ByÂ Simon Ebegbulem
BENINâ€”OVER 450 ex-militants in Edo State went on rampage yesterday in Benin City over what they described as the Federal Governmentâ€™s alleged refusal to absorb and rehabilitate them and pay their allowances.
The militants, who sang Ijaw war songs, blocked the exit gates of Government House and vowed to disrupt activities in the area unless Governor Adams Oshiomhole came out to address their problems.
But the governor, who was atÂ the State Executive Council (SEC) meeting when the militants stormed his office, rushed out of the meeting to address the ex-militants to calm frayed nerves.
The protest, which commenced at Ugbowo area, crippled economic activities in the entire Benin City, as banks and shops locked up, fearing that the fierce-looking protesters would attack them.
The protest was, however, peaceful and well organized as the ex-militants trekked from Ugbowo, where their camp is located, to Government House.
Over one thousand combat-ready armed mobile policemen followed the ex-militants, but the ex-militants vowed to disarm the policemen if they tried to disrupt the peaceful protest.
They complained that the leader of the militants in the state, Egbema 1, informed President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua when he visited the president that the state had seven militant camps with 450 freedom fighters in them and that the president agreed that all of them would be rehabilitated.
They wondered why the amnesty coordinator now insisted that only 250 of them would be rehabilitated, contrary to the earlier agreement their leader had with President Yarâ€™Adua.
One of the leader of the Niger Delta Freedom Fighters (NDFF), Olodiama chapter,Â Robert Okubor, told newsmen that â€œwe decided to protest because we want to come and report our grievances to the governor.
â€œWhen the president was making the broadcast, he did not mention any number that will be rehabilitated, he said all freedom fighters. When Egbema 1 went to Abuja, he told the president we have 450 freedom fighters in Edo State.
â€œBut the coordinator told us that the federal government said it is only 250 they are going to rehabilitate, but what happens to the remaining 200.Â If these 200 are allowed to go back to the creeks, it means the amnesty has failed and we do not want it to fail.
â€œThat is why we said that we will not accept the 250, all of us must be rehabilitated or else they should forget it. We do not want to cause trouble any more. Every body here has been trained on how to handle guns, so if you allow them go back to the creeks it will be bloodier for the entire state.â€
Jackson Ikunbor, who represented Egbema 1, saidÂ â€œas far are these boys are brought from the creeks, they should be rehabilitated. If you say you are not absorbing every body, do you know what the remaining 200 are going to do?
â€œThey will go back to the creeks and recruit more people. If this amnesty must succeed, it must be handled holistically. We have decided we do not want to handle arms again, but people should not force us into it.
â€œWe have not even eaten since yesterday because they have not paid our allowance. We are just confused nowâ€.
However, Governor Oshiomhole, who rushed out of the Exco meeting to address the protesters, said he was already aware of their problems.
He said:Â â€œ I have contacted the Minister of Defense and we have resolved that all the 450 will be rehabilitated. But I want to appeal to you to assist the state government to develop the state because no contractor will agree to come to your area if they are not safe.
â€œWe will build schools, rehabilitate the health centers and build roads where necessary. But I want to also appeal that you help us stop this problem of kidnapping in the state. Help us fish out the perpetrators because some times they hide in the communities.
â€œWe will accommodate some of you in board appointments so that we all can help to develop our state.â€