By Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa
BARELY 48 hrs to the expiration of the presidential amnesty which sought to end the armed insurrection in the Niger Delta, all the recognized militant camps in Bayelsa State have disarmed while other pockets of unknown groups masquerading as freedom fighters in the troubled swamp of the state are also rushing to disarm.
After nearly four years of one of the most complex and vicious conflicts, which earned the state the sobriquet of hotbed of youth militancy, Bayelsa may finally be on the verge of a desperately needed recovery.
Bayelsa was initially the second largest oil producing state in the federation with a huge federal allocation before the sad turn of events in the Niger Delta where attacks by militants groups seeking a greater share of oil wealth badly affected the state production which was cut in.
Fondly referred to as the â€˜glory of the landâ€™ on account of its lush vegetation and abundant natural resources, the state which lies almost entirely below sea level with a maze of meandering creeks and mangrove swamps had the highest concentration of militant camps in the Niger Delta prior to the amnesty deal.
Though twelve of such camps were recognized by the government there were several others scattered across the mangrove swamp of the state.
Given their mastery of the labyrinth of creeks and their maritime expertise their attacks on targeted locations often caught the security forces napping with the result that the adjoining communities to the militant camps were always living in fear of the unknown.
However Bayelsans and indeed these communities can now heave a sigh of relief after the years of bloody skirmishes between armed insurgents in the creeks of the predominantly riverine state and the Joint Task Force following the recent amnesty proclamation by President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua to all armed militants who are prepared to lay down their arms.
All the major recognized camps in the state have since ceased operation and have turned in their arms to the Presidential Amnesty Implementation Committee and other relevant authorities thereby making the disarmament exercise in the state a success.
A former field commander of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in the State, Ebikabowei Victor Ben, aka Gen Boyloaf also lend credence to this position saying the amnesty has been a success and is on course.
According to him, it is working for real with over 80 percent of the fighters already out of the creeks of the delta.
In Bayelsa alone, over 680 arms, 19 gunboats and 280,000 rounds of mix ammo ranging from AK 47, submachine guns, bombs, heavy duty brandy guns and Lar rifles have been moped up from the creeks.
The bulk of these weapons came from the camps of Ebikabowei Ben Victor, MEND commander, Kile Selky Torughedi, aka Young Shall Grow, South wing MEND leader, Commander Africa Ukparasia, Commander Joshua Macaiver and Ezizi Ogunbos known as Commander Ogunboss.
Other militant leaders who have surrendered arms include Commander Toruma Ngogolo, the second in command to deceased Kitikata, General Karikoro from Southern Ijaw, Commander Emikor Bonny Don, and General Reuben Wilson popularly known as Pastor in the Koluama area of Southern Ijaw axis on the Atlantic fringe, Edward Youdiowei, second in command to slain Odi militant leader Daddy Ken, Douglas Otoloko, farmer turned militant, Gilbert Isobo, Wisdom Fiebor, Areama Olali.
Three notable cult groups in the state made up of the Icelanders, the one_man Agbalakoko and the Highlanders have also submitted a number of weapons including AK 47 and others.
Euphoria over the arms haul remains high but some stakeholders have doubted the sincerity of government about the process.
While some were of the view that the federal government had no concrete plan for the amnesty but only interested in mopping up the excess of arms in the hands of the youths so as to have unfettered access to oil, others called for caution and pleaded with the people to give government the opportunity to fulfill its promise to develop the region.
This, perhaps, informed the erstwhile MEND commander, Ebikabowei Victor Ben position who said â€œthere is time for fight, there is time for peace. This is the time for peace and dialogue.â€
The erstwhile lord of mangrove who said he would not only go back to his maritime business but also sustained the struggle through intellectual approach urged other militants who are yet to key into the amnesty programme to do so as not to give the federal government the opportunity to justify whatever action it may deemed necessary to take in the region which might not be in the interest of the people.
â€œAny person who wants anything good for the people should comply with the amnesty offer and disarm; but if they do not comply I think that person has some personal reason for doing it and not that of the interest of the entire region. I think the government wants to create a chance to justify whatever action it deemed fit to take after October 4th.
I do not see any reason why the amnesty should be extended. As for me, I will not carry guns but I will continue with the struggle in an intellectual way; go back to my business. I lease boats, vessels barges and do other marine businesses.â€
Continuing he said, â€œany person that loves the Niger Delta people will disarm to see if the Federal Government will develop the region. That is what we are fighting for, we want to see those changes and the Federal Government has decided to develop the region so letâ€™s give them the chance. The Federal Government told us to disarm and give them the chance to develop the region. So why canâ€™t we give the government the chance.â€
He dismissed MEND as mere paper tiger saying, â€œWhat you see of MEND today is just an individual pushing out those write_ups through the internet, which is a reflection of the frustration on his own part. They threatened on the 15th of September.
What happened? Who is ready to fight? Is he going to bring his father or brother to fight? Nobody will fight. They just sit down in their hotels, with laptops in front of them and without the consent of any other person. Forget such people anyway, they are paper-tigers.â€
Expressing similar sentiments, another analyst, who preferred anonymity said the recent calm in the creeks of the state is a positive sign that the amnesty is succeeding.
â€œBut the government should address the root cause that gave birth to insurgency in the delta so as to achieve set goals,â€ he noted.
Blaming the recent protests by repentant militants in the Yenagoa capital on what he termed â€˜faulty foundationâ€™ he wondered why the state government would accord the erstwhile militant leaders preferential treatment by accommodating them in Government House and then consigned others to the rehabilitation centres.
“A situation where the former leaders are accommodated in Government House and their foot soldiers kept elsewhere is not in the best interest of the state. They (leaders) should be quartered in the same rehabilitation centres with their boys since they will be in better position to relate with them,â€ said a concerned resident who was dispossessed of his cash during last week disturbance in the capital city by the ex creek boys.
But the state governor, Chief Timipre Sylva has assured that government will do everything in its power to accelerate the reintegration of repentant militants in the state.
The governor lauded the repentant militants for renouncing militancy and taking advantage of the amnesty offer by President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua.
â€œThe state government would, on its part, accelerate the process of reintegration of the repentant militants into society so that they can settle down and contribute to the development of the state and the country,â€ he assured.
For now, the amnesty seems to be riding on the crest of a wave. How many of the contending parties promise to abide by their pledge remains to be seen.