By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
“General” John Togo, a secondary school dropout, regarded by many as a sea pirate and armed robber, is the leader of the Niger-Delta Liberation Force, NDLF, an armed group in Delta State, which surfaced, last month, barely 48 hours after the Ministry of Defence directed the Joint Task Force, JTF, on the Niger-Delta, headed by Major-General Charles Omoregie, to wipe out all new militant camps in the region, claiming that it was short-changed in the post–amnesty programme by the Federal Government.
The task force deployed soldiers to overrun his camp on November 17 as they did to others in Rivers and Bayelsa states, some days earlier, but the troops were ambushed, with no fewer than nine soldiers killed and others injured. The task-force retreated and bombarded, two weeks later, the country-home of Togo, Ayakoromor, which he had fled, several earlier, allegedly in search of him.
Two of his camps, one, on the outskirts of the community and another in
Okrika were seized by the task force, December 1. Togo, who dared the task force after the November 17 encounter, cried out that the task force massacred innocent villagers, and blew an NNPC pipeline on Sunday, December 5, to protest the invasion of Ayakoromor and refusal of the Federal Government to convene a post-amnesty conference for aggrieved ex-militants, as demanded by the group.
In a dramatic circumstance, Togo, two days later, Tuesday, December 7, called the JTF boss, Gen. Omoregie, on phone, begging that he was ready to surrender all the arms and ammunition in his armory.
That was not the first time he had indicated his willingness to surrender. He made a similar pledge through his lawyer, Casely Omon-Irabor, two days before the task-force raided Ayakoromor on December 1. The task force boss maintained at that time that he was not in any negotiation with Omon-Irabor on behalf of Togo.
But, who really is John Togo? A sea pirate, armed robber, criminal or a freedom fighter? And, what does he want?
Togo confessed that he was once an armed robber, but, at the moment, he has repented and given his life to God. Can a leopard change its spot or can an angel of darkness transform to an angel of light? Find out in this no-holds-barred session with Sunday Vanguard.
To a lot of people, John Togo is a criminal, sea pirate, killer, extortionist and an armed robber. So, what are you doing, claiming to be championing a Niger-Delta struggle with NDLF?
The John Togo you know today is not the John Togo of yesterday. If today, I have never used my gun to intimidate anybody in the riverine communities, I swear to God and Ijaw deities, let JTF single gunshot strike me death. To answer your question, in 2003, when we came to the arms business and the struggle, it is true that some of the Ijaw boys were controlled by their arms, instead of us to control our arms.
And, there were so many bad reports and allegations, all on me. I was a victim of circumstance as a leader of a group who was fighting to protect Warri Ijaw communities. My enemies set me up at that time. I did not know many allegations were levelled against me. That is why God rescued me from detention. Truly, I carried out only bank robbery to use the money to buy arms and ammunition in 2003 to protect my people.
You were accused of slaughtering even Ijaw market women in the past and stealing their money and robbing banks also. Do these present you as a Niger-Delta activist or a criminal?
That is what I have just said. I have never raped or killed any Ijaw market woman and collected her belonging at any time. You cannot judge me and my NDLF with my past record.
This is a new John Togo and, simply, I am out to correct the many years of criminal neglect, injustice and marginalisation. I am not a criminal, but a Niger Delta freedom fighter and total freedom is our goal. Look, Paul in the Bible was called Saul. He was a bad man but one day, God picked Saul, changed his name to Paul and he became one of the disciples of Jesus Christ to set man free from bondage and everlasting fire.
I am not even Saul or Paul; I did not commit sins as that of the Biblical Saul. My Ijaw people feel that I should change for the better. The Ijaw should support me and never to join JTF to fight me in this cause, which, in the background, is a general Niger Delta people cause.
How can there be peace in Niger Delta when Niger Delta that produces over 85 per cent revenue to the national federal purse has practically nothing to show for it? Should everybody remain quiet and allow the government and the multinationals to plunder our God-given resources?
Is it the Federal Government amnesty of non-violent training, skill acquisition training and the post-amnesty salary that we fought for over the years? What about strategies for the development of the Niger Delta people or the Ijaw nation as front-liners of the arms struggle? This is the bone of contention between NDLF and the Federal Government. We can achieve that through the outcome of the post-amnesty conference.
You said you want the Federal Government to convene a conference of aggrieved ex-militants, but this would have been done without you breaching your acceptance of amnesty by returning to the creeks.
It is not NDLF that breached the amnesty pact with us but the Federal Government. We have employed several means to draw the attention of government to complete what the late President Umaru Yar’Adua had promised to do before his painful demise.
But the Federal Government refused bluntly under the leadership of one of our sons and brother, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. We were having every hope that a government being run by one of our own may have been soft in dealing with Niger Delta issues by convening the post-amnesty conference, Mr. Henry Okah, who is now in detention, had several times, through several means, tried to persuade government to convene the post-amnesty conference.
Why is the post-amnesty conference important?
It is that forum the Niger Delta ex-militants through our delegation will tell government our grievances. It is in that forum that we will tell government why it is important to create more states for the Niger Delta people, particularly the Ijaw, the fourth largest ethnic nationality in Nigeria.
The Ijaw give the highest oil and gas revenue generation to national economy. And, the Ijaw have only one state, Bayelsa, with eight local government areas. But the North, with their past many military heads of state, have created at separate times, 19 with Kano having 49 local governments area. What a great injustice!
Again, it is at the post-amnesty conference that we will deliberate under a democratic setting the distribution formula of oil and gas wealth in this country. We in NDLF want equal oil revenue sharing formula, which is 50-50 as it was done during the days when cocoa and groundnut were the mainstay of revenue generation in Nigeria.
It is also the post-amnesty conference that aggrieved ex-militants will decide how some of the military laws, which continually enslave the people of Niger Delta, of particular note is the obnoxious Land Use Act, we want that portion of the law in the constitution to be abrogated through the National Assembly under constitutional amendment.
The issue of rapid development is also paramount. We should not rely on the interventionists’ like NDDC and others. We are all aware that Abuja and other places were developed not through agencies. But government developed and turned these rocky ancient villages to mega cities with our oil.
If some of these things I have highlighted are implemented, then it will be difficult for recurrence of arms agitation in the future. But now, government has not done anything for the Niger Delta people as major post-amnesty packages and they are telling the world that there is permanent peace in the Niger Delta. What is peace to you? Is it by bribing few miscreants who were various leaders of repentant militants?
What efforts were made to lodge your complaints/grievances with the appropriate government agencies before you returned to the creeks against your initial vow when you accepted amnesty?
Look, there were several calls, through the Office of the Special Adviser to the President, Mr. Timi Alaibe. But, we think Timi’s hands too are tied. We are now beginning to understand that even Mr. President’s hands too are overtly seen tied on post-amnesty conference.
We are getting that fact that there are different cabals in Aso Rock, which dictate the tune of the pipe and we are all unlucky dancers of naivety with the sound not exactly from the conscience of the drummer or the piper. If not, what should have prompted Mr. President to label us criminals over our mere call to convene a post-amnesty conference to accomplish his former boss dream for the Niger Delta?
Why did you not reach out to your ex-militant colleagues such as Tompolo, Boyloaf, Ateke Tom to reach the government people on your behalf if you did not get their ears?
I consulted so many of my colleagues. But their responses were the same, they said, ‘O boy, this is our government, let us leave Jonathan alone’.
I agreed with them to some extent. But they forget the fact that under government amnesty programme, the grey areas, which former President Yar’Adua had promised us, none of them has been implemented and these are the areas brought
about the violent arms struggle in the Niger Delta. NDLF had said over and over again that we are not fighting President Goodluck Jonathan and we cannot fight him.
If we fight President Jonathan, then we are fighting ourselves and the future generation of Niger Delta. President Jonathan’s 2011 is one of NDLF major agenda. We are interested in how Jonathan could win the election so that he may be there to implement the issues arrived at the post-amnesty conference with us.
It is only shallow-minded people who parade the news around town that IBB, Atiku or “General” John Togo is being sponsored by northern politicians to fight his own brother’s administration. Nonsense!
I want to emphasise my support and NDLF’s support for President Jonathan once again, that there is no vacancy in Aso Rock in 2011. It is the turn of our son to be democratically elected president to rule this nation, rule the oil revenue of Niger Delta people.
A large percentage of ex-militants are unhappy with you for returning to the creeks and are ready to join forces with government to smoke you out. Why are you so disgusting to them?
Forget about ex-militants, we know ourselves in the Niger Delta arms struggle. I am not a “general” by mouth or “general” who sit in a rolling chair in an air-conditioned room with 10 concubines and give directives to their boys. When they joined JTF to kill me and my boys, they saw the result.
But the bottom line is that recently the JTF boss, General Omoregie, personally spoke with me to lay down arms and allow government to come out with a proposal for the post-amnesty conference. He spoke to me as a father and not as an army general.
And, I promised him that if he is sincere as he sounded on the phone, I would direct my boys not to carry out any attack until the government comes out with a proposal, and, if at the end of the day, it is acceptable to NDLF, I promised him I will turn down all my arms and come back from the creek.
Tell us what happened when you were arrested before and clamped in detention. What was your alleged offence and how did you come out, are saying that those who want to use you facilitated your release and you are now a trouble to the society?
Please, please, don’t remind me of my detention ordeals, that is now history and allow people to say whatever thing they like. All I am saying is that nobody can fight God’s anointed child. I am now a Christian and I fast and pray right now in my Holy Israel Barracks.
All my boys know how to pray. The only experience I can share with you during my detention days is that it turned me into a good Christian and it drew me closer to God. I have been made to know that if you are for God, nothing will harm you. It is that God of the Israelites that protected the soldiers of NDLF from the heavy fire powers of military aircraft and other military arsenals.
JTF had declared you wanted and destroyed Ayakoromor community. How do you feel being on the wanted list of JTF when you could have avoided it and destruction of your community?
Being on JTF wanted list is not a big deal. What is important is the purpose or cause behind it. That is the price for this struggle. JTF soldiers have burned down two of my communities and killed innocent persons. Ogodobiri was burnt down under the guise of pursuing me.
Now, Ayakoromor has fallen to the superior fire power of federal troops still pursuing me and my boys. Why are the Nigerian soldiers killing innocent people in Niger Delta, especially harmless Ijaw natives under the guise of pursuing militants? Are there no criminals in other places in Nigeria, are their cases different from the Ijawman’s case?
The other year, it was Tompolo in Gbaramatu, Ken Nuweigha in Odi. How many Hausa communities have been burnt down due to Boko Haram in Jos? Should the entire Jos city be wiped because of Boko Haram? Should the Eastern Igbo villages be wiped out by JTF because of kidnapping by Igbo boys? Do these places not have joint task force (JTF)?
You said you destroyed your camp on November 18 with explosives, but JTF said they met your camp intact. Did you relay the news to deceive the task force or what? You were said to have an oil bunkering depot and detention room for hostages in your camp.
Why, when you were supposed to have accepted amnesty, and why do you train crocodiles in your camp? JTF said they found two crocodiles there?
I didn’t deceive the world that I blew my building up by myself after the bloody encounter on November 17 to avoid innocent persons getting crushed during exchange of fire between NDLF and JTF.
The building was blown up the following day and I carried my arms, relocated to Israel Barrack. Since November 18, 2011, I have not set my eyes on the major river along Ayakoromor routes. I relocated because that place was not a camp or barracks, it was a mere farm.
I did not rear crocodiles but I have alligators, turkeys, dogs, snails, tortoise, goats and sheep. There is a difference between alligator and crocodile. But I kept small number of arms in the farm to defend myself, in case there are external aggressors.
NDLF has not taken any hostage and we have no hostages with us. NDLF has not even attacked anybody — we are only defending against federal troops. We have carried out only two bombings of pipelines. And, I have directed them to stop more bombings.
But, I will still plead with the JTF boss to direct his men not to trace my boys in the far creeks, while the peace process is going on, let them be in the main river, nobody is fighting JTF as they are not our target.
On Ayakoromor’s invasion
I have deep pains and emotion in my heart for the JTF to kill innocent civilians under the guise of pursuing me and my boys. I am saying that JTF betrayed President Goodluck Jonathan by burning down an innocent Ijaw community down and putting it that NDLF soldiers fought them from Ayakoromor community.
And, the central IYC president’s findings are not fair to NDLF and to the Ayokoromor community by saying that they are not to apportion blame and that they found three locations in Ayakoromor main town being occupied by NDLF and captured by JTF. I want to say that IYC is not fighting John Togo or NDLF, but it is fighting itself with fake report to satisfy JTF.
How did John Togo grow up, where were you born, who are your parents, who trained you and to what extent in school, what odd things have you done to get to where you are in life today, what pushed you into criminality, and what are your escapades in life?
Your questions are not too correct, I am not a criminal. I am a victim of circumstances. For my background, I am simply just like children raised up from a poor humble background. I faced financial problems. I am a secondary school dropout, but, then I was not too bad in class works. That is little about me, and anything you see around me is the handiwork of God.
What spirit made you to accept amnesty from the Federal Government and what spirit pushed you again to return to the creeks?
Before the amnesty, I was the second-in-command to Boyloaf. The late President Yar’Adua talked to me one on one and promised that if we accept amnesty from him, he would develop the Niger Delta region and that he would influence the National Assembly to create states, at least for the Ijaw and take special care on us.
After the amnesty, while he (late President) was to sit with us, in a post-amnesty conference to enable us put our grievances before government formally for documentation and implementation, nature caught it short with the sad death of former President. His vice-president took over.
Have you thought of what JTF would like to do with you when they catch you? The soldiers may want to derive pleasure in torturing and dismembering you.
That is a different ball game, until we reach there.
So, why did you kill soldiers when they came to attack you on November 17 and destroy their gunboats, these are some of the reasons they are so bitter against you?
I didn’t kill soldiers, but I am aware, on that day, federal troops came to my farm in14 gun boats and shelled my farm. I ordered my boys to defend the farm and our lives, which we had some casualties on our side. That is all I know.
Is it true that top Niger Delta leaders and politicians sponsor militants? Tell us the relationship between them from your own experience.
I am hearing it for the first time from you. What I know is that I am too big to be used for political reasons. It could be that some of us may be used on highest bidders.
Assuming you are arrested by the task force or probably anything untoward happens to you or this becomes your last battle, what is your message to other youths involved in your kind of business and life?
My message is that the youths must always stand to defend their God-given land and resources. The killings in Niger Delta are just like the apartheid South African government. No amount of killing stopped the South Africans and, finally, God granted them total freedom.