Nigeria: Govt, MEND strike deal to end N-Delta crisis

*Operatives of MEND.

*Operatives of MEND.

*Henry Okah, Charles Okah, Obi Nwabueze may be freed
*Nnamdi Kanu, others to get freedom if they renounce Biafra
*Tompolo off the hook if he cooperates
*Niger Delta Avengers gets last chance to stop bombing or…

31 July 2016, Abuja — The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, and the Federal Government, currently engaged in a dialogue through the oil companies and security agencies to end renewed bombings in the oil-rich Niger Delta, seem to have reached far-reaching compromises, including the possible release of a former militant leader, Henry Okah, from prison in South Africa, and his brother, Charles Okah, incarcerated in Nigeria.

They were also said to have agreed that ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo , alias Tompolo, would not be harassed by government if he makes himself available as a delegate on MEND Aaron Team 2, while the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, would be released on condition that he renounces the agitation for “Biafra Republic.” MEND, in a statement by Spokesperson, Jomo Gbomo, yesterday, announced the resolutions to end the revolt in the South-South and South East regions.

The statement came on a day security forces were said to be deploying into strategic positions in the Niger Delta to prepare to use force against militants if peace talks failed.

However, MEND said the recalcitrant Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, still has opportunity to embrace peace, failing which a combination of military forces and volunteers in the region would smoke them out.

The statement said: “The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) is the only militant group from the Niger Delta region presently engaged in a dialogue with the Federal Government of Nigeria – through oil companies and security agencies – with a view to resolving the current Niger Delta crisis.

“Thus far, the deliberations have been fruitful, various concessions and guarantees have already been secured, some of which include but not limited to the release of Henry Okah, Charles Okah and Obi Nwabueze; review of the life sentence handed to Mr. Edmund Ebiware based on a proposal put forward by the Aaron Team representative for Abia and Imo states, Senator Adolphus Wabara; conditional release of IPOB leader, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu and others if they renounce their agitation for a ‘Biafra Republic’”.

Furthermore, MEND said they agreed that Mr. Government Ekpemupolo shall not be arrested, harassed and/or intimidated whenever he makes himself available as a delegate of the MEND Aaron Team.

The statement went on: “That international arbitrator and conflict negotiator, American Dr. Judith Asuni, shall be accepted as the representative of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) on the MEND Aaron Team; that the criminal charges against Urhobo freedom fighter, Mr. Kelvin Prosper Oniarah, shall be reviewed.

“That the life sentence which was handed to seven soldiers in 2008, who actively supported the Niger Delta struggle, be reviewed under the Presidential Amnesty Programme. The affected persons are, Suleiman Alabi Akubo, Major. Mathias Peter, Sgt Alexander Davou, L.cpl. Moses Nwaigwe, L.cpl. Nnamdi Anene, L.cpl. Taatihi Emmanuel, L.cpl Caleb Bawa, PTE.

“However, one of the most immediate and urgent fallouts of the ongoing dialogue is the imperative for the Federal Government and MEND to jointly and separately take proactive steps to rescue and secure the region. This is in the event that the recalcitrant Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, continue its senseless and politically-motivated path of attacks on the country’s oil assets.

“To this end, both parties agreed that the Special Forces of the Nigerian Army should commence the purely routine but strategic military exercise, code-named ‘Operation Crocodile Tears’; while MEND would commence a meet the government-actors-and-people tour of the Niger Delta region code-named ‘Operation Moses’.

“‘Operation Crocodile Tears’ is aimed at ensuring the combat readiness of the Nigerian Army in amphibious and internal security operations in the Niger Delta as well as check criminal activities like kidnapping, pipeline vandalism, piracy and other forms of criminal activities spearheaded by the NDA in the region.

“MEND’s ‘Operation Moses’ is essentially to inform, educate and generally sensitise the citizenry in the Niger Delta, particularly the government, the youth, oil companies, elders and militant community on the need to ceasefire and support the President Muhammadu Buhari Administration in its determined bid to proffer sustainable solutions to the current Niger Delta crisis.

“Consequently, MEND urges all states, local governments, oil and gas companies and law-abiding citizens in the Niger Delta region to go about their lawful and legitimate concerns without any iota of fear as we have received firm assurances from the Federal Government that ‘Operation Crocodile Tears’ is an innocuous exercise in the national interest.

“Meanwhile, MEND’s ‘Operation Moses ‘shall be anchored by the Aaron Team 2 Dialogue, Peace and Development Initiative, jointly led by Mr. Odein Ajumogobia, SAN, and HRH King Alfred Papapreye Diette-Spiff, the Amanyanabo of Twon-Brass in Bayelsa State.

No confirmation yet, says Presidency
The Presidency has said it was not formerly in the know of any agreement with the MEND as claimed by the Body. MEND had in a statement on Saturday stated that its conditions for peace included the release of Henry Okah from a South African prison, his brother, Charles Okah and the Leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu from detention. It also needed assurance from the government that Tompolo would not be arrested when he showed up for the negotiations with the federal government. But speaking through the Senior Special Assistant to President Mohammadu Buhari, Mallam Garba Shehu on the latest statement by MEND on the stage of the peace talks, the presidency said it was yet to get a confirmation of the supposed truce. Shehu said that the Office of the National Security Adviser, NSA was yet to receive confirmation on the matter as at the time of filing this report. According to him, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu who was a stakeholder in the matter could not be reached on his cell phone. “I have been trying to get the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, on the phone. But he did not pick his calls. And the NSA’s office has no confirmation as at now. Maybe, later. But as at now, the NSA’s office has no confirmation of such agreement to give me”, Shehu told Sunday Vanguard on the phone.

Visit to Buhari
“Operation Moses shall commence with a visit by the distinguished members of the Aaron Team 2 to President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House, Abuja between August 22, 2016, and August 26, 2016.

“Thereafter, the Team shall hold sessions with top executives of major indigenous and international oil and gas companies operating in Nigeria, including the state oil company, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) on August 29 and 30, 2016 in Abuja. The focus of these sessions shall include, to wit: Local content development; Petroleum Industry Bill; Corporate Social Responsibility/Host community relations, etc.

“On September 5 and 6, 2016 in Abuja, the MEND Aaron Team shall hold sessions with the top echelon of security agencies in Nigeria as well as the top management of the intervention agencies in the Niger Delta, namely: Ministry of Niger Delta; Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Presidential Amnesty Office.

“The Minister of Justice/Attorney General of the Federation is expected to personally attend these sessions. The focus of the sessions shall include: Extension of presidential amnesty to certain categories of political prisoners in Nigeria; Fundamental Human Rights; NDDC Act in focus; Presidential Amnesty Proclamation 2009 in focus; collapse of federal infrastructure in the Niger Delta in focus; Calabar-Lagos rail line in focus; East/West Road in focus, etc.

“After these critical sessions, ‘Operation Moses’ shall move to tour the nine states in the Niger Delta region, commencing with Rivers State between September 12, 2016, and September 14, 2016. Between September 15, 2016, and September 18, 2016, the Aaron Team shall be in Bayelsa state.

“Between September19, 2016, and September 21, 2016, the Team shall be in Delta State. From Thursday, September 22, 2016, to Sunday, September 25, 2016, the Aaron Team shall be in Akwa Ibom State. Between September 26, 2016, and September 29, 2016, the Team shall be in Abia and Imo states. Finally, between October 3, 2016, and October 7, 2016, the Aaron Team shall be in Edo and Ondo states.

“The central clearing house for all activities connected with ‘Operation Moses’ shall be the MEND Aaron Team 2 secretariat. Accordingly, the Secretary of the Team, Timipa Jenkins Okponipere, Esq., shall duly communicate with all concerned persons and institutions.

“Ultimately, peace and development in the Niger Delta region is the final destination of the ongoing dialogue between MEND and the Federal Government.”

Troops set for crackdown
Meantime, defence chiefs were quoted, at the weekend, as saying troops were deploying into strategic positions in the Niger Delta to prepare to use force against militants if the peace talks failed.

“We have allowed the ongoing dialogue between the Federal Government and the militants. Our troops are in position. My message to the militants is to ensure they go to the negotiation table,” the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisakin, said during a visit to Bayelsa State, on Friday. On the possibility of using force if talks between the government and militants break down, Minister of Defence Mansur Dan-Ali was quoted as saying in Abuja: “It cannot be ruled out.”

Dan-Ali said local people would work alongside troops as part of a grassroots community security force, along the lines of an approach used to fight the Islamist group Boko Haram in the North-East. “We will fuse them into the new security infrastructure for the region,” he said.

Army releases Tompolo associates
In a related development, Nigeria Army, yesterday, released three suspected associates of Tompolo, arrested about a fortnight ago in Warri, Delta State, on suspicion that they had a link with NDA and know the whereabouts of the runaway ex-militant leader.

Two of the suspects, Simeone Bebenimibo, a member of the Delta Waterways and Land Security Committee, DWLSC, Warri, and Bomby Oluba, hail from Okerenkoko community, Gbaramatu Kingdom. The other, Ayiri, an Itsekiri, is the driver of the Chief Security Officer, CSO, to Tompolo, Ebipade Kari. Tompolo had cried out, last week, in an open letter to Buhari, that his family and associates were under siege by the army, Navy, and DSS, while his 84-year-old father, Chief Thomas Ekpemupolo, brutalized by soldiers, had his leg amputated by doctors to save his life.

I didn’t conspire against Tompolo- Johnny
Also, yesterday, Ijaw leader, Chief Michael Johnny, variously accused of plotting against Tompolo, denied the charge. Johnny, who spoke on the phone to Sunday Vanguard, said: “It is a naked fact that a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos issued a bench warrant against Tompolo following the charges against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which had nothing to do with me as a person. “I only supported the probe of Tompolo. I did not write a petition against him and I do not have any regret supporting his probe and the process that led to the award of contracts at the Nigeria Maritime University, NMU, Okerenkoko, which is my community and the acquisition of a temporary site for its take-off in Kurutie (Tompolo’s town). “ The Ijaw leader said Tompolo caused his arrest and detention in the past and he did not run away, adding, “I faced the trial. So he should not run away from his own. He should come out and face it like a man, which is what I did in my own case.”

Aginighan, Ex-Nddc boss, hails Buhari
Separately, Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Pastor Power Ziakede Aginighan, yesterday, hailed Buhari’s resort to the option of dialogue in addressing the renewed insurgency in the Niger Delta region. Aginighan stated his position shortly after regularising his eight months old membership of the ruling All Progressives Congress at his Ward in the Bomadi Local Government Area of Delta State by obtaining his membership slip. He said: “The Niger Delta region and the Nigerian Nation are both undergoing serious distress because of activities of the agitators who have been destroying very critical national investments for some months now. As a leader in the region, I advise all those who are aggrieved in the Niger Delta to embrace the olive branch of dialogue extended by Mr President.”

*Emma Amaize, Levinus Nwabughiogu & Tony Nwankwo – Reuters

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