By Emma Amaize
WARRI â€” REPENTANT militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, yesterday revealed that even as a militant leader, he was forced to pay a total N220 million as ransom to some kidnappers to secure the release of a number of women, children and foreigners that were abducted in the name of the Niger-Delta struggle.
He also appealed to other ex-militants to give the government a chance to develop the Niger Delta, saying the region could not be developed in one or two years and that President Umaru Yar’Adua seemed sincere with his statemenst on plans to develop the region.
Tompolo who spoke in Warri at a meeting of ex-militants which was hosted by him, to appraise the post-amnesty programme of the Federal Government so far and resolve on the way forward said rumours were already making the round that he and other ex-militant leaders had collected bribe from the Federal Government.
Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, who Tompolo described as â€œthe governor that understands and knows how to manage matters more than any other governor in the Niger-Deltaâ€ in his address, urged the militants to organise themselves and stop backbiting their leaders so as to speak to the government with one voice and bring down the benefits of the post-amnesty programme to the region.
As at 5.00 pm, yesterday, the national president of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Dr. Chris Ekiyor was among those present at the meeting.
Ateke Tom, who is the brain behind the meeting was still on his way from Rivers state but the secretary of the Presidential Committee on Peace and Conflict Resolution,Â Kingsley Kuku, human rights activist, Ms. Ann Kio Briggs, ex â€“commanders, John Togo, Ezekiel of the Deadly Underdogs, Shoot-At-Sight , Young Shall Grow from Bayelsa State and a host of others were in in attendance. The real meeting commenced after the governor had departed and journalists excused.
Tompolo who spoke in pidgin English said he entered a covenant with the Ijaw gods not to hurt any woman during his struggle for the liberation of the Niger-Delta and that was why he had to travel by boat at odd hours from his Camp 5 in Delta state to Bayelsa, Rivers and other states of the region to the dens of kidnappers to secure the release of women, children and foreigners.
He said he was convinced that he would not be killed when he was declared wanted and some people gave out information on his whereabouts because he was not fighting a selfish battle and the gods were protecting him.
The ex-militant leader said it was those who do not know his pedigree that would accuse him of taking bribe from the government, adding, â€œI am not one of those that will take money to sell or betray my people.â€
He disclosed that in one of the meetings the ex-militant leaders attended in Abuja, they were given N30,000 each as transport fare back to their base and â€œsome of us told them that we did not come to Abuja to beg for money and that we have touched money before, that was when they now increased it to N200, 000 each for transport fare back home after the meetingâ€.
According to him, â€œAll of us here have carried guns, it is up to a month and some days that we all accepted amnesty, we were told to do our own part and that government will do its own part, we have done our own part by accepting amnesty and dropping our arms, we have gone to Abuja two or three times and there is nothing tangible yet to tell our peopleâ€.
He said the ex-militants respect President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua and his deputy, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan for the amnesty granted militants but the truth is that the people were angry about the state of things, adding, â€œI am angry too but I have to control my anger because we, the leaders, have work that we will do for the programme to succeedâ€.
Tompolo, however, noted that Niger-Delta could not be developed in one or two years and anybody telling the ex-militants so was deceiving them, stressing that Yarâ€™Adua seemed sincere enough with his statements and the ex-militants shouldgive peace a chance and watch him.
He charged them to shun kidnapping, bombing of oil installations, oil theft and other criminal vices so as not to give the government an excuse for their actions and inactions as far as the development of the Niger-Delta is concerned.
The ex-militant leader warned that having accepted amnesty, the ex-militants were not supposed to carry guns to go and rob or commit any crime, pointing out that with fingerprints and other information at the disposal of the government, the security agencies would trace them and whoever is involved in such act is on his own.
Governor Uduaghan commended the ex-militants for accepting amnesty, saying that he was supposed to be in Abuja for the National Economic Council meeting but because of the importance of the meeting of the ex-militants, he took an excuse and stayed back in order to personally attend.
He said it was easier to get militants to drop arms than to manage the success of the amnesty itself and pleaded with the ex-militants to exercise patience, as President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua was not sleeping over the matter.
According to him, the violent phase of the struggle was over but the issues that led to the struggle were still there and solving them is the phase that the government is at the moment.
He said he was already hearing rumour that Tompolo had collected money from the government, saying that it was all lies, cooked up by the enemies to divide the ex-militants, and asked them not to fall for such cheap tricks.
Uduaghan said since he came out publicly after accepting amnesty, Tompolo had never discussed any personal issue with him and at the meeting in Abuja with Mr. President, he (governor) was there and Tompolo never raised any personal issue with him.
He, therefore, charged the militants to organise themselves and stop bandying rumour, as not all of them could attend meetings at Abuja and therefore, some people must represent them and come back to report what transpired. Those who attended such meeting, he said, should brief their people appropriately when they come back.
The governor explained that the rehabilitation and reintegration parts of the post-amnesty programme were being overseen by the Minister of Defence, Major-General Godwin Abbe (rtd.), who is the chairman of the Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament of Militants, but, the infrastructure part would be handled by the various ministries and parasatals in-charge, including the Ministry of Niger-Delta and the Niger-Delta Development Commission, NDDC.
On the 10 per cent equity participation granted to host communities by the Federal Government, he said it was still on paper but the most important thing for now was for the people to think of how the oil producing communities would get the best from it.
He also said that his administration would carry all ex-militants in its programme for them, whether leaders or followers, adding, â€œThat was why I invited them to Asaba the other day, I can see John Togo, you were there, Ezekiel, I think we decided that everybody should be carried along according to our limitâ€.