By Willy Bozimo
THERE is nothing more edying and perhaps, also ennobling to the soul of a freedom fighter, who with the passage of time, had been dubbed along with several miscreants in the struggle to emancipate the Niger Delta a militant. The promulgation of the amnesty package byÂ President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™dua, which he calls unconditional amnesty , is seen by many Nigerians as the boldest single_ minded effort by any federal government to buy peace in the most troubled and one of the largest wetlands in the world.
The innocentÂ looking president, often described as a â€˜slow locomotive coachâ€™ seemed to have exhibited an uncannyÂ sincerity and patriotic zeal to set a proactive agenda toÂ solvingÂ the perennial lack of visible developments in the oil and gas rich zone.
First,Â he set up Niger Delta Ministry and also empowered the Niger Delta Development Commission [NDDC]Â to ensure a regular flow of funds to fast track the massive development of theÂ area.Â The mangrove swamps needed to be sand_filled and in their places the thatch and rickety houses in which the 21st century fishermen, farmers and women live in abject povertyÂ should now be replaced by concrete block houses , good roads and bridges, electricity, hospitals, institutions of higher learning and potable water.
These facilities, which the oil prospecting giants like Shell, AGIP and Chevron provide for their staff in their numerous house boats and locations, they deny to the owners of the oil and gasÂ in the swamps of the Niger Delta.Â The freedom fighters cum militantsÂ were compelled by these oppressive circumstances to resort to violence.
They fought like wounded lions and tigers. And like the amphibious peoples that they are, they could battle on solid land and under the mangrove swampsÂ and the deep seas.Â For the past tenÂ years, these hairy chested young men in the their 20s and 30s , some of them graduates from reputable universities, answered the call of patriotismÂ to emancipate their oil and gas bearing territories_ spanning the longest stretch of the coastal lands_ from Ondo , through Edo , Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River states.
With theÂ heat on, the federal government was now compelledÂ by the ferocious attacks of the militants andÂ set up theÂ Joint Task Force [JTF] to stem the un_abatingÂ seasons of vandalisation of oil and gas pipelines and oil platforms of the foreign oil giants. The net result was the dwindling oil revenuesÂ as several oil platform were shut down even right under the intimidating eagled- eyed presence of soldiers, Naval men and Airforce operatives.
The bubble burst on one sunny morning when some military escorts tried to overawe theÂ military Camp 5,Â of Tom Polo, whose real name is Government Ekpemupolo. Barely 35, of a spare frame, innocent looking and could not even hurt a fly but strongly â€˜brewed and bredâ€™ in the dark salty waters of Gbaramatu Kingdom in Delta State and seen by many as a reincarnation of the first Izon freedom fighter in Jasper IsaacÂ Adaka Boro, someÂ 43 years ago . Most Niger Deltans ofÂ Izon extractionÂ had been inspired and fired by Boroâ€™s pioneeringÂ liberation struggles in his 12 days revolution when he declared â€˜A NIGER DELTA REPUBLICâ€™.
Adaka Boro for that rebellious effrontery under Prime Minister,Abubakar Tafawa Balewaâ€™s regime was tried and sentenced to death for treasonable felony. After the coup of January 1966, which overthrew the first Republic during which Balewa, Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, Okotie EbohÂ and Akintola and several others were killed, a General Ironsi came on board as the new military ruler.
Six months after, a counter coup occurred and Lt. Col. YakubuÂ Gowon, came on the scene. With the blossoming secessionist civil war in the offing, the military ruler, in order to recruit the likes of AdakaÂ Boro into the full blown civil war aroundÂ the corner, offered the equivalent of amnesty to Boro and he was left off the hook.
In a seeming self_same manner , another ruler from the north, a Fulani in Yarâ€™ Adua, under the unrelieved militancy wars in the creeksÂ of the Niger Delta , had come to judgment under a different clime.His declaration of amnesty to the teeming militants and freedom fighters which took off in August will last till OctoberÂ 4, and several militants across the Niger Delta had embraced the schemeÂ and since then many public display of return of arms by militants had kept coming.
The classic case was that of Bayelsa State, the almostÂ exclusive Izon ethnic stateÂ where general â€˜Boyloafâ€™ not only led his group of freedom fighters to declareÂ open support and acceptance of the amnestyÂ at the seat of power in Abuja, literallyÂ escorted by Governor Timipre Silva and over 30 freedom fighters. As if the Abuja show of commitmentÂ was not enough, theÂ show at Yenagoa, was over the roof almost like an over_kill.
But beyondÂ the razzmatazz of amnestyÂ gun show exhibitions across the Niger Delta, there lies the deep concern for all freedom fighters so that their willingness to surrender their weapons of selective destruction of pipelines and flow stations should not be construed as total surrender of the struggle to our oppressors.Â The big masquerades of the militancy like the Tom Polos , the Ateke Toms andÂ AsariÂ Dokubos are yet to fully embrace and openly surrender their weapons.
They, mostÂ especially ,Tom Polo, regarded by people of the Niger Delta and his Izon ethnic nationals as the â€˜G.O.Câ€™ (general officer commanding)Â in the struggle,Â for all practical purposes, â€˜groomâ€™ or is it the â€˜brideâ€™ of the ultimate quest for the actualization of the amnesty . UntilÂ theÂ Tom Polos of this struggle genuinely come out of the mangrove swamps, theirÂ permanent home, the amnesty scheme might well be an ego massaging ointmentÂ to shore up the political standing of Mr. President.
It was to reinforce the standing of the â€˜Big Leagueâ€™Â players of the status of Tom Polo that a very high delegation from the presidency, General Godwin Abbe, Governor Uduaghan, Timi Alaibe,Â Tony AnenihÂ paid a surprise visit to the Gbaramatu kingdom to put the amnesty ship on course in a friendly visitation, as opposed to the gun boat diplomacy of General Sarkin Yarkin Belloâ€™s JTF.
The visit of the team to OporozaÂ sensitizeÂ Â Tom Polo and the traditional ruler of Gbaramatu, on the need to accept the amnesty and support the dredging of River Niger . Report has itÂ that Tom Polo had accepted amnestyÂ but asked for more time, beyond October 4, to reach out to all his boys who were scattered during the GbaramatuÂ battles and â€˜to make the amnesty and disarmamentÂ holistic a affairâ€™.
But Godwin Abbe , Minister of Defence, true to his military mentality , insisted that the amnesty deadline was sacrosanct and if anybody wants to accept it, the person must do so within the stipulated time. There is no other chanceâ€™. He said emphatically with an undue air of finality.Minister Abbe ought to understand that to every rule or law, there is always an exception.
And if a Tom Polo, the â€˜G.O.Câ€™ had agreed to an amnesty deal, why not let him be an exceptional case, based on the fact that he had openly written to the President on theÂ complexities of the total package . Tom Polo is not just a freedom fighter but a leader, respected fighter who had been partnering with both the state and federal governmentsÂ on the peace process.
Come to think of it, a man who survived the aerial and naval bombardments during the month-longÂ Gbaramatu creek battles and was not smoked out of the creeks by the superior military war arsenal should be given a modicum of respect as a worthy opponent and combatant in jungle warfare.
Let the hawks on the federal side tone down theirÂ hard_line posturing and theatricalsÂ and let brotherly love and genuine amnesty package, designed by Mr. President, to usher in an enduring peace so that the reason for the freedom fightingÂ and militancy would nowÂ give way to massive development as promised by Mr. President . General Abbe is messenger of peace, notÂ courier of messages of doom.
As a proud and illustrious son ofÂ Edo and a Niger Deltan, whom military career had put in positions of power andÂ governance, heÂ must also ask his conscienceÂ how many sons of Edo origin had carried theÂ cross of the Niger Delta struggle , who have died and properties burnt out in the creek battles? There is none.
The entire gamut of the militancy in the region isÂ borne by the Izon ethnic nationalsÂ , a kind of self_ imposed Cross, on behalf of the entire NigerÂ Delta.. For such a gallant core of brave patriots , like Tom Polo, Ateke Tom and Asari Dokubo , giving them a little breather is not a crimeÂ or a sign of weakness. Amnesty is not a destination but the first tentative footsteps of a long tortuous journey, the end of which no one knows how it will be.
When Tom Polo asked for moreÂ time beyond October 4,, he knew what he was talking about. He is just one single man , who knows the depth of the groundswell of mini Tom Polos, still lurking around in the creeks and if he surrenders without taking his foot soldiers along into confidence and give them water tight assurances of their personal safety and futuristic prospects for themselves and their families, then he would be seen as a sell out, unworthy of the prestigiousÂ title of_ Tom Polo_ G.O.C..
To me, Tom Polo is the ultimate â€˜BRIDEâ€™ in the amnesty quest that would eventually give greater credibility to theÂ freshly _fangled initiative of a man of Peace , due process and rule of law and not the type ofÂ military fiat brother Godwin AbbeÂ had been used to.
From me, let brother TomÂ PoloÂ listen to the voices of our brothers and sisters in creeks, who had suffered as innocent bystanders, who have lost relations and properties in the military attack on innocent citizens of Niger Delta , turned refugees in their fatherland.
And for the sake of Governor Uduaghan, Chief Wellington Okrika and the thousands of victims of the Sarkin Belloâ€™s unprovoked attacks on the izon villages of Gbaramatu which the Delta State government had agreed to rebuild, your embracing the peace would portray the State , not as home to militants but home to brave men, â€˜who would not keep silent in face of tyranny asÂ Wole Soyinka saidÂ in hisÂ book, â€˜;
The Man Diedâ€™ .Â â€˜The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.â€™
The likes of Tom Polo, Ateke Tom and Asari Dokubo_ all heroes of the Izon nation will always be remembered.
AND I THINK, MOST NIGER DELTANS WOULD AT LEAST GIVE THEM THAT PRIDE OF PLACE IN THEIR HEARTS.Â THE BRAVE MAN IS THE ONE WHO SURRENDERS TODAY TO PICK UP THE GAUNTLET to fight TOMORROW. Let the amnesty notÂ fail on your head or shoulders. Tom polo , G.O.C for Life.