Will Bayelsaâ€™s hard-won peace survive after the presidential amnesty to militants who in the last four years have turned the mangrove creeks into a theatre of vicious conflict?
By Samuel Oyadongha,
THOUGH Bayelsa could best be termed as a success story of the presidential amnesty given the large cache of arms surrendered by the once rampaging militants, it still has a long way to go in maintaining its hard won peace.
â€œWe still have a lot of the same problems that compelled the youths to resort to armed struggle in the creeks,â€ said Adowei Phil, a resident of Yenagoa.According to him, â€œthe series of violent protests recently embarked upon by the youths now referred to as repentant militants pose serious challenges to the government.â€
While many observers were taken aback by the Monday night violent protest that rocked some parts of Yenagoa by the ex-creek boys, some analysts saw it coming.
They warned that the rehabilitation and reintegration of these ex-combatants if not properly handled could spell doom for the state which is currently grappling with meager resources occasioned by the sharp drop in its share of revenue from the federation account in the wake of losing its position as the second highest oil producing state due to the disruption of oil production in the state by militants.
â€œBayelsa faces the prospect of being plunged into another orgy of violence not only from the ex militants many of whom are still finding it difficult to adapt to civilian life but also from persons with criminal tendencies who are bent on cashing in on the slightest disturbance from the ex-creek boys to unleash mayhem on other law abiding citizens,â€ observed a concerned John who told Vanguard he was dispossessed of his hand set and cash Monday night by some youths.
He said unless urgent remedial steps are put in place there might be upsurge in violent crimes in the capital city with the influx of youths many of whom absconded from their Imiringi rehabilitation centre.Sadly, the peace of the capital city has been violated four times in the last one month by ex-militants protesting over their allowances.
The latest protest that took place on Monday night caused pandemonium in the Amarata, Kpansia, Yenize_Gene and Biogbolo areas of the capital city.The protest came barely twenty four hours after the amnesty to militants expired and a reassurance by the Minister of Defence, Maj._Gen. Godwin Abbe (rtd.), that all those that had surrendered their arms and ammunition would be fully rehabilitated.
The Kpansia section of the Mbiama_Yenagoa road was temporary blocked by the protesting ex creek boys causing gridlock for residents returning home after the dayâ€™s work.It was learnt that trouble started when the peaceful payment of the ex militants at the Isaac Boro Peace Park at Ovom in the heart of the capital city degenerated into confusion over an alleged attempt by some youths to scuttle the exercise.
The timely intervention of security agencies however prevented the situation from escalating into a major crisis.
The incident no doubt scared most residents who ran into the rampaging youths prompting many to call for the strengthening of security within the Yenagoa metropolis.Reacting to the development, the state government through the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Timipre Sylva, Mr. Doifie Ola, said there was no cause for alarm.
He said, â€œIt is not an issue, it is not as if there is a crisis in Bayelsa. Yenagoa is not an arms collection centre or a payment centre. The amnesty is a programme of Federal Government and we are standing by it; it is a huge success and we are deliberating the fruit of the success.â€œWhat ever we have on the ground can be resolved. It is not as if there is a crisis here.â€
But the Bayelsa State Secretary of the Action Congress, Mr. Ebikibina Miriki , who witnessed the protest, said it constituted a threat to law and order.He said, â€œThe harassment and intimidation of innocent people last night by militants in Yenagoa is the height of insecurity to law_abiding citizens.
â€œThe neglect and exposure of the people to harassment and intimidation by the repentant militants, at will, shows how desperate the state and the Federal Government were to disarm them without making arrangements for their rehabilitation, reintegration and security for the larger society.â€
Similarly, the Chairman of Dream Bayelsa, Mr. Clarkson Amaebi, who spoke after Monday night violent protest expressed fear that it might resume because the amnesty programme had not only been politicised but turned into â€œa money_making venture in state.â€
Amaebi said it was unfortunate that the Bayelsa State government organised a post_amnesty conference when innocent people were being terrorised by the same ex_militants.He called on the Federal Government to mobilize resources and necessary aid to the Niger Delta region and ensure that the lack of development that gave rise to militancy movement are effectively addressed.
Amaebi who described the relative backwardness of Bayelsa and the Niger Delta as a whole in the midst of vast oil wealth as a tragic statement of the countryâ€™s contradiction urged the federal government to immediately release the white paper on the Niger Delta Technical Committee Report and its implementation as a show of sincerity on its part to address the injustice and imbalance in development of the region.
The Ijaw Peoples Assembly in the United Kingdom also dismissed the amnesty saying the greatest threat to Nigeria corporate existence, are not the militants but the injustice being perpetrated by the political class on the ordinary people of country.President of the group, Chief Rowland Ekperi who spoke to Vanguard from his base in London expressed reservation about the genuineness of the federal government desire to develop the Niger Delta.
The struggle in the Niger Delta according to the Ijaw activist, is not about resource control as the Federal Government and its agents would want Nigerians and the rest of the world to believe but about equity and justice in Nigeria.
His words, â€œthe greatest threat to Nigeria corporate existence, are not the militants but the injustice being perpetrated by the political class on the ordinary people of country.
The Federal Government says only peace can bring about the much sought after development in the Niger Delta. Many Nigerians have bought that story line. Sadly, some political and opinion leaders in the Niger Delta are also singing the Federal Governmentâ€™s song.â€œBut Nigerians have not asked, what happened to development of the Niger Delta during the more than 50 years of undisturbed oil exploration. Why should the people of the Niger Delta believe that the Federal Government will now develop the Niger Delta?
â€œThe Senate President, David Mark talks about training special military units to invade the creeks of the Niger Delta. The Defence Minister, Major General Godwin Abbey (rtd) boasts of dealing â€œruthlesslyâ€ with militants that fail to accept amnesty. This Major General claims to be part of the â€œpolitical Niger Deltaâ€.
â€œThe same minister further warned the Movement of the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) that â€œit could not threaten the very existence of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, noting that the government is prepared to defend the sovereignty of the country in all its ramificationsâ€. Courageous talk. Disciplined officers of the Generalâ€™s position in world class military institution see justice as the most critical element in national defence.â€
Chief Ekperi warned, â€œNigeria is on the verge of â€œpeasantsâ€™ revolutionâ€. This is the real threat that should concern the Defence Minister. The time bomb is ticking away.â€
However, one of MEND field commanders in the tick of the struggle in the mangrove creek of the delta, Ebikabowei Ben Victor, aka General Boyloaf who was among the first to openly renounce militancy urged the people of the region to give peace a chance to enable Mr. President the opportunity to actualise his dream for the region.â€œThe Federal Government has decided to develop the region so letâ€™s give them the chance.
The Federal Government told us to disarm and give them the chance to develop the region. So why canâ€™t we give the Government the chance.As for me, I will not carry guns but I will continue with the struggle in an intellectual way. I will go back to my business. I lease boats, vessels barges and do other marine businesses.â€