By Emma Amaize, George Onah, Emmanuel Aziken, Henry Umoru & Laide Akinboade
WARRI â€” As the three-month unilateral ceasefire declared by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND) expires today, its leader, Henry Okah, as well as Senators and other stakeholders have urged the group to extend the ceasefire just as Ijaw leader, Chief E.K. Clarke declared that the amnesty granted the militants by the Federal Government is failing.
The Federal Government, on its part, has denied the plan by the United States Government to assist the country wipe out militants from the Niger Delta in order to protect American investments in the region.
Spokesman of the militant group, Jomo Gbomo in an exclusive online interview with Vanguard, yesterday, confirmed, that â€œHenry Okah is among those who have asked us to extend the ceasefire and we are considering all the options we haveâ€.
He, however, pointed out, â€œNothing is certain until the expiration of the ceasefire. Anything is possibleâ€.
Commenting on the meeting Sunday with leader of Camp 5, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, by the Minister of Defence, Major-General Godwin Abbe (rtd), Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta state, former chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, Chief Tony Anenih and others, he said, â€œIf the men from Abuja are meeting Tompolo to give a time frame for discussions on the root issues, that is understandable, but if they are there to threaten him to disarm, accept amnesty and be a â€˜good boyâ€™ then that is not going to be acceptable to him, I believeâ€.
On the severance of talks with the Special Adviser to the President on the Niger-Delta, Mr. Timi Alaibe, he said, â€œthere is nothing to discuss about until government is ready to discuss the root issues that started the unrest in the first placeâ€.
The militant group, nonetheless, ruled out the possibility of disarmament by its fighters when the issues that led to the Niger-Delta agitation have not been addressed, asking, â€œhow does it sound asking Nigeria to disarm its armed forces?
We will not disarm when there are issues that have not been discussed and resolved and there is an enemy that is armed on the other side.
â€œThere is a military that is currently buying helicopters and war boats to suppress the region and we are the force to make sure that the region is not bullied againâ€, he added.
Senators, SSEPU want MEND to extend ceasefire
Senators and the South-South Elements Progressive Union (SSEPU) however appealed to the MEND to sustain its ceasefire beyond its scheduled expiration today.
The Senate Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN) was joined by Senators Heineken Lokpobiri, Nimi Barigha-Amange and SSEPU in appealing to MEND which declared a ceasefire in its activities last July shortly after its leader, Henry Okah, was released from Federal Government custody.
Appealing to the movement to sustain the ceasefire, Senator Barigha-Amange said: â€œWe are appealing for a rethink. Armed struggle should give way to dialogue. There is time for everything under the earth, so says King Solomon in his third book of Ecclesiastes.â€™â€™
Senator Ndoma-Egba in his appeal said: â€œMEND should give peace a chance and government the benefit of doubt. The situation in the Niger Delta does not have a single prescription but a cocktail of properly timed measures in the right mix and appropriate condition of peace.â€
SSEPU on its part in a statement issued by its national chairman, Mr. Joseph Ambakaderimo appealed thus: â€œMEND, should respect the amnesty and at least wait to see if the measures put in place by the government will bring about the much needed development of the Niger Delta.
â€œLet MEND for once take the President serious on its word. As far as I am concerned, President Umaru Yarâ€™ Adua has not shown any cause for us to doubt him, therefore, MEND and all of us in the Niger Delta should ensure that the amnesty works and look forward to the post-amnesty period.
â€œWe just have to give the president all the support he needs for this phase of the amnesty to succeed and move on to the next stage of the process of bringing about developing the area.â€™â€™
Meanwhile leader of the Niger Delta Vigilante/Patriotic Front Mr.Ateke Tom has told the Minister of Defence, General Godwin Abbe, that he was in the mood to open up his armoury for the handover of his arsenal but that he would become homeless if he left the swamps.
Ateke who met with Abbe and Special Adviser on Niger Delta Matters, Mr. Timi Alaibe, with others who were in his camp, last weekend, said he lost his home to the onslaught of the Joint Task Force when the military bombarded and chased everyone out of Okochiri Forest about two years ago.
Disclosing the outcome of the meeting to Vanguard in Port Harcourt, youth leader and Executive Director, Grassroots Initiative for peace and Democracy, Akinaka Richard, who was in the delegation said â€œAteke Tomâ€™s major problem would be where to lay his head when he returnsâ€.
According to him, the vigilante leader drew attention to the fact that it was he who set the agenda for peace in the region, through his lawyer, before the federal government thought of granting amnesty to gun bearers in the Niger Delta.
Ateke asked the team to recall the reason for the agitation in the region, chief among which is the massive underdevelopment of the Niger Delta even as it accounts for a crucial percentage of the nationâ€™s revenue and survival.
He also pleaded for the release of the white paper of the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta, stating that it was a key factor in the demands of the foot soldiers of the regionâ€™s agitators as the report dwells extensively on the development of the region.
In addition, the warlord wants the central government to introduce a deliberate policy which would give adequate participation to oil-bearing communities in the scheme of things as they relate to their well-being and survival.
However, the Rivers State Government had insisted that it was conditional for all militants to turn in their weapons before the JTF would be re-deployed from their current positions in the state.
Also, Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi recently assured Ateke of his safety if he turned a new leaf, explaining that Atekeâ€™s fear for his life lacked substance because he (Amaechi) considered the militant as a friend and fellow Rivers man
Amnesty failing, Clarke warns
On his part, Ijaw leader, Chief E.K. Clark warned the Federal government that because of the lack of sincerity and commitment which presently pervades the amnesty package, the entire exercise was capable of failing.
According to him, the Amnesty Committee that the government put in place â€œhas been parading itself as a supervisory authority over a conquered people, dishing out military orders without any focusâ€, in spite of his call for a post-amnesty programme, dialogue with elders and leadership of the militants.
The elder statesman in a statement directed at the militants who were yet to embrace the amnesty and made available to Journalists, noted that the Amnesty Committee charged with the supervisory role of ensuring that the militants surrender their ammunition to the government has been behaving like a conquering army over the people.
He appealed to the federal government to consider the recommendation made by South-South Eldersâ€™ Forum at the Uyo meeting for the sake of peace in the region.
â€œFor instance, when the Elders and Leaders of the South South (Niger Delta) met in Uyo in Akwa Ibom state, on August 3, 2009 at the Le Meridien Hotel, which was attended by 70 elders and leaders including 4 former Governors, 10 former Senators, 6 former Ministers, former Federal legislators, former Commissioners, Professors, Ambassadors, Religious leaders and Businessmen and women, recommendations were made to the Federal government for the successful implementation of the Amnesty programme.
These include dialogue with the people; withdrawal of JTF from Gbaramatu; release and the implementation of the 45-Man Technical Committeeâ€™s recommendation.Â Is it not surprising that the Federal Government and the Amnesty Committee in particular has made no efforts to reach out to the leaders?â€
Clark noted that there has been relative peace in the region leading to increase in oil revenue since the leadership of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) commenced the implementation of a 60-day truce following the release of their leader, Henry Okah.
â€œWhile we accept the Federal Governmentâ€™s declaration of amnesty, we noticed with sadness and disappointment that the programme and its implementation have not clearly exhibited the sincerity and commitment of government to bring the desired peace to the Niger Delta,â€ the statement said.
Chief Clark who stressed that the Committee has made progress in Rivers and Bayelsa States, however noted that nothing much has been done in Delta State â€œwhere the arms conflict witnessed the highest casualty including the total destruction of communities like Okerenkoko, Kuruntie, Oporoza, Benekrukru, etc.
â€œIt is obvious that the Amnesty Committee was not adequately prepared thereby leading to some protests by the militants.â€
The elder statesman who reiterated his call for the withdrawal of soldiers from Gbararamatu kingdom in order to allow militants surrender, said, â€œtherefore, how do you expect militants including its leadership who until yesterday were being hunted by the military to have the courage to come out to surrender their arms faced with the Joint Task Force (JTF) still occupying the area?â€.
FG denies US aid on Niger Delta crisis
The Federal Government has, on its part, dismissed the rumour that the United States has promised to assist Nigeria to fight the militants in the Niger Delta.
Minister of Information and Communication, Prof. Dora Akunyili, in a statement yesterday said there is no truth in the report that the US wants to assist Nigeria to wipe out militants from the Niger Delta in order to protect American investments in the region.
She noted that the Federal Government is not pleased with the rumour and therefore assured Nigerians that the President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua government will not combine forces with any country in order to spill the blood of its citizens.
According to the statement, â€œDuring the recent visit of the United Stateâ€™s Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton to Nigeria, she promised, among other things, the willingness of American government to assist Nigeria in resolving the Niger Delta crisis.
â€œSince that pronouncement, some people and groups have misconstrued her statement to mean that American government intends to assist the Federal government to wipe out the Niger Delta militants so as to protect American investments in Nigeria, especially Chevron Oil Company.â€
She noted that the Federal Government is saddened by the development and views it as an attempt by people to truncate the implementation of the amnesty initiative that has so far recorded a huge success.
The minister stressed that â€œthe statement credited to Hillary Clinton is straight forward and should not be given any negative interpretation.
The American government always means well for Nigerians, and they have been in the forefront in the fight for Human Rights and Justice all over the world. They cannot therefore ignore the crisis in Nigeria, and will never think of wiping out Niger Deltans, just to protect the investment of one company in Nigeria.â€
Speaking on behalf of the Federal Government, she assured the Niger Delta people that President Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s government does not intend to and will never conspire with any government to spill the blood of her own people.â€
She stressed that amnesty programme is an initiative by the Federal government to peacefully resolve the crisis in Niger Delta once and for all so the government will not collude with any nation to resolve its internal crisis.