By Emma Amaize &Â Jimitota Onoyume
PORT HARCOURT â€”Â Minister of Defence, General Godwin Abbe (rtd), in Port Harcourt, last weekend, gave an indication of how the government will engage the repentant militants in positive roles in the society as part of the post-amnesty programme.
Abbe made the disclosureÂ when a former Commander of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), Farah Dagogo, keyed into the amnesty project.
According to him, as part of its post-amnesty plan, the Federal Government will, from today, commence an immediate programme to constructively engage the ex-militants.
He said the Government will also meet with the ex-militants for further discussions on how the government can fast-track the development of the oil-rich Niger Delta.
And speaking in Warri yesterday, while receiving the weapons surrendered by Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, Gen Abbe assured that the repentant militants would be adequately rehabilitated and re-integrated and assisted in every material way possible to make them self-sustaining in life be it in the area of education or skill acquisition and revealed that the President is committed to making the presence of oil in the region a blessing henceforth rather than a curse to the people.
Meanwhile, there was stampede in Warri, Delta State yesterday morning, as many residents abandoned their churches, homes and businesses to catch a glimpse of the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of militants in the Niger-Delta, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo.
Governor Chibuike Amaechi, who was present at the event where the Defence Minister spoke said he had forgiven all militants that had genuinely given up militancy and acts of brigandage. He said though he was in support of agitation for better attention to the region but he was against arm struggle.
He thanked the repentant militants for the honour they have done Rivers State, the Niger Delta and President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua, in accepting the amnesty offer, assuring them that the governors of the Niger Delta States would follow up the terms of the amnesty and make the Federal Government keep its side of the bargain.
â€œWe join you in the fight for our oil wellsâ€, he said, insisting that â€œno efforts will be spared in ensuring that the ex-militants are rehabilitated and accorded needed vocationsâ€.
MEND ordered militantsâ€™ surrender â€”Dagogo
In his speech, Farah Dagogo said the handing over of the arms was not a celebration in any way as he was under the directive of MEND to lay down the arms, so as to give peace a chance.
â€œIn line with conditions attached to this amnesty offer, we are surrendering all weapons under our direct control, we are accepting this amnesty with the hope that it will usher in a time spirit of reconciliation exemplified by dialogueâ€, he said.
Dagogo, whose group laid down different types of arms ranging from anti-aircraft launchers, GPMG, AK-47 rifles, Mark 4 rifles, and others appealed to those determined to fight on to â€œconsider first the option of dialogueâ€ and prayed for a just and peaceful Niger Delta.
Ex-militants who fought on the side of Farah Dagogo, Soboma Jackreece and Christian Don-Pedro, were also at the event to embrace the amnesty.
Tompolo causes stampede in Warri
Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, had arrived the Osubi Airstrip, from Abuja at about 10.49am en route Oporoza community in Gbaramatu kingdom to officially hand over his weapons to the Federal Government.
He arrived aboard a Nigerian Air Force plane with registration number 5N FGO alongside some of his lieutenants and no fewer than 5,000 persons, including Ijaw chiefs were waiting to receive him at the Osubi Airstrip.
Defence Minister and chairman of the Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament of Militants, Major General Godwin Abbe (rtd), Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan and the Special Adviser to the President on Niger-Delta, Mr. Timi Alaibe landed at the Osubi Airstrip some minutes after Tompolo arrived, also in a Nigerian Air Force plane with registration number, 5N FGP.
Tompolo who met with the coordinator of the Disarmament Committee, Air Vice Marshal Lucky Ararile and the Commander of the Joint Task Force on the Niger-Delta, Major-General Sarkin-Yarkin Bello at the VIP lounge of the airstrip waited with them to receive the Defence Minister and Governor Uduaghan before he left for the Warri waterside.
One of his aides told Vanguard that the Minister and other members of the Amnesty Committee would proceed to Arogbo community in Ondo State to receive the arms of some of Tompoloâ€™s boys in the area, who have been told to disarm before proceeding to Oporoza.
All attention was on Tompolo as he left the airstrip in a motorcade.
With his face cap, the ex-militant leader was practically lost in the crowd and it took a long time before his boys were able to manoeuvre their way and get the crowd to allow him to enter a Hummer Jeep that took him to the Warri waterside.
He was cheered on by some of the people, some of whom wore T-shirts with the inscription: â€œTompolo is our heroâ€.
Tompolo surrenders arms, ammunition
On arrival at Oporoza village, Tompolo led over 1200 repentant militants to surrender over 157 assorted guns and large quantity of dynamites to the Minister of Defence, Gen. Abbe (rtd).
Tompolo who was accorded a heroic welcome at Oporoza by a mammoth crowd said armed struggle has stopped for now while they eagerly await the Federal Governmentâ€™s promise to develop the long-neglected region.
He warned his boys not to take to armed robbery as it was against the spirit of the struggle and charged them to be patient but very vigilant even as he stated that the Gbaramatu people have paid dearly for the Ijaw struggle.
The generalissimo of the militants broke down in tears in the middle of his address when he recalled that painful death of some of his trusted aides and brothers in the cause of the struggle and expressed his heartfelt condolence to their families and the families of the fallen serving military men in the course of the discharge of their official duties.
He stated that he needed to embrace the amnesty programme to stay alive as he could not continue to hide away in the creeks while his men were suffering untold hardship in different parts of the federation just as he alleged that some of his own men betrayed and almost assassinated him.
While stating that the struggle was started by the likes of late Isaac Adaka Boro until his time, he assured that unless the region was developed, the agitation would certainly be taken up by others and warned that nobody should spite the Egbesu deity as what happened was destined to be by Almighty God.
Receiving the weapons on behalf of the Federal Government, Gen. Abbe said yesterdayâ€™s event marked a watershed in the history of the Niger Delta struggle as it has brought to the fore the need to truly address the fundamental causes of the agitation and proffer workable solutions to them.
Amongst the arms and ammunition surrendered were 16 General Purpose Machine guns, GPMG; 17 AK-47; 71 FN; 27 G3; 6 RPG and 5 Brandy Machine Guns ; rocket launchers, a large cache of explosives and countless numbers of various sizes of ammunitions.
His younger brother, Mr. George Ekpemupolo, who is the chairman of Warri South-West Local Government Area told Vanguard he was happy Tompolo had finally accepted amnesty.
He said the position of his brother as a militant kingpin affected him both positively and negatively as a council chairman, as he was denied certain things because of his brotherâ€™s former status while it opened doors for him in some places.
Mr. Ekpemupolo, however, said now that Tompolo and other freedom fighters have dropped their arms, it behooved on the Federal Government to play its part by developing the Niger-Delta.
A chief of Gbaramatu kingdom, Godspower Gbenekame, who was at the airstrip to receive Tompolo told Vanguard, â€œYes, I thank the Federal Government for giving us the opportunity to air our views.
It is not a personal matter, it is a matter that affects the entire Niger-Delta people. People can surrender guns without surrendering their hearts, the point I am making is that the Federal Government has a lot to do to make the amnesty work. They should come up with a programme to actually engage these young men that are dropping arms and give them a new lease of life.
Chief Gbenekame, who is the Benemowei (Mobilizer) of Gbaramatu Kingdom continued: â€œThe government should know that the heart of the people of the region is more on practical development of the region. Anything short of that will be a fatal mistake on its part.
I commend Tompolo for accepting amnesty. He has fought a good fight for the Ijaw nation and the entire Niger-Deltaâ€, he added.