*May strengthen JTF for “new challenges”
*Considers supplementary budget for special projects in N/Delta
By our reporters
The assorted weapons surrendered by repentant militants under the amnesty of the Federal Government are to be destroyed in accordance with international arms convention, Sunday Vanguard can reveal.
The weapons include 2,760 guns of different calibre and types, 287,445 rounds of ammunition, 18 gun boats, 763 explosives and 1,090 dynamite caps.
Besides, the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) may be strengthened for what a presidency source described as â€œnew challenges aheadâ€. And with dialogue continuing between government and ex-militant leaders, the Federal authorities are considering the possibility of sending a supplementary budget to the National Assembly before the end of the year to provide special projects in the Niger Delta.
This came to light as Amnesty International declared on Friday that Western oil firms operating in the Niger Delta must make amends for the degradation of the environment and the lack of respect for rights in that part of the country.
Sources said in Abuja that government was not deceived by the quantity of weapons turned in by ex-militants, saying it was not unaware that more were still left behind in the creeks.
â€˜Government is however encouraged that a process has started with the amnesty and the ex-militants have responded positively and the belief is that with the sincerity so far shown by President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua, subsequent implementation of the promises of government would make the ex-militants forgo any negative thoughts about going back to the creeksâ€™, the source said.
On how these sophisticated weapons found their way into the area, the source said they were primarily bought with proceeds from illegal bunkering activities and that they originated from several countries including the United States, Germany and some countries formerly part of the old USSR, were brought in through bunkering agents from the Middle East.
On the planned destruction of the weapons at the â€˜appropriate timeâ€™, the source said no where in the world have such weapons with which an aggression was carried out against government, recovered and kept in store for use.
â€œThese weapons were used to kill Nigerian soldiers and maim many of them. Even to boost their morale, the best option will be to have them destroyedâ€, the source said.
On the JTF, it was gathered that until government comes up with an alternative, the only choice for now is to retain the task force and even strengthen it. This is because the oil platforms and other vital government assets are still in place while the multi-nationals should not be made to feel that they are at the mercy of an uncertain future.
â€œThe Presidency is aware that the ex-militants are no fools. If they can be this organized and could procure such sophisticated arms and ammunition which they have surrendered, what gives you the impression that a sudden rush of blood cannot occur and somebody somewhere comes out with a surprise to shock the nation? So government is being carefulâ€, a source said.
FG considers supplementary budget for Niger Delta
Emerging from the latest round of dialogue between President Yarâ€™Adua, South-South governors and 16 ex-militant leaders in Abuja on Friday night, the Honourary Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, Mr. Timi Alaibe told State House correspondents that special projects would be funded in the area for which a supplementary budget might soon be forward to the National Assembly for approval.
His words: â€œI can tell you that a whole lot of us who were involved with the baseline study in the articulation of the Niger Delta regional master plan to see fulfillment in the way Mr. President has gone about bringing to bear those very grand zero projects. Even in talking about how to get appropriation to fund them specially. And I think the militants are excited and happy that this is coming to fruition in our time.
â€œThe difference between what we have seen today as articulated by Mr. President is the speed in the implementation agenda and the immediate decision to constitute a stakeholder joint committee to start work and even in the discussion with the leadership of the National Assembly to understand how to bring to bear the necessary funding and which he calls ringing up, this projects.
He talked about special projects that will be funding by the National Assembly. And according to him if properly put together would go for supplementary budget within this year. This is the type of thing that is happening.
Second part also is that they will be involved in the implementation of the rehabilitation and reintegration programme.
â€œThe fact that they are going to be involved in the implementation process is clear that the government and it is clearly laid out. They are going back to hold meetings and articulate their position and bring them within the next few days.
By next week we are meeting again to get input from governors, from the militants and other stakeholders. Now let get this clear, the matter of the Niger Delta have been variously researched. So we are not going to reinvent the wheel. The president is sincere he has shown it and the militants are happyâ€.
*Marshall Plan for Niger Delta
Earlier in the day, the Federal Government launched a Marshall Plan for the development of the Niger Delta. The initiative was announced by Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole after aÂ tripatite meeting involving Governors of the Niger Delta, the Federal Government and the militant leadersÂ in Abuja.
Governor Oshiomhole told State House correspondents that no previous leaders of Nigeria had had the kind ofÂ vision President Yarâ€™Adua has for the region. He said if former leaders had shown half of President Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s commitment, the Niger-DeltaÂ situation would not have escalated before the Amnesty.
President Yar Adua said at the meeting that for the benefits of post amnesty to manifest, great patience, perseverance and hard work were required. He was hopeful if â€˜we treat the post-amnesty process right, Nigeria will become a global example of how to achieve peace and development under the most difficult circumstances, as well as a reference point for the international community to emulate.
He said the â€˜great achievement of the laying down of arms and renunciation of militancy must be supported to ensure peace, security and development in the Niger Delta regionâ€™, He saidÂ this will require â€˜great patience, perseverance and hard work from all of usâ€™.
He appealed to all concerned in the process to show â€˜sincerity of purpose and patience, because development takes time and huge resourcesâ€™ and not to lose sight of the goal.
President Yarâ€™Adua said the willingness of the former militant leaders to attend the meeting showed that Nigerians are good people, and thanked them for responding to his invitation
Responding on behalf of the Governors, Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State said they were convinced that the post-amnesty period would be very exciting for all Niger Delta people, and pledged their full and total support for the process.
Also responding, one of the former militant leaders, Mr. Kingsley Kuku, said they had high hopes for the future, and pledged to support and cooperate with the Administration, for the development of the Niger Delta.
The 16 militant leaders were led by Chief Government Ekpemepolo (aka) Tompolo, (Delta), Chief Ateke Tom (Rivers) and Mr. Ebikabowei Ben (aka) Boyloaf (Bayelsa), while in their company were three Human Right Activists namely Anne Kio Briggs, Kingsley Kuku and T.K. Ogriba
Other key leaders also at the presidential meeting are Franklin Duduku (Cross River), Bonny Gawei (Delta), Africa Ukparafa (Bayelsa), Farah Dagogo (Rivers), Soboma George (Rivers), Erefimudei Olotu (Bayelsa), Ezekiel Akpabewei (Delta), Keneth Dan Opsingi (Rivers), Bibopre Ajube (Ondo), Henry Egbema (Edo), Omo Tonweerigha (Edo), Solomon Indigbana (Rivers) and Selky Kile Torugwedi (Bayelsa).
Those in the Federal Government team to the meeting, led by President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua, were Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, Minister of Defence and Chairman of the Presidential Amnesty Panel, General Godwin Abbe (rtd), Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Ubong Uffot Ekaette and the Minister of State, Finance, Mr. Remi Babalola.