By Emma Amaize , Regional Editor, S-South
DOGS donâ€™t eat dogs, but, the reverse is precisely what ex-militants are doing with their colleagues of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND) who insisted that the Federal Government shouldÂ discuss with the Aaron team constituted by the militant group for things to move forward in the Niger-Delta.
It took a lot of pressure on President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua to agree to meet the Aaron team, boasting in its rank, Vice Admiral Mike Akhigbe (rtd), Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, (observer), Major General Luke Kakadu Aprezi (rtd), Dr. Sabella Ogbobode Abidde and Mr. Kentebe, November 14, at Aso Villa, Abuja after different interest groups tried to abort the meeting.
Assumed leader of MEND, Henry Okah and one of the ex-militant leaders that accepted amnesty and surrendered his arms, Farah Dagogo were also at the meeting.
Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, a former field commander in the creeks is one of those opposed to Aaron team.
As soon as it became clear to him that President Yarâ€™Adua was going to meet with the Aaron team, last week, at Abuja, he made phone calls and sent out a message to the media through his media aide, dissociating ex-militants from the meeting.
His message rattled a lot of people who felt that Tompoloâ€™s voice or stand on Niger-Delta issue was not one to be pushed aside there was real fear that Yarâ€™Adua might cancel the meeting on the strength of his objection or send a junior official to talk with the team.
Before then, the minister of defence, Major General Godwin Abbe had maintained that the Aaron team was not recognized by government. Tompoloâ€™s message read thus:Â â€œThe team does not have the blessing of the freedom fighters hence should not be taken serious by the Federal Government and other well-meaning Nigerians. The Aaron team is out there to jeopardize the post-amnesty programmeâ€.
Despite the objection of some ex-militants to the Aaron team, which a leader of MEND attributed to ignorance on the part of some former commanders of the group, the meeting between the President and the Aaron team took place with the groupâ€™s spokesman, Jomo Gbomo describing it as a successful outing.
Both sides agreed to meet again for further dialogue, while the President agreed to pay a visit to the region in the shortest possible time to see things for himself. He briefed the team on his policies and actions on the Niger-Delta and pleaded with the Aaron team to co-operate with other stakeholders.
What is clear with the exchange of words between the ex-militants on one side and MEND on the other over the Aaron team is that the former suspected that Henry Okah and probably one other person sat down and nominated a group of persons without consultation to negotiate with the Federal Government on the way forward for the region.
But a source close to MEND said the issue of resolving the Niger-Delta crisis was not a tea-party affair that should be left in the hands of fighters who fought in the creeks, adding, â€œit was a matter for our intellectuals that are schooled and grounded in the dynamics of the struggle to handle.
â€œYou can see some of the ex-militants talking about monthly stipends, fighting for accommodation and money that was given out for transportation to Abuja, those are not the people that will sit with government to articulate the problem of the region the way government will have not option than be compelled to act on it.
They have fought with the guns quite alright, but, this is the time for them to give way and allow those who are good in the semantics of the struggle to sit at a roundtable with government and iron the issues out persuasively for the region.
Niger-Delta struggle is not a clannish affair, it affects the entire nation, which is why a personality like Prof Soyinka is in the team, and itâ€™s only somebody who is myopic in his reasoning that will question the involvement of Soyinka as an observer in the team.
â€œTell me, what grammar is anybody going to speak that will confuse Prof Soyinka as to why the country should practice true fiscal federalism or why the development of the Niger-Delta will not take precedence above any other thing in this country and other demands of MEND, but, those who are saying that the ex-militants should go and hold meetings in Abuja forget that they are fighters and are not in the position to accentuate the reasons for the struggle better than the carefully chosen members of the Aaron teamâ€, he said.
â€œThose accusing MEND of being a one-man affair are standing the truth on the head because even though some of them were our fighters because the believed in the struggle, they never really knew the inner workings and it was left like that deliberately for a time like this.
Itâ€™s only a few people that know how we came up with MEND and those core people cannot say the kind of things that some people are pouring from their mouths because we know where we are coming from and where we are going, my brother, certain things cannot be said on the pages of the newspapers, no matter how you push meâ€, the dependable source added.
It isÂ not really known why Tompolo and Henry Okah are not in agreement now, but, shortly after Okah was released from detention, he and Tompolo met somewhere in the creeks of Delta State where they not only discussed on matters concerning the struggle but pledged to work together to achieve freedom for the people of the Niger-Delta.
Sunday Vanguard was told even though some people constituted the Aaron team without consulting Tompolo, he was particularly unhappy at the manner human rights activist, Ms. Ann Kio Briggs was dropped from the negotiating group.
Itâ€™s not only Tompolo that is spitting fire over the Aaron team. A group of seven ex-generals of MEND, led by John Togo, penultimate Monday, disowned Henry Okah over the matter, saying he was on his own.
The ex-militants accused Okah, of arrogance by unilaterally nominating a group called Aaron team to discuss on behalf of ex-militants and the entire Niger Delta with the Federal Government of Nigeria without consulting with other key generals in the creek.â€
The position paper of the ex-militants was signed by the convener, John Togo, Ezekiel Akpasibe-owei, Pastor Reuben, John Isiaye, Alex Preye, Frank Ibigone, and Pius Wareyai.
They asked the Federal Government, the international community, corporate bodies and individuals not to recognize Mr. Henry Okah and his Aaron team for the continued peace in Niger Delta, saying, â€œThe Aaron team does not have our supportâ€.
â€œWe hereby categorically state that it is only the following war generals and our men at alert who will meet and nominate credible leaders of Niger Delta to represent us to negotiate sensitive issues with federal government for permanent peace in Niger Delta.
They are as follows: (i) General Tompolo (ii) General Boyloaf, (iii) General Tom Ateke, (iv) General John Togo, (v) General Farah Dagogoh, (vi)Â General Egberipapa, (vii) General Ezekiel Akpasibe-owei (viii)Â General Soboma George (ix)Â General Afrika (x)Â General Ogobosh, (xi) General Joshua Mackiver,(xii)Â Â General Pastor Reuben, (xiii)Â General Shoot- At-Sight (xiv)Â General Darekoro.
We, the generals and our men at alert Â Â Â in Niger Delta arms struggle Â Â Â know ourselves that we are all â€œschool drop-outsâ€ who have signed their death warrants and sacrificed our lives for Niger Delta liberation.
We know that we cannot speak big â€˜grammarsâ€™ But no individual should feel larger than life with his chains of university degrees to hijack the struggle of our lives.
We want Mr. President to know that if Henry Okah who claimed to be our general leader has any troops, he too should surrender arms as we creek generals do, before he identifies himself a general. Henry Okah is a paper general without a battalion.
â€œWe sincerely regret and apologize on behalf of our arrogant brother, Henry Okah to all members of the Aaron team for what this might have caused their personality.
We are particularly apologetic to Noble Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka for what the selfish and personal aggrandizement ofÂ Henry Okah had caused to his personality. We respect and prostrate before the Nobel Laureate for his wisdom, ingenuity and creative power as a genius.
A Niger-Delta youth activist, Comrade Dennis Otuaro who spoke to Sunday Vanguard from Zurich in Switzerland, during the week, said he was in support of the ex-militants position against Henry Okah because only one man cannot single-handedly appoint the Aaron team for the Niger-Delta.
â€œThe Aaron team was formed to furtherÂ the interest of the region that is why it is made of only credible Nigerians. The truth is that some of the ex-militants are being used by politicians to paint the Aaron team in a bad imageâ€, he stated.