ByÂ Emma Arubi
WHEN it became obvious that militant activities in the long neglected Niger Delta region were fast bringing the entire economy of the nation to a dangerous precipice, the Federal government led by President Yar â€˜Adua proclaimed amnesty to militants of all shades with a welfare package designed to rehabilitate, re-orientate and re-integrate them into civil society so that they can become self sustaining thereafter.
The activities of the fighters by way of kidnapping, pipeline vandalism, illegal oil bunkering, hijacking of cargo vessels and so on through out Nigeriaâ€™s waterways, especially on the high seas no doubt overwhelmed every right thinking Nigerian, the oil industry and the international community at large.
Military might indeed could not stop these vices just as it became more daring by the day when the boys struck the Bonga Field and Atlas cove, places thought to be safe or too remote to access.
However, when in early August the Federal Government pronounced a 60-day amnesty period within which all militants should surrender their arms and ammunition, many Nigerians thought the days of grace were too lengthy just as those in the struggle saw the gesture as a childâ€™s play.
Whatever one’s line of thought was, the end of the amnesty period that commenced 6 August will end Sunday.
But how successful was the amnesty programme in Delta State that has witnessed almost two years of relative peace before everything snapped on May 13 when some militants around the then dreaded Camp 5 axis in Gbaramatu kingdom headed by the generalissimo of the militant groups, High Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo engaged men of the Joint Task Force, JTF, killing an officer and 12 soldiers including the sinking of one military gun boat in circumstances still shrouded in mystery.
Security sources told Vanguard that the exercise has been largely successful as most of the militants have seen reasons why they must embrace the amnesty package as they cannot continue to hide endlessly in the creeks and remain permanently on the wanted list of the government.
At the Federal Government College, Warri, Camp ground where repentant militants were re-settled, activities were at a very low ebb in the beginning of the project because of suspicion of government intentions by the militants. They were obviously apprehensive of being arrested. And even then, no militant dared surrender his arms without the consent of his commander.
At a time, some people were forced to call for the cancellation of the whole exercise until some militants were actually seen surrendering their weapons in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Following the apparent lukewarm attitude of the boys in Delta and the resolve of the Federal Government to pursue the amnesty programme to its logical conclusion, emissaries from theÂ government trooped at various time to Gbaramatu to appeal to Tompolo to accept the gesture and submit his arms before the deadline expires. And truly, key militant leaders in the state have accepted the amnesty gesture and have voluntarily surrendered their weapons.
So far security sources disclosed that a total of 611 militants have accepted amnesty and are camped at the camp ground while a total of only176 assorted guns have been submitted as at September 29 .
Vanguard gathered that the boys were given N1,500.00 daily for feeding and paid the sum of N20,000.00 at the end of the month for their upkeep because some of them left their families at home.
It was learnt that even the stipend is causing serious problems in the camps as some of the boys insist that the amount cannot sustain their life style having been exposed to expensive life style as a result fromÂ illegal bunkering and ransom.
One intriguing aspect of the arms surrender in DeltaÂ is the few number of groups that have so far turned in their weapons. It was reliably gathered that only 10 groups of the lot have shown up as at last Wednesday.
The groups according to security sources are from Obotobo1 in Burutu local government council area, Amasoma in Bomadi council and Deadly Underdogs in Warri North council respectively.
Key militant leaders in the state have also turned in their weapons and they include Mr. John Togo of Ogodobri community; Bonny Gaye of Obotobo 1; Ezekiel of the deadly underdogs from Egbema; Enabina Young, alias defense minister; Abboy and Idiami amongst others. These men are the powers behind Tompolo and with their exit; the generalissimo would appear to have been deserted and therefore have no choice but to toe the path of rectitude and reason.
But the surprise of the whole disarmament exercise is the absence of known militants, their leaders and their weapons from the Gbaramatu axis of Warri South-West council area of the state. These were the same people who turned the attention of the world to Delta when they drew the ire of the federal government during the JTF bombardment of the kingdom in the wake of a retaliatory mission.
In other words, Tompolo and his boys have not yet embraced the amnesty initiative of the government. Instead what is being vigorously pursued is the call by various interest groups and persons for the extension of the deadline to some time next year to enable him to carefully mop up all the arms in the possession of his boys scattered all over the Niger Delta.
For Tompolo, it would amount to further deflating his ego if he surrenders with just a few lieutenants and small amount of arms given the larger than life image painted of him as a man with a large armoury. That must be one reason he is demanding for extension to really enable him mop up properly before making a landmark acceptance of amnesty, surrender of arms and submission to the Federal Government.
The military Coordinator/Camp Commander in charge of Delta State, Lt. Commander Chindu Yahaya was seen frantically coordinating events at the camp whenÂ Vanguard visited, Wednesday, to ascertain the level of co-operation by the militants and the preparation towards their demobilization on Sunday.
Though he declined to comment on the issues raised, a security source disclosed that all is well and they are ready to demobilize to allow the school resume for the normal academic work, saying that the teachers and students are all eagerly awaiting their departure and dismantling of their makeshift dreaded structures around their school premises.
Truly, since the resumption of the new school year all schools designated as arms collection centres have remain shut to their students with only Tuesday and Thursday being days people are allowed access into the premises. And with the end of the exercise on Sunday 4th, the schools are all billed to resume on October 5. That perhaps account in part for why the amnesty timetable would not the extended by one day.
But again, what will happen after the October 4 deadline to non-repentant militants? Gen. Ezekiel, leader of the deadly Underdog said they would try and persuade them to surrender so that government does not come heavily on any community because of their intransigence.
But he strongly advise the Federal Government not to renege on its promise to develop the region as failure to fulfill this very core and germane developmental demand is bound to ignite another round of more fierce and violent agitations that would shake the very fabric of the nationâ€™s foundation.
What however baffles some discerning minds in the state is the rusty, old-fashioned and obsolete nature of most of the guns so far submitted. It certainly contradicts the general expectation of the people.
Expectedly, not all their weapons would be submitted because of any eventuality. What has been surrendered so far can best be described as an admixture of 80%Â non-functional assorted guns spiced with a few dead AK47 assault riffles and G3s with some very bad General Purpose Machine Gun, GPMG, Rocket Propelled Grenade, RPG, failed Pump Action, FN, pistol and so on.
With the expiry of the deadline Sunday and the failure of the Gbaramatu people to submit their arms, couple with the insistence by the Tompolo group for the extension of time, the amnesty programme in the state can not be said to be fully successful.