Amnesty period ends

2009-10-05
THE GUARDIAN Newspaper-Hendrix Oliomogbe

Amnesty period ends

* Carnival as Tompolo finally gives up arms

* MENDS still ready to fight

* C'River Dep. Gov laments quantity of arms in
From Hendrix Oliomogbe (Asaba), Kelvin Ebiri (Port Harcourt), Niyi Bello (Akure), Anietie Akpan (Calabar) and Alex Olise (Lagos)

AT midnight yesterday, the period of amnesty for militants in the Niger Delta area ended. And to beat that deadline, many of the agitators actually rushed out of their camps to surrender arms and ammunition.

Just before the deadline last night, leader of Camp 5 Militant Group, Government Ekpemupolo - a.k.a. Tompolo - who is reputed as the most dreaded of the militants, arrived the oil city of Warri to surrender his arms. And in Ondo State other militants operating in the south-western axis followed in Tompolo's footsteps.

However, it was a different story with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) which has declined the amnesty offer.

Tompolo at a meeting with President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua in Abuja on Saturday had agreed to the terms of the amnesty.

Members of the Amnesty Declaration Committee, led by its Chairman, Air-Vice Marshal Lucky Ararile; the Honorary Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Timi Alaibe; President, Ijaw National Youth Forum, Dr. Chris Ekiyor; among others, accompanied Tompolo from Abuja in a Nigeria Air force jet which landed at the Osubi Airstrip, Effurun, Delta State, at about 10.45 a.m.

On hand to receive Tompolo were the Commander of the Joint Task Force (JTF), Brig.-Gen. Sarkin Yaki Bello; Delta State Oil Producing Area Development Commission (DESOPADEC) Chairman, Chief Wellington Okirika; top military commanders and his native Gbaramatu community leaders.

About 15 minutes after the former militant leader landed, a Nigeria Air Force jet which had on board Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, Defence Minister, Maj.-Gen. Godwin Abbe (rtd), other top government and military functionaries landed.

A smiling Tompolo was the first to receive the governor and thereafter proceeded to meet the tumultuous crowd, which went into a frenzy the moment they sighted Tompolo.

He was given a red carpet reception by the crowd who carried different banners and placards with the inscriptions "We want peace in Delta", "We want peace in the Niger Delta region." "We are ready to accept the amnesty and ensure that peace returns to our area."

There were different traditional cultural displays from Gbaramatu Kingdom to welcome Tompolo.

All the officials on ground proceeded to the VIP Lodge of the Airstrip where they briefly engaged in a close-door meeting before proceeding to Oporoza in Gbaramatu area, Delta State, where the arms would be surrendered. Gbaramatu, Tompolo's stronghold, came under intense land, sea and air bombardment in May when the JTF went after the diminutive militant.

But MEND yesterday stuck to its guns, declining the amnesty offer.

However, following Ateke Tom and Dagogo Farah's acceptance of amnesty, about 3,000 of their fighters were expected yesterday to report for documentation at the rehabilitation centre in Rivers State.

MEND spokesperson, Jomo Gbomo told The Guardian in an online interview that weapons under the direct control of any commander wishing to step aside could be surrendered as Farah Dagogo clarified.

He explained that heavy and more sophisticated weapons which are not under the direct control of commanders remain with the group.

He added: "They will not be surrendered as MEND has not recognised the disarmament in its current form."

Despite the fact that some of its strategic commanders like Tompolo, Farah and Boyloaf have accepted the amnesty offer, MEND said Nigerians should expect that a group that remains firm to its commitment would remain standing and unwavering until the root issues have been addressed.

Gbomo said: "MEND is happy for all those who have accepted the amnesty." According to him, "they all need the break and the amnesty was an excellent opportunity to replace them with unknown names and fresh hands."

MEND, which last week nominated some prominent Nigerians to negotiate on its behalf with the government, stated that no talks have started yet.

The group expressed regret that Gen. Abbe tried to ridicule the prominent Nigerians by saying they first have to declare themselves militant sponsors or militants before any negotiation.

Gbomo said: "The amnesty is seen as a failure by those who are sincere about seeking genuine long-term peace but a pyrrhic victory for government and its sycophants who believe in deceit. Many may judge the amnesty book from its glossy cover because they have not read the contents."

He continued: "Government claimed during the arrest of Henry Okah that over 250,000 weapons made up of rockets, grenade launchers, bazookas and assorted rifles made their way into the creeks and that excludes the over 6,000 they claim came from the army armoury. The big question should be where are those weapons today?"

Meanwhile, Rivers State amnesty implementation committee coordinator, Mr. Bestman Nwoka, told The Guardian that despite the fact that no major militant came forth to surrender their arms yesterday, the committee expects thousands of Ateke's and Farah's fighters to report for documentation at the various disarmament centres.

Meanwhile, a heavy cache of arms and ammunition have been surrendered by repentant militants in the western flank of the Niger Delta comprising the two riverrine councils of Ilaje and Ese-Odo of Ondo State as armed youths embraced the amnesty.

The first leg of arms submission took place in Ugbo-Nla on Saturday when the dreaded Gwama Boys of Ilaje under the leadership of Mafimisebi Othello who headed the notorious Joghoro Camp surrendered assorted weapons, including sub-machine guns, AK-47 rifles, arrows and hundreds of live ammunition to representatives of both the Federal and state governments at Ugbo in Ilaje Local Council.

The major process of disarmament however took place yesterday at Arogbo-Ibe in the Ijaw-speaking Ese-Odo council where the war arsenal of Biibo Ajube who was the second in command to Tompolo were surrendered to officials of governments led by the Minister of Defence, Abbe who is also the Chairman of the Amnesty Programme.

Also on hand to receive the weapons, comprising hundreds of AK-47 rifles, rocket launchers, hand grenades and explosives were Vice Marshall Ararile, Alaibe and Chief Emmanuel Aguriavwodo, former boss of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

Others at the City Academy playing ground venue of the event, were the Ondo State governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, and Gen. Bello, as well as traditional and community leaders of the riverrine communities.

Dressed in white flowing gowns with turbans covering their faces, the militants, hundreds of them, raised their weapons while their commander, Ajube read his address in which he appealed to the Federal Government to make good its promise to rehabilitate the militants and tackle the developmental problems of the Niger Delta.

Ajube told the gathering that "since our leader, Tompolo embraced amnesty, we have no choice but to follow him. We only want government to look at our demand and fulfill its own part of the bargain."

Aside Ajube, who headed the Shoot-At-Sight Camp (known to the locals as At-Sight Camp), another militant commander, Omo Tanworigha, the leader of Safarogbo Camp who was also under the command of Tompolo, surrendered the weapons belonging to his followers.

Speaking while taking delivery of the weapons, Abbe said: "What has happened in the past belonged to the past. It is the desire of the Federal Government that you don't go back to the creeks again.

"After 12 midnight today (yesterday), anybody that bears arms does so illegally and the law would take its course. Government has done its home work properly and I want to assure you that the reasons for citizens to take up arms against the state would no longer be there."

He urged other militants in the creeks to come out and lay down their arms "because this is a moment of history in this country and we must all be part of the process of peace and reconciliation.

"We must also follow the due process of the law in whatever we engage in. Communities have no right to raise communal armies. It is illegal. You should not fight over land because the courts are there to settle grievances."

Assuring the repentant militants of government's sincerity, Mimiko said: "Ondo State will do everything possible to assist in this quest of bringing peace to the Niger Delta."

The Bakassi Freedom Fighters (BFF) in a last-minute move yesterday evening turned in the remnants of their arms to beat the Federal Government's amnesty deadline.

Last week, about 400 of the BFF led by Gen. Franklin Duduku and the Bakassi Salvation Front led by Brig. Dan Don Atikpee turned in one pump action machine gun, five AK-47 riffles, three grenades, two bazookas, one hand-propelled grenade, and automatic pistols.

The militants had handed over their arms to the Federal Government but raised a fundamental question on their safety in the peninsula even as the Cross River State Deputy Governor, Mr. Efiok Cobham expressed dissatisfaction with the quantity of arms turned in.

His words: "I am disappointed by the quantity of arms that I have seen here. That is not what I heard. The quantity is too small. I am begging you for the sake of the Niger Delta and for all of us; there has been enough bloodshed already. Let us embrace peace. The Federal Government means no harm. The Federal Government is sincere."

The Guardian learnt yesterday that more military operatives have been deployed in the five coastal states that make up the Niger Delta with a view to properly assessing the disarmament of militants. The states are Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta, Edo and Ondo.

"We are there to ensure adequate security of all inhabitants of the region; we appreciate that most of the hard militants were able to surrender their weapon. That is a very interesting process to broker peace in the region," said a source.

 

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