•Fear grips Niger Delta communities
By Daniel Alabrah Sunday, February 12, 2012
Like the Abiku in Yoruba mythology, militancy has resurrected in the Niger Delta, less than three years after a presidential amnesty for former armed combatants in the region. No fewer than 26,358 ex-militants had been disarmed in two phases, since August 2009, and are currently undergoing reintegration under a Presidential Amnesty Programme.
But, while the programme cannot be said to have failed, so-called militants under the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) last weekend repudiated the amnesty and attacked a crude oil trunk line operated by Italian oil giants, Agip, in Bayelsa State.
The group also confirmed that it was responsible for last month’s bombing of the country home of the Minister of Niger Delta, Elder Godsday Orubebe, in Delta State.
MEND’s spokesperson, Jomo Gbomo, in an electronic mail response to Sunday Sun enquiry said the group was ready for an “all-out war” against oil multinationals as well as Niger Delta leaders “that have betrayed the region,” especially political office holders.
It refused to state reasons for going back to the trenches just as it said it was not ready for dialogue with the Nigerian government.
“We doubt if that (dialogue) is necessary as everyone knows the demands of this group and the people of Niger Delta,” Gbomo stated. Our investigation revealed that MEND, under a new structure, has recruited new fighters and engaged some disgruntled elements to prosecute its new campaign. Sunday Sun also learnt that the fresh hostility might not be unconnected with the trial of the Okah brothers over the October 1, 2010 Independence Day bombing incident near the Eagle Square in Abuja as Nigeria celebrated its 50th anniversary.
While Henry Okah is facing terrorism-related charges in South Africa and is confined to a solitary cell in a Johannesburg prison, his brother, Charles, is being tried for a similar offence in Abuja. Henry’s trial was last week adjourned to October. Arising from this, South African investments in the Niger Delta have become targets because of what the group described as the government’s interference.
“There is a direct link between the fresh wave of militancy and the trial of the Okah brothers because we have had enough of the South African government interference. “South African investments in the delta are soft targets and MTN, for one, is as strong as its unprotected cell sites and masts. We have gone ahead with our plan to attack oil installations. So attacking South African investments in the delta is not a big deal,” Gbomo said.
On whether the group had the capacity to prosecute an all-out war after its key commanders embraced the government’s amnesty in 2009, the spokesperson boasted that its structure was still intact. “Farah (Dagogo) and the others lost their command by accepting the amnesty and won’t dare venture near the creeks. They all received direction, which presented them in better light than they are now seen. Upon emerging from the creeks, it became apparent that they are all incapable of coordinating a complex struggle. The structures are still in place as are thousands of volunteers and trained fighters.
“This is not a flash in the pan as the government and the JTF (Joint Task Force) are trying to make it look. Everyone knows that the JTF is lying on the seven suspects that it declared wanted. The wanted persons are unknown and all fighters in the creeks now either never accepted the amnesty or rejected it within weeks of accepting. We are ready to go very far to prove that we mean business,” Gbomo boasted.
MEND said the JTF and Army were merely talking tough as they were under pressure from the oil companies in the region.
“It is just tough talk. Meanwhile, they are begging behind to save (President) Jonathan from shame. They are now under pressure from the oil companies to reach out to (Henry) Okah. Is it not a contradiction that the JTF says MEND didn’t carry out attack and doesn’t exist, then goes ahead to warn the same MEND?”
It also dismissed insinuations that the Agip attack had link with the political situation in Bayelsa State.
“That assumption is not correct and the timing is just coincidental. (Former Governor Timipre) Sylva is hated by all and no sensible fighter will raise a hand for (him). Orubebe and some people close to Jonathan have been fighting to ensure Okah remains in prison until Jonathan leaves office.”
Tension in Niger Delta communities
Tension is mounting in the region following MEND’s threat and the warning by the JTF to clamp down on renewed insurgency. Sunday Sun investigation revealed that communities are afraid that they could be caught in crossfire in the event of a confrontation between militants and the JTF. Aerial and land bombardment of Ijaw communities in Gbaramatu Kingdom and Ayakoromo by the JTF in the past, in a desperate bid to smoke out militants, resulted in the death of innocent citizens and extensive destruction of the communities.
It took a presidential order two years later for the military to rebuild parts of Gbaramatu communities destroyed in a May 2009 raid.
Environmental rights group, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), in a statement made available to Sunday Sun, cautioned the JTF against attacking peaceful communities in executing its threat to crush the renewed attacks on oil facilities by MEND. ERA/FoEN premised its caution on a statement by the JTF spokesman, Lt. Colonel Timothy Antigha, that the suspected bombers of the Agip pipeline in Brass Local Government Area of Bayelsa State turn themselves in for “interaction” with authorities of the joint military security outfit in Yenagoa by February 8.
While condemning the bombing of pipelines because it increases the pollution in the region and damages the peoples’ struggles for survival, ERA/FoEN’s Executive Director, Mr Nnimmo Bassey, however said: “We hope the JTF deadline for the bombers to turn themselves in will not be an excuse to attack peaceful communities as has been the case whenever security agents fail to resolve cases of this nature. The Federal Government must guarantee that security forces act responsibly and respect the rights of law-abiding citizens while responding to security challenges in the Niger Delta and other parts of the country.
“While we believe that the unsettling developments in the Niger Delta, which MEND mentioned, are critical issues the government of the day must address, we restate our opposition to violence in any form as a means of resolving the issues either on the part of MEND or the nation’s security forces.
“…Our conviction remains the use of peaceful and purposeful actions to resolve the fundamental causes of instability in the Niger Delta and indeed across the nation. Any attack on already traumatized communities will aggravate the tense situation. We are opposed to such actions.”
State your grouse –FG
The federal government has extended an olive branch to MEND to present its grouse in order to avert a fresh crisis in the Niger Delta. Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and chairman of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, Hon Kingsley Kuku, said the government was open to dialogue but not with faceless persons. “Anyone or group that is disenchanted with the situation in the Niger Delta is free to come forward. The government has not at any time shut the door for dialogue. Indeed, this government under President Goodluck Jonathan has clearly shown that it has the capacity to listen and act in the greater good of the citizenry,” Kuku’s media aide, Mr Henry Ugbolue, told Sunday Sun in a telephone interview.
He noted that the fact that several former agitators in the Niger Delta accepted the offer of amnesty does not in any way mean that the region no longer had aggrieved persons. “But my position is this: let all aggrieved persons anywhere in Nigeria seek and embrace nonviolent and peaceful ways to express themselves.”
The presidential aide however expressed confidence in the ability of the nation’s security agencies and Armed Forces to tackle security challenges in the Niger Delta as well as other parts of Nigeria. According to him, the Amnesty Office is not a security agency and does not have the powers or competence to stop any person who willfully decides to commit crime in the Niger Delta.
Immediate past president of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Dr Chris Ekiyor, equally urged MEND to embrace dialogue while calling on the government not to use force to address the current situation.
Ekiyor, who spoke to Sunday Sun on the telephone, said: “After every earthquake, there are after-shocks and reverberation. I think that is what we are seeing now in the Niger Delta. “But the government ought to open a window for dialogue just as I implore MEND to embrace the jaw-jaw option. We have gone through militancy before and we saw the negative implications. We do not want to tread that path again,” Ekiyor said.
The convener of the National Youth Integration Summit noted that despite the success of the amnesty programme, there are still persons that might be aggrieved over their exclusion from the scheme.
He added that a situation where Niger Delta youths, for instance, have to wear the toga of ex-militant to be trained or employed was not good for the country.
Okah’s files fresh bail application
Henry Okah will return to court next week following a fresh application for bail by his lawyers.
The supposed MEND leader was last year refused bail by a South African magistrate’s court and in January, his terrorism trial was adjourned to October. But, contrary to reports, the trial was postponed to enable the South African government produce about 200 witnesses requested by Okah from Nigeria. Sunday Sun however learnt that he began a fresh process for bail following inconsistencies discovered in the evidence and documents presented by the prosecution.
Under South African law, a suspect can file fresh processes based on what is called “bail application on new facts.” The prosecutor in charge of Okah’s case, Shaun Abrahams, recently came under fire when a witness claimed in court that he was bribed to implicate a man standing trial for attempting to murder a former Rwandan army general in South Africa.
via Daily Sun
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