By Jimitota Onoyume
MILITANTS in Rivers state are embracing the presidential amnesty. No fewer than eighty have so far gone for it. Some of them are Solomon Degbara a.k.a Osama Bin Laden, Soboma George and their boys.
According to a police source, even some youths that had been declared wanted for robbery operations have joined the long list of those showing up for the amnesty.
Solomon Degbara who prefers now to be addressed as Brother Solomon instead of his sobriquet, Osama Bin Laden, was virtually the leader of militant/brigandage groups in the whole of Ogoni part of Rivers state, an area that has had its own share of tension and crisis in the region. Kidnapping before now was a common feature in the area.
The Vice Chancellor of the state University of Science and Technology, Prof B.B. Fakae was among the numerous guests of hostage takers apparently led by the repentant militant leader, Solomon, in Ogoni area.Â The area also at a time experienced severe cult clashes among rival groups that resulted in the death of hundreds of promising youths in their prime.
Cult groups like Deebam and Dewell were very visible elements in communities like Bodo, Gokana local government and several other parts of Ogoni.Â Clashes between these cult groups in 2006 were very rampant. This sad situation even continued beyond the foregoing year.Â Strangely, calm seems to have returned to the Ogoni part of the state since the peace drive by the federal government in the region came on board.
Brother Solomon as he now prefers to be called was the first to embrace the amnesty in the state. He came out with his arms and ammunition a day after the federal government granted the presidential pardon to militants in the region.
And on hand to receive him at his Gokana community was the former Inspector General of Police, (then he was IG), Mr. Mike Okiro who led other principal security operatives to the area.
In a chat with the SaturdayVanguard on phone recently Solomon assured that nothing would make him go back to militancy.
After Solomon surrendered it was like no other militant in the state was willing to key into the project. This situation prevailed for some time and even caused many to think then that the amnesty was becoming a failure in the state until three Fridays ago when what could be described as a big fish in the circle of militants in the state, Soboma George turned in his riffles at a discreet ceremony in Port Harcourt .
Soboma George who is one of the frontline Commanders of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) led twenty other reformed militants to the ceremony at the office of the State Security Service. In attendance were the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, Mr. Timi Alaibe and members of the Amnesty implementation Committee led by its national Coordinator, Air Vice Marshall Lucky Ararile. At the ceremony Soboma surrendered about forty rifles and four GPMGs (general purpose machine guns) and he promised never to go back to militancy again.
Soboma George until he repented was at the top of militancy in the Kalabari speaking part of Rivers state and some parts of Port Harcourt like Town, etc. He was reportedly the second in command to Ateke Tom before they parted ways.
And he went to float what later became known as Outlaws, a dreaded cult group in the state. He was arrested for sundry charges and kept in prison custody around 2004. In the bid to secure his release his loyalists reportedly organized a jail brake at the Port Harcourt prisons which saw his escape in 2005.
After the jail brake he went under ground for sometime.Â Meanwhile, Soboma it would also be recalled was arrested for alleged traffic offence at Hospital road in Port Harcourt on his way back from church in 2007. While being quizzed at the central police station in Town, hundreds of his followers, including ladies, stormed the streets of Port Harcourt that day with sophisticated riffles shooting sporadically.
And marching towards the Central Police station in Town, where he was detained. After forcefully setting him free they flung the gates of all the cells in the station open for other inmates to also flee.
Some persons who spoke to the Vanguard on Soboma George described him as a cat with nine lives. They said he should no doubt be grateful to his creator for sparing his life. They recalled in 2008 how hundreds of soldiers deployed to arrest him dead or alive missed him at his Marine base abode in Port Harcourt . â€œIt was by whiskers. It was a narrow escape for him that day.
Though rumors went round Port Harcourt then that it was one of the top ogas of the soldiers that alerted him of the move that was why they missed him nevertheless he should be very grateful to his Godâ€, Miebaka John said.
The military invasion of his neighborhood that day reportedly claimed several lives. It was a combination of aerial and land attack by the soldiers.
At the surrender ceremony that Friday night at the SSS office in Port Harcourt, Soboma said he too had quit militancy for good. He however urged the federal government to take practical steps to address challenges in the region, adding also that the state government should beat a retreat from its planned demolition of water fronts in Port Harcourt .
Ateke Tom though yet to embrace the amnesty but sources very close to him said he would do
According to them, his greatest worry at the moment centered on how safe his life could be with Rotimi Amaechi as governor of his state. The source accused the governor of â€œwaging a war against the militant leaderâ€. For instance the source queried why the governor had to issue a statement urging Nigerians to ignore the militant leader when he spoke through his lawyer that he was ready to embrace the amnesty. â€œThese are some of the fears. But I am sure Ateke Tom will like to embrace the amnestyâ€, the source said.
Meanwhile, commenting on the allegation that Ateke would not be safe in Rivers state as a repentant militant, the acting Chief Press secretary to the governor, Mr. Blessing Wekina said the governor had no personal grouse with any of the militants in the state.
He said the governor had made it very clear in different fora that he was ready to receive any genuinely repentant militant. â€œSince the amnesty is for peace the governor is disposed to itâ€, he said.Â Farah Dagogo is another name in the circle of militants in the state. At the moment he is not so loud. So nothing seems to be coming from his end.
Another militant leader that is also very ready to embrace the amnesty is Sobomabo Jack Reece aka Egberipapa. He is currently cooling off in the custody of the JTF. He was picked up at the palace of the Amayanabo of Kalabari, Buguma in Rivers state some months ago when he showed up for an alleged peace meeting slated for the venue.
In spite of the seeming success of the amnesty programme in the state minds are still agitated, there is fear that amnesty is not the magic wand for peace in the state and the region. Some who spoke to the Vanguard expressed worries particular with the elections ahead. For them what today has become militancy was largely a creation of the political class. They recalled that some of these guys started as private armies of the politicians and were used to prosecute their political battles.