By Samuel Oyadongha
Yenagoaâ€”Ijaw eldersÂ 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.
The Ijaw elders, including former Federal Information Commissioner, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, Chairman of Bayelsa State Elders Forum, Chief Francis Doukpola and Chief Thompson Okorotie, said though the Federal Government offer of amnesty was one of the rules 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.
The elders and leaders, who made their position known at the end of a consultative meetingÂ at Kiagbodo, Delta State , said the offer of amnesty by the Federal Government and acceptance 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 of 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, demobilization 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 served more of their personal (military) interests and a direct effect on the increased illegal bunkering activities and called on President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua to make public the alleged list of those perpetrating illegal bunkering in the Niger Delta.
The forum noted that the demilitarization of the region was critical and essential to allow for meaningful intervention by theÂ 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 emphasizes 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 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 region.
While thanking Mr. President for his commitment and pledge to grant amnesty to militants in the Niger Delta, the forum strongly contended that the rule of law, which is one of the cardinal points in the administrationâ€™s seven point agenda, should be followed to the latter.