By Emma Amaize,
Regional Editor, S/South

WHOEVER planned or suggested to day’s meeting (Friday, October 9) at Abuja by President Umaru Yar’Adua and ex-militant leaders, notably Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, Ateke Tom, Victor Ben, better known as Boyloaf, Fara Dagogo and others, that have accepted the Federal Government’s amnesty to brainstorm and come out with an acceptable blueprint for peace and development of the Niger-Delta has his thinking cap on.
Coming five days after the October 4 amnesty deadline, the meeting is appropriate because the success of the post amnesty programme requires the synergy of all actors, both on the sides of government and the militants, whether ex or otherwise.

The fact that not all militants in the Niger-Delta agreed to surrender their weapons by the stipulated government deadline of October 4, and, therefore, decided to hold on to their weapons and watch the actions of government before  deciding on their next line of action shows that danger is not yet averted. In fact, the government has cut the tail of the snake with its amnesty programme, but, the head is still there. That is the situation even with the surrender of Tompolo, Ateke Tom, Boyloaf, Dagogo and others.

Dagogo, one of the former commanders of MEND made the point succinctly in his address on October 3 when he surrendered his “weapons of mass destruction”. He talked about true spirit of reconciliation, putting the federal government to test and thousands of unrepentant militants in the creeks willing to carry on with the struggle. You have to read between the lines to decipher Dagogo’s coded message.

*Tompolo and Henry Okah

Read him, “Today, October 3, 2009, I, Farah Dagogo, overall Field Commander for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) accepts together with field commanders in Rivers State, the Presidential offer of amnesty to militants who lay down their weapons”.

“In 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 true spirit of reconciliation exemplified by dialogue and federal presence with an aim to addressing the root cause of militancy in the region.

“As we signify our willingness to put to test the government’s preparedness to address the problems of the people of the Niger Delta, I appeal to those still determined to fight on, to consider first the option of dialogue.“In the same vein, it is my sincere desire that the government immediately embarks on dialogue to forestall a resurgence of violence in the Niger Delta.

“There are still thousands of people willing to continue fighting in the creeks and only the actions of the government can win over our brothers still bent on fighting.“As soldiers, we are not competent to dialogue with the federal government on these serious issues affecting the region.“We wish our brothers and sisters who we hope will commence with the intellectual struggle for justice in the Niger Delta, the very best and pray for a just and peaceful Niger Delta”, he said.

Tompolo, regarded as the General Officer Commanding (GOC) also hinted before he finally surrendered his arms on October 4 that they were many more deadly militants  in the Niger-Delta and that killing (read getting him to be on the government side) him, Fara, Ateke, Boyloaf, Africa, Shoot-at-Sight, Young Shall Grow and others would not “stop the numerous unsung Tompolos in the creeks who owe our people at home and in the Diaspora this noble duty to bring justice and peace to our land”.

The point here is that there are still issues to be sorted out for the amnesty programme to work even with the surrender of the former big-time players, which MEND said it had already replaced and permitted to leave the struggle because their identities had been exposed and there was need to continue the struggle with unidentified persons.

The cooperation and assistance of ex-militant leaders who before they surrendered,  were the bosses of these unsung Tompolos are needed by the government to get the unapologetic ones see reason and even be admitted  by government if they later decide to accept amnesty in the months ahead.

President’s Yar’Adua has put the ex-militant leaders in an unenviable position because their colleagues who refused to surrender would mock them if the government failed to concretely develop the region. So far, the Ministry of Niger-Delta and even the Niger-Delta Development Commission (NDDC), which the federal government has been boasting about, have not risen up to the challenge, obviously for lack of adequate funds.

While managing the impenitent militants is an issue, keeping the repentant ones at bay is not a light matter by all standards going from the almost daily demonstrations in Yenagoa, where some of them barricade roads and go on rampage over payment of stipends and other demands. The government has to sort out the matter with the ex-militant leaders so as to control the rebellious spirits in them. Otherwise, one day, they could turn their rehabilitation camps upside down and cause an inconceivable catastrophe.

However, what the meeting should address frontally is the apparent differences among some of the ex-militant leaders. Clearly, there’s a misunderstanding and if the matter is not properly addressed, the whole thing about the amnesty process would crash and as MEND’s spokesman, Jomo Gbomo said, weeks ago, Come October 1, 2010, the nation would  know whether the amnesty programme is  a success or not.

There is no denying that there is a split in MEND over the amnesty programme. Even though MEND allowed some of its commanders to leave because it cannot stop them from accepting amnesty, the surrendering of arms by the ex-commanders did not enjoy the support of the militant group, which argued that it was wrong to surrender arms in a struggle when the government has not addressed the root issues of the struggle.

One of its leaders contended in an interview with Vanguard on Wednesday, “The issues that were raised have not been addressed, how can they surrender arms, the best the federal government has done so far is its promise that it will develop the Niger-Delta, it’s not today that government started making promises on Niger-Delta, the people wants to see development, that is what MEND stands for”.

Noticeably, Tompolo and his co – ex-militant leaders have found themselves at variance with the other leaders in the MEND over their action, even if the latter is trying not to make much of it, but, the Federal Government has to strategize with the ex-militant leaders on how to bring the remaining people in MEND into the new fold without having to spill more blood.

That is probably why Tompolo was asking for extension of the amnesty deadline to enable them discuss extensively among themselves and bring on board those that were sitting on the fence.The programme has moved beyond that stage for now but the real task before the government and the ex-militant leaders in the amnesty programme is how to prevail on MEND not to go on further destruction of oil pipelines, as any such strike in future will make nonsense of the entire course of action as make-belief.

Some people believe that since MEND is not a physical entity and virtually all those that created the amorphous organization have abandoned it, the group was good as dead as one of its erstwhile Commanders, Boyloaf asserted, but, those who understand the operation of militant groups know that with the exit of the former leaders, there is now more mystery about the group and that increases its elements of surprise.

With the rumoured plan to give security contracts to the ex- militant leaders to take charge of their various areas, they may want to do everything to stop their “brothers” in the creeks from sabotaging oil pipelines after such a deal would have pulled through , but, that is where the trouble lies. It will then be a negotiation between those who at present operate for MEND and them, which will definitely make the stakes high because some people would want to take a pound of flesh for one reason or the other.

A MEND leader who spoke to Vanguard on phone said, “We heard that they are going to give security contracts to them, let them take the contract and let us see how they are going to protect them. You see, some of them were fighting for their personal pockets before now but we were managing them and doing everything to make them remain focussed on the struggle. The federal government did not read between the lines and has accepted them as if they are the right people to discuss with and the matter will be over, that is the mistake they are making”.

Today’s meeting would have been an opportunity for President Yar’Adua to personally intervene in the matter and even prevail on the assumed leader of MEND, Henry Okah, who he released from detention unconditionally to sort out whatever differences that exist between him and any of the ex-militant leaders or with MEND, but, Okah, who is undergoing medical treatment in South-Africa told Vanguard on Wednesday that he would not be in Abuja for the meeting.

Since he was released, the goings-on have not been so good between Henry Okah and his erstwhile friend, Boyloaf, who fought like a lion for his freedom. It was not exactly an excellent relationship between Okah and Tompolo before Okah was arrested and later released, this year, but both of them met somewhere in the creeks of Niger-Delta before Okah returned to South-Africa.

Okah gave cogent reasons for his stand-off, which essentially is that the government has not touched the root issues of the Niger-Delta struggle with the way its current amnesty programme is packaged. Going back to 2007 when President Yar’Adua assumed office and extended olive branch to militants, what bungled the peace process that the Vice President Goodluck Jonathan was shepherding was a misunderstanding between the Federal Government on one side and the militants on the other side on the way forward.

Okah disagreed with the way it was being handled then and Dr. Jonathan had to lead a federal government delegation to meet with him in South-Africa.Under a strange circumstance, Okah was arrested some months after the Vice president’s visit to him in South-Africa in Angola , where he was detained and subsequently expatriated to Nigeria and made to face secret trial and further detention until he was released recently.

Okah’s deportation to Nigeria and secret trial led to bombing of oil installations, kidnap of foreign oil workers, etc and culminated in the Gbaramatu crisis of May 13, which led to the granting of amnesty to militants.It is believed that the government went for Okah in 2007 because he did not agree with the Yar’Adua government on its strategies for resolving the Niger-Delta imbroglio.

He single-handed made it to collapse and again in 2009, he’s not satisfied with the same old strategy President Yar’Adua is using to bring peace to the region.The worry really is whether the post-amnesty programme as the government has packaged it can work without addressing the root issues, which Henry Okah and MEND have stood on since 2006.

Can the amnesty work with the disarming of Tompolo, Ateke Tom,  Dagogo, Ezekiel of Deadly Underdogs, Shoot-At-Sight, John Togo, Egbema One and others, which the government must be given due credit for. Should the government enlist or not enlist the services of the Aaron team, comprising the former Chief of General Staff, Rear Admiral Mike Akhigbe (rtd), Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka (observer), former Commander of the African Mission in Sudan , Major General Luke Aprezi (rtd), Dr. Sabella Abidei and female activist, Ms. Annkio Briggs, which MEND appointed to negotiate for the Niger-Delta?

Many think the way forward is revisiting the report of the Niger-Delta Technical Committee (NTDC), headed by Niger-Delta activist and Ogoni leader, Mr. Ledum Mitee The report took a look at the previous reports on the Niger-Delta and came out with what is regarded by the generality as an acceptable blueprint on the way forward for the Niger-Delta.

Though MEND has its reservations on the report, the consensus is that it is still a negotiated take-off document that can quench the anger of the antagonists of the government peace process on the Niger-Delta and the amnesty programme, provided the powers-that-be do not play politics with true federalism, which is where all Niger-Deltans stand, be they militants, ex-militants, politicians, men, women and youths.


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