A very dark-skinned young man in his twenties who looked as if PHCN took light just as he was about to be born, scratched the back of his neck, and while stamping his feet intermittently on the ground, he screamed: “I want chop O! I want chop O! I go misbehave O!”.
That was an ex-militant in the first batch which was made up of about 2000 young men at the camp in Obubra in Cross River State.
Then, the tension in the camp was very high and everyone seemed to be on every other person’s nerves.
The Media Coordinator in the camp, Mr. Ekpein Appah had an explanation for that.
“We have not experienced any problems in this second batch. We have 670 in this batch as against over 2000 in the first batch. They all took off from Warri in Delta State and we have ex-militants from Edo, Ondo and Delta states in this batch. They came with military escorts, a development which was not in the first batch”, he said.
In the first batch, some had come into the camp with privately hired vans and had had no military escorts, a development which made them very angry.
Also speaking, the National Chairman of Foundation for Ethnic Harmony and Non-violence (FEHN), Allen Onyema coordinating the non-violence lectures said having studied the initial problems which sprang up from the 2000-man experience, they had to make some noticeable changes.
According to him: “We expected 600, but somehow along the line we had to accommodate a few more. The boys have been so cooperative. We worked the entire night without any stress and we commend the boys. When they came to camp, they subjected themselves to be searched without hassles.”
Now five months down the line and after the training of over ten thousand ex-miitants in the Obubra Camp a lot has been achieved.
The best graduating trainee in the eight batch of ex-militants, Mr. Innocent Ayakwo Okoro, a midget, who hails from Rivers State spoke glowingly of his experience at the camp.
According to him: “I am an ex-militant. I am 24 years old. Since the Federal Government Amnesty Programme, I have had free movement in town. I can express my freedom of speech and my rights and I commend the programme so much”.
Continuing, he said: “As I leave here, I am going to teach other people what I have learnt about non-violence. With what I have learnt here, there would be no violence. Through this process that the Federal Government has started with the youth of the Niger Delta. I think there would be no violence anymore in Nigeria, not even in the Niger Delta, because when at least 1000 people pass through this training, at least one person can reach out to 1000 and the chain effect goes on like that. Then the rate of crime would be less in this country not only in the Niger Delta.”
He was full of praise for the Federal Government saying: “With this opportunity, I thank our President and other committees and advisers who are running this programme ..I don’t know their names, but they know themselves, I thank them. May God bless them and keep this programme on. They should continue and things would go on well. If we are living in love, we are framing a better future.”
Okoro was once a hardened militant, but he now talks of love. It has not always been so with him.
Asked his role while he was in the creeks as a militant, he said: “My role in the creeks was arms handling. I was an AK47 operator. I can produce dynamites myself. I can couple catridge nuts. There is one explosion we call Ogbunigwe.
They use gun-powder to manufacture it. I can do them. I belonged to Ateke Tom Camp. I was an ADC to Ateke Tom. But since amnesty has been introduced, I have given myself to Christ. Now I am a Christian.”
A visibly repentant ex-militant, Russia Kari, an engineer, said he became a militant not because he was so keen on becoming one but because he was pushed by circumstances beyond his control to enlist.
According to him: “There is no problem now. We are glad about the programme and would do our best to ensure that it works. Everywhere is so peaceful. There is no fighting, no smoking and we are very happy. We can never pick up arms again for anything. And no politician can come to us again to ask us to fight for them.
No way. We went into militancy because there were no jobs, no development in the region and our people were suffering. We are happy about this programme, but the Federal Government should do more.
“We need development and peace. We don’t want violence. The government should do something about creating employment so that the youth would not be able to take to vices. Look at me for instance, I am a marine engineer. After my training in Akwa Ibom State, I had no job to do and people around me were all living in poverty and there was no sign of development. Nothing at all. So we moved into militancy. That was what happened”.
Asked if he thought some of the recent bombings were masterminded by ex-militants, Okoro said; “No no no! Let me tell you something. In those days when we were in the creeks fighting government, there were some boys who used to disclose our hideouts to government forces.
Those boys who were doing those things are now jealous of us because we have changed and now reformed and are even receiving salary monthly and they are not receiving anything so I suspect they are the ones now causing confusion so as to rub shit on the faces of ex-militants. My brother, I can assure you, it is not ex-militants that are throwing those recent bombs.
I am very sure of that. I can assure you that none of us who have passed through this training can be used by any politician for any negative thing again,” he added.
Mr. Appah has argued that no ex-militant who passed through the non-violence training at the camp would go back to violent agitation. He argued that ex-militants couldn’t possibly be responsible for recent bombings in the country and on recent kidnap of foreign workers.
He said: “The nation has a soul and if it has not lost that soul, we would sit down and realise that there is agitation and in anarchic situation, people cash in on it to commit crime. For instance, if there is a small fight here now, while some are fighting, others will be stealing in the confusion. There must be that distinction between criminality and agitation”.
Continuing, he said: “Anybody, after the amnesty has been declared that goes ahead to attack any oil installation or kidnap anybody is on his own; the man must be arrested immediately. In fact, we tell trainees that when they leave here, the amnesty has elapsed. You are a free citizen of Nigeria. You commit any offence, you are arrested. It is no excuse to say, you are an ex-militant or under amnesty.
Those people carrying out these problems, it is a security issue. The security men know that as we are removing these boys, some people are not happy. I mean, what is security if not analyzing the trend. It is painful that people are carrying out all these acts and we sit down here. Why can’t SSS send their men there? I know there are SSS men in every village”.
Asked further if he didn’t think these bombings were part of a devious plan to run down the amnesty programme, he said: “It is not a threat to the programme. It is a threat to Nigeria because we cannot allow criminals to go back.
Ex-militant billed to undergo this training are about 20,192 in number. They were soldiers in the creeks, almost the military strength of some West African countries. Transformed, they can monitor the Niger Delta. Just deploy the boys there. It is desperate politicians who want to run down this programme and accuse ex-militants of recent bombings.
They want to say the amnesty is not working. But we know where they are coming from. We would only allow the security agencies to do their work. We are involved in training in the camp and we would train them to the best of our abiity”.