Special Report

June 19, 2009

It’s incorrect to label militants as criminals,

HUMAN rights activist and  member of the Delta State Waterways Security Committee (DWSC) in Delta State, an outfit set up by the Delta State Government to create enabling environment for peace on the waterways of the state and also assist security agencies with intelligence information on the goings-on in the creeks, Comrade Omolubi Newuwumi is among the about 400 eminent Niger-Deltans that were recognized and honoured as a Peace Ambassador in the Niger-Delta by a Non Governmental Organization at Abuja recently.

Omolubi who is also the president of the Iwere Development Association (IDA), an Itsekiri group spoke to Saturday Vanguard in Warri on Wednesday on the face-off between the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta and militants in the state, Federal Government planned amnesty for militants, safety measures on the waterways and why the Nigeria Navy should be restructured, way forward and lots more. Excerpts:

Why there is crisis in N-Delta

The Niger Delta crisis has strong historical roots and it has passed different phases within different historical juncture. With specific reference to the present phase, I would want to acknowledge the fact that criminal dimensions seem to have overshadowed the indices of genuine struggle to get a better living for the people.

Taking a close look,  I have not seen anywhere in the region that is accessible by road,  whether  Benin City , Sapele,  Bomadi, Koko, Ughelli and  Warri towns that one can identify any training base where militants are trained, It cannot happen! This shows that the Army, the Police and other security agencies that can be described as land-based are doing their jobs.

One can then ask what the Nigeria Navy is doing in our waterways, rivers and the high seas. The Nigeria Navy’s inability to guard our coastline has created these current problems. So I am suggesting to the Federal Government to totally re-structure the Navy so that they can fully square up with the current challenges.

What baffles me most is that anytime someone is kidnapped even on land, such victims are usually moved to the creeks because of the safe sanctuaries in the creeks,  which in my in my view is the fallout of the inefficiencies of the Naval machinery.

I am seriously suggesting that the Navy and the other marine- related forces should be checked properly because that is where the whole security lapse starts from. Bunkering, hijacking and kidnapping in the riverine areas are booming today because our waters are not properly secured by the Nigeria Navy and this is the reason they have continued unabated. The Federal government should fortify the Navy and also operationally empower them so that they can effectively stamp their presence in Nigeria waterways.

The Police and the Army are doing their jobs on the land, the Navy which I am made to understand is supposed to guard our territorial waters should equally be alive to their responsibilities.

Development remains the magic wand

It is a very easy thing, we have had a lot of committees, a lot of conferences where suggestions are made to the relevant authorities, and all the recommendations should be implemented instead of paying lip service to them.

And what they should know is that even if they succeed in removing the criminal aspect of the struggle, agitation for a better life for the people will remain until they address this issue of marginalization and deprivation in the region that lay the golden egg.

Comrade Omolubi Newuwumi

Comrade Omolubi Newuwumi

They know that the people will get wise one day and ask questions. All this billions gotten from oil should be used to develop the Niger Delta region.

They have been dribbling the people of the region for too long and once the authorities realize that development remain the key to the end of this crisis in the region; they will see that the people are peace- loving people.

FG should give Tompolo, Okah opportunity to lay down arms

My understanding of amnesty is usually an official statement that allows people who have been put in prison for crimes against the state, (in this case Federal Government) to go free.

The President can grant general amnesty to all political prisoners. You can also define amnesty as a period of time during which people admit to a crime or give up weapons, (lay down arms) and in this case, the amnesty covers both Tompolo and Henry Okah.

So I will rather prefer a situation where the Federal Government give Tompolo opportunity to lay down his arms instead of declaring him wanted.  You can now see why I said I want Tompolo to be granted amnesty together with other freedom fighters.

Also the Oxford Advance dictionary defines militancy as using or willing to use force or strong pressure to achieve your aims, especially to achieve social or political change, and in this case most of the said militants are either fighting for political or social change, which the peoples of Niger-Delta have been clamouring for years.

So you can not totally call them criminals and that is why the Federal government should understand that the arm struggle in Niger-Delta was the result of long neglect of the region and so, Tompolo should be included in the amnesty.

You will agree with me that the criminal aspect of the current crisis did not start from President Umaru Yar-adua or Obansanjo regimes.

For example, on the same day that Obasanjo was being sworn in as President,  Itsekiri people were experiencing one of their worst days in Ugborodo (Esravos),  as burning and killing was going on there all in the name of the sameof the Niger-Delta struggle.

It’s now Yar adua’s regime and I am sure if Tompolo is given amnesty and the Federal Government put up a genuine plan for the development of the region (not lips service),  it might be the beginning of the end to these senseless killings and destructions in Delta State in  particular and the region in general.

FG should pursue comprehensive amnesty programme

I want the Federal Government to realize that that the Itsekiri particularly have paid dearly in this crisis. They (Itsekiri) have lost a lot, both in human and material terms.

I am saying this because our Ijaw brothers and sisters in Delta State had thought initially that the Itsekiri were their problems and sources of their underdevelopment but later realized that even the Itsekiri are surfing more underdevelopment then they, the Ijaw. It was the realization of this that informed both to embrace peace.

But before then, the itsekiri have already been decimated callously. However, we,  Itsekiri have forgiven all, and this we are still demonstrating by providing accommodation and other welfare to currently displaced Ijaw in Ugborodo, Ogidigben, Madangho, etc,   which were some of the communities they destroyed during the 2003 crises.

Thus, the amnesty package should include the rebuilding of all communities (whether Ijaw or Ijsekiri ) destroyed during these different crises and rehabilitating all the militants,  including those who fought themselves during the different blood-letting crisis between the Ijaw and Itsekiri.

It is only through such strategy that genuine peace can be achieved. I make bold to say this there is always a price for peace, in this case the Itsekiri and Ijaw have paid their respective prices, and I think the stage is now set for peace if only the Federal Government will understand this by pursuing a comprehensive amnesty program, such that I have just suggested.

Rebranding youths in oil communities

The Federal Government should, as a matter of urgency, encourage each oil- producing state to create a ministry that is similar to the Niger-Delta ministry at the federal level. Such Ministry should have full- fledged Commissioner and should direct all its activities to the creeks, specifically reorienting the youths and their leaders.

Defective foundation

Surely, the foundation of the country was not laid properly, you will agree with me that Nigerians did not come together to form Nigeria.

It was like some sections of the country were forced to form what we now call the Federal Republic of Nigeria today. I will say forced in the sense that there was no conference, summit to discuss conditions and so many issues were not ironed out.

Those issues not taking into consideration are the problems we have in Nigeria today, both in our social, political and economic lives.

It is the foundation of this country that established corruption into the country because the foundation was corrupt.

Not until we examine again how and why this foundation was founded, the issue of corruption and endemic instability in this country cannot be eradicated.

As a matter of fact, when I talk about a foundation that was laid with corruption, Nigeria government believe in the sharing formula that the higher the population of a particular ward, local government or state, the higher the allocation to such area.