By Emma Amaize
WARRIâ€”IJAW youth leaders in the Niger-Delta, under the auspices of the Ijaw Youths Leadership Forum (IYLF) , weekend, said militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, was fighting the cause of Ijaw people and ruled out the possibility of his surrenderingÂ arms when the federal government has not commenced feasible development of the coastal communities.
Leader of the forum, of which Tompolo is an active member, Mr. T.K Ogoriba, who was flanked by other youth leaders, told newsmen after a meeting of the IYLF at Effurun, Delta state, that surrendering of arms was an issue.
â€œSurrendering is not an issue here. What you have to know is that Tompolo is doing what he is doing for his people.
What are the issues bothering the people that have brought about non-development of the region?
â€œEverybody knows the issues that are bothering the people of the Niger Delta and everybody wants development.
â€œBecause amnesty is what they are talking about, that brought about the issue of Tompolo but you canâ€™t talk about him without the issue of May 13, everybody knows, and it is now history. But how can we forget about it like that?
â€œGovernment feels that if Tompolo surrenders his arms, every other militant would surrender his arms. The point we want to hammer on is that before any other thing they should start developing our area.
â€œWhat we are trying to say here now is that the way they are going about all this is to cow us down and it is a further perpetration of oppression, enough of that”.
So long as there is peace and development in our area, nobody needs to carry arms. So we donâ€™t have to welcome disarmament.
â€œWhat we want is to dialogue with the people that are oppressed and address the issue that made them start to carry arm, everybody knows about it.
â€œAnd if you are disarming the people of the Niger Delta, it is not only the Ijaws that are the people carrying arms; the Itsekiris are there, Urhobos, Ilaje and others are there, all carrying arms, even in the North,Â we saw the Boko Haram, MASSOB are carrying.
â€œAfter the civil war till today, there was no disarmament, so why are you so particular about the Ijaws or do you have an agenda to continue to suppress the Ijaws in perpetuity?
â€œWe want to send a word across to the federal government that we stand strong and very strongly behind the young man called Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, and the open letter he wrote to the President must be considered very strongly.
â€œWithout dialoguing before disarmament and amnesty, it will not go anywhere. Since everybody is talking about peace, development must have to start at the appropriate course of the peace and that is the essence of what we are talking about.â€
Corroborating Ogoriba, Niger-Delta activist, Annkio Briggs said:Â Â â€œWe are saying donâ€™t call Tompolo or anybody else to come out for amnesty when the issues that led to the carrying of arms have not been addressed.
â€œNone of those things have been addressed. For instance, we are hearing that the NNPC under the authority of the federal government has been instructed to build three gas stations in Katsina; where are the gas going to come from when there is no one gas station in the entire Niger Delta state?
â€œYou can see the perpetration of injustice. While the federal government is saying it is looking for a way out of the Niger Delta crisis, no matter what you are doing, it does not show that you are sincere.
â€œAfter five weeks, we are saying that we are not convinced about the issue of the amnesty; it is not in the favour of the Ijaw people because it is only the Ijaw people that are being asked to surrender their arms.
â€œOPC, Ibos, many people have carried arms in the country, they have not dropped their arms, why are we talking about the Ijaws?
â€œI am not saying that the Ijaws should go on running around with arms; we are saying that they have criminalized the Ijaws for their struggle for survival. We are not happy about the process of the amnesty and ending it in October is not acceptable to us (Ijaw).
â€œNobody is going to advise Tompolo to do anything other than what he wants to do. There must be dialogue. One of the things we requested during the peace process was that the President should visit the Niger Delta.
â€œIt is not going to Bayelsa State to commission project, go to the creeks and see what the people are going through. We will take you to Oloibiri and show you what we have suffered so that you can have gas going to Katsina.â€