Disarmament day 13
By Samuel Oyadongha
Bayelsa State government has declared every August 22 as a work free day in the predominantly riverine state in honour of militants in the state who day surrendered a total of 520 guns including 14 gunboats to the Presidential Committee on Amnesty.
Tagged â€œBayelsa Peace Dayâ€™, the arms were brought into the Isaac Boro Peace Park in several police trucks just as the militant leaders were ushered into the arena by their jubilant foot soldiers amidst fanfare.
Also three notable cult groups turned in their weapons in deference to President Umaru Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s presidential amnesty to militants in the troubled Niger Delta.
Though the submission of the arms had earlier commenced at the Government House Friday and lasted till 1 am under the watchful eyes of men of the various security agencies and the chairman of the state Peace and Conflict Resolution Committee, Chief James Jephthah yesterday ceremony however was the climax of nearly one and half year attempt by the state government to prevail on the militants in the state to give up armed struggle.
The weapons on display at the arean filled to capacity with repentant militant leaders and their boys range from Ak-47 rifles, sub machine guns, bombs, heavy duty Brandy guns and Lar rifles and a total of 95,970 rounds of ammunition among others.
A total of 14 gun boats were also submitted between Mr. Victor Ben Ebikabowei popularly known as Boyloaf, who was addressed as Field Marshal at the occasion because of his courage and support for the amnesty, Gen Africa Ukparasia, Joshua Machiver and Ezizi Ogunbos known as Commander Ogunboss.
Other militant leaders who submitted arms include Commander Toruma Ngogolo, the second-in-command to deceased militia leader, Kitikata, General Karikoro from Azuzama in Southern Ijaw, Commander Emikor Bonny Don and General Reuben Wilson popularly known as Pastor in Koluama axis of Southern Ijaw on the Atlantic fringe.
Sunday Vanguard gathered from data made available at the collection centre that the summary of high caliber of guns and arms and ammunition returned by Field Marshal Victor Ben aka Boyloaf, regarded as MEND leader in Bayelsa alone include 6 Brandy rifle, 21 GPMG, 30MG, 130 AK47 and other rifles rifle, 76 hand grenades, 3 mortar bomb (81mm), 22 mortar bomb (60mm), 34 dynamites (136KG), 7 rocket launchers, 49 cartherages, 4 gunboats, 80,836 rounds of different types of ammunition and 31 military grenades.
Also returned were armed forces uniforms including about 25 bullet proof vest suspected to belong to soldiers, naval personnel and the men of the Joint Military Task Force.
The surrendered weapons, the largest in the region since the commencement of the amnesty programme in region could be attributed to interaction between the repentant militants and the State Peace Committee.
Three notable cult groups in the state made up of the Icelanders, the One-man Agbalakoko and the Highlanders submitted an impressive numbers of weapons including Ak-47 and others.
At the ceremony, former militant leader Ebikabowei Victor Ben, aka Boyloaf, said the submission of the weapons in their possession was in fulfillment of their promise to President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua to give peace a chance in the region for development to take place.
Boyloaf who gave a senior government official his bullet proof vest emblazoned with the logo of Nigeria’s most prominent militant group — the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), said â€œas chairman of MEND in Bayelsa State, I hand over this jacket … as a proclamation that we have disarmed and stand by our word. We expect the president to stand by his word and develop the Niger Delta.”
The retired Field Marshal also used the occasion to say sorry to the families of all those who lost their lives in the cause of the struggle noting that they will forever be remembered for paying the ultimate price for the emancipation of the Niger Delta people as well as calling on all those who are yet to drop their arms to come forward and submit their guns so as to work together in the interest of the region.
In his remarks Ogunbos said , â€œWe give up our weapons so that we give peace a chance and for all oil companies and other multinationals to come into our region to develop the place.â€
The national coordinator of the Disarmament process, Air Vice Marshall Lucky Ararile commended the militants for abiding by their promise and urged others to follow the Bayelsa model describing the exercise the first of its kind in the region.
He assured that repentant members of the various militant groups present at the occasion that government would fulfill its own side of the bargain saying, â€œif the peace returns to the Niger Delta, employment will return. There are opportunities coming up in the gas sector that will be of benefit to individuals and the government.â€
Also, speaking at the occasion, the State governor, Chief Timipre Sylva commended the efforts of President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua for keying into the state approach and for proffering lasting solution to the crisis in the region.
Said he, â€œtoday marks the end of struggle in Bayelsa State as the state is migrating from arms struggle to peaceful means. When we came on board there were cases of kidnapping and other related social vices. As an end to it, we introduced different which the Federal Government bought into.
â€œThis is what led to the unconditional amnesty granted members of the various militant members in the region. The region requires a lot of development and this can only be achieved only if there is peace.â€
Meanwhile, August 22 of every year has been declared as public holiday in Bayelsa, in commemoration of the return of peace to the state.