Nigeria: MEND issues two-week ultimatum

*Fighters of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.

*Fighters of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.

*Militants threaten more attacks

11 July 2016, Warri —
THE Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, yesterday, gave the Federal Government a two-week ultimatum to respond to the demand for dialogue on the Niger Delta question or it would safely assume that government only responds to the threat of violence and industrial action.

This came on a day the Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, accused the Federal Government of inconsistency in its bid to resolve the problem of renewed militancy in the Niger Delta.

Also yesterday, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s statement that the Federal Government would not discuss with the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, and other militant groups in the Niger Delta to resolve the issues connected to renewed military in the oil-rich region, triggered a response from some militancy groups who said they would step up the bombing of oil and gas installations in their respective towns and villages.

One of them, Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders, which claimed responsibility for the attack on the Brass Creek manifold at Peretorugbene community, Bayelsa State, last week, said it had given security personnel and expatriates working in Beni-seide and Ogbotebe , Tunu flow stations in Bayelsa an ultimatum to vacate the area or face its wrath.

MEND, in a statement by its spokesperson, Jomo Gbomo, gave the reason it opted for dialogue and constituted Aaron Team 2, including ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, to discuss with the federal government and others on the way forward for the region, but regretted that government was obfuscating the Niger Delta crisis.

It indicated that the group was not prepared to dialogue with the National Security Adviser, NSA, because his office does not have executive power, saying the issues surrounding the Niger Delta question were on the exclusive legislative list, and the proposed dialogue was not an interrogatory session.

The statement read: “The attention of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has been drawn to an article titled: ‘President Buhari Sharpens Focus On Niger Delta,’ written by Mr. Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity.

“We have carefully studied and analyzed the article. We wholeheartedly applaud and welcome President Buhari’s sharpened focus on the Niger Delta even though, in our estimation, Mr. Shehu’s article ironically did more to obtuse the focus.

“Mr. Shehu’s piece was unfortunately marred by sweeping assumptions; hasty generalization; illogicality and poor analysis of the Niger Delta question and, above all, the article merely provided lame excuses for Government’s inability to proffer sustainable solutions to the Niger Delta crisis.

“It was tactless of Mr. Shehu to arrive at a conclusion in his article that, Niger Delta militants were behind the killings of prominent individuals and attacks on some coastal communities in Lagos and Ogun states. This casual but hasty generalization from a presidential spokesperson is, to say the least, steeply divisive and capable of sparking a tribal war of unimaginable consequences between the Ijaw (whose youth are perceived to constitute a large number of the rank and file of Niger Delta militants) and the Yoruba.

“Quite apart from the fact that none of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) operatives has, so far, been arrested by security agencies to establish Mr. Shehu’s sweeping assumption, the comment by Mr. Shehu is regrettable and infra dig his office.

The problem with Buhari
“Going forward, three salient issues which clearly reveal the seeming inability of President Buhari’s government to find sustainable solutions to the Niger Delta crisis can be distilled from Mr. Shehu’s article.

“Firstly, he made heavy weather about the Punch newspaper editorial of July 1, 2016, as a basis to justify government’s reluctance to negotiate with the NDA and other militant groups. Thereafter, he cited National Security Adviser (NSA) General Babagana Mongunno’s alleged encounter with about 14 different militant groups who were all ‘claiming leadership to the renewed onslaught on the nation’s economic jugular vein.’ “Secondly, Mr. Shehu revealed in his article, the reluctance of government to take ‘the strongest possible military action’ against the NDA and other militant groups while appealing to elders and traditional rulers from the Niger Delta such as HRH King Alfred Diette-Spiff, the Amanyanabo of Twon-Brass in Bayelsa State, to beg the militants to ceasefire.

“Thereafter, Mr. Shehu informed that President Buhari would take action (presumably, military action) after receiving reports from the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, who was interfacing with stakeholders; Special Adviser on Niger Delta/Co-coordinator, Presidential Amnesty Programme, Brigadier General Paul Boroh (retd); and the new management of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

“Thirdly, Shehu, in his article, bemoaned the proliferation of solutions to the Niger Delta crisis while asking rhetorical questions, to wit: ‘How many of those agreements, joint statements, ceasefires and peace declarations do we have on record so far? Why have they not given us peace? What is wrong with those agreements that they do not last?

Pot calling kettle black
“Mr. Shehu failed to proffer answers to his own questions. He also failed to apportion blame on successive governments and the international oil companies (IOCs) who have repeatedly reneged on agreements entered with the people of the Niger Delta. For instance, Mr. Shehu needs to be reminded that government and the IOCs are owing the NDDC billions of Naira in withheld funds. But that is a discussion for another day.

Negotiation different from dialogue
“There is a marked distinction between negotiation with criminals and fraudsters who force concessions from the government using the strategy of attacks on oil installations, on the one hand; and dialogue with genuine militant groups such as MEND who are committed to meaningfully engage government on the vexed Niger Delta question, on the other hand.

“While the former engage in militancy for their personal aggrandizement, the latter are patriots who are fighting a just cause and are equally desirous of peace, stability and development of the Niger Delta region for the common good.

“As unfolding events in Nigeria have since revealed, the major challenge of President Buhari’s government lies in its inability to distinguish between NEGOTIATION (emphasis supplied) with criminal elements, such as the NDA, who are sabotaging the nation’s economy and whose demands range from the mundane to the outright ridiculous, on the other hand. And DIALOGUE (emphasis supplied) on the Niger Delta question with a serious-minded group, such as MEND, on the other hand.

“The way and manner criminal gang as the NDA hold government to ransom and force concessions is exactly the same way pressure groups such as PENGASSAN, NUPENG or even the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), oftentimes, hold government to ransom regardless of the risks posed by their actions to the national economy and to the lives of ordinary Nigerians.

“The only difference here is that NDA ups the ante with their senseless and unprovoked attacks on oil installations. Willy-nilly, the government must negotiate with them even though their belligerent and bellicose conducts may be inimical to the national interest”.

Threat
Also yesterday, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s statement that the Federal Government would not discuss with the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, and other militant groups in the Niger Delta to resolve the issues connected to renewed military in the oil-rich region, triggered a response from some militancy groups who said they would step up the bombing of oil and gas installations in their respective towns and villages.

One of them, Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders, which claimed responsibility for the attack on the Brass Creek manifold at Peretorugbene community, Bayelsa State, last week, said it had given security personnel and expatriates working in Beni-seide and Ogbotebe, Tunu flow stations in Bayelsa an ultimatum to vacate the area or face its wrath.

Osinbajo, who delivered the second foundation lecture of Elizade University, Ilara-Mokin, Ondo State, on Friday, had declared that the Federal Government will not dialogue with the NDA or any militant group for that matter saying, “The so-called avengers are not freedom fighters but fighting for their own economic benefits. They are avenging for their private pocket and that is why the government is not talking with them”.

In an electronic mail to Sunday Vanguard, the Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders said: “ What has just happened now is to let the entire world, the Nigerian nation, and the Niger Delta nation to know that it is no longer business as usual. We want to tell the Niger Delta region that we are proud of the Niger Delta Avengers and urge all Niger Delta to reciprocate the same in their respective towns and villages that oil exploration is going on.

“We are sounding it as a warning to the military personnel and sympathizers working with the Nigerian nation residing in the Beni-seide region that their safety is no longer guaranteed. We are warning them because our mission is not to take innocent souls, but if they take our warning as an act of weakness, we feel very sorry for their wives and children whom they shall leave behind to mourn them.”

“As revolutionary crusaders, we believe in God for true justice and equity, which is why we are giving them the opportunity to evacuate from the area (Beni-seide flow stations, Ogbotebe, Tunu) immediately because of their wives and children. Our seal team will not spear any act of defiance by the federal troops or expatriates after the expiration of this ultimatum.” “We are conscious and conversant with all escape routes and hideouts, so please be warned, as we are always in your midst.

“We stand with the Niger Delta Avengers to say we want a lasting peace in our oil-rich region, or what just happened is just a tip of the iceberg. We are in solidarity with the Niger Delta Avengers whose sole aim is the emancipation of the Ijaws the total control of their God-given black Gold, resource control.”

Govt contradicting itself– IYC
The Spokesperson for IYC, Eric Omare, in a statement, yesterday, said: “The Federal Government, in the past week, has displayed obvious inconsistencies and lack of commitment towards finding a solution to the renewed hostilities in the Niger Delta. “It would be recalled recently President Buhari while meeting with some political and religious leaders pleaded with militants to give peace a chance and on another occasion said that the federal government was in the process of identifying the leaders of the different militant groups with a view to dialogue with them.

“Also a few days ago, the Commandant General of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Abdullahi Muhammadu told Nigerians that the issue of militancy would soon be a thing of the past as government was already discussing with the militants.

“However, it shows obvious contradiction and lack of commitment for Vice President Osinbanjo to state on Friday, July 8, 2016, at Akure that the Federal Government is not discussing with the militants because they are economic saboteurs and not freedom fighters.

“The IYC is constrained to ask: What is the correct position of the Federal Government on efforts at resolving the current hostilities in the Niger Delta? Is the Federal Government of Nigeria a boat without a captain for different officers of government to take a different position on the same issue? “These contradictions clearly show that the Federal Government lacks any commitment towards resolving the current hostilities in the Niger Delta. The two-week ceasefire that was earlier declared seems to be a smokescreen to create the impression that government is committed to resolving the issues through dialogue whereas there is no such commitment. “The IYC wishes to state for the umpteenth time that for there to be any meaningful resolution of the renewed militancy in the Niger Delta, President Buhari like his predecessors must provide leadership.

Clash of centrifugal, centripetal forces
“The clash of centrifugal and centripetal forces within his government supporting and opposing efforts at resolving the current Niger Delta hostilities are playing out because of his failure to provide leadership. “For any federal government effort at resolving the impasse to achieve the desired result, President Buhari must give a clear direction in order to gain the confidence of the people of the Niger Delta region and for officers of his government to key in.”

*Emma Amaize – Vanguard

About the Author