By Funmi Komolafe Hector Igbikiowubo & Daniel Idonor
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND â€” THE Federal Government yesterday took the campaign for support for its war in the creeks to far-away Geneva, Switzerland where it resolved to create a special squad to tackle the menace of kidnappings in the South South and South East regions of the country.
Vice President Goodluck Jonathan made the governmentâ€™s decision known at the 98th International Labour Conference, holding in the West European country.
And in Abuja, President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua, reacting to the news that militant leader, Ateke Tom, was ready to embrace the Governmentâ€™s amnesty offer said â€œit would be a great joy for me to personally accept the first militant leader who takes advantage of this amnesty.â€
However, Shell Petroleum Development Company has extended the force majeure it declared on Forcados off-take programme for the remainder of June and July, citing damage to the pipeline from the Chanomi Creek as reason for the action.
FG plans special squad
In Geneva, Vice President Jonathan said it is unfortunate that what started as a genuine agitation has been â€œbecome a money making business. It is more in Imo and Anambra.
We are trying to set up a special squad and make special laws and by Godâ€™s grace, we will succeedâ€.
He said â€œsome of the so-called generals in the creeks are willing to surrender their arms and embrace the federal governmentâ€™s offerâ€.
Labour Minister, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode who also spoke in the same vein said a national committee on social security chaired by former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon is already working on a â€œ brand new social security for Nigeria and is expected to submit its report by July 30. We are also working on the Millenium Development Goals for the benefit of all Nigeriansâ€.
In an interactive session with Nigerians in Geneva, the Vice President said government was aware that lack of power has hindered Nigeriaâ€™s economic growth as â€œcost of production is high without powerâ€.
He said â€œwe believe as a government, we need to generate and distribute power. We have as a target 6,000 megawattsâ€. He appealed to Nigerians for patience, saying â€œno matter the plan we put in place, things donâ€™t happen overnight.
There is nothing like 99% for power generation. It must be 100% before the bulb will light. It is not easy but weâ€™ll try our bestâ€.
Responding to comments describing the government as slow, the vice president said, â€œLuckily, they are not saying Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s government is not doing anything they are only saying the government is slow. I donâ€™t believe we are slow, but if people say we are slow, I prefer not to run than over-run the runwayâ€.
He pleaded, â€œDonâ€™t abandon your father. Donâ€™t say until Nigeria becomes Geneva, you wonâ€™t come. It is not the persons in government that matter but the collective interest of all Nigeriansâ€.
In his address of welcome, Nigeriaâ€™s Ambassador to Geneva, Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi commended labour minister for his ideas which spurred the ILO to include the Global Jobs Crisis in its conference agenda.
He said he was proud of Nigerians in Geneva who are among the best group of Nigerian professionals, many of whom work for United Nations Agencies.
The Ambassador said, â€œthere are no criminals here. No 419 here. Nigerians here are hardworking professionalsâ€.
Yar’Adua to personally receive Ateke Tom
Speaking in Abuja, President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua said he received with delight news of Ateke Tomâ€™s desire to embrace the amnesty offer to militants, saying he will be glad to personally receive the first militant leader to surrender.
Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s enthusiasm is coming despite strong warnings, Monday, by Governor Rotimi Amaechi of River State that the reported acceptance of the Federal Governmentâ€™s amnesty offer to militants by Ateke Tom should be taken with a pinch of salt, as Ateke could not be trusted.
The President who called on other militant leaders in the region to follow the path of Ateke Tom by denouncing violence disclosed that in the next few days, government would come out with a comprehensive detail of the amnesty offer, including documentation, camping, training, rehabilitation, employment, among others; adding that he would personally make public all the details.
Fielding questions from State House Correspondents as part of the state visit by the Sierra Leonean President, Mr. Earnest Bai Koroma, to Nigeria, President Yarâ€™Adua reacted to the NDVF leaderâ€™s decision to quit militancy in line with the amnesty deal offered by the Federal Government, maintaining that Nigeria is not at war with the people of the Niger-Delta.
Said he: â€œI am highly delighted by this news that one of the militant leaders is prepared to accept the grant of amnesty by government. In fact, I would hope that all militant leaders will do the same.
We are not fighting, we are all Nigerians and what we are trying to do is to guarantee peace and security in the Niger Delta just like in any other part of Nigeria so that people can live, work and carry on their normal duties without fear within the region so that the region and the state can realise there great potentials for attracting foreign direct investments (FDIs) and boosting economic activities.
â€œLet me say that I am expecting in the next few days, certainly in the next few days, certainly within this week, for the committee on amnesty to complete all arrangements and made public, of course, I will personally make public all the conditions, procedures and mechanisms for the amnesty.
â€œThe amnesty centre that will be established, the procedures for granting the amnesty, documentation, camping, training, rehabilitation, getting jobs, for those who require education, sending them to school, all the terms will be made public.
I will welcome any leader, in fact, I might make bold to say that it will be a great pleasure for me to personally accept the first militant leader who takes advantage of this amnesty to encourage others to do so, so that they can have confidence that we are sincere, honest in granting of this amnestyâ€, he said.
According to the President, the Federal Government has no other interest than the corporate interest of the country and people of Nigeria who desire to live in peace and pursue their daily business without rancuor; stressing the government is committed to the amnesty deal and urged youths in the area to have confidence on the government.
â€œWe have no other interests than the interests of Nigerians to leave in peace and all those, Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike who live within the Niger delta states to live in peace and pursue their life activities without fear.
So, I welcome any leader and all its members who are ready to accept the granting of amnesty by government and I assure them that within the week, latest early next week, the terms will be made publicâ€.
Ateke canâ€™t be trusted â€”Amaechi
However, Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State reacting to Atekeâ€™s acceptance of the amnesty deal said the militant leader can not be trusted.
â€œWe have heard it before from Ateke Tom that he is dropping his guns and would no more be engaged in arms struggle. We cannot be fooled. We cannot take him seriously until we see that he is truly repentant. Maybe he does not want to be caught napping by the JTF.â€
Amaechi who reportedly spoke through his acting Chief Press Secretary, Blessing Wikina, said â€œit was not the first time the militant commander would be making such statementsâ€.
Tom had, in the recent past, been linked to some cases of kidnapping and attacks on public facilities, especially the deadly the invasion of the Borokiri and Mini Okoro police stations.
The militant leader was forced to flee his Okrika forest base and has since then living in the creeks with his men. The governor said Tom might have decided to come up with the declaration as a way of avoiding the fury of the JTF.
Shell force majeure on Forcados
In a statement by Precious Okolobo, spokesman of the Shell Petroleum Development Company, operator of the SPDC/NNPV JV, he explained that the extension of the force majeure takes effect from 18:00 hrs today (yesterday June 16).
â€œThis is as a result of deferment caused by damage to Trans-Forcados Trunkline at Chanomi Creek in the Western operations. Investigation into the incident is ongoing, and we are also taking steps to repair the line and resume production,â€ the statement read.
It would be recalled that a large part of Forcados output and export was hit by militant attacks to a pipeline in February 2006. Prior to the attacks, the Forcados oilfields pumped about 380,000 barrels per day.
Most of Forcados output comes from fields operated by Shell and its partners include Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Italyâ€™s Eni and Franceâ€™s Total.