By Emma Amaize , George Onah & Sam Oyadongha

FORTY three years ago, precisely on February 23, 1966, Isaac Adaka Boro, who headed an organization known as Niger Delta Volunteer Force, NDVF, told his field commanders – Samuel Owunaru and Nottingham Dick – that the die was cast. It was at a camp called Touton Ban.

The group eventually set up a military training camp at Taylor Creek, former Eastern Region but in present day Bayelsa State. In all, the force had 150 men. Boro, in sensitizing the men, said it was time for the Niger Delta people to take their destiny in their own hands. “If we do not move we will throw ourselves into perpetual slavery”, he had said.

On that day, before launching his men into battle, Boro boosted their morale with a rallying call that “today is a great day, not only in your lives, but also in the history of the Niger Delta.

Perhaps, it will be the greatest day for a very long time. This is not because we are going to bring the heavens down, but because we are going to demonstrate to the world what and how we feel about oppression. Remember your 70 year-old grandmother who still farms to eat, remember also your poverty stricken people and then, remember too, your petroleum which is being pumped out daily from your veins and then fight for your freedom”.

Origin of Insurrection in Niger Delta: The aim of the insurgents was to force the Nigerian government to create a separate country for the Niger Delta. The charged up force attacked a police station at Yenagoa, raided the armoury and kidnapped some officers including the police officer in command of the station. They also blew up oil pipelines, engaged the police in a gunfight and declared the Niger Delta an independent republic. Boro and his men failed in the rebellion and the three men were put on trial for treason at the Port Harcourt Assizes.

Gov Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa state and others inspecting arms handed over by militants in Yenagoa.
Gov Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa state and others inspecting arms handed over by militants in Yenagoa.

At the end, Boro was found guilty and sentenced to death, by hanging. But, in a defiant plea, before he was condemned, Boro said: “My people had long sought a separate state not because they loved power but because their conditions were peculiar and the authorities did not understand their problems. There is nothing wrong with Nigeria, what is wrong with us is the total lack of mercy in our activities.”

Amnesty for militants: Following the sporadic crisis that hit Nigeria from 1966 and beyond, Boro was granted amnesty by the then head of state, General Yakubu Gowon. It then became the first amnesty granted militants in the Niger Delta. Boro, who had been released from prison, later joined the army in 1967, when the war broke out, fought on the Nigerian side and got killed in action on May 17, 1968 at the age of 32. But the fascinating aspect here would be the fact that Boro became useful to the nation shortly after he was granted amnesty. He was highly educated, was a police officer, a Man O’ War Bay instructor and well traveled.

Again, his agitation for resource control was genuine, campaign for greater Niger Delta autonomy was cogent and fight for the self determination of the people was sincere. He was an Ijaw nationalist with robust zeal to remedy the injustices meted to the people of the area.

Rivers: Difficulty in disarming: But, clearly, the root of the agitation in Rivers State was certainly not for the emancipation of the people or development of the area. Arms bearing in the state dates back to the fierce political battle for the soul of the land in 1999 and 2003. This position came to the fore during the state’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission headed by Justice Kayode Eso. Determined to rule at all cost, politicians purchased weapons for the youths to kill their real or perceived enemies as well as chase them out of any desired stronghold.

Weapons also flowed in communities that were at each others’ jugular over land or oil royalties. There were also traditional rulers scrambling for leadership over chieftaincy matters who sought for solution in arming the youths. When the dust settled and seeming peace returned to the areas, the arms could not be retrieved from the bearers. So when the agitation in nearby Bayelsa State, propelled by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, took another dimension, the Rivers political thugs, village tyrants and local militia keyed into the demands and started singing the songs of development and emancipation.

Other reasons behind the difficulty in disarming the present day militants are the fact that a crucial percentage of them are stark illiterates or inadequately educated. It is also traceable to the fact that they do not possess the certificate or qualification to acquire the life they live now, having lived a life of luxury and wealth through the barrels of the gun. Their trepidation equally stems from the fact that they may be hunted by their past because of the magnitude of brigandage executed even in their own immediate communities. To this end, they have a morbid fear for the future.

Some of them have been ostracized by their kinsmen; therefore, they do not even have a home to return to. Also, there are those who may not have shelter in view of the destruction of the houses of known cultists or militants by fellow community dwellers. Sunday Vanguard learnt that some of the militants are fugitives who broke jail in Port Harcourt and found a veritable ground to shield themselves from the law, hence the need to continue to live by the barrels of the gun in the creeks and swamps.

President Umaru Yar'adua flanked by Vice President Goodluck Jonathan (l) and Mr. Victor Ebikabowei a.k.a. General Boiloaf when the President received the first batch of militants that accepted the Federal Government amnesty at a ceremony in Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida
President Umaru Yar'adua flanked by Vice President Goodluck Jonathan (l) and Mr. Victor Ebikabowei a.k.a. General Boiloaf when the President received the first batch of militants that accepted the Federal Government amnesty at a ceremony in Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida

But executive director, Grassroots Initiative for Peace and Democracy, an NGO, Akinaka Richard, said the planned demolition of the waterfronts by the state government “has instilled the fear of ethnic cleansing on the Ijaws of the state.

That is why some of the militants think that there is the need for them to be armed for self defense when the need arises.” He quoted a major militia leader, Soboma George, who has since surrendered, in this respect. Richard said the fundamental issues that led to the agitation had not been addressed by the Federal Government; therefore, dropping of weapons was ill-timed, As such, there was the need to extend the deadline for the amnesty.

“There is also this fear of insincerity on the side of government, particularly the refusal of government to make refunds for the arms turned in by the boys. These guns were purchased with the hard earned money of the militants and they think they should be compensated for the guns returned. Some of them have equally made the request for the JTF to be withdrawn from the various communities where they are deployed so that they would return the guns without the fear of being attacked.

They are also canvassing that the federal government should dialogue with the elders and youths leaders as a necessary base towards creating a road map to trash out the major areas of conflict in the region. Even the release of the white paper and implementation of the issues enumerated by the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta must be looked into before the government could be seen as being faithful and serious over the amnesty issue”, Richard said.

On his part, president, Niger Delta Non-Violent Movement, Onengiya Erekosima, was of the view that the statements credited to some members of the committee on amnesty were capable of infuriating the militants.

“Statements like ‘we are not begging anybody, after the 60 days we are waiting for orders and we will come from the land, air and sea and strike any community that we see any militant’, are very provocative. Erekosima reasoned that posture “does not show that you want something to be fruitful but shows that you are trying to hurry up the time so as to fight a particular group of people.”

According to him, the leader of the Niger Delta Vigilante, Ateke Tom, “is ready to bring out his guns, but there are some issues on ground that needed to be sorted out. This problem of carrying arms in Rivers State started with the politicians. But on the whole we must help the government and encourage the amnesty deal to be successful for the sake of the future of the youths, state and nation.”

Amnesty opportunity
However, to an extent, there has been some level of success in the surrendering of arms by the gunmen. Of particular interest is the Kula community in Akuku Toru Local Government, where militancy was not witnessed but the town on August 22, 2009 returned 42 rifles, 371 rounds of ammunition and 14 dynamites. The breakdown showed that the arsenal was made up of 14 AK47, one AK49, five general purpose machine guns, GPMG, 12 G3, one  rocket  propelled  grenade, RPG, six FN riffles, one smoke gun and one sub machine gun. While handing the guns to the State Security Service, SSS, in Port Harcourt, the elders, chiefs and youth leaders said the guns found their way into the community during an intra-communal strife.

They said there was no militancy per se in the area but a mere disagreement between sections of the community against the other caused them to carry arms against one another. So they used the amnesty opportunity to turn in the weapons. Another set of 65 militants harkened to the clarion call by government and returned their rifles.

Sunday Vanguard gathered that 18 of the gun bearers were members of a group led by Solomon Ndiagbara (a.k.a. Osama Bin Laden), while 47 others operated with Adekunle, which broke up from the Niger Delta Volunteer Force, captained by Wisdom Amachree, who jointly handed over 38 AK47 four FN and 10,000 rounds of ammunition. Meanwhile, the police command in the state said it stumbled on a cache of arms at Rumuji Community, Emohua council.

These include 26 AK47, eight other assorted riffles, 11 boxes of ammunition and another 9, 248 rounds of ammunition and three persons were picked up in connection with the discovery. Also, Ateke Tom, has indicated his willingness to disarm but under the condition that the JTF is withdrawn from his country home, Okrika, and the rebuilding of his house that was destroyed by the force when it attacked his Okochiri Forest domain.

Added to these are for the government to address the problems of the region and an assurance for his safety. But Rivers State government has insisted that the troops would not leave until all illegal arms are returned and Governor Rotimi Amaechi has assured Ateke that he could come out of the creeks and be a part of the state and go about as a freeman after he had opened his armoury for the JTF to scoop his arsenal. The waiting game continues.

Bayelsa: The politics of amnesty as militants arms pour in: Except for the pocket of disturbances penultimate week by former creek boys over non-payment of their allowances and the seeming cold war between Governor Timipre Sylva and the honorary special adviser to President Umaru Yar’Adua on Niger Delta, Timi Alaibe, over the disarmament programme in Bayelsa State, the amnesty programme could best be described as a success story given the large cache of arms so far turned in by the militant leaders and their associates  in the state. The initial fear in some quarters that the deal aimed at getting the war lords out of the mangrove creek might fail have turned out to be unfounded. Virtually all the known  camps in the state have turned in their arms.

On August 22, the Presidential Amnesty Implementation Committee, through the collaborative effort of the state government and its Peace and Conflict Resolution, succeeded in getting the 32 militant leaders who had earlier met with President Yar’Adua in Abuja to surrender their arms in Yenagoa.

It was a  feat as 520 arms,16 gunboats and a total of 95,970 rounds of ammunition, ranging from AK47 rifles to submachine guns, bombs, heavy duty Brandy guns, Lar rifles and a total of 95,970 rounds of ammunition were surrendered by Ebikabowei Ben Victor aka General Boyloaf, Commander Africa Ukparasia, Commander Joshua Macaiver and Ezizi Ogunbos known as Commander Ogunboss. Other militant leaders who have surrendered arms include Commander Toruma Ngogolo, the second in command to deceased Kitikata, General Karikoro from Southern Ijaw, Commander Emikor Bonny Don, and General Reuben Wilson popularly known as ‘pastor’ in the Koluama area of Southern Ijaw axis on the Atlantic fringe.

Boyloaf, Asari and Okah
Boyloaf, Asari and Okah

Three notable cult groups in the state made up of the Icelanders, the one-man Agbalakoko and the Highlanders have also submitted a number of weapons including AK 47 and others. Just two weeks after many had thought the state had been rid of these destructive weapons, Alaibe went a step further to get the leader of the south wing of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Kile Selky Torughedi, alias Commander Young Shall Grow, to surrender his arms. Commander Young Shall Grow was the only remaining recognized militant leader in the state who refused to participate in the August 22 arms surrendering exercise that took place in the capital city.

The Azuzuama base of Young Shall Grow alone surrendered 100 assorted arms ranging from the much sought after AK 47, 100,000 rounds of ammunition, and three gunboats. So far, over 650 arms and 200,000 rounds of ammunition have been mopped up from the creeks of Bayelsa State thereby restoring the confidence of not only Bayelsans and the rest of the country but also the international community that the state is gradually turning out to be the oasis of peace in the troubled region.

However, this remarkable arms haul which, to a large extent should have been a source of joy to the people, has  further deepened the seeming cold war between Sylva and Alaibe. Though relations between the two and their supporters have been frosty for some time, the recent pocket of protests by the ex-militants over unpaid allowances provided an opportunity for the loyalists of the Bayelsa governor to  heap the blame on the door step of the presidential aide.

The argument of Sylva’s supporters was that the latter came into the state to collect arms without following due process of informing the authorities on ground and also making provision for the proper documentation of the former  militants. According to them, courtesy demands that the honorary special adviser to the president on Niger Delta should have notified the governor who is the chief security officer of  the state before his surprised visits to Akassa and Azuzuama so that the former  militants could be properly documented.

Military intelligence
Briefing newsmen in Yenagoa, the secretary to the state government, Hon Gideon Ekeuwei, accused Alaibe of not informing the state government of his mission in the community and described his action as a slight on the government. “The government has no record of such arms and we are surprised to learn that the arms collected by Alaibe were taken to Elele in Rivers State…It is only in Bayelsa that the issue of amnesty is being politicized… On Saturday a politician (Alaibe) went to Azuzuama to collect arms without the knowledge of the police, the SSS and the military intelligence and the state government,” he said.

President Umaru Yar’Adua signing the amnesty package terms at the Presidential Villa in Abuja. With him, from right is Minister of Justice, Chief Michael Aondoakaa; Minister of Interior and Chairman, Federal Government Panel on Amnesty, Maj-Gen. Godwin Abbe (rtd); Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshall Paul Dike and  former Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mike Okiro.
President Umaru Yar’Adua signing the amnesty package terms at the Presidential Villa in Abuja. With him, from right is Minister of Justice, Chief Michael Aondoakaa; Minister of Interior and Chairman, Federal Government Panel on Amnesty, Maj-Gen. Godwin Abbe (rtd); Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshall Paul Dike and former Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mike Okiro.

The state government scribe added that the amnesty is being politicized in the state and being used to flex muscle ahead of the 2011 elections in the state. This argument was, however, dismissed by those in support of Alaibe, the former managing director of the NDDC, stressing that the governor should be more concerned  with governance and how to deliver  dividends of democracy to the people, citing other states where the governors have maintained silence on who collects arms from repentant militants. The altercation notwithstanding, the disarmament exercise received a boost last week when a delegation of the Niger Delta Ministry visited the state with the delivery of biometric forms to the former militants for them to indicate the type of skill training they intend to acquire.

Dr Samson Onwumere, who led the delegation from the Niger Delta Ministry, said the training for the repentant militants would include oil and gas, information and communication technology (ICT), maritime industry, artisanship such as electrical and electronic maintenance engineering. Others he said include agriculture, tourism, carpentry, joinery building and construction.

According to him, the training would last for a period of six months while those in the oil and gas will be more than that period, stressing that if they acquire the skills they will be self sufficient for the rest of their lives. The state coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Implement Committee, Rev Obegha Julius Oworibo, was, penultimate week, in Ghana with a view to securing assistance of experts to train the repentant militants in various vocations.

The committee had also gotten some medical doctors from the Ministry of Health and some councillors to work on the psyche of the former militants  to help them to reintegrate into civil life just as the issue of unpaid allowances which triggered the recent protest in the capital city has been settled. Also the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria Bayelsa chapter has indicated interest in setting up a committee known as PFN Amnesty Regeneration and Re-integration Committee to play spiritual role in the successful implementation of the programme.

Delta: Disarmament on course: Midway or so into the Federal Government amnesty deal for militants in the Niger-Delta, the programme is yet to take a flying start in Delta State, which, before the declaration of amnesty by President Umaru Yar’Adua in August, was ahead of the other states in the region in the peace process. That is not to say the programme is not on course in the state, which, incidentally,  is the home base of the coordinator of the Disarmament Sub-Committee of the Presidential Committee on Amnesty, Air Vice Marshal Lucky Aralile. A lot of things contributed to the unhurried embracement.

PARADE:  Col. Rabe Abubakar, JTF spokesman (right) parades Messrs Omole Sedimigho and Reuben Gbotonye, members of MEND after arrest at Forcados, along with huge quantity of dynamites. Photo by Akpokona Omafuaire.
Old foes: Col. Rabe Abubakar, JTF spokesman (right) parades Messrs Omole Sedimigho and Reuben Gbotonye, members of MEND after arrest at Forcados, along with huge quantity of dynamites. Photo by Akpokona Omafuaire.

First was the May 13 clash between militants and the Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger-Delta, which led to a military operation in Gbaramatu kingdom, Warri South-West Local Government Area of the state following the brutal murder of some personnel of the task force. Though  the ill-fated episode and the cordon and search operation that was  declared afterwards preceded the proclamation of amnesty, both contributed fundamentally to the sluggish acceptance in the state.

As if to break the jinx of almost one and a  half months of no action in the state, some repentant militants in the state, only on Thursday, four days ago, surrendered two general purpose machine guns (GPMGs), 23 AK-47 rifles, 14 G3 rifles, nine pump action guns, including seven single barrel and two double barrels, four FN  rifles, and one submachine gun at Obotobo 1 community in Delta State.

The militants, who were about 300, surrendered their weapons at a disarmament exercise supervised by Ararile, the presidential adviser on Niger Delta, Alaibe, and the state  commissioner for justice and attorney general, Chief Dafe Akpedeye (SAN), who is a member of the Amnesty Committee.

Unlike in Bayelsa State where former commander of  MEND, General Boyloaf, led a large number of militants to massively surrender, last month in Yenagoa, the big-time militants in Delta State have not come out openly to surrender arms. Though  the leader of Deadly Underdogs, Ezekiel, and erstwhile second-in-command to Boyloaf, John Togo, who is from the State were among the militant leaders that visited Aso Villa and formally renounced militancy, they are not known to have surrendered their arms at the time of this report, but the process is afoot.

‘General’ Bonny Gawei, Francis Muturu (Commander Aboyi) and Enabene Young led the militants that surrendered to the presidential  adviser on Niger Delta at the Obotobo show. Besides the aforementioned arms, a  pistol, local double barrel gun, two dane guns, 12 charges of dynamite explosives, 74 various magazines, about 100 shotgun cartridges and thousands of AK-47 ammo among others were also surrendered. Investigations by Sunday Vanguard showed, nonetheless, that some few others had turned in arms at the arms collection centre at the Federal Government College in Warri, but last Thursday event was the first major break-through, as inconsequential as the concerned former  militant leaders are  in the militant globe in the state.

A close look at the situation would reveal that the major reason for dawdling the approach in the state is the inability of the Presidential Committee on Amnesty to hook up with the right persons that would connect them with the militant leaders. Until last Sunday when Ararile met with the generalissimo in the state, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, it was clear that the committee had not made any contact with him before then.

Some aides of Tompolo confirmed to Sunday Vanguard before the meeting that the committee had not made any contact with Tompolo before that time and that it was only after the meeting, attended by the minister of  defence, Major General Godwin Abbe (rtd.), Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, former minister of works, Chief Tony Anenih and that the process was actually jump-started. Even then, Tompolo had asked that the October 4 deadline by the Federal Government be extended if the programme was to make any meaningful impact in the state.

The decision of some of the militants to surrender their arms through Alaibe put him on collision course, early in the day, with the governor of his home state, Bayelsa, Chief Timipre Sylva. To be candid, Alaibe was in serious discussion with ‘General Boyloaf’  to surrender arms before Boyloaf changed his mind for undisclosed reasons to move along with  Sylva.

Alaibe was not quite happy because he had done some homework in that regard and wanted to be recognized as the man that pulled the string. Muzzled out of the Bayelsa affair by  Sylva, a development many believed was not unconnected with the race for Bayelsa Government House by the duo, Alaibe shifted his attention to Delta  State.

He held several meetings with a number of them, including Tompolo shortly before he, Abbe, Uduaghan, Anenih and Ararile met the generalissimo on September 13 at Oporoza. Talks were on before then that Tompolo was to surrender his arms through Alaibe, but, later, it filtered to Governor Emmanuel  Uduaghan that some steps were being taken to undermine his authority. It was not immediately known how the governor, who is practically a veteran on matters that have to do with militants and the creeks, took the matter, but  it was obvious that Alaibe’s trouble-shooting negotiation was taken with a pinch of salt.

The Presidency also appeared to have noted that there was something off beam in the way the disarmament process in Delta State was being pursued with the governor being craftily circumvented, and it directed that those briefing it to the contrary should stop concealing their plans from him, as they could not achieve much without his support.

The governor, however, wanted a holistic exercise in the state and was also discussing with Tompolo, unknown to many, on phone on how to key into the amnesty programme. He had met with some of his lieutenants in Warri to seal up the move when the Presidency sensed there was heavy politics and directed a harmonization of efforts. With Tompolo now on board in the amnesty deal, the disarmament programme is on course in the state, but, more time is needed for proper consultation and debriefing to make it a success in the state.

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