By Daniel Idonor
ABUJA â€” THREE days to the deadline for militants in the Niger-Delta to lay down their arms and embrace the Presidential Amnesty granted by the Federal Government, President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua yesterday received one of the key militants, leader of the Niger-Delta Vigilante and Patriotic Force (NDVPF), Mr Ateke Tom, with a promise that in the next two to five years, the region will witness massive infrastructural development.
The President has scheduled another meeting for Saturday with Ateke Tom who wanted to meet privately with the President to discuss some pertinent issues bordering on the amnesty programme. The President promised that Saturday will be a better time as he was on his way to his home state, Katsina.
Meanwhile, a pressure group in the Niger Delta, Itsekiri National Youths Council (INYC) has called on the Federal Government to rebuild all Itsekiri towns and villages which were destroyed by their ethnic neighbours between 1997 and 2004 even as they submit today all the arms owned by Itsekiri communities in response to the amnesty programme of the Federal Government.
Ateke Tom, who led key commandants of his â€œCamp 4â€ base in Rivers State to Aso Rock, was among the first militant leaders to accept the amnesty initiative of the Federal Government a few days after the programme was announced, but could not meet with the President since then, despite the promise by Yarâ€™Adua that he will personally receive the first militant to surrender.
Members of Ateke Tomâ€™s delegation were flown from their Camp 4 base early yesterday morning in a private helicopter to the nearest Air Force base, from where they were flown in an Air Force plane to the Owerri Airport before the group later flew in a Presidential plane to the Presidential Wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport and were driven straight to the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Other members of the delegation, who were received at the Presidential villa, were Uche Onyeagocha, counsel to Ateke Tom and Mr Akinaka Richard, Executive Director Grassroot Institute for Peace and Democracy (Atekeâ€™s nephew) as well as five militant commandants namely, Friday Itaekoha, Joshua Opia, Felix Itwida, Roland Okugbo and Gilbert Amos.
Those who joined the President to receive the repentant militants include Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, the Chairman of the Amnesty Panel and Minister of Defence, Maj.-Gen Godwin Abbe (rtd); National Security Adviser, General Sarki Mukhtar (rtd); Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Paul Dike, Inspector-General Police, Mr Ogbonna Onovo and others.
A highly elated Yarâ€™Adua described Atekeâ€™s visit as his 49th Independence gift, saying thatÂ â€œthis independent anniversary gift you have given me, I cherish very much because of all those things I cherished, one of them is peace and security in the Niger Delta, it has always pained me to see our brother and sisterÂ Nigerians taking up arms against fellow Nigerians and are ready to live in the creeks under very difficult situations and conditions because of such issues that agitated their minds.
But by the grace of God and the kind heart and the goodwill you have brought to this amnesty programme, this is coming to an endâ€.
He commended Ateke and his group for choosing the path of peace, saying that â€œin a few years, five years or so, you will see the kind of development that would have taken place.
Then, you will thank God that you decided to take advantage of this amnesty, so that together we join hands to work diligently for the welfare and wellbeing of our people.
â€œThis administration understands the challenges of the Niger Delta region and the challenges people are facing and that is why from the beginning, I made Niger Delta a top priority in our seven-point agenda. I want to say that the amnesty is not an end in itself but a means to an end.
It is a means to peacefully and lovingly with brotherly understanding bringing to an end all insurrection and misunderstanding between brothers. It is a means to bringing stable peace and security to the Niger Delta region. It is a means of making the two of us work together to ensure that our youth does not take up arms againâ€, he said.
He assured young people in the region saying that â€œwe will work together to ensure that youth in the Niger Delta have a meaningful life through the kind of programmes we will evoke; train them, help them to establish businesses, those who want to further their education to whatever level to help them to do that to ensure that each and everyone of them has a career and a life to be proud of and that he would stand to be proud of himself, his family and his country and he would be proud that he is a Nigerianâ€.
The President used the event to call on other militant leaders who are yet to take advantage of the amnesty programme to do so because government would want to work together with them into the post-amnesty period.
Help the Ijaw, Ateke pleads
Earlier, Ateke Tom who spoke in pidgin English said: â€œI meet with Defence Minister.
Dem come our camp, ask us say wetin be our problem, we tell dem our problem, and the problem, this Niger Delta problem, no be new story na story we the whole world know. And your amnesty, immediately you announced the amnesty, I be the first person wey embrace the amnesty because I like the amnesty.
â€œBut things wey we talk, wey dey worry us, make una try do am for us because we dey suffer for Niger Delta and we believe you. Me particularly, I believe you well well. I know say the things dem wey you promise you go fit do am for us but the people wey no fit endure am, na him no fit endure am, so I thank you very well for this amnesty.
“Make you try help us we the Ijaw people. Try commot us from this problem wey we dey get. Our arms we go drop am like me, I don promise I go drop my arms. Na im make I say make I try come see you talk all our problems dem, try solve am for us, that is why I dey here todayâ€, he said.
Itsekiri youths surrender arms today
Itsekiri National Youths Council (INYC), in a letter addressed to President Yarâ€™Adua and signed by the groupâ€™s President and Secretary-General, Messrs David Tonwe and Isaac Dorsu respectively, the group argued that â€œif the Nigerian state had taken our cries and lamentations between 1997 and 2004 seriously when the Itsekiri people and their properties were the only target of militant attacks, the present state of Nigeria today would not have assumed such dimension of unbridled volatility, specifically the Niger Delta regionâ€.
According to the statement, â€œIt was these acts of betrayal, nonchalant and unprofessional attitude of the military towards our people that informed some Itsekiri communities to embark on the process of taking their respective destinies in their hands, and this they did by acquiring arms for self-defensive purpose.
These arms and ammunition we have painstakingly retrieved from these communities, and same we are presenting today based on our trust that the current leadership of the Nigerian military will be sincere, honourable and professional in the performance of their constitutional duties, particularly in the protection of the weak, and ensuring that our experiences between 1997 and 2004 will not repeat itselfâ€.