By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, S/South
IF information from the designated arms collection centres in the six states of the Niger-Delta, where penitent militants were supposed to turn in their weapons, register, take the oath of renunciation and receive the presidential amnesty is anything to go by, then, the Federal Government has a problem in its hands, despite the official grandstanding to the contrary, as militants are still holding back the arms in their various camps.
The Presidency through the presidential spokesman, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi told newsmen, weekend, at Abuja that the Federal Government was delighted with the response from militants and their leaders and the consequent progress recorded so far, adding that contrary to what few people assume, the process is having a smooth sail in the creeks, but, the facts on ground from the arms collection centres do not support the government position.
From the Federal Government College arms collection centre in Warri, Delta State to the other collection points in Edo, Bayelsa, Rivers, Ondo and Akwa-Ibom states, the response has not been encouraging a week after the amnesty programme kicked off , last Thursday.
Even the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta is not likely to give a report of positive response to the arms return programme as at date. However, the Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan told Vanguard in an interview, three days after the commencement, that 72 hours was too small to assess the success or otherwise of the programme.
His words, â€œThree days is too short a time out of 60 days to assess the success or failure of the amnesty, but, I want to tell you that we (governors) are working very hard to ensure that the amnesty succeeds. In actuality, he is right, but, the initial response, even in the first 24 hours can give a clue to the genuine acceptance of the amnesty by the militants..
No doubt, an one-time top ranking officer of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND), â€œGeneralâ€ Boyloaf led 32 other militant leaders to Aso Villa, last Friday, to accept amnesty, but, a considerable proportion of them have not gone to the arms collection centres to drop their arms yet.
Though in Rivers State, six remorseful militants identified as Meneya, Chinele, Great Nelson, Asi Lolo, Goodluck Mena, Dennis Gunnye and Bigi Nee were said to have turned in their arms at the Government Secondary School , Kaa in Khana Local Government Area as at the third day of the exercise, only one militant responded in Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State within the period.
As at Tuesday, which is the fifth day, no militant has showed to return arms in Delta state. The security agents at arms collection centre in Warri were on alert the two occasions that Vanguard had visited, but, in the words of one of them, â€œNobody has come here to submit arms since last Thursday, we are still waiting for themâ€.
Vanguard learnt that there is apathy to the turn_in of arms and the reason is simply that proper discussions were not carried with a broad spectrum of militants and an agreement reached on the modalities on arms surrender.
For instance, MEND, which undoubtedly is the chief militant group in the region, has not embraced the amnesty programme even though some of its commanders have accepted it. Those who accepted it and are ready to submit their arms are being regarded as â€œbetrayersâ€ while others are afraid because they doubt the sincerity of the government.
Boyloaf was able to amass the kind of support he did in the Abuja show with President Yarâ€™Adua because he had access to interact with President Yarâ€™Adua one-on-one before he contacted the militant leaders that â€œinvadedâ€ Aso Villa with him, but, most of the militants have not been brought onboard. So, they feel alienated and what they are getting at the moment is wrong information that it is those who have been bought by the government that are accepting amnesty or willing to surrendering arms.
Already, some militants who are ready to surrender their arms are being threatened and called cowards by their colleagues and some have escaped to unknown places to watch and see how the government steers the amnesty programme.
Leader of the Niger_Delta Freedom Fighters (NDFF), Egbema 1, who was among the militant leaders that met with President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua in Abuja , nevertheless, told Vanguard that he would surrender his arms at the appropriate time in Edo state. It was gathered that he was already discussing the matter with the officials of the Amnesty Implementation Committee in the state.
â€œGeneralâ€ Boyloaf from information pieced together by Vanguard is also working behind the scene to ensure that repentant militants in the region accept amnesty and surrender their arms within the same period. He had since vowed that nothing would stop him from surrendering his weapons.
Investigations by Vanguard, however, showed that the major problem confronting the turn-in of arms programme is that there is no concrete post_amnesty programme by the Federal Government, a point that the South_South governors observed and threatened to pull out of the entire process, but, reviewed their position even when the matter was not yet settled.
Though, Governor Uduaghan said President Yarâ€™Adua has now appraised them of the amnesty programme, a credible security source said, â€œIt was neither here nor there, the truth is that the Federal Government still does not have a concrete amnesty programmeâ€.
â€œHe did not tell the governor any reasonable thing on amnesty. They told him that there is no amnesty programme in place and the president re-echoed what everybody already knows about the things the President Committee on Amnesty has said in the past and told the governors to assist so that it will work. Even they told him that it would not work the way it was packaged, he said they should work out things to add to it and all thatâ€, he said.
According to the source, â€œThere is really nothing on ground, that is why the militants are afraid, is it the pittance the Amnesty Committee has proposed to pay them for two or three months, the questions are: â€œWhat job do the government want these militants who have eked their living for the past four years with arms in the creeks to do after they have surrendered their arms; is it a job they are willing to do because throwing people who are skilled on their society without jobs can make them turn into armed robbery and criminal acts in the cities to surviveâ€.
His words, â€œA lot of them are now parading Warri, Benin City and Yenagoa with arms, saying that government have granted them amnesty even when they have not visited the arms collection centres to surrender their arms. Any of them you catch now may likely say he was on his way to surrender arms when he was caught and all thatâ€.
Coordinator of the Amnesty Implementation Committee, Air Vice Marshal Lucky Araile who spoke to Vanguard on the arrest of a repentant militant, Robert Okubor, who was arrested with 17 others in connection with some kidnapping incidents in Edo State said the fact that somebody pledged to accept amnesty does not mean that he has accepted amnesty until he comes to the arms collection centre to drop his arms and perform other necessary formalities.
Okuboâ€™s arrest is generating controversy in the state, as some days before he was arrested, he was reported by two national newspapers to have promised to accept amnesty.
The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) is not happy that Okubo was arrested at a time he had renounced militancy and more over, a councillor, IYC official and others were roped in his arrest as collaborators when in fact, they were going for a burial ceremony at the time they were picked up by the police.
IYC vice chairman in-charge of Delta, Edo and Ondo states, Mr. Andrew Igiri told Vanguard that the council was displeased with the arrest of about 18 Ijaw indigenes that were going for a burial ceremony under the pretext that they were kidnappers by the police when nothing was found on them.
He said Okubo in separate publications in the Vanguard and Nation editions of August 7 and 4 respectively, renounced militancy and accepted the presidential amnesty offer, stating categorically that the reason why he and his boys carried arms in the past was because of the injustice perpetrated against the Ijaws of Edo State.
Mr. Igiri said the arrest of Okubo, who had openly accepted amnesty and other Ijaw leaders, including a councillor, came as a shock to the council, which has been preaching to the militants to accept amnesty.
He claimed the police were creating problem where there is none, adding, â€œI think it is not the best and so, the injustice and abandonment done to the Ijaws of Edo state should be addressed â€œ.
Igiri called on the governor of the state, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole to look into the matter and ensure the release of the arrested persons.
According to him, â€œThe Ijaw Youth Council is in support of the security beef up in Edo State and so any Ijaw youth that is having the mind of criminality must desist from it for the IYC will not defend such actionâ€.
However, the amnesty programme is being marred by some opportunists who are cashing in on the disagreements within the militants to pose as negotiators to the Federal Government.
One of them is Prince Joseph Harry, who had been disowned twice by MEND for parading himself as negotiator for militants. Two top â€œgeneralsâ€ of Camp 5, the militant group controlled by militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo had also disclaimed him. Prince Harry claimed he was mandated by Tompolo to negotiate on his behalf and his â€œcommandâ€ with the Federal Government, but, Tompoloâ€™s men called for his arrest by security agents to unravel his actual sponsors and mission.
But a frantic Prince Harry was reported to have produced before newsmen at Abuja evidence of Right of Attorney from the militant leader, saying Tompolo and other â€œgeneralsâ€ and â€œcommandersâ€ under his command were ready to surrender their weapons if government was ready to buy back, build accommodation for them and allocate some oil wills to them among other demands.
He told journalists that the militants he was representing were ready to surrender at least 50 per cent of its weapons, made up of 7000 AK-47, 1000 General Purpose Machine Guns (GMPGs), unspecified number of bombs, other explosives and full military and police uniforms in its possession in one week if the Federal Government met its demands.
But one of Tompoloâ€˜s â€œcommandersâ€ who sounded very furious told Vanguard on phone, â€œI can tell you that this guy that is speaking may not have even met Tompolo one on one, he does not even know whether he is black or yellow and he is claiming to be representing him, how can somebody who said he is from Ikwerre be representing Tompolo who is from Delta State in such a critical matterâ€.
His words, â€œI can tell you authoritatively that he is not representing Tompolo, he did not send him, if there is anything like that, I will know, we donâ€™t know this guy and my suggestion is that he should be arrested and interrogated so that he will tell the government who is using him and what his purpose is in all the things he has been saying for sometime nowâ€.
â€œWhich arms is he saying that Tompolo want to surrender, is he not a witness to the raid of Camp 5 by the JTF in which they said that they recovered all the arms in Camp 5 and its satellite branches, so, where did he see Tompolo to tell him that he was going to surrender those arms he mentionedâ€, he said.
â€œTake it from me, Tompolo is going to make a public statement soon on his position on all these issues, it is not what this impostor is saying, but, one thing is that he is not against amnesty. The Federal and Delta State governments know this, it is just that the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta overreacted over the killing of some soldiers on May 13 and without waiting to hear from Tompolo or give room for dialogue to know what exactly cause the incident, they invaded Gbarmatu kingdom, killed the people and destroyed their communitiesâ€, he added.
Another â€œgeneralâ€ in Tompoloâ€™s â€œcommandâ€ told Vanguard, â€œMr. Etella Onwunchekwa should speak for his Ikwere or Rumuola ethnic nationality and should stop parading himself as speaking on behalf of Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo because Chief Tompolo, anywhere, anytime represent the genuine struggle, as such, he will mandate a genuine and truthful man that will represent Ijaw and Niger-Delta interest in bringing the needed peace and development to the region, not impostors, criminal elements to wither the progress of the amnesty.