By Emma Amaize, Samuel Oyadongha, Emma Arubi, Jimitota Onoyume & Daniel Idonor
YENAGOA â€” AHEAD of todayâ€™s announcement of the amnesty package by President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua, main militant leader, Boyloaf, yesterday said he and other militant leaders would not surrender their arms tomorrow (Friday) to the Federal Government, but rather study the amnesty package to be announced by the President today, before taking an action.
Also, Ijaw elders and leaders, yesterday, after a review of the amnesty deal unveiled by the Federal Government declared the offer faulty saying the tentative acceptance of the deal by the youths engaged in the struggle along the creeks and waterways was for the infrastructural development of the region.
In Abuja, President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua, worried by the obvious negative impact of the arrest of the leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF) Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, on the amnesty deal, yesterday ordered his unconditional release.
Asari was picked up Tuesday by men believed to be officials of the State Security Service (SSS), operating at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, at about 8:00 pm on arrival from Frankfurt, Germany, where he had gone on a medical check-up.
Presidential spokesman, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi who announced President Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s decision disclosed that the President was highly miffed by Asari-Dokuboâ€™s arrest, especially at this time when the Federal Government was working assiduously to calm frayed nerves of the people of the region.
According to him, the President has directed the security agencies to set Asari free to enable him go home and participate in the ongoing peace process in the region without further delay.
In a twist, main militant leader, Boyloaf, yesterday described as untrue the claim that he and other militant leaders would surrender their arms tomorrow (Friday) to the Federal Government, saying the Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament of Militants in the Niger Delta should report the correct situation of things to President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua.
Similarly, the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND) in an online statement by its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, also denied the report that other militant leaders like Farah Dagogo, Boyloaf and Soboma George have accepted to receive amnesty by proxy.
The Ijaw elders, including former Federal Information Commissioner, Chief Edwin Clark, Chairman of the Bayelsa State Elders Forum, Chief Francis Doukpola and Chief Thompson Okorotie said though the Federal Governmentâ€™s offer of amnesty is one of the rule of disarmament, the offer should have been preceded by the implementation of the recommendations of the report submitted by the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta.
Approach amnesty with caution
The elders and leaders, who made their position known at the end of a consultative meeting at Kiagbodo in Delta State said the offer of amnesty by the Federal Government and acceptance of same by the militants should be approached with caution in view of the urgent need for the leaders of the region to study the content of the offer.
In a nine-point communiquÃ© signed by elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark and eleven others, they called on the President to check section 175 (1)(a) of the 1999 constitution which considered the youths as innocent of any crime and the offer amnesty a gesture not backed by law.
The forum noted that the offer of amnesty should have been preceded by a concrete step by the Federal Government to implement some parts of the Technical Committee recommendation for the establishment of a credible and authoritative institution including international negotiators to plan, implement and oversee the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of militant groups in the region.
â€œWe hope the acceptance of amnesty will not put the technical report in the dilemma of lack of political will to implement like previous reports,â€ they lamented.
The elders and leaders further reiterated their earlier position that the continued presence of the military in the Niger Delta serve more of their personal (military) interests and a direct effect on the increased illegal bunkering activities and called on President Yarâ€™Adua to make public the alleged list of those perpetrating illegal bunkering in the region.
The forum noted that the demilitarisation of the region is critical and essential to allow for meaningful intervention by the elders and leaders to create an atmosphere congenial for flourishing economic activities for sustainable development of the region.
The fundamental purpose of the crises in Ijaw land and by extension the Niger Delta they argued must not be glossed over on the basis of perceived criminal acts by some disgruntled and frustrated youths but must be understood from the context of the renewed Kaiama Declaration which only re-echoed the long standing agitation of leaders of the region over decades of criminal neglect and underdevelopment.
According to the forum, the genuine protagonists of the struggle for economic freedom and resource control and management were only constrained to express their dissatisfaction with the Nigerian state through the employ of unorthodox means.
The Ijaw elders and leaders reiterated their strong disapproval of criminal activities associated with kidnapping and hijacking for ransom stressing that recent developments in the country have confirmed their belief on this as criminal elements in other parts of the country have become more ferociously engaged in acts of kidnapping than the alleged Niger Delta militants.
â€œToday, we have more cases of kidnapping in other parts of the country than the Niger Delta. This further emphasises the need to separate genuine agitators for their rights (economic and political freedom) from core criminals in the Niger Delta crises,â€ they explained.
The forum noted with sadness that seven months after the submission of the Report of the Technical Committee on Niger Delta, the Federal Government has taken no concrete step to implement any of its recommendation which had the prospects of ushering in the much-needed peace for sustainable development of the region.
While thanking Mr. President for his commitment and pledge to grant amnesty t militants in the Niger Delta the forum strongly contends that the rule of law which is one of the cardinal points in the administrationâ€™s seven point agenda should be followed to the letter.
Boyloaf doubts govt’s sincerity
On the announcement that militant leaders will surrender arms tomorrow, Boyloaf said: â€œMy position is that I am waiting for the Federal Government to release the amnesty package on Thursday, I will study it and know the terms before I take further position on the amnesty, I never told anybody I was going to surrender arms on Friday.
â€œI, therefore, suggest that the Presidential Committee should tell the President the whole truth because that was not what we told themâ€, he added.
Boyloaf also expressed doubt on governmentâ€™s sincerity on the planned amnesty following the arrest of Dokubo-Asari.
â€œI donâ€™t know what they are doing. How can they be talking to us about amnesty and they are arresting Dokubo-Asari? I doubt their sincerity and I want to say that they should release him immediately. I am watching them because these people are telling us that we should not believe them with their action and you know that action speaks louder than voiceâ€, he stated.
Coordinator of a Non Governmental Organization (NGO), Niger-Delta Orientation Project, Comrade Sheriff Mulade also stated, â€œIt is disheartening and unfortunate to arrest Dokubo-Asari at this critical period. It is pertinent to state that the untimely and unwise arrest is a great threat to the amnesty packageâ€.
His words, â€œI, therefore, urge Mr. President to immediately intervene and order his release to maintain his sincerity in the amnesty to militantsâ€.
In his own reaction, founding president, Ijaw Youth Council, Dr Felix Tuodolor said though he heard Asari had been released but quickly added that the arrest had cast doubt on the sincerity of the federal government to genuinely pursue peace in the region.
He wondered why the arrest should come up at a time there was so much hype about amnesty for militants in the region. While urging the federal government to take steps that would invoke confidence in its peace and consensus building process in the region he also called for the release of other youths from the region in various detention centers round the country.
High Chief Anabs Sarah Igbe, said the arrest in the first place was wrong as it sent fears round youths in the region.Â According to him, it had again raised question on whether the federal government could be taken seriously on the proposed amnesty project for militants in the region.
â€œCan we take government sincerely? We must see sincerity to believe the federal government. Imagine, you are bombing our communities, arresting youths and at the same time talking of amnesty.â€
Leaders won’t surrender â€”MEND
On its part, MEND said â€œthe Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) categorically denies the orchestrated rumours being peddled by government agents and propagandists that MEND senior commanders, Farah Dagogo, Boyloaf and Soboma George have accepted to receive amnesty by proxy as carried in some local newspapersâ€.
Instructively, MEND did not mention Ateke Tom in its statement, but, it pointed out all the same, â€œIt is a shame that the Interior Minister and his cohorts are offering bribes and incentives to militants in a desperate attempt to get our cooperation in sharing the 50 billion naira budgeted for the amnesty exercise.
â€œWhile it is true that some of us will succumb to the temptation of money as Judas did, there are a majority that will remain steadfast to integrity, honour and a commitment to the people who cannot fight for their rights.
â€œWe want to reassure our people who are looking up to us that we will never compromise our birthright for a priceâ€, the group added.
â€œMEND is waiting to hear if President Yarâ€™Adua has anything new to offer in his expected address on Thursday, June 25 before responding accordingly.
â€œMeanwhile, Hurricane Piper Alpha remains on courseâ€, it stated.