The Orbit

June 21, 2009

Robes of the militant

By Tony Momoh
TIMES was when every South-Southerner was ready to be known, called and addressed as a militant.

I am one of them, even if there is nothing that will ever make me choose any other country as mine than Nigeria which I know does not just have a future but a mission. In many outings and at different occasions, many of us  have spoken for some measure of control of resources from the Niger Delta by the people of the Niger Delta.

Even at the National Political Reforms Conference where the tenure extension project was mooted, the Niger Delta team there, for other reasons, walked out of the conference.

Though those there took the decisions they wanted to take in respect of resource control in the name of a democracy mantra that though the minority may well have their say, the majority would have their way, the people of the South-South have by and large fought for that measure of control that they believed would make for peace in the area and the country.

That there have been armed struggles in the region when peaceful options were mere verbal undertakings that did not seem to be reflected in visible welfare of the host communities was a way out that many from that area, and those who felt in their shoes, silently accommodated.

Their names may not be found in the so-called list retrieved from Camp Five which the security agencies in the area said contained the names of those who funded the militants.

My name cannot be there, nor that of many of us from the area. There is no doubt at all that many of us have had sympathy for the struggle.

But the support we gave, and should continue to give, is that support to those whose struggle is meant to right the wrongs history has done to our people who are entitled to enjoy what is located in their soil, not be prisoners because of it.

Recent events are making many identify the robe they want to wear when the word militant is mentioned. Which means that there are militants, and there are militants.

This attempt to put militants in compartments and choose where to be slotted is most unfortunate. Obviously, I cannot be a militant who supports hostage taking for money; who would prevent Julius Berger from constructing a road from Warri to Port Harcourt when I know that not building that road and many other physical structures that should show that we are being developed had been the reason our young ones went into the mangrove forests to protest man’s inhumanity to man.

My militant role is obvious from what I said when I wrote on the Niger Delta Swamp on June 29, 2008. Hear me, “They (Niger Deltans) want their deprivations addressed and their right to the control and management of the resources located in their lands by God recognized and respected.

They accept that they belong in a country whose size and weight make the difference between the giant and the fly.

They are ready to concede that the distribution of resources should not be totally left to them so they decide who to donate to. But they see others flooding their land and tapping their resources without a thought for their welfare as intruders, be they multinational companies, individuals or even government.  So they are surprised that anyone is asking them to lay down their arms for an amnesty that has no meaning to them.

They say their resort to arms was at a particular rung of the ladder in our climb from the past to now. They won’t abort their gains, nor even be willing to talk!” I apologized for what I said hereinabove if those reading me had no stomach for bluntness. I believed I spoke the mind of the South-South.

The country, I said then and still do, must accept that the goose that lays the golden egg must be fed. ..

You may not believe me if I tell you how unsettled, disturbed and disillusioned I have been since I read a colleague in the Leadership newspaper praising President Yar’Adua for scoring high on his performance rating in two areas – one, in the choice of  Lamido Sanusi from Kano in the North as the Central Bank governor to replace Chukwuma Soludo from the South; and two,  the military operations in the Niger Delta.

I hold Sam Nda Isaiah as a writer and publisher in very high esteem and have described him as one of the most respected columnists reflecting the Northern voice on the scene today.

He is a well-known critic of Yar’Adua and he would never have written what he wrote on the Niger Delta problem to persuade the president to stop the prosecution against his paper for the wild claims they made on the president’s health which turned out to be truly wild and untrue. But Sam strongly shook my faith in the struggle the militants are  supposed to be waging.

He described this guy they call Tompolo in such unbelievable terms that I wondered if my seeming blind belief in the struggle had not reduced my worth in the eyes of those who see what I have not seen.
Let me paraphrase him. He says Tompolo is in his 30s.

His name is government. He has a mansion in the jungle he calls Aso Rock and he is addressed as president. Government officials visit him routinely and pay homage and allegiance to him. On one occasion, the vice president went to see him.

The vice president was not allowed to enter that Aso Rock with his security details, and they had to be disarmed at the gate to the mansion of Government Tompolo.

The  ADC was, however let in, but when the visitors got to the ‘president’s’ office, three unbelievable things happened – the ADC was disarmed and not allowed to follow the vice president to the presence of Tompolo; the governor of Delta State who accompanied the vice president was not let in either; and, close your open mouth, the vice president, our own  Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the highest politically elected leader of the South and second in command to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, was asked to remove his shoes before entering  the presence of ‘president’ Government Tompolo!

That Tompolo is the one the JTF is now after and wants to bring to book, among many others who have taken advantage of the struggle to make money.

I cannot deny what Sam Nda Isaiah claimed  in his column a fortnight ago. But this  claim, even if exaggerated, must have a reaction from government, in fact from the vice president’s office.

If what is claimed is what is happening in the Niger Delta, then we must redefine the problem and revisit our options. Oh yes, we must.

That struggle for development of the Niger Delta from the resources tapped from there cannot be compromised. Anyone who wants to take advantage of lapses and make money must be seen as a diseased hand that must be sliced off from the shoulder, be it a soldier, a company prospecting for oil, or indigenes of the community.