By Emma Amaize / Daniel Idonor
HONORARY Special Adviser to the President on Niger-Delta, Mr. Timi Alaibe, on Tuesday held secret talks with one of the foremost militant leaders in the region, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, at Oporoza community in Gbaramatu Kingdom, in the Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State, just as Tompolo alleged that influential government officials were behind oil bunkering in the region and challenged President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua to dare stop them and see what will happen.
The Federal Government on its part yesterday described as mere threat claims of resumption of hostility at the expiration of the 60-day ceasefire by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND), saying it was not moved because MEND no longer enjoys the sympathy of Nigerians.
Meanwhile, the traditional ruler of Gbaramatu Kingdom, His Royal Majesty, Godwin Bebenimibo, who had been missing since the May 15 bombardment of Oporoza community by the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta, which equally razed his palace, has returned to the kingdom.
The royal father, a retired Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), is in a temporal abode in the community at the moment, as his| palace is still in ruins.
Alaibe meets Tompolo
Alaibe, at the top secret meeting conveyed President Umaru Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s wish for Tompolo to accept amnesty and turn in the arms in his possession.
Alaibe, who said he was consulting with stakeholders, communities, groups and freedom fighters, had earlier met with the leader of MEND, Mr. Henry Okah, but, MEND recently severed further talks with him (Alaibe).
Tompolo had earlier been declared wanted by JTF following the May 13 killing of some soldiers by militants in his camp, but, the Commander, Major-General Sarkin Yarkin-Bello, told Vanguard exclusively that he was no longer on the wanted list as a result of the amnesty proclaimed for militants by the government.
Vanguard also reported exclusively, last weekend, that he had resurfaced in Gbaramatu kingdom and had gone round to inspect the damaged buildings at Kurutuie, Okerenkoko, Oporoza and other Gbaramatu communities by JTF.
Alaibe reportedly told Tompolo that the government was prepared to develop the Niger Delta as long as there was a hospitable atmosphere.
Powerful govt. officials behind bunkering – Tompolo
Writes Yarâ€™Adua on way forward for N-Delta
Militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, who Vanguard reported exclusively, last weekend, that he has resurfaced in Gbaramatu kingdom, dropped a bombed shell, yesterday, saying mighty government officials and wealthy people are behind oil bunkering in the Niger-Delta region, and challenged President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua to summon the courage to stop them and see what will happen.
In an open letter to President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua, dated August 24, made available to Vanguard in Warri, he also gave three conditions to the Federal Government, which he said were â€œpreliminary acceptables to the agitatorsâ€ (militants) for peace to hold sway in the Niger-Delta region.
The three conditions were: Withdrawal of the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta and demilitarization of the region; stoppage of the process to dredge the River Niger until government agencies comply with the agreeable standards; and stoppage of oil bunkering in the Niger-Delta.
On the amnesty programme, he said, â€œYour Excellency, your proclamation of amnesty on June 25 is only viewed by my ilk as part of the peace process which was breached on May 13, but, not viewed as the ultimate or the official act of oblivion or pardon on the part of government to absolve without trial so-called offenders or group of offenders, intentionally forgetting or overlooking wrongdoing by same. We view the gesture as offer from nothing but it can be something with mutual sincerity and great willâ€.
He, however, warned the former chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih and Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke who have reportedly been contacted by the government to dredge the River Niger to stop peddling his name (Tompolo) in their bid to execute the project without addressing the effects on the communities that would be impacted by the project and providing local content for the communities.
His words, â€œOil 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 businessesâ€.
His posers: â€œWho 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 fallâ€.
â€œHow many Niger-Deltans have oil fields, blocs or even allocations that girlfriends are entitled to in Abuja ? 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.
â€œCan 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 noâ€, he continued.
Tompolo who disclosed that he had spoken to top government officials, including President Yarâ€™Adua before now on the way forward for Niger-Delta said, â€œI hereby call for the withdrawal of the Joint Task Force and demilitarization of our region 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 Statesâ€.
â€œThe 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 ultimatelyâ€, he said.
On River Niger dredging, he told Yarâ€™Adua, â€œGovernment in its characteristic type has enlisted Chief Tony Anenih and Mrs. Deziani Allison-Madueke to dredge the River Niger. Why is government pushing with intent to use the 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?
â€œLegitimate governments all over the world address the communal fears and concerns of the affected before such projects are executed. I hereon disclaim any contact with Chief Anenih on this issue as claimed. I remain among those opposed to it, and I am committed to confront by any means necessary any real attempt to dredge the river without recourse to universal standards that are acceptable.
â€œI also enjoin Chief Tony Anenih and Mrs. Madueke 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 peopleâ€, he asserted.
Tompolo said the crisis in the region was not difficult to resolve if only President Yarâ€™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.
MEND HAS LOST THE SYMPARTHY OF NIGERIANS,SAYS, FG
*Blames MEND for Failure of 6000MW
On the threat by MEND to resume hostility at the expiration of the 60-day ceasefire, the Federal Government said it is not moved by the threat because MEND no longer enjoys the sympathy of Nigerians.
In fact, the government has declared that Nigerians should stand up against MEND for their illegal activities that have continued to frustrate the Federal Governmentâ€™s ongoing National Independent Power Projects across the country, thereby preventing the government from realizing its targeted 6000 megawatt electricity power generation by the end of this year.
The Government has therefore warned the deviant but divided MEND to, as a matter of national security, drop the idea of going back to the creeks, if at all the group ever nurture such a deadly idea, as the nationâ€™s armed forces have been placed on alert against any case of insurgence from any part of Nigeria, and MEND cannot be exception.
Specifically, government said it is taking the threat seriously, but advised few members of MEND who are yet to repent to take maximum advantage of the remaining days of the amnesty to court and befriend peace by accepting the amnesty deal and coming out to surrender their arms; otherwise MEND would leave to regret its action.
Reacting to recent threat of hostility by MEND, Minister of Defence and Chairman of the Presidential Panel on Amnesty, General Godwin Abbe (rtd) said it is time the boys heed governmentâ€™s appeal by joining the peace process in order to avoid the wrath and might of the Nigerian government.
â€œWe have appealed to their consciences not to carry out the threat because they have more to lose if they go back to militancy. They should not continue to bring cry and anguish to women, children and the elderly in the region.
According to Abbe who was also a Battalion Commander during the Nigerian Civil War, insisted that unless they respond positively to the amnesty, â€œthey will lose the respect and support of the people of the Niger-Delta and Nigerians in general because the people have realized that it is due to the militant activities that is affecting electricity generation in the country.
He stated that this is the only widow of opportunity for the massive infrastructural development of the region because in his words â€œif this President does not develop the region who will?
He disclosed that he is confidence that the â€œPresident is sincere and determined to develop the area so, they should not over play this action, asking that â€œis it violence that will construct the roads? they should realize that if they let this amnesty opportunity pass them byâ€ the blame will not be on the governmentâ€.
â€œWe are not arrogating prominence only to MEND because we have other groups that , however, that does not mean that we are not taking the threat serious , that is why we are appealing to them not to go ahead with the threatâ€, he noted.
On the issue of cash for arms, he said â€œgovernment is not going to give money to any group of militants money in exchange for arms surrendered. If government does that it means that government is paying for causing tears and cry in the region and Nigeria in generalâ€.
â€œThey bought arms to rise against the sovereignty of Nigeria, so do you want us to compensate them for killing, maiming and disrupting the economic activities of the country, so we wont be paying for armsâ€, he added.
On the progress of the amnesty program so far, the Minister disclosed that â€œhonestly God is controlling it. I can tell you that God is hearing the prayers of well meaning Nigerians in ensuring that there is peaceâ€.
On the news that Tompolo has agreed to accept the amnesty and lay down his arms, he said â€œam aware he has made his intention known, we are waiting any day he fixes we will attend to him, it is a positive development it shows that those who really want genuine development in the Niger Delta are embracing the amnesty programâ€.
5 DESOPADEC projects damaged by JTF in Gbaramatu
In a related development, no fewer than five projects executed by the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC) in Gbaramatu kingdom, Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State at over N200 million were affected in the recent military operation by the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta.
Among the projects were the DESOPDEC Air to Water project at Okerenkoko, the commissionâ€™s hospital in the community, DESOPADEC Liaison Office at Oporoza, which was razed by fire, Skill Acquisition Centre, Oporoza and a six classroom block at Kurutie community.
Chairman of DESOPADEC, Chief Wellington Okirka undertook a tour of the projects on Tuesday for the first time since the Gbaramatuâ€™s crisis in which about 53 communities were destroyed.
He did not speak to newsmen on his discovery but when Vanguard visited the clinic at Okerenkoko, some of the workers said drugs and some equipment were burnt by soldiers barely 24 hours after some of them were treated for injuries sustained in a clash with militants.
The Air- to-Water project, which captures water directly from the air to the people, and which was generating an average of 10,000 gallons a day is the only source of potable drinking water to the entire Gbaramatu kingdom. It was provided in early 2008 by DESOPADEC and was functional until it was damaged by soldiers.
â€œThey shot at the roof from inside the hospital, you can see the signs and the places we have repaired. The people need the hospital to be functioning and you can see we are working now because the chairman of DESOPADEC insisted we must start workâ€, a staff told Vanguard.
A villager said the generating sets for the water equipment and the hospital were vandalized. Presently, the people have no source of potable water.