*I agonise over these destructions
*Says economy is on its knees
*How Kachikwu secured interim truce
*No love lost relationship among militants
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South South, Levinus Nwabughiogu
Obviously perturbed by the activities of the Niger Delta Militants, NDA, President Muhammadu Buhari last night went spiritual, pleading with them in God’s name to have a change of heart over their destruction of oil and gas installations in the region.
The president who stated that there were many factions of the Niger Delta Militants also said that the groups were armed with sophisticated weapons and that the economy was on its knees following the bombing of gas pipelines.
He also pleaded with friends and associates of the militants to reach out to them for, stressing that Nigerians do not have any other country to call their own other than Nigeria.
The president spoke at the breaking-of-fast dinner with leaders and chieftains of his political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. He said: “I honestly don’t know how many factions of the militants there are in the Niger Delta compared to the north east where you have only the Boko Haram “The technology being deployed by the militants to destroy oil installations is high tech, the way they can go on high sea and international waters and target oil installations is a national problem. It is affecting development.
“No insurance company will want to insure installations that will end up being blown up and no banks will want to finance such installations. “Those of you who have friends among the leadership or even the militants themselves should plead with them in the name of God Almighty to take it easy.
“We need to stablise to create employment, we need to stabilise the economy, I agonise over these things. We are in a very difficult time, so we have to organise ourselves. Anybody that says he has any other country than Nigeria should go out and see.”
Earlier, the national chairman of the APC, Chief John Oyegun expressed satisfaction with the actions of the government so far, saying that Nigeria needed a dogged leader like the president. “Any meaningful development requires strong and determined leader. Things must change. Those things don’t come easily. Nigeria is clearly a difficult nation to govern. “Corruption is fighting back and change does not come easily. The way we do things must change. Our prayer is for God to give you the courage, wisdom and strength to set the new standard for the country”, he said.
Apart from Oyegun, other party leaders who attended the event included former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar; a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Ghali Naaba; the party’s Deputy National Chairman (South), Segun Oni; former Bayelsa State Governor, Timipre Sylva; Tony Momoh and Senator Osita Ozinaso. Also present were the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal and former Minister of Labour, Hassan Lawal.
Dialogue, ceasefire: Buhari baffles militants
Meanwhile, President Buhari was said to have kept the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, and other militant groups in the Niger Delta region in suspense since he returned from his short vacation in London, last Sunday. Findings by Saturday Vanguard showed that the militants, who agreed to an interim ceasefire brokered by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachiwu, and his top secret negotiators, were confused about the game plan of President Buhari.
The two-week ceasefire proclaimed by the Federal Government on June 6 expired June 21, two days after Buhari returned from his vacation and militants expected government to officially announce an extension, but it has kept mute on the matter six days after the expiration. Correspondingly, the Federal Government has not come out with a framework for an all-embracing dialogue with stakeholders and militants, a development that has further confounded the situation.
The scrapping of the Joint Task Force, JTF, in the Niger Delta, as part of efforts to ensure better protection of pipelines in the region and tackle insecurity and its replacement with ‘Operation Delta Safe’, as well as planned redeployment of police officers in the region for their failure to stop bombing of oil installations, have also sent tongues wagging.
Militants, who bowed to Kachikwu’s logic, are suspecting that they may have been hoodwinked, while those opposed to their antics want Buhari to order the military to battle them to submission as was done to Boko Haram. .
NDA, which found itself in a dilemma over the new tactics employed by government had come out to distance itself from a purported ceasefire agreement with government, declaring that it would resume hostilities any time the state of affairs becomes intolerable. Its spokesperson, self-styled Brig Gen Mudoch Agbinibo, said, on June 21, day the two-week ceasefire ran out: “The NDA High Command never remembers having any agreement on ceasefire with the Nigeria Government.”
Many had rumored that Dr Kachikwu met with representatives of NDA at Government House, Asaba, when he visited the state on June 15, but the militant group clarified that it sent no representative to the meeting. In its reaction 48 hours later, the group said: “We condemn in its entirety the continuous linking of the Niger Delta Avengers to any meeting in Delta State Government in Asaba with Minister of State for Petroleum Resources.”
It added: “ We tell the whole listening world that the Niger Delta Avengers will not be part of any dialogue deal that will not only bring about the ‘peace of our time’ but ‘peace with honour’.” The next day, June 18, following the signals emanating from official quarters, the group re-echoed: “We once again, restate that we are not going to be part of any dialogue and peace that will achieve only ‘the peace of our time.’ What the NDA wants is ‘peace with honour,’ which will enter the genuine framework in setting up the short, medium and long term action plan to the restoration of the essence of quality human life in the Niger Delta.”
Another militant group, the Ultimate Warriors of the Niger-Delta, which gave a clear notice of the militants’ frustration with Buhari’s approach, in a statement, by one of its coordinators, Sibiri Taiowoh, June 21, said: “Two weeks of ceasefire had gone without any tangible effort by the government. No roundtable dialogue has kick started; instead, government officials are quarrelling over critical issue of national importance.” Pointing that its patience was running out, the group said:
“The Ultimate Warriors of the Niger Delta would only be part of a dialogue process that is approached with almost transparency and sincerity. These we have not seen in the past week of government ceasefire, which we wholeheartedly embraced.”
On former militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, and calls to defreeze his bank accounts, the militant group asserted: “Count us out of any claims of de-freezing of corrupt politicians’ account or stopping prosecution of some set of people under investigation. It is none of our business, but serve justice honestly to all men, selective injustice will be resisted vehemently.”
The group, which claimed to have over 10,000 agitators in its fold and affiliation with a foreign militia, said it was waiting for the next line of action to strike.
We are all Avengers
It warned: “So if you (Buhari) think that Avengers and its affiliate groups are Ijaws, you are being deceived. We are all Avengers, including some of your soldiers and security agents; all those you oppress, deprive and exploit in the Niger Delta region are the Avengers.”
“We are of several units in the region and we have commanders, willing soldiers across the region, who are waiting for the next line of action to strike. Our mission is to drive government attention to act fast because dialogue-upon- dialogue has failed us. We will ruin the Nigerian oil wealth until Nigeria is restructured to reflect a true government of the people,” it said.
The group declared: “The Ultimate Warriors of the Niger Delta is asking for devolution of powers so that the geopolitical zones can become autonomous and manage the resources within their territories. This is the kind of dialogue that we want for lasting peace to reign.” “If you make the peaceful change that we seek impossible, we will make you understand that violent change is inevitable. If you (Buhari) like call all the Tompolos of this world, call all the Boyloafs, MEND and other ex-militants leaders in your payroll together for dialogue, it will not stop us from grounding oil and gas operations in the Niger Delta.
“These people have expired, but we would listen to them and the stakeholders anyway when we begin to see concrete action on the part of the federal government after a tripartite meeting of all agitating groups, stakeholders, the IOCs, foreign mediators, and the federal government. “But when the chips are down, and you make the peaceful change that we seek impossible, all those in your payroll as ex-militants, our brothers abroad, who have acquired expertise in various fields and are very much with us now, would join forces to make the violent change possible,” it said.
Sea Commandos threaten to boycott dialogue
On its part, Niger Delta Sea Commandos, NDSC, threatened to shun what it described as government’s “kangaroo” peace talks over alleged breach of the ceasefire by the military. It said in a statement by so-called Major Osama: “We gave conditions for foreign participation for whatever dialogue the government is proposing, but until now, nothing has been done about it. We are watching situation with our two eyes open.”
“What is playing out now is political jamboree, a situation where the government is looking for an easy way to resolve the current upsurge. The government is looking for an avenue to induce some of us and divide the rank of the militants. “Besides, the government is interested on how to identify the masked up faces of militants as to fight back. That will be dangerous and there is no easy way out to Niger Delta demands, if they go that way, such short-cuts will be a waste of time and energy,” it said.
IPDI flares up
Meanwhile, Ijaw People Development Initiative, IPDI, a non-governmental organization in the region, weekend, said. “The directive to transfer police officers currently serving in Niger Delta region to the north in an exchange of those police officers in the north to Niger Delta is an attempt by President Muhammandu Buhari not to turn Nigeria to his personal estate.”
National president of IPDI, Comrade Austin Ozobo and spokesperson, Daniel Eziekel, in a statement, asserted: “It is wrong for Buhari to accuse police officers in Niger Delta of incompetency because they could not end bombing of oil installations by the Niger Delta Avengers. If that is the case, Buhari should explain to the world why the so-called competent police officer in the north has not ended Boko Haram’s massive attacks and incessant killing of innocent people in the north.”
“Buhari should note that transferring lazy police officers of the south to the north will not make any difference, he should stop deceiving the public, we are aware of his hidden agenda of deploying northern police to the Niger Delta region “How can you deploy police officers who cannot fight Niger Delta Avengers to fight heavily equipped Boko Haram insurgents in the north? We know the deployment is for a special reason. They want to relegate power to the military in the name of deceiving the public as coup. They do not want power to be shift to the Yoruba because of Buhari’s health. The deployment is to keep people silent and kill anybody that will raise alarm over such evil agenda,” IPDI claimed.
Groups disagree on dialogue with militants
Some Niger Delta groups, however, urged President Buhari to utilize the opportunity of the break in fighting achieved by Dr Kachikwu and his team to consolidate on peace in the region, saying that using diversionary tactics at this period could worsen the situation, but the Niger Delta Patriotic Front, NDPF, vehemently differed with the suggestion.
NDPF’s Director of Information, Mr. Joel Tamarakepreye, said: “Nigerians should not be deceived as the cowardly NDA does not have the capacity to sustain their current madness, hence its insistence in forcing down the throat of Nigerians the reality of an on-going negotiation, which conclusion is a so- called political solution.”
It said the agenda was to arm twist government to direct the Attorney General of the Federation to “discontinue the criminal trial of Tompolo and his band of ex-NIMASA executives and also Colonel Dasuki.” “Is it not laughable and a clear pointer to the political agenda of the cowardly NDA that the unconditional release of Colonel Dasuki is a major line item in their demands? What relationship does the trial of Colonel Dasuki has on the Niger Delta demands for a fair deal from Nigeria?
No consequential negotiation so far
“The Niger Delta Patriotic Front knows that currently there are no meaningful negotiations going on with any group in the Niger Delta, other than the usual discussions and lamentations that the people have for many years been engaging themselves, the Nation and the world for solutions to their economic and environmental challenges,” Tamarakepreye asserted.
He added: “The cowardly NDA and their cowardly sponsor should be men enough to face the reality of the outcome of their killings of Nigerian Army personnel and destruction of oil and gas infrastructure and leave General Boyloaf, Ayiri and Timipre Sylva out of their meaningless and non-existing negotiations.”
…Cautions S-East on Avengers
The group urged South Easterners not to be deceived by the entreaties of Niger Delta Avengers, saying: “They should ask themselves how many Easterners benefited from contracts when they held sway there.” “The cowardly NDA seek to create a larger platform to unify the Niger Delta and South East into a single political agenda. Our South East brothers should know that while there are similarities between our aspirations, we are competing rivals in the Nigerian market place, and these men that seek to involve them are not honourable and the Niger Delta region will not reward them nor return the favour of supporting criminals.
“The Niger Delta Patriotic Front, therefore, calls on all those who seek to use and divert the Niger Delta struggle to cover up the thieving and looting leveled against them individually and the corporate entities in which they have substantial interests to desist from doing so,” it said.
Kachikwu transitory armistice
No matter how bad anyone wants to paint the efforts of the Minister of State for Petroleum, one thing is clear; he had through both conventional and unconventional means, got the militants, including the dreaded Avengers to stop the bombing of oil and gas installations in the region. Before he pulled the feat, blowing up of oil facilities was a daily affair by Avengers and other nascent groups. The last was on June 15 in Akwa Ibom state and it was only a reprisal. Soldiers had allegedly in breach of the now expired two-week ceasefire, invaded Tebujoh community in Warri South-West local government area on June 14.
Kachikwu, who was holding preliminary talks with stakeholders in the region, was in Delta state when the Avengers struck in Akwa-Ibom. The Delta meeting with some leaders of Gbaramatu Kingdom, represented by Chief Godspower Gbenekama and Chief Daniel Ekpebide, Chief Ayiri Emami for the Itsekiri ethnic nationality and Okerenkoko leader, Chief Michael Johnny, was a revelation for the minister.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Mr. Festus Agas, chairman of the Delta Waterways and Land Security Committee, Chief Boro Opudu, Director General, Security Matters to Governor Okowa, Mr. David Tonwe, Commissioner, Oil and Gas, Mr. Mofe Pirah, and other government officials were at the peace meeting.
Kachikwu got a rare insight into the problems while in Delta since the state, despite strident denials by the Avengers, is clearly the centre of operations of the current militancy. Tension rose at the meeting, but in all, they agreed on peace to reign and concerted efforts to reach out to the Avengers and other militant groups to stop the bombings.
Beyond Govt House, Asaba meeting
A source told Saturday Vanguard that Kachikwu did not strike the deal for break in hostilities in Government House, Asaba, but his presence in the state, visit to Nigerian Maritime University, NMU permanent and temporal sites at Okerenkoko and Kurutie; his frank statements on the situation on ground sealed the temporal ceasefire. His Uyo outing, where he had a public spat with his colleague, Minister of Transportation, Rt Hon Rotimi Amaechi, only foreshadowed the pact.
According to our source: “The truth is that Kachikwu has a team of knowledgeable negotiators working with him and days before he embarked on his trouble-shooting mission to the region, last week, his group was in discussion with some contact persons to the Avengers. Nobody owned up to be an Avenger in the various discussions, but they had link that could be used.”
“That connection was what was used to get to them to suspend their attacks for dialogue with government because that is the only way their demands could be addressed. Dialogue does not mean that government has accepted their demands, but it is an avenue to talk and reach a compromise,” the source added.
He asserted:”It was through this unconventional method that government negotiators got in touch with Tompolo. Yes, they reached Tompolo, so you can see that they did a lot of behind the scene work. Tompolo told them that he was not behind Niger Delta Avengers and assured that he was ready to assist government to fish out the perpetrators if only to clear his name.”
“The task of getting them to obey a temporal ceasefire was not an easy one and it was because Dr. Kachikwu gave all the support, but I can tell you that the militants want President Muhmmadu Buhari to personally lead the negotiation and show greater diplomacy for the cessation of hostilities not to snap,” he added.