*Ateke Tom’s men leave creeks for Port Harcourt
*Tompolo scheduled to meet Yar’Adua
Don’t rejoice yet, MEND tells FG
By Emma Amaize, George Onah and agency reports
THE zero hour is here : The deadlineÂ given militants on June 26, 2009, by President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua to lay down their arms and be granted amnesty.
As the clock ticks closer to the deadline, militants are moving in droves out of the creeks that have served as their hideouts for years to surrender their weapons and embrace peace.
From Yenagoa, to Dutch Island in Rivers State, the situation is the same, although Government Ekpemupolo alias Tompolo, who was scheduled to surrender yesterday decided toÂ move it forward by 24 hours.
While the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) told the Federal Government not to rejoice yet, one of its former commanders, Victor Ben, better known as General Boyloaf said MEND was dead and should be disregarded.
Militant fighters loyal to Ateke Tom began emerging from the creeks yesterday to surrender their weapons and accept amnesty. Dozens of speedboats full of fighters carrying machine guns and rocket launchers travelled from Dutch Island, a camp in the mangrove creeks of the Niger Delta and home to militant leader Ateke Tom, to the oil hub of Port Harcourt. Tom, accepted a presidential pardon on Thursday.
â€œWhen I saw (Yarâ€™Adua), I trust him very well,â€ Tom told reporters in his camp, some 40 minutes by speedboat from Port Harcourt, before setting off for a disarmament ceremony. â€œI am going to disarm every (one) of my boys,â€ he said.
The godfather: Outside his single-storey home in the middle of the camp, his fighters chanted as they gathered up weapons, dressed in red berets and white T-shirts bearing his image above the words: â€œAteke Tom aka godfather.â€
Residents of Waterfront, one of the areas of Port Harcourt worst affected by fighting, cheered as the militants arrived. Tomâ€™s fighters laid out heavy machine guns, automatic rifles, pump-action shotguns, mortars, grenades and ammunition at â€œTourist Beachâ€, a dilapidated mini-resort whose name harks back to the days before the Niger Delta became synonymous with violence.
Fellow militant leader Farah Dagogo was said to be handing over simultaneously at a different place in Rivers State. â€œThe two are doing it simultaneously.
At the same time, Farah is at the State Security Service headquarters in Port Harcourt disarming,â€ said Blessing Nwikina, spokesman for Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi.
Movement from camp: Before Ateke left his Camp Four at the Dutch Island, a convoy of over 20 boats sailed from Port Harcourt , led by his lawyer Mr. Uche Onyeagucha and Executive Director for Peace and Democracy Akinaka Richard to escort him and his arsenal to the city.
At the camp before he finally departed, he held a press briefing where he said he trusted President Yarâ€™Adua â€œfrom the way he spoke and I have no doubt in my mind that he should be trusted.â€
He, however, said that he would be ready to return to the trenches if the government reneged on its promises, stating, â€œI must defend my people at all times and be ready to die for them any day.â€
Ateke said he would surrender every weapon in his possession because if anyone is seen with arms after the deadline of the amnesty â€œthe person don fall law be that, and me I no go fit defend amâ€. He said he would return to Okrika, his homeland and contribute to the development of his people and area, stating that he would not go into politics â€œbecause politicians no be better people dem too lie.â€
As soon as the briefing was over he picked up his pistol and charged up his armed followers with hair raising songs with choruses, which resonated within and around the heavily forested creek, causing the boys to release volleys of bullets to the air, apparently for the last time.
Arrival in Port Harcourt: As the convoy hit the city at the Marine Base, scores of supporters, including women and children, clad in â€˜Tâ€™ shirts with his photograph inscribed on them cheered him with songs rendered in Okrika dialect, depicting him as a their hero.
Ateke and his heavily armed boys walked from Marine Base, through Free Town Street, crossing the ever busy Aggrey Road , into other minor streets and chanted songs along Creek Road with a crowd of supporters, causing a heavy traffic build up in the area.
He later arrived the Tourist Beach , situated across Churchill Road , where he handed over his weaponry. Before then he told the cheering crowd, including some traditional rulers that the issue of the demolition of the waterfronts was thorny and expressed the hope that the government would carry out the demolition with human face.
Calling on all other militant leaders as well as his supporters wherever they were to drop their arms, he said the Federal Government should be given the opportunity to address the Niger Delta problems in a peaceful atmosphere.
Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi: The governor said â€œpeace is a Â Â Â process not an eventâ€and that it was the collective efforts of the entire people that would bring peace, praising Ateke and his boys for heeding the clarion call of government. To this end, he said problems of the state amongst the people of the state should be discussed rather than resorting to arms struggle, pointing out that development does not take place in a troubled environment.
Minister of defence: Gen. Godwin Abbe on his part said â€œGod loves Nigeria and that is why we are still one after seeing this cache of arms that is being carried in the regionâ€, telling be people to be appreciative of Godâ€™s love for Nigeria.
Abbe said the President had studied all the reports about the region from the Wilkin in 1950s to that of the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta and that the leaders of the region â€œhave mapped out plans to meet with the president soon.â€ Abbe said it was only peace that could elicit development at the local, state and national level, pointing out that the nation could only get peace if Nigerians worked for it and that people do not work for peace with guns flying all over the place.
The minister told the youths not to listen to anyone asking them to take up arms, saying â€œtell such a person to bring his child to be at the front because most of the leaders would hide their children abroad to eat egg and salad while they send children of the poor to die.â€ He then warned that the amnesty expires at midnight, today, and that anyone or group which fails to surrender before the deadline would have taken arms against the sovereignty of the nation.
Amnesty: Tompolo meets Yarâ€™Adua: Meanwhile, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, yesterday, postponed his formal acceptance of amnesty and turn-in of weapons by another 24 hours to enable him meet face-to-face with President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua in Abuja to iron out theÂ fears of a large section ofÂ Niger-Delta militants concerning the amnesty programme, which expires today.
But the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND) in an electronic mail response to an inquiry by Sunday Vanguard warned the Federal Government not to rejoice, as the true test of whether the amnesty is real or otherwise, would be known by October 1, 2010.
However, its erstwhile, commander, Victor Ben, alias General Boyloaf dismissed MEND which he said was frustrated because all its leaders had abandoned it. He welcomed the decision of Tompolo and Ateke Tom to accept amnesty, pointing out that postponing todayâ€™s amnesty deadline was like postponing the development of the region.
Tompolo is expected to surrender his arms today on his return to Delta State after his meeting with theÂ president. A reception has already been planned for him by his Ijaw kinsmen at Osubi Airport, Osubi, near Warri to celebrate his courage and dexterity.
A close source to the militant leader said the parley between him and President Yarâ€™Adua was scheduled for yesterday night, adding, â€œWe are all waiting to hear the outcome of the meeting.â€
The meeting, which was facilitated by the chairman of the Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament of Militants as well as the Minister of Defence, Major-General Godwin Abbe (rtd), some weeks ago, was to enable Tompolo to personally tell Mr. President the things that would be done to make the amnesty a reality.
According to one of the top commanders of Tompoloâ€™s group who spoke to Sunday Vanguard yesterday, â€œThe major concern in the Federal Government post-amnesty programme, which we believe is not tangible.
In the meantime, however, Tompolo has ordered his men in the entire region to disarm.
As I am speaking to you now at about 4.30 pm, everybody is disarming because the GOC has given a directive to that effect. Even Farah Dagogo is disarming in Rivers State as I speak to you now. â€ One of the militants under Tompoloâ€™s command in Gbaramatu kingdom of Delta State confirmed to Sunday Vanguard, â€œWe are alreadyÂ gathering the weapons together, the GOC has given order that we should do so.
He is right now in Abuja to meet with Mr. President, we donâ€™t know the outcome yet but we are waiting to hear from him.â€ He said, nevertheless, that most of the boys were not too eager to bring out the weapons because â€œthey have not been briefed on what will come to them after the return of the arms.
Tompolo is not going to give us anything if we return the arms to him, so there is confusion right now on whether we will return the arms, so, he should sort the matter out well with Mr. Presidentâ€.
The encounter between Sunday Vanguard and MEND spokesman, Jomo Gbomo went thus:
Ateke Tom has surrendered, Boyloaf had earlier done that, and virtually all the big-time militant leaders have surrendered too,Â and Tompolo is following suit. What is MEND’s last minute comment on the October 4 deadline for acceptance of amnesty and surrender of arms,Â which is Sunday, any adjustment in its position and what next after October 4?
The amnesty remains a blessing in disguise. The big names you mentioned will step aside and replacements that are not known have taken over. MEND encouraged all commanders whose identities have become compromised to accept the offer, step aside and move on.
They have done well for the struggle and have played their part. A new phase of the struggle requires hi-tech weaponry to match what government is buying, and a few mobile men to continue the fight.
After our ceasefire extension elapses, we will announce what our next line of action will be.
What specifically is MEND’s mandate to its Aaron team?Â What is the team expected to do or not do with the Federal Government on behalf of MEND and if the team in its wisdom decides that MEND fighters should accept amnesty and surrender arms, as demanded by the Federal Government, will the group yield ground?
The Aaron Team will be dealing with the root issues that started the unrest in the first place because as long as the root issues are not addressed, the unrest will linger. Theyâ€™re men of integrity who will not compromise nor will they be intimidated.
The government is in dillema like a man with a boil in his anus. By the time the boil gets larger, he will have to deal with it. When the situation deteriorates, the government will be the one looking for the Aaron team.
Since Henry Okah has accepted amnesty, is it right to say that MEND has accepted amnesty too, but, it’s not willing to surrender arms because the conditions are not yet right for it?
Henry Okah and any other person who has accepted amnesty has done so as individuals and not on behalf of the group. Individuals will accept it for various reasons and some have done it to protect their families because their identities have been exposed. The group has encouraged anyone willing to take advantage of the positive side of the program as it affects them and leave behind the negative aspects, which falls in the majority.
If JTF comes after MEND fighters after October 4 for refusing to surrender arms, don’t you think Nigerians will support the army because you people refused to utilize the olive branch extended to you?
If the military comes after us they will be fighting a lost battle which will expose the weakness of our military. As long as the government fails to address the root issues we will not surrender our arms and of course as in any fight there will be two sides of supporters.
Has your Aaron team been able to establish contact with President Umaru Yar’Adua since it finally came on board?
We are not aware. The government does not seem to show as much enthusiasm to receive them because it would rather sweep the issues under the carpet and to their thinking, the surrender of commanders is attractive since they believe it will guarantee the flow of oil but we will have to wait and see come October 1, 2010 will be like as that date when we will know if today’s amnesty has been a failure or a success.
MEND is dead – Boyloaf
Boyloaf said there was nothing like MEND anymore with the decision of Tompolo, Ateke Tom and Farah Dagogo to surrender arms.
His words, â€œWho is MEND, how can people who donâ€™t know how we formed the organization be saying that they are MEND. Those who formed MEND have left MEND, so there is nothing like MEND any more.
They are mere propagandists, they should disarm by surrendering their lap top and email password because that chapter is overâ€.
â€œIf Tompolo has accepted amnesty, which other person are they saying is remaining in MEND, there is no other person, I can tell you this authoritatively because I was a key player before now.
I think Tompolo and others have seen the true situation, that itâ€™s wrong for some people to play with the intelligence of the Niger-Delta people and that the best thing is for us to accept amnesty and give the Federal Government chance to develop the region because postponing the acceptance of amnesty is like postponing the development of the regionâ€, he said.
The die is cast – Asariâ€™s group
The NDPVF cum People Salvation Front (PSF) led by Dokubo-Asari in a statement yesterday on todayâ€™s amnesty deadline, said, â€œThe die is cast and now a new phase of the struggle begins… the struggle continues.
With the Nigerian state putsch and behemoth Amnesty Implementation and DisarmamentÂ Programme (AIDP) gravitating obstreperouslyÂ and grotesquely toÂ a fullÂ circus halt and the Nigerian occupation force combat salaciously ready to unleash gargantuan mayhem and monumental desolation on us all, we at the People Salvation Front and the Niger Delta People Volunteer Force (PSF/NDPVF) wish to make it very pellucid as ever that we willÂ continue with the genuine , conscientious, quixotic and people -oriented agitations to free the Niger Delta Region from the hands of theÂ schizophrenic and parasitic North and her task-master collaborators from the South of the Nigerian occupied territory, whose Gehazi defiant and subversive mendicancy reminiscence voice of Jacob and skin of Esau reverberates in the daylight through the kaleidoscopic screens of the true and forthright Niger Delta Freedom practitionersâ€.
â€The struggle for the emancipation of the Niger Delta goes beyond disingenuous and atrocious mere promises of development of the region by a perfidious and preposterous failed seven -point agenda proponents.
We wish to make it abundantly clear again that only a Sovereign National Conference can be the minimum demand for the resolution of the Niger Delta quagmire because going by over 10 repugnant and obnoxious laws,Â Â including the Land Use Decree as well as the fraudulent 1999 Constitution,Â all Niger Deltans are slaves and remains slaves.
â€BeforeÂ 1st JanuaryÂ 1914 when the Northern and the Southern British protectorate were amalgamated for the economic and political interest of the British Empire, interest handed over to the Fulani and Hausas feudal creations, the Kalabari nation, Urhobo nation,Â Edo Nation and many great nations had long been in existence before thisÂ perfidious hegemonic heterogeneous edifice of colonial contraption.
Never at any time did our ancestors agree or mandate us to be together in this forced and failed union, the Nigerian nation, therefore, by the way it is presently constituted has foundational deficiency and paralysis that only a Sovereign National Conference will cure. No matter how many well known generals, pseudo and gullible foot soldiers accept their amnesty.
â€ Furthermore and very importantly,Â we wish to alert all Niger Delta Patriots,Â people and friends within this occupied territory known and called Nigeria and the whole world that come MondayÂ 5th October, the Nigerian state has madeÂ and completed arrangements to bomb and make desolate all residence believed to be owned or associated with our leader,Â AlhajiÂ Mujahid Dokubo Asari as wellÂ as go after our overÂ Â 10,000 members and associates on account of rejecting the amnesty and for going to court. In fact, orders have been given directly by the Northern motivated and Nigerian state President for these acts to be meted on any one of identified with Alhaji Dokubo Asari more than the Boko Haram treatment.
â€œOur lives are in grave danger. Already it has been determined that our leader must die and they have sent their agents after me and many others but we shall never ever capitulate.
Finally,we state once again our total opposition and irrevocable rejection of the amnesty as a grandiose deception that will never solve the Niger Delta meleeâ€, he said.
â€œWe state again that Alhaji Dokubo Asari and over 4000 members of our movement are presently challenging not only the Amnesty programme but as well the fraudulent 1999 Constitution, which does not derive its legitimacy from the sovereign will of the people in the occupied territory known as Nigeria and declaring forever that we are not t militants, whatever the Nigeria state means by that terminology in their political lexicon.
We are a people- oriented mass movement whose struggle is moral, legitimate and just. We rather die fightingâ€, he added.
The terms of the amnesty, by Yarâ€™Adua
PRESIDENT Umaru Yarâ€™Adua on Thursday, June 26, 2009 proclaimed the unconditional amnesty to all Niger Delta militants in the creeks as well as those facing prosecution in the law courts.
The militants were expected to subscribe to an oath of renunciation within 60 days. The proclamation followed the ratification of the amnestyÂ terms by the Council of State.
The president explained that the amnesty would take effect upon the surrender and handing overÂ of all equipment, weapons, arms and ammunition in the possession of the militants while centres were to be established in each state of the Niger Delta for the execution of renunciation of Militancy Forms by the affected persons.
According to Yarâ€™Adua, the amnesty could only be effective if the militants were prepared to lay down their arms. He urged all militants in hiding to take advantage of the proclamation and be reintegrated into the society. â€œThe offer of amnesty is predicated on the willingness and readiness of the militants to give up all illegal arms in their possession, completely renounce militancy in all its ramifications unconditionally and depose to an undertaking to this effect,â€ the president said while outlining the terms of the amnesty.
The Abbe panel that worked out amnesty
THE details of the amnesty were worked out by the Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament of Militants in the Niger Delta headed by Major General G.O. Abbe (rtd), then minister of interior, and which proposed a N50 billion package. Members of the panel include Elder G. Orubebe, minister of state in the Ministry of the Niger Delta; Air Chief Marshal P. Dike, chief of the defence staff and Mr Mike Okiro, then inspector general of police.
The panel recommended that the presidentâ€™s proclamation should give to the militants a period not exceeding 75 days but not less than 60 days within which to renounce militancy and subscribe to the oath of renunciation. It also recommended that the renunciation and subscription to the oath should be done publicly at designated centres.