Yar'Adua, Okah meet over MEND's threat


Yar'Adua, Okah meet over MEND's threat
By Onajomo Orere

PRESIDENT Umaru Musa Yar'Adua and Henry Okah, the leader of Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), were set to meet last night in Aso Rock, Abuja ostensibly to save the nation another round of attacks by militants as threatened by the insurgent group.

Okah was reportedly contacted by the government, through an intermediary, believed to be a newspaper publisher, at the weekend.

The intermediary promptly contacted Okah's lawyer, Femi Falana, who in turn got in touch with the MEND chief in South Africa.

By the arrangement, to be kept as secret as possible, Okah was asked to fly from South Africa to Ghana and wait for a plane to pick him to Abuja for the meeting. While he agreed to this, he was said to have insisted that his lawyer must attend.

Okah was believed to have flown to Lagos from South Africa en route Ghana yesterday and by press time last night, the intermediary had flown to Ghana to bring Okah to Abuja while Falana flew to the federal capital from Lagos to link up with the party.

It was being speculated last night that Yar'Adua was not comfortable with the advice of his men that a renewed military showdown with MEND or other militants would be the best solution to the new threats.

The Federal Government has actually been arming the JTF to be able to curtail any new threats in the difficult creeks of the Niger Delta where militancy had resulted in the country's oil production cut by over 1.3 million barrels a day.

The Federal Government has also been unwilling to negotiate with a five-man Aaron Team which MEND named on September 29 to take up its negotiation with the government.

The Aaron Team is made up of Vice Admiral Okhai Mike Akhigbe (rtd), Maj.-Gen. Luke Kakadu Aprezi (rtd), Prof.

Sabella Ogbobode Abidde and Prof. Wole Soyinka (observer). Madam Annkio Briggs was to be the liaison between the group and the Team.

MEND had said that the eminent members had "volunteered their time in a bid to bring a just and lasting peace to the Niger Delta".

The Minister of Defence and Coordinator of the government's Amnesty programme, Maj.-Gen. Godwin Abbe (rtd), had rejected negotiating with the group.

Unlike other militants' leaders, Okah did not meet with President Yar'Adua even after his release from prosecution. He told The Guardian after his release that he had not bothered about a visit to the President then because "I believe I owe my freedom to the men in the creeks and that is the only place I have gone."

He had said during the visit to The Guardian that he had his doubts about the amnesty programme's success and that freedom fighters would return to the creeks: Except the government began a proper implementation of the Ledum Mitee Committee report and in good faith too. According to him, the arms and ammunition that the repentant militants were surrendering were just a fraction of the quantum of weapons in the region.

In all, over 8,000 militants surrendered their weapons, buoying the confidence of the amnesty programme implementers who hailed the scheme as a huge success.

MEND had warned that beginning from midnight of Friday, it would resume attacking oil firms and the military. The dreaded militant group had unilaterally suspended its attacks after Okah who was undergoing treason trial in Jos, Plateau State, was released and all charges against him dropped by government in the spirit of the amnesty which ended on October 4. But MEND and Okah had derided the amnesty programme, saying that it did not address the root issues of the struggle.

The fresh attacks threat issued by MEND were scoffed at by Abbe, particularly the JTF, which dismissed it as grandstanding and repentant military commanders of the MEND who waved it off as empty threats.


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