By GEORGE ONAH, SAMUEL OYADONGHA & Agency Reports
Tension is building up afresh in the Niger Delta after the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) declared on Friday that it was ending its 90-day cease fire. It told oil companies and the military to brace up for renewed attacks. The following reports examine the events surrounding the latest development.
The decision of MEND to resume hostilities stemmed mainly from the refusal, by the Federal Government, to recognise or negotiate with the five man Aaron Committee set up on September 29 by the group to mediate on its behalf with government.
The committee members are former Chief of General Staff (CGS) in the Abacha Administration, Vice Admiral Mike Akhigbe (rtd); Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka; Major General Luke Aprezi (rtd); and Dr. Sabella Abidee. Announcing the constitution of the committee in an e-mail statement six days to the October 4, deadline for the disarmament by militants in the Niger Delta, spokesman for MEND, Jomo Gbomo said it had mandated the committee members to â€œoversee a transparent and proper MEND disarmament process that conforms with international standard as the current disarmament process is flawed and lacks integrityâ€.
It said its own disarmament process â€œwill only come after the root causes of militancy and agitation in the Niger Delta have been addressed by the Nigerian government.
It nominated Ms Annkio Brigs to liaise on its behalf with the committee members. MEND said â€œthe hope for peace in the Niger Delta and Nigeria in general now rests squarely on the shoulders of the Nigerian governmentâ€, and that the eminent Nigerians â€œgraciously accepted to dialogueâ€ on its behalf whenever government â€œrealises the need to adopt serious, meaningful dialogue as a means of halting the armed agitation in the Niger Deltaâ€.
MEND had also called for the extension of the amnesty deadline.
Governmentâ€™s response to the MEND statement was as swift as it was short.Â It came from Defence Minister and Chairman of the Amnesty Implementation Committee, General Godwin Abbe (rtd) who not only dismissed the MEND threat but also vowed that government would refuse to be intimidated by anyone.
Said he: â€œAfter the 4th of October, amnesty terminates. There will be no extension. Government is firm, is resolute and government will continue with the subsequent aspect of the rehabilitation and reintegration of all those who have embraced amnesty. â€œMEND is not recognised by the Federal Government as the spokesperson for the militants that is if they exist at all physicallyâ€. He found a strong supporter in erstwhile MEND commander, Ebikebowei Ben Victor, better known as General Boyloaf who had nothing but contempt for the MEND threat.
Similarly, the Minister of State (Interior), Alhaji Abdulrahman Adamu took over from Mr. Ademola Seriki as Minister of State (Defence), while Mr. Seriki became the Minister of State (Interior). The changes are with immediate effect.
MEND resumes hostilities
Asked why MEND still went ahead to announce resumption of hostilities, a top official of the militant group said, â€œThe one demand of MEND all through the campaign has been for a return to federalism within which they own and control their resources as it was up to 1966. In making this demand , weÂ have lost faith in any offer of development by the centre, as that has not worked since the 1958 Willinks report up to NDDC,Â Niger Delta Ministry, Niger-Delta Technical Report,Â etc â€œ. In his words, â€œIn furtherance of ourÂ rights to self-determination, demand for a return to federalism, this is a point I want all stakeholders toÂ appreciate if progress will be made, we see the amnesty as flawed in that it has not at all addressed this root cause of our agitationâ€.
â€MEND in naming the Aaron Team is not averse to dialogue and it would seem best that that window be exploredÂ to seek common ground upon which sustainable peace can be built. We gave them that chance but they ignored the Aaron team. Once that dialogue is opened and common ground found, MEND has consistently indicated it is prepared to be part of the peace process, which is a commitment not to put its weapons to use as long as the agreed agenda is being pursued with sincerity. â€œThe challenge, therefore, is to quickly find that common ground before any further escalation of hostilities, which is bound to be worse than the previous scale because confidence is low now. Other ethnic blocs seem to have built the consensus needed to drive the entire process because it is impracticable for the centre to give the Niger-Delta federalism in isolation. The suits in court challenging the legitimacy of the 1999 Constitution also has a direct bearing on all the issuesâ€, he added.
Why MEND is forging ahead with the struggle
Reviewing the struggle in the past two years, he said, â€œFor about 2 years now, our organization, the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, has been at war with the Armed Forces of the Nigerian State, which we regard as an occupation force in the Niger Delta. Our campaign has often been misconstrued by many, either mischievously or due to ignorance of the issues at stake. We have chosen this time to re-state our case for the benefit of those who do not know; those who might have opposed us ignorantly; and those persons and institutions of goodwill from within and outside Nigeria who have sought to interveneâ€.
â€œAt the heart of the matter is the issue of our right to self-determination as encapsulated in the Kaiama Declaration (1998), the Ogoni Bill of Rights and other such declarations, these declarations which were products of organized peaceful and civilized mass political processes were largely ignored by the operators of the Nigerian State and other stakeholders, particularly the transnational oil/gas corporations. This conspiracy having made the peaceful change we advocated impossible invariably made the violent option inevitable.
â€œAt the peak of our loud cry for equity by way of resource control, the government of the day organized a shallow jamboree styled the National Political Reform Conference in Abuja which collapsed on the altar of the organizers greed, with unquantifiable verbal insults heaped on our people.
FGâ€™s declaration of war
â€œAs if these were not bad enough, the Federal Government arrested many of our compatriots,Â including Dokubo-Asari and Deprieye Alamieseigha and deployedÂ its occupation force to quell the expected resistance of the people; This is obviously a declaration of war on the region by the Federal Government of Nigeria, though not its first time,Â as there had been the Umuechem invasion, Odi Massacre, Okochiri raid, the Ogoni saga and the judicial murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others, the Odioma invasion, Okeronkoko and Ogbakiri aerial bombardments amongst many other acts of war. All of these escalated the armed struggle which we embarked upon more in self-defense and self-preservation than any other reason. â€œFollowing the collapse of the pretence at Political Reform in Abuja (NPRC 2005), a group of eminent leaders from various parts of Nigeria led by the duo of Chief Anthony Enahoro and Prof. Wole Soyinka under the aegis of the Pro-National Conference Organisations PRONACO, invited us to the Peoples National Conference (PNC 2005-2006), in recognition of our right to self-determination.
â€œAt that conference (PNC), our representatives met with 163 other ethnic delegations including OPC, MASSOB and Arewa Consultative Youth Forum etc, each armed with its own memorandum. Robust debates, heated arguments, frank exchanges all ending in a body of Resolutions distilled from the aforementioned memoranda became the basis of the Draft Peoples Constitution now proposed by that Peoples National ConferenceÂ as the comprehensive solution to all the agitations for self-determination in the land.
Concurrence by various ethnic nationalities
â€œWe note that this is the first time various nationalities, which make up Nigeria would come together to agree afresh on the terms of their union since after the military sacked the Federal Constitution in 1966. We confirm that the said PNC Draft Constitution has answered all our agitations if it becomes the constitution for the union called Nigeria. â€œA â€œconstitutionâ€ simply refers to the body of agreement reached and adopted by the constituents on how to govern their union. When such an agreement is replaced by the imposition of a tiny but powerful minority as has been the case in Nigeria since 1966, the result is the agitation for liberation which in our own case has assumed an armed dimension. Arms aside, the struggle of MEND is not different from that of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) or the Movement for Yoruba Autonomy (MOYA)/Oâ€™odua Peopleâ€™s Congress (OPC) or the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP). They are all seeking to retrieve their lost sovereignties either within a re-negotiated Nigeria as prescribed by PRONACOâ€™s draft or outside it as envisaged by MASSOB.
â€œFrom our consultations with other self-determination groups across Nigeria, we confirmed from them that their agitations are also met by the same PNC Draft Constitution. We have no doubt that the said PRONACO Draft Constitution if adopted will return Nigeria to a true Federal Republic to which the constituent Nationalities will be happy to belong. Failure to exploit this golden opportunity while it lasts leaves the door wide open for a disastrous end to this falsehood called Nigeria. â€œFor the avoidance of doubt, the imposition of â€œConstitutionsâ€ by successive military administration on the constituent nationalities of Nigeria is at the root of all the conflicts and the resultant collapse of values, decayed infrastructures and total breakdown of law and order. Meanwhile, mixed reactions are trailing the threat by MEND to resume hostilities. Responding to the threat, the Vice President of the National Youth Congress Mr. Marvin Yobana said â€œmy opinion over this threat is clear and that is that violence cannot solve this matter.
We must give window of opportunity to amnesty that has been granted by the Federal Government. Provocation would derail amnesty. Yobana who is also President South South ,NYC, said â€œsaid we are calling on MEND to come to negotiating table to explore all avenues of settlement. We in the Niger Delta are the ones suffering when violence erupts. MEND must know that there is no violence in the north, west or east why must we continue to project violence here, so, dialogue is the best option. We should allow government act on its promise and when that fails then we could think otherwise.
On its part the Action Congress said â€œif it is true (that MEND wants to commence hostilities) then it is unfortunate. MEND cannot assume to love Niger Delta more than Chief E.K. Clark, Tompolo and others that want peace to reign so that all elusive development and emancipation of our people can take place. Reacting through its publicity secretary Chief Eze Chukwuemeka Eze, the group said â€œit would be a very sad development if the group resumes hostilities. It means that MEND has lost focus and cannot claim to represent the interest of the Niger Delta anymoreâ€.