By Kenneth Ehigiator & Jimoh Babatunde
LAGOS – The Federal Government, yesterday, expressed its willingness to dialogue with the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, following the latest threats issued by the group to launch bomb attacks in Lagos, Abuja and the Niger Delta.
This came on a day the government sent to People University, Moscow, Russia, 75 youths of the region who had just completed their non-violence training at Obubra, Cross River State, under the amnesty programme.
Special Adviser to the President on the Niger Delta, Mr. Kingsley Kuku, who disclosed this in Lagos, yesterday, said it would be fool-hardy for anyone to think that MEND no longer existed, adding that the Federal Government was ready to meet the group to address whatever grievances they might have.
According to him, there had been MEND before the amnesty programme and even after amnesty had been granted erstwhile agitators in the region who dropped their arms.
Kuku said: “I am not one of those that will rise up to say there is no MEND anywhere. I cannot say that because I know that before amnesty, there had been MEND, after amnesty, Henry Okah, a leader of MEND was even the first to accept amnesty.
“Today, a few other developments have occurred; MEND is still talking, amnesty is on; youth empowerment is on; development plans are on. Mr President has laudable projects that are going to be embarked upon; politicians are at their own game.
“So many threats will come, but this particular one, we are not taking it lightly, we are going to look into it. It’s about engagement, we are going to engage anybody that is aggrieved; we are not going to be tired.
However, yesterday, no fewer than 75 former agitators in the Niger Delta left the country for Moscow, Russia, to pursue degree programmes under the Federal Government’s post-amnesty programme.
At the pre-departure media interactions with officials of the amnesty team and beneficiaries, former Bayelsa State governor, Chief Diepriye Alamieyeseigha, urged the ex-agitators to see themselves as ambassadors of the country.
He said Federal Government’s inclusion of degree programmes on the post-amnesty project had eliminated the initial suspicion leaders of the region had of the programme.
According to him, university programmes remain the only training that will prepare youths of the region for decision making.
“Initially, we, leaders of the Niger Delta, were disturbed when training of youths of the region who accepted amnesty was limited to welding, seafaring etc, but now that it has been extended to university education, we are happy.
“Education is the only way we can be part of decision making. The next struggle in this country is intellectual war, not guns. All of us can carry gun; I carried gun for 19 years, but it didn’t take me anywhere,” Alameseigha charged the youths.
The former Bayelsa governor charged the youths to play their own part as government had fulfilled its own part of the bargain, saying “if the government is investing in you, we expect some returns at the end of the day.
“The return is the contribution you will make to the development of the Niger Delta and country at large.”
Special Adviser to the President on the Niger Delta, Mr. Kingsley Kuku, implored those being sent to Russia to abide by the rules of the code of conduct they all signed to avoid dragging the country’s name in the mud.