By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
LATELY, the fear-provoking militant group in the Niger-Delta, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta, MEND, which was presumed dead with the exit of its key leaders, who accepted amnesty in 2009, and trial of its chief protagonist, Henry Okah, served notice of fresh hostilities with the bombing of the country home of the Minister of Niger-Delta, Elder Godsday Orubebe and Agip oil company trunk line at Brass, Bayelsa state.
Upon the past antecedents of the militant group, there is panic in the oil industry, but “Captain” Mark Anthony, an ex-militant leader and spokesman of the disbanded Niger-Delta Liberation Force, NDLF, headed by the late “General” John Togo, in an interview with Vanguard said the Federal Government should be blamed for the regrouping of MEND after about two-year interregnum. He, however, said he knows the new “Commander” of MEND and spoke on how fresh war can be averted. Excerpts:
I want you to tell us for the record how John Togo was hunted down and finally killed by JTF?
NDLF members are happy to talk about issues concerning John Togo, even on the street. Well, what is happening now in Niger Delta is John Togo’s ghost is haunting the nation’s oil industry. So, it is not out of place to discuss John Togo in the news.
What made the NDLF to surrender, last year and who were its arms and ammunition surrendered to?
There were several issues. First, we, Niger Delta youths were fighting because of federal government’s criminal neglect and abandonment of the Niger- Delta region. The region that sustains the nation’s economy with her oil and gas resources remains in abject poverty and squalor.
And the marginalization was due to under political representation from Niger- Delta region or the Ijaw communities. While we were fighting, President Goodluck Jonathan from Niger Delta contested 2011 April presidential election and won in a free, fair and the most credible elections ever held in the political history of the nation.
We cautioned ourselves due to the intervention of people like Papa Oritsejarfor, Mama Ankio Briggs, Chief E.K Clark, particularly the genuine commitment of the chairman of the amnesty programme. Hon. Kingsley Kuku, who earnestly pleaded with the NDLF leadership on behalf of Mr. President to give peace a chance.
Having said this, we now considered the communities, which bore the brunt, especially Ayakoromor, hometown of John Togo that was burnt down by JTF through aerial bombing and hundreds of innocent civilians were murdered. For the record, JTF destroyed Ayakoromor on a retaliatory mission after a lost gun battle with NDLF in a round of crossfire. JTF lied that NDLF soldiers fought them in Ayakoromor main town by using the people as shield.
The question NDLF is asking JTF is: How many Hausa communities has it destroyed since Islamic Boko Haram has been killing their soldiers, throwing grenades on moving security patrols, bombing police headquarters, army and SSS offices? Does the law that was applied to Ijaw people not apply to the Hausas?
NDLF did not kill innocent person before JTF fought us with the full army hard equipment. That soldiers lost their lives in the first round of crossfire was not a deliberate action, we acted in self-defense. You know when you see your enemies coming to kill you; you have to safeguard yourself with whatever thing at your disposal. We were drinking and dancing when JTF came in about 17 gun boats to capture us.
NDLF did not surrender to anybody or JTF. We surrendered for peace and that is all. The main reason why NDLF surrendered is that the Chairman of the Amnesty Programme, Kingsley Kuku, before the heat of the last battle, had a gentleman agreement with NDLF that if we accepted to surrender and cause no violence in the creeks, he said, I am quoting Kuku, Mr. President had directed pardon should be given to NDLF fighters.
If President had directed so, what else to continue to stay in the mosquito- infested forest fighting? We decided to surrender after seeing the whole battle as a won one, as the President will use his position to complement those things that we are demanding. And now, we can affirm that Mr. President is on the right track, but if he deviates…
What is the danger posed by the improper demobilization of NDLF and other groups?
We had told government before , that was when the amnesty office made a statement that it would no longer grant any group amnesty – we laughed, is this 419 or politics? Security matters should be separated from politics. Is it not the amnesty office chairman speaking who pleaded with us to surrender? My men alerted me thereafter that Kuku said that no amnesty for any group, including John Togo’s NDLF. They said I should issue a statement for fresh hostility if this is what Kuku is saying. You know, to be a leader is not easy.
Especially in an organization as such, I now employed diplomacy by calling the chairman of the amnesty office to find out the true meaning of his statement and made him understand that NDLF is not tired of fighting before he pleaded with us to surrender for peace in the creek, which we did. I asked him, are you backing out of our gentleman agreement? He told me no and that the inclusion of NDLF was to divert attention of the numerous Niger-Delta groups calling for amnesty. I said okay.
I was supposed to say that Kuku had deceived NDLF, but as a man who understands the bureaucratic bottlenecks of government, I understood that Kuku is facing problems in convincing the big names in the various security outfits to grant NDLF state pardon.
May be, they might have thought that NDLF surrendered because we are tired of fighting or that John Togo was a lone fighter with a single weapon, and since he was dead, NDLF is dead, let us forget the group, but, surrendered because Kingsley Kuku’s intervention. The danger as you asked, let me tell you categorically that the current MEND hostility is caused by John Togo’s NDLF.
What am I saying?
The current hostility should have been avoided, if the top security forces had listened to our call to disarm NDLF or listen to the chairman of the federal amnesty office, Kingsley Kuku, to give pardon to NDLF and other armed groups. You know at a time, after 2009 massive disarmament, MEND actually found it difficult to organize its fighters. Until when we were recruiting NDLF soldiers in 2010, MEND called John Togo to work with them with their logo.
But John Togo refused and replied that MEND is a terrorist organization and that he would not align himself with MEND. John Togo told MEND that he was no longer part of MEND because MEND bombed Eagle Square on 1st October, 2010 on an occasion that was presided over by an Ijaw son as President of the nation, and claimed responsibility after killing innocent persons.
The attack was an attack on Ijaw and Niger Delta’s sensibility. Uptill now, we keeping wondering how MEND stooped so low to attack President Goodluck Jonathan’s gathering and gallantly accepted responsibility with the MEND’s logo we all built with our energy.
How do you see the present threat by MEND to resume hostilities?
My brother, heads will roll, I pity JTF soldiers as the same bad Nigerian government will send them to be slaughtered like chicken by regrouped MEND fighters. The economy will be affected as I know the caliber of tools with the men behind the MEND threat.
How can fresh crisis be averted and way forward?
I think, I have said it before, government should immediately, I repeat immediately disarm NDLF and any other smaller armed groups that are willing to do so. There would have been more attacks by the group, but Kuku asked me to intervene and that is why there have been no attacks. But how long should I ask them to wait. The fighters now take directives from two bosses.
It is between NDLF and MEND, but NDLF has the upper side. The boys still listen to NDLF because they need their freedom and want to partake in the amnesty programe. Government has to do something fast and I cannot ask them to suspend operation for too long.
Soft spot for Henry Okah
In fact, MEND is begging for the other weapons in Delta State to be released to them for intensive arms campaign. I have instructed all NDLF men in Delta sate to stay aloof. The majority of the heavy weapons are in Delta State, such as RPGs, GPMGs and other mortars. You, know all of us were part of MEND and our general master, Henry Okah’s condition is a great concern to us and government must consider some of MEND’s current demand.
I have soft spot for Okah because Niger -Delta struggle is synonymous with Okah. Today, the big boys from Ijaw who are enjoying in big hotels were all groomed by Henry Okah in intensified armed guerrilla warfare. Nobody talks about him. But Niger Delta people will remember Okah tomorrow.
He is one person I respect so much even though we disagree on issues. Can MEND actually be tamed; people thought it had been decapitated with the exit of Tompolo, Boyloaf, etc and trial of Okah brothers, but it still breathing.
MEND is the symbol of Niger -Delta struggle. You can buy, arrest or kill its immediate leaders and commanders. The truth is that as far as there is injustice in Niger Delta. It is not about MEND, but about the aggrieved people of Niger Delta.
The aggrieved people are the struggle and I want to tell you that apart from some people who are enjoying free government money. The rest of Niger Delta are angry and these angry people are the basis of Niger- Delta struggle. Yesterday, it was Isaac Boro under NDPF, Dokubo-Asari ‘s NDPVF, John Togo of NDLF and there will be more groups, if justice does not reign.
The amnesty is not a catalyst for miraculous peace in Niger Delta. After amnesty for two years, the living standard of the Niger- Delta people remains the same. There is no special transformation policy in amnesty programme for the development of Niger Delta that is why one major agenda of NDLF is the demand for post -amnesty conference where fundamental issues will be deliberated.
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