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N-Delta: Fears over fresh hostilities

Who is MEND leader?

WHEN the Commander of the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta, Major-General Sarkin Yarkin-Bello told newsmen in May shortly after the task force commenced its aborted Cordon and Search operation in Gbaramatu kingdom of Delta State that the task force had uncovered information that the leader of Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND) is Government Ekpemupolo, the leader  of the militant group, Camp 5 in Gbaramatu kingdom of Delta State, who it declared wanted , May 21, over the disappearance (read killing) of over 11 soldiers, including a Lieutenant Colonel on May 13, it was assumed  that he was trying to give  a dog a bad name in order  to hang it.

Major-General Yarkin-Bello said then that the task force was in possession of letters and documents addressed to Tompolo as the leader of  MEND, but, the concealed disagreement between Henry Okah and Tompolo in the past, which made MEND spokesman, Jomo Gbomo to dismiss supposed  militants in the Gbaramatu axis, Tompolo’s base as ethnic chauvinists and sell-outs, while Tompolo’s men wrote of Jomo Gbomo as an errand boy, who should not be taken seriously if he woke up from the wrong side of his bed and started calling himself master overnight.

A top aide of Tompolo told Saturday Vanguard in Warri on Thursday, “The JTF Commander is right but we did not want to own up then because they were looking for him”, but, Jomo Gbomo, who was appropriately or inappropriately thought to be the same person as Henry Okah in an exclusive mail before his arrest in Angola confirmed that he is the leader of militia fighters in the region.

MILITANT leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo , from his hideout has said that he was prepared to accept the Federal Government’s amnesty offer
MILITANT leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo , from his hideout has said that he was prepared to accept the Federal Government’s amnesty offer

However, while Okah was in detention, both in Angola and Nigeria, Jomo Gbomo continued to issue emails in the name of MEND.  SaturdayVanguard recently enquired from MEND spokesman who Jomo Gbomo actually is and he said, “At one time they said Henry Okah was Jomo until it was proven otherwise after his arrest. It is only normal to speculate and in a country that has rumoured thrice the death of Yar’Ádua, it should not come as a surprise. Jomo Gbomo is the media department in MEND and does not assign the dissemination of information to one individual in case of capture or death”.

Whoever is the leader of MEND, Tompolo, as the JTF Commander said its investigation pointed to, Henry Okah, as a former MEND commander, “General” Boyloaf  once  told SaturdayVanguard , what is paramount at this stage that Tompolo and Henry Okah had resolved their mix-up between them and were now ready to work together. MEND fully deployed its arsenal against the JTF when the task force unleashed mayhem recently in Gbaramatu kingdom.

The meeting between Tompolo and Henry Okah, some weeks ago, in the creeks seemed to be where grey areas were sorted out, but, the up-to-the minute threat by MEND to resume further hostilities in the region, if compelled to, after the expiration of its 60-day ceasefire on September 15 and Tompolo’s threat to confront “by any means necessary any real attempt to dredge the River Niger without recourse to universal standards that are acceptable” gives cause for concern. Dredging of the River Niger, which MEND is equally against may commence in two weeks time, about the same time that the ceasefire would expire and with Tompolo vowing to confront the situation, it’s not known if he is going to be the linchpin of the fresh offensive.

Discordant signal

Gbomo who linked its next agenda to the alleged deceit of government in acquiring guns for militants to surrender, all to give the impression that the amnesty programme was on course said, “MEND will be compelled to resume with ferocious attacks on the oil industry at the end of our ceasefire on September 15, 2009…”.

The group took strong exception to the massive arms surrender in Bayelsa state on August 22 by its former commander, “General” Boyloaf and other militant leaders in the state, saying, “Today, Saturday, August 22, 2009, that sorting process was again re-enacted in Yenagoa, Bayelsa state where weapons mostly bought by the government were displayed and the boys separated from the men in the circus.

The charade witnessed in Bayelsa is not an indication of success but that of failure considering that the energy put into that event could have been better used in deliberating on the root issues collated in the Niger Delta Technical Committee report which addressed such germane issues from the Willink’s Commission of 1958 to date”.

A former militant leader who was contacted by SaturdayVanguard on the threat by MEND to resume hostilities said, “Well, I don’t want to comment on it but I will say is let us wait and watch and see whether it is by email that they will fight it because those that are fighting the actual battle in the creeks have vowed to stop the fight and surrendered their arms”.

The militant group, however, said the fresh offensive would prove to the doubting Thomas the arms surrendered were mostly government-owned and “those surrendering them have not been part of the previous campaigns like Hurricanes Barbarossa, Piper Alpha and Moses that brought the government to their knees”.

It was not only the ex-militant leader that dismissed the MEND’s threat, the Defence Minister, Major-General Godwin Abbe (rtd) from Edo state and the Governor of Bayelsa State; Chief Timipre Sylva told journalists that it was an “empty threat”.

Abbe’s words, “We have appealed to their consciences not to carry out the threat because they have more to loose if they go back to militancy. They should not continue to bring cry and anguish to women, children and elderly in the region”.

He warned that the authorities would not fail to deploy the armed forces to curtail insurgence from any part of Nigeria and provide security to its citizens and oil facilities.

Alarm in communities Leaders of some communities in the riverside areas of the Niger-Delta where militant are known to hold sway have started taken measures to distance themselves from the militant groups that have refused to down their arms while some daring youths have threatened to give the Presidential Committee on Amnesty information detailed information on where one of the militant groups were hiding their arms in the community.

“We don’t want to be caught in crossfire between the militants and the JTF”, one of the youth leaders told Saturday Vanguard in Warri.

Honorary Special Adviser to the President on Niger-Delta, Mr. Timi Alaibe visited Gbaramatu kingdom, during the week, to urge the royal father, His Royal Majesty, Pere Godwin Bebenimibo to prevail on the agitators in the region to accept amnesty.

The royal father who spoke through one of his chiefs, Chief Jonathan Ari said his people were prepared to accept amnesty, but, one of the leaders shocked newsmen when he declared openly that Gbaramatu people were not ready to surrender their arms and leave themselves without defence in the event of attack by their neighbours.

He argued that the Ijaw and Itsekiri had fought inter-ethnic war just like the Itsekiri and Urhobo had also fought in Warri and wondered why the government was interested in disarming the Ijaw people, while the Itsekiri and Urhobo were left.

He said the Itsekiri and Urhobo people have their own militants too. The Bolowei of Gbaramatu kingdom and chairman of the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC), Chief Wellington Okirika, who was at the palace when the comments were made, on the other hand, quickly explained that the views were the individual opinion of the leader and not that of the Gbaramatu kingdom.

Investigations by Saturday Vanguard showed that there was a  real threat of eruption of hostilities  by militants given the unfavourable disposition of some of them to the amnesty programme of the federal government and this has made some of the villagers to be sceptical about returning home in the meantime.

Tompolo disclaims Top Edo Polititian If the alarm was being treated  mildly by some persons, the threat of Tompolo to “confront by any means necessary” the government and its agents if they dare go ahead with the plan to dredge the River Niger without meeting some universally accepted conditions

The contractors handling the dredging, Messrs Von Oard had hinted on Tuesday in Lokoja, Kogi state that the equipment needed for the execution of the project had been delivered at the dockyard of the National Inland Waterways Authority, Lokoja in addition to two house boats loaded with various sizes of pipes for dredging.

The firm’s project manager, Mr. Tim Helbo said works would commence in two weeks time and the project was likely to be flagged off by President Umaru Yar’Adua.

In his recent outburst, Tompolo said, “Government in its usual manner has enlisted a top Edo politician and  another woman from the South East to dredge the River Nigeria. Why is government pushing with intent to use force of the JTF to dredge the river instead of addressing the environmental hazards such will cause the communities therein as contained in the Environmental Impact Assessment report, such as shore protection and adherence to local content?

“Legitimate governments all over the world address the communal fears and concerns of the affected before such projects are execute. I hereon disclaim any contact with the top Edo politician  and whoever is also involved in the dredging process. I remain among those opposed to it, and I am committedand ready to confront by any means necessary any real attempt to dredge the river without recourse to universal standards that are acceptable.

“I also enjoin the politician and  to tread softly for this is an attack on our existence and identity. I consequently urge Mr. President to halt the process and direct government agencies to comply with agreeable standards for the management of the River Niger as a vital lifeline for our people”, he asserted.

Saturday Vanguard gathered that the top Edo politician had before the disclaimer on him by Tompolo made frantic efforts to speak with the militant leader through some Ijaw leaders, but, this paper could not ascertain the reason for his desperation until the militant leader voiced out his feelings to the President.

…Dares Yar’Adua on oil bunkering

He also said that mighty government officials and wealthy people were behind oil bunkering in the Niger-Delta region, and challenged President Umaru Yar’Adua to summon the bravery to stop them and see what will happen.

His words, “Oil bunkering is consciously being peddled by the JTF and Government in their bid to cover state failure and to malign our legitimate struggle. Such expensive ventures requiring huge finances, power and contracts can only be carried out by the mighty in government and huge businesses”.

His posers: “Who provides or buys the vessels and equipment? Who settles the military and has the connection with the foreigners and refineries? Who owns those vessels apprehended and disappearing? I make bold to urge Mr. President to show will and determination to stop bunkering in the region and see how the mighty in Lagos and Abuja will fall”.

“How many Niger-Deltans have oil fields, blocs or even allocations that girlfriends are entitled to in Abuja ? He further queried, saying, does it sound just that a certain retired army general from the North sold 45 per cent of one of his marginal oil fields to a foreign firm recently for over $2 billion dollars, while still keeping 55 per cent.

“Can this happen in Hausa, Yoruba or Igbo land? Why must we suffer so much for a God-given blessing? Do you think there can be peace where the people do not have appreciable stakes in their resources and composition and operations of multinationals in the region? Emphatically no”, he continued.

Why JTF must go Tompolo who disclosed he had spoken lowly and top government officials, including President Yar’Adua before now on the way forward for Niger-Delta said, “I hereby call for the withdrawal of the Joint Task Force and demilitarization of our region from from Okirika and Kalabari kingdoms in Rivers state through the civil Ijaw communities of Bayelsa state to the serene communities of Western Ijaw in Ondo, Edo and Delta States”.

“The JTF makes no difference, instead, it aggravates the conflicts to stay put in the region. They may win this war against our just cause, but, they cannot win the peace in any guise, not even in our region, wherein every child of three and above sleeps with the knowledge of every pipeline meter crisscrossing the region. May 13, 2009 and its fallouts has and shall vindicate and triumph us ultimately”, he said.

Tompolo said the crisis in the region was not difficult to resolve if only President Yar’Adua would authorize his officials to commence dialogue with representatives of the people of the region, nominated from elders and leaders of youths referred to as Aaron team by MEND on the core demands of the region with pride and mutual balance.

Killing Tompolo, others won’t stop struggle

an indication that he was not ready to surrender his arms as many thought he would, Tompolo in a recent letter to President Umaru Yar’Adua said, “Your Excellency, may I remind you that Major Isaac Boro died for his cause; our noble poet and playwright got hanged with eight other Ogonis in 1995, Dokubo-Asari and Henry Okah among others got incarcerated in inhuman conditions for years, just as several unsung brethrens have been murdered and several of our innocent communities completely destroyed. These did not stop the agitation of the people; instead, it reinforces it in tactics and participation.

“How can killing Tompolo, Fara, Ateke, Boyloaf, Afrika, Shoot At Sight, Young Shall Grow and others stop the numerous unsung Tompolos in the creeks who owe our people at home and in the Diaspora this noble duty to bring justice and peace to our land? Kindly thread the path of dialogue, not force. There is no bad peace”, he stated.

Amnesty, a charade

“Why distort and simplify, as usual, our genuine struggle to crime and disarmament? Are crimes of kidnapping, abduction and hostage-taking synonymous to and with our region? Who kidnaps in Kaduna , Lagos , Kogi, Ondo and the entire Eastern states of the country?

Do the security agencies inform government correctly that 99 per cent of crime cases in Port-Harcourt are not perpetrated by agitators and core regional indigenes? Categorically, politicians, political and commercial crime merchants all over the country are the architects to undo themselves and others.. We are clear-headed agitators with an inherited defined vision and mission”, Tompolo added.

However, a source close to Tompolo maintained he was not against amnesty and that he would accept it but still remain in the creeks to prosecute the struggle. Mr. Alaibe said to have received a positive assurance from Tompolo when he visited Gbaramatu kingdom on Tuesday that he would accept amnesty.

Click below to read more on amnesty, Tomopolo, Jomo Gbomo and Okak


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