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MEND, 50 groups ready for fresh violence

PROTEST: Ex-militants in Edo protesting alleged abandonment by the Federal Government, in Benin. Photo by Barnabas Uzosike.
By Daniel Idonor & Samuel Oyadongha
YENAGOA—ANGERED by the continued absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua and his refusal to transfer power to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, about 50 militant groups under the aegis of Network of Freedom Fighters in Niger Delta, NFF, yesterday, threatened to launch fresh violence in the troubled region.

Rising from an enlarged meeting in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, where they deliberated on the state of the nation, the NFF warned that they were being forced to join forces and commence hostilities in the region which could prove disastrous for the country.

The NFF in a communiqué jointly signed by Nengi James and Kofi Kelvin Moses, Coordinator and Secretary respectively, called on the international community to suspend forthwith all bilateral relations and dealings with Nigeria pending the swearing in of Dr. Jonathan as Acting President while waiting for the quick recovery of President Umaru Yar’Adua.

While restating its avowed commitment to democracy, rule of law, constitutionalism and the struggle for the Niger Delta cause and national interest, the NFF communiqué reads: “we want to commend efforts of various groups and individuals like Ohaneze Ndigbo, South West Leaders Forum, Northern Union led by Chief Olusola Saraki, Save Nigeria Group led by Prof. Wole Soyinka and Femi Falana and South-South leaders led by Chief Edwin Clark for their unbiased and concerted stand towards resolving the impasse created by the continued absence of Mr. President by calling for the implementation of section 145 of the 1999 Constitution which makes provision for an Acting President.

“We warn that if the government fails to abide by the provision of the constitution we will join forces and direct our strategic units to commence hostilities which will lead to a black day for the country. We also call on the international community to suspend forthwith all bilateral relations and dealings with Nigeria pending the swearing in of Vice President Goodluck Jonathan as the Acting President while waiting for the quick recovery of Yar’Adua; else we will not guarantee the safety of foreign citizens working in the Niger Delta.”

While commending the unrelenting efforts of media owners and journalists in the country for rising to the challenge, the group urged the media to be mindful of the antics and manipulative actions of some Nigerians who were bent on subverting the constitution for their selfish interest.

Heed wise counsel, FG warns MEND

The Federal Government, yesterday, said it has received reports of threat from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, to stop its ongoing ceasefire and return to the creeks, warning the group to heed advice of the elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark, in order not to truncate the existing fragile peace in the region.

Chairman of the Amnesty Implementation Committee and Minister of Defence, General Godwin Abbe who fielded questions from State House Correspondents, insisted that while the government was interested in the speedy and rapid development of the region the people must exercise patience and give it enough time to plan, design and execute developmental projects.

He warned that while all these processes were being pursued with vigour and sincerity by the Federal Government and other stake-holding institutions, it will not fold its arms and watch few elements destroy the fragile peace that took so much effort to build.

Abbe said: “I agree with the elder statesman, who is asking that the militants should continue to exercise patience, this country belongs to them. If they choose violence, they do not monopolize violence at all and it is an ill wind that would blow no one any good including themselves.

“And it is unpatriotic for anyone to continue to threaten the security of this country with violence, fire and brimstone. I have asked before, that we should allow peace to take a chance because that is the only opportunity this country has to develop. If MEND says it has called off cease-fire they are on their own because we know that MEND is only one part of the numerous clusters of militant groups that exist in the Niger Delta region.”

He agreed that MEND’s threat has some implications on the entire peace process, saying that “yes, it is a process, it has some implication”, but that “the nation is moving on in bringing peace to the Niger Delta region and indeed Nigeria which is not the responsibility of the government alone, it is the responsibility of every Nigerian and all of us have to work for it. So if a segment of the society says they are not ready to participate and foster peace, history will also judge them when the time comes”.

Amnesty hasn’t failed

The government also debunked claims in some quarters that the amnesty granted to former militants in the NigerDelta has failed due to inaction arising from the unavoidable absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua who has been away for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia for over 73 days.

Abbe declared that those currently blaming the government for slowness and inactivity were beneficiaries of the old order, noting that “now that peace has returned, they have been thrown out of business hence the worries”

He said the perceived delay or slow pace of activities in the implementation of the programme had nothing to do with the absence of the President but the committee’s desire to pay detailed attention to technical issues involved in the process, which the committee cannot afford to rush over.

The minister added: “It is unfortunate that people are saying that amnesty has failed. To me that kind of comment is premised on ignorance, because the amnesty programme itself is a process. What brought about the amnesty took several years so you can not clear it in a few months. You need to do detailed planning for every step that you must take, for every kobo that you must expend. You must be sure that you are going to get value for money. It is not a hundred meter dash, and people would need to exercise patience and allow the driver to give their best.”

Ex-militants’ allowances

Abbe further dismissed as untrue, reports of nonpayment of monthly allowances to repentant militants; stating that those who were protesting delay in the payment of allowances were those who refused to accept the amnesty offer while it lasted, but later accepted when registration was being concluded.

Another reason he advanced for the incident of nonpayment was the failure of some ex-militants to go to the designated banks to open account for easy payment, saying that perhaps some of them were afraid of arrest, despite repeated assurances.

He noted that “in a democratic system, you just don’t go to the national coffers and pick money like that and start spending because you are carrying out amnesty programme. These are the issues, besides most of the militants that you hear that are complaining that they have not been paid were asked to go and register in the banks”.

Why we are with Amnesty

The minister said his committee was at “the stage of completing work on the road map for rehabilitation and integration. We want to make sure that the data that would be required for work is completed and that when the call-up starts there would be no stop at all. That is on one hand but remember that other committees have also been established.

“These committees bother on infrastructure, environmental sanitation of the area, provision of key facilities like the railway line, and are also busy trying to work out all the details and it is the totality of all these that would be put together. When the costing is made, then of course the process of funding will also have to be followed.

“And until the proper documentation of the militants have be completed, even the gazette action the government promised will not take place because we are not ready to include the names of criminals and ex-convicts as repentant militants, we will not”, he stated.


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