*’Bombers target Abia, Akwa Ibom, Imo, Rivers bridges’
*Tompolo blows hot, warns military over seized ‘Oporoza gold sword’
12 June 2016, Lagos – MILITANTS in the Niger Delta are falling apart over negotiations with the Federal Government, which bowed to stakeholders’ demand for dialogue and announced a two-week ceasefire to create a window for engagement, on Monday.
The militants were at loggerheads also over the former ‘General Officer Commanding’, GOC, of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta, MEND, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, who had denied involvement in the bombings in the oil-rich region, but his name keeps springing up.
This happened on a day Tompolo appealed to the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), which has claimed responsibility for the bombings, to put a halt to its activities, saying, “You have not only succeeded in militarizing the Niger Delta region now, but you have also succeeded in giving birth to so many negotiators and political jobbers within the government circle, who are very serious rumour peddlers in the country now.”
Meanwhile, the Commandant General of the Riverine Security (Coast Guard of the Federation), Commander Bibi Oduku, whose organization is collaborating with security agencies to track down criminals on the waterways, yesterday, said: “We received information that NDA’s next targets are the Choba Bridge, Rivers State, Kaiama Bridge, Patani, Imo River Bridge between Rivers and Abia; and the bridge linking Rivers and Akwa-Ibom in Ogoni axis. “The militant group also plans to bomb the Nigeria Port Authority, NPA, Warri; NPA, Port Harcourt; NPA Onne; NPA Calabar; MTN; Airtel; Glo and Etisalat facilities in the Niger Delta region with other major oil and gas facilities. Security agencies must take fast action to forestall the attacks.”
The NDA has said it is opposed to negotiations with the government and declared, last Wednesday: “This is to inform the general public that we are not negotiating with any committee. If the Federal Government is discussing with any group, they are doing that on their own.”
But the Joint Revolutionary Council, JRC, of the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Front, JNDLF, the presumed umbrella group of militants in the region, countered the Avengers, at the weekend, saying militants would negotiate with the government.
The JRC ‘General Duties’, Akotebe Darikoro, in a statement, with three others, suggested that the cluster was already discussing with the government. The group went on: “We shall continue to engage in dialogue with the Federal Government if our demands are met. “Our representatives in the dialogue, especially the governors and others, will not betray our demands with the Federal Government.
Any betrayal on their own part shall be viewed as a betrayal of the entire region and we shall go after them immediately as they know our mode of operation in which they will not escape from us.”
Also reacting to a plea by MEND that it should give President Muhammadu Buhari a breather, the NDA, in a statement by its spokesperson, ‘Brig General’ Murdoch Agbinobi, said MEND was a band of criminal elements and political sidekicks of one of the South-South governors and an ex-governor from the region. It said: “The NDA is unperturbed, we have a mandate that is clearly a departure from those old tactics of the defunct so-called MEND that indulged in kidnapping, hostage taking, sea piracy, illegal oil bunkering, bank robberies and social crimes.”
Twists and turns
NDA has been manifestly antagonistic towards Tompolo since the former militant leader took newspaper space, early last month, to condemn its violent activities. It issued him a three-day ultimatum on May 3 to retract his criticism, which it saw as “taking sides with the Federal Government to fight the Niger Delta people.” In the NDA’s words: “We hereby give you a three-day ultimatum to apologize to Niger Delta Avengers in the same national dailies as anything other than that will mean that we shall bring the war to your doorsteps by blowing up all oil installations within your backyard (Gbaramatu Kingdom)”.
Tompolo did not comply with the demand and NDA attacked oil facilities in Gbaramatu Kingdom and other parts of Warri South-West local government area, leading to the invasion of Oporoza, the traditional headquarters of Ijaw Kingdom. The militant group mocked Tompolo for the invasion of Oporoza; Kurutie, his father’s town and other Ijaw communities, saying the government he teamed up with again swooped on his people and molested them.
Tompolo talks tough over Oporoza seized gold sword
In a related development, more trouble appeared to be looming in the Niger Delta if a gold sword reportedly seized from the palace of Oporoza by the Joint Task Force of the Nigerian Army is not returned with immediate effect.
It was gathered from security sources in Abuja familiar with the Oporoza operation that Tompolo is furious over the seizure of the golden sword by soldiers. The soldiers reportedly swooped on Oporoza last week and made away with some traditional paraphernalia, including the golden sword regarded as the symbol of authority of the Oporoza deity, and the motorised boat usually used by the Oporoza Council of Chiefs. Sunday Vanguard learnt from authoritative military sources that Tompolo demanded that the sword must be returned as the first step for him to listen to anyone who wants to meet him for any discussion about the boiling Niger Delta.
“It is true we have met with Tompolo in the last few weeks but he is very angry that the military desecrated the palace of Oporoza and made away with items related to their god,” one of the sources said. The security official, who has been part of the Federal Government team to end the rage of the NDA over oil installations in the region, expressed the willingness of the team to wade into the rift and recover the seized traditional items and calm frayed nerves.
As a fence-mending measure, it was gathered that the JTF might return the golden sword and the traditional rulers boat any moment from now. Although the source did not say where they met with Tompolo, he pointed out that the former MEND leader was not afraid of appearing before the courts to face trial over alleged corruption, but was worried about what he called ‘undue harassment’ by security agents.
“As things are, Tompolo is concerned about his security and not going to court to defend his name. That is just the sticking point. If there is an assurance by the EFCC and other security agencies that his safety is guaranteed, he will come out to defend himself against all the charges levelled against him,” the security official said.
Ijaw women protest
Also, yesterday, Ijaw women protested the invasion of Gbaramatu Kingdom by soldiers and have tabled five demands before the federal government to wit: implementation of the Niger Delta blue print; restructuring of Nigeria and return to true fiscal federalism, resource control and ownership; implementation of the PIB Bill; and no more military presence in Ijaw communities. Addressing reporters in Oporoza, President, Ijaw Women Connect (IWC), Rosemary Graham, said: “Ijaw women’s visit to Oporoza community after the military invasion is an eye opener for us as mothers of the Ijaw nation to the unwarranted and unprovoked attack on innocent and defenseless people of that community and the wanton destruction of properties.”
Take-off of Brass LNG will end militancy, sea piracy in Niger Delta —Bayelsa Elders
The elders and traditional heads from Bayelsa East, yesterday, said a permanent solution to the rising incidence of sea piracy, oil and gas pipeline attacks and violent crimes by militants in Niger Delta was the take-off of the Brass Liquefied Natural Gas Project (Brass LNG).
The elders, drawn from Brass and Nembe local government areas, said though the local and state governments have done much in the area of providing employment, initiating security and peace along the waterways and creeks of the state and the region, the delay in the take-off of the Brass LNG project has left many youths jobless, restive and involved in the renewed violence in the region.
The concerned elders, in a statement issued in Yenagoa and signed by Chief Newton Ayibatare, said although a position paper has been sent to the Chairman of the Brass Local Government, Hon. Bello Bina, and the State Governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson, the take off of the Brass LNG will employ over 16,000 restive youths and improve revenue to the Local Councils, the states and Federal Governments.
*Soni Daniel, Emma Amaize & Sam Oyandogha – Vanguard