks and destruction of oil facilities and platforms by militants even after the aerial, land and sea attacks on the militants den and why the JTF could not stop them, Col. Jemitola said, “On the one hand, the military is accused of high handedness, on the other hand the military is said to be allowing the militants destroy economic assets”.

“What is happening is that the military is trying to stop inflicting collateral damage on not only the area, but on the people. It should be noted that at no time was high caliber weapons used like the ones used in full blown warfare because the military is conscious that the people there are Nigerians they are trained to protect. The JTF have conscience, they are also protecting Nigerians in the cause of fighting criminal elements”.

“No group should therefore take the military’s understanding for a ride. The fact that the military is taking things easy is not a weakness nor is there a lull in the operation there. The guiding principle is the use of minimum force because those involved are also Nigerians”.

On the threat by MEND to all Northerners leaving in the Niger Delta to pack out as well as their claim that they would soon strike in the Northern parts of the country in retaliation, Col. Jemitola dismissed such saying, “the threat does not hold water. It doesn’t make sense and mind you, the military is not known to exchange words with criminals”.

“It may just be propaganda for them to receive attention. In any case, I have not seen anybody from the Niger Delta area leave the north because of the threat to return to his town neither have I heard that northerners are leaving the Niger Delta and returning to their towns. We are all Nigerians”.

On the seized plane, Jemitola said, “We have rules and regulations governing the aviation industry in this country. Planes criss-cross the length and breadth of this country everyday and some make technical stops. If the aircraft flouted the rules and regulations, the law will take its full course”.

“Let’s wait for all the investigation by the relevant aviation bodies. It is only after then that the Defence headquarters may be asked to come in. but right now, it is pre-mature for the DHQ to speak on the matter.

Meanwhile, a new Director of Defence information has resumed duties at the Defence headquarters. He is Col. Mohamed Yerima. Until his appointment, Col. Yerima was the Chief of staff at army Public relations department, Abuja.

His predecessor, Col. Chris Jemitola is proceeding to Brazil as Nigeria’s defence adviser. Before his appointment as DDI by Air Chief Marshal Paul Dike, he served as Aide de camp (ADC) to former President Olusegun Obasanjo during his last tenure from 2003 to 2007.