By Kenneth Ehigiator & James Uwem
LAGOS â€” GOVERNORS of the thirty-six of the federation have pledged to monitor events in the Niger Delta to ensure that the Federal Governmentâ€™s commitment to the development of the region is actualised.
For a start, the governors are embarking on a visit to Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital, on November 9, to declare their support for the Federal Governmentâ€™s efforts at developing the region.
Chairman of the Governorsâ€™ Forum and Governor of Kwara State, Dr. Bukola Saraki, said in an interview at the Presidential Wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, yesterday, that the governors have implicit confidence in President Umaru Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s dream to develop the region, adding that it was imperative for all Nigerians, especially the governors to key into it.
Meanwhile, the South-South Forumâ€™s leader, Chief Edwin Clark, has declared that â€œby all indications, there are no more arms in Niger Delta.â€
Chief Clark who played host to Mr. Ateke Tom, one of the repentant militant leaders and his group in Abuja, last weekend, therefore, charged the Federal Government to withdraw the Joint Task Force (JTF) from the region, as he said that the continued stay of the soldiers was no longer necessary.
Now is time to develop N-Delta â€”Saraki
According to Saraki, this post-amnesty period offers the best opportunity for the Niger Delta Master Plan to be implemented.
He said: â€œthe President has taken the issue of Niger Delta as his baby and heâ€™s driving it himself. We have confidence in that. For me, the difficult part has been done. And now, even we, as governors, have all decided that on November 9, weâ€™re all going to Bayelsa, Yenagoa.
â€œWeâ€™re going there to give support. The peace pact is about to come back and open up and we ourselves are going to ensure that the developmental commitment that the President has given, weâ€™ll support him.
â€œWeâ€™ve appealed to the National Assembly to fast-track the release of funds. So, all of us are together. Not only Mr President, even you the media, governors etc because everyone is involved. The militants have shown plans to support him and this is not the time to be doubting Thomases.â€
Saraki commended President Yarâ€™Adua, particularly, and Nigerians generally, for successfully driving the amnesty programme, stressing that he had by this proven wrong all those who had argued that only international diplomats or organisations could drive the process.
He dismissed the fresh threats by the Movement for Emancipation of Niger Delta, MEND, to continue attacks on oil installations in the Niger Delta, noting that all the militants that matter have keyed into the amnesty programme.
â€œWe should not only commend the president, we should commend all of us because we tend to have short memory. We all remember when, at a time, people said that unless an international body or either Kofi Annan, Al Gore, Clinton come in between the two parties, nothing will happen.
â€œBut we have shown as a country that internally, we can find amicable solutions. This is what most countries with civil conflicts have not been able to resolve but weâ€™ve addressed ours. This was something that was threatening the unity of this country but weâ€™ve been able to survive it.
â€œThis is something that all Nigerians should celebrate. We should not personalize it. Now, having achieved that, it has now laid the foundation for going forward. And within 24 hours, the president has shown commitment by already providing funds from excess crude account towards development.
â€œItâ€™s something all of us should sustain. What is important now is that Federal Government on its own part fosters development. Now is the time to develop the master plan, the NDDC plan, etc. I think that is the way forward,â€ said chairman of the Governorsâ€™ Forum.
MENDâ€™s fresh threat wonâ€™t distract Nigerians
On threats by MEND to continue its struggle in the region, he said the threat would not distract the Federal Government and all Nigerians from developing the Niger Delta, adding that everybody, including the ex-militants, have resolved that the time to develop the region is now.
â€œI am not vast on who are the known militants of that area but I donâ€™t know anybody whoâ€™s debating the fact that the major players have come out.
â€œI think everybody accepts that is the way forward and consolidation. Itâ€™s not a distraction for the government. There is no doubt that thereâ€™s an amnesty. What is the concern of everybody now is to consolidate on that, and already the step the Federal Government has taken is okay.
â€œTheyâ€™ve met with the militants; theyâ€™ve already taken money from the excess crude account; theyâ€™ve taken a bill to National Assembly to provide budgeting; that shows somebody whoâ€™s sincere and he (president) is not trying to play games.â€
Clark to reconcile Ateke, Amaechi
While playing host to repentant militant leader, Ateke Tom, in Abuja, leader of the South-South Forum, ChiefÂ Edwin Clark declared that, â€œbyÂ all indications, thereÂ are no more arms in the NigerÂ Delta.â€
He however urged the Federal Government to expedite action on the post-amnesty rehabilitation of ex-militants, as well as massive development of infrastructure in the Niger Delta to avoid a situation where the youths would return to armed struggle.
His words, â€œthe post-amnesty era should be an era of massive infrastructural development of the Niger-Delta and this should be done through direct intervention as it is done in Abuja, not through any agency or state governments.
Government should adopt the already existing development plan by the NDDC. Again, government should, as a matter of urgency, fulfill their post-amnesty rehabilitation and compensation programmes so as to stop the boys from taking up arms againâ€ .
Chief Clark noted that the successful resolution of the Niger Delta crisis would remain the most important legacy of the Yarâ€™Adua administration, which he said would guarantee improved productivity in the nationâ€™s economy.
TheÂ elderÂ statesmanÂ said the ex-militants were heroes and thereforeÂ warnedÂ against stigmatizing the people of Niger Delta as though they were a conqueredÂ people, declaring that it wasÂ a â€˜No Victor:Â no Vanquishedâ€™ situation as he likened the currentÂ amnesty to what happened in 1970 whenÂ aÂ similar pardon was extended to the Biafran soldiers.
He said â€œJTF should not under any guise attack any village in the Niger-Delta, rather they should be making plans to vacate the territoryâ€ and that â€œgovernment shouldÂ entrust the security of life and property in the hands of the youths of the area.Â With Tompolo, Ateke Tom and others, security of oil installations is guaranteedâ€.
He commended â€œtheÂ selfless efforts of Ateke andÂ his fellow freedom fighters who, on behalfÂ ofÂ theÂ entire people ofÂ Niger Delta, took itÂ upon themselves to fight for betterÂ standard of living for allâ€, adding, â€œto me, these boys are heroesâ€.
Chief Clark commended President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua for the magnanimous gesture on the amnesty, describing him, as â€œa man of honour and sincerityâ€.
Chief Clark used the occasion to persuade Ateke Tom to make peace with his state governor, Rotimi Ameachi, in the spirit of amnesty and true reconciliation.
He promised to go to Rivers state to broker a peace meeting between the repentant militant leader and the Governor.