*Protests non inclusion in amnesty programme
*Commuters stranded over five hours
6 September, 2011, Sweetcrude, Yenagoa – Commuters plying the East-West road were yesterday stranded for over five hours as over three thousand ex militants barricaded the Mbiama section of the route in Rivers State in protest over what they described as the refusal of the Federal Government to integration them into amnesty programme.
The blockade caused a serious gridlock spanning to Kaiama on the Bayelsa axis and Ahoada on the Rivers flank with some of the stranded commuters forced to call off their journey due to the chaotic situation on the route.
Most of the passengers and traders going to the weekly Tuesday Mbiama market were forced to trek long distance with loads on their head so as to pass through the troubled spot.
Not even the large deployment of armed solders from the JTF and policemen from Bayelsa State and Rivers State backed by armoured tanks could scarce away the army of protesters who laid siege to the only route linking the South South states of Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom.
The maturity of the military led by the Commander of the Sector 2 of the Joint Task Force, Col M Lasisi however averted possible bloodshed on the road as he succeeded in persuading the protesters to dismantle their blockade without any violent confrontation.
The protesters it was learnt stormed the area as early as 5.30am to mount the barricade which effectively cut off the route resulting in one of the worst gridlocked ever witnessed on the ailing route.
The Sector 2 commander had to persuade the protesters to leave the strategic Mbiama flank and relocate to the Bayelsa Gateway section so as to create room for vehicular movement.
The aggrieved ex militants had last week issued a seven day ultimatum to the Federal Government to include them in the amnesty programme threaten to breach the existing peace in the region if their demand was not met.
The protesters drawn from Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers under the aegis of Niger Delta Development Ex-militants said they were compelled to take to the federal highway to register their grievances following the continued refusal of the federal government to include them in the amnesty programme.
They lamented what they described as the hide and seek game some officials of the amnesty programme have been playing with them since they laid down their arms.
Armed with placards which captured some of their demands, one of the protesters who identified himself as General Ramsey Umokoro said, “we are out here on a peaceful protest against how the Federal Government has deprived us of our rights. We have been denied and deprived by the government after receiving our arms/guns from us. The Federal Government should return our guns because it is unjust to make us surrender our arms and threat us the way they are treating us; we want to go back to the creek.”
Reacting to the action of the ex militants, the JTF Spokesman Lt. Col Timothy Antigha said the special security outfit had to apply dialogue and not force in dislodging the protesters in line with the democratic tenets of respecting their right to protest in civilized manner.
He however reminded the aggrieved ex-militants that the Federal Government had since declared the amnesty closed and as such their demand is illegal.
Also speaking on the protest which crippled vehicular movement on the East West road for the better part of yesterday morning, the member representing Bayelsa State on the Presidential Committee on Amnesty, Mr. Selekaye Victor-Ben described the blockade by the protesters as a criminal act and an attempt by those involved to bend the provisions for the Amnesty programme of the Federal Government.
Mr. Selekaye Victor-Ben said though the protesting militants had written to the office of the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, Mr. Kingsley Kuku on their demands, the records with the amnesty office showed that the protesting youths were not ex-agitators and weapons purportedly submitted were not recognized.
Mr. Victor-Ben, in a statement issued to newsmen in Yenagoa, said the protesting youths are a creation of hunger and a confirmation that due to the successes recorded by the amnesty programme, many non ex-agitators, such as those involved in the blockade of the East-West road, are seeking every available means to be involved.
On the issues of weapons submitted by the protesting youths, Mr. Selekaye Victor-Ben said the arms submitted by the youths were far below the levels of those submitted by true agitators involved in the peace deal and amnesty.
Victor-Ben, who was also the secretary of the State Peace and Conflict Resolution Committee during the talks with ex-agitators on submission of arms, said those agitating and blocking roads in the Niger Delta were not in the creeks when the Federal Government engaged in talks with ex-freedom fighters.
He advised the protesting youths to refrain from engaging in direct violation of the law and urged the law enforcement officers to come out strongly against youths engaged in such acts.
Meanwhile the office of the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and facilitator of the Amnesty Programme, Mr. Kingsley Kuku yesterday said the Amnesty Programme does not have a “Third Phase.”
In a statement issued by Head, Media and Communication, Amnesty Office, Henry Ugbolue, said the office had not been directed by Mr. President to admit new entrants into the amnesty programme for former agitators in the Niger Delta adding, “It is the firm view of Hon. Kuku that this clamour for the inclusion of more persons in the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme is unhealthy and clearly offends the letter and spirit of the 2009 Amnesty Proclamation.”
“The terms of the amnesty included the willingness and readiness of agitators to surrender their arms, unconditionally renounce militancy and sign an undertaking to this effect. In return, the government pledged its commitment to institute programmes to assist the disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration of the former agitators.”
“A closure has since been achieved in the disarmament phase of the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme and very soon, the Demobilisation component of the Programme shall come to an end. A total of 26,358 persons (in two phases) accepted the offer of amnesty at the expiration of the stipulated deadline. In pursuant to the commitment made to the former agitators, the Federal Government through the Amnesty Office is currently demobilising, rehabilitating and reintegrating the Niger Delta amnesty beneficiaries.”