Saturday, June 11, 2011

Fresh hostilities in NIGER Delta! Jonathan, Tompolo, ex-militant leaders vs Okah, MEND

Note: This analysis by a seasoned "militant" watcher is worth a read.

11 June 2011

Special Report ..
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor South-South

The latest threat by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta, MEND, to resume war in the Niger-Delta is a consuming personality battle between one of its leaders and other ex-militant leaders, who faciliated the current peace programme in the region.

However, the ego war was further compounded by the perceptible misreading of the power dynamics by Henry Okah after he was made to accept amnesty in exchange for his freedom in 2009.

The delicate intrigues actually started in 2007 when President Goodluck Jonathan visited him as vice president in South Africa to seek his cooperation for the peace in the region. By a twist of fate, Henry was arrested in Angola, months after Jonathan’s visit on the grounds of arms running, and deported to Nigeria in 2008 after spending some months in incarceration in that country.

MEND alleged it was a frame_up for his refusal to buy into the peace programme and, since then, Henry detested Jonathan. He never wanted to deal with him again on anything concerning the Niger_Delta. He preferred to deal directly with the former president, the late Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua, but the man died, and Jonathan, who he abhorred, became not just the defacto president but also the president. It became a clash of personalities.

While Jonathan did not want to deal with MEND, as represented by Okah, Henry, on his part, believed Jonathan was out to humiliate him. Both men gave no slice to each other until the 2010 National Day twin bomb blasts at Abuja, which resulted in the death of some innocent Nigerians.

Security sources traced the incidents to Henry, compelling his arrest and trial in South_Africa, as well as his brother, Charles, in Lagos. Charles is also in the cooler. This report x-rays the controversial ego war that is at the verge of creating another implosion in the region.

From our findings, the group of MEND loyal to Henry is camouflaging under the personality battle to plot resumption of fresh hostilities in the region. Having observed that the trial of Henry in South_Africa and his brother, Charles, in Nigeria, has become more political than legal, the group wants to return to the trenches once more. How can the cataclysm be averted?


Monday, June 6, Movement for the Emancipation of Niger_Delta, MEND, the principal militant group in the oftentimes explosive Niger_Delta region, announced that it would commence attacks on the oil industry and government forces in the Niger Delta shortly.
The insurgent group, in a statement by its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, warned oil companies allegedly looting the resources of Niger_ Delta “to steal as much as they can, while they can, for the end to the oppression, slavery and plundering of the Niger Delta is nigh”.

One thing was apparent in statement, the militant group had no iota of reverence for President Goodluck Jonathan and it so affirmed, “The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta, MEND, and other groups have no respect for Jonathan or his class of moronic African leaders who gladly serve as stooges to western governments”.

Its grouse, however, was centred on the ENI group, an Italian oil group, which operations it threatened to cripple for allegedly participating actively in the theft of oil in the Niger Delta for decades and assisting the military in its scorched earth and genocide actions against the justice seeking citizens of the Niger Delta and its subsidiaries, saying they were thieves and cheap opportunists.

MEND queried why the western nations ignored the bombing of villages and civilians in the Niger Delta by the Nigerian military they were really concerned about the removal of dictators in Africa and also why they enjoy good relationships with dictators in Angola and Equatorial Guinea.

According to the group, “In solidarity with the oppressed people of Libya, we vow this day to henceforth pursue the complete destruction of all investment owned by ENI group in Nigeria and urge all around Africa to do likewise. ENI and other oil companies in Nigeria should not be misled by the seeming calm in the creeks of the Niger Delta as it is mere preceding a very violent storm”.

Ordinarily, the issues raised by MEND were more of an ENI affair and the part that concerned Nigeria could well have been handled through dialogue, but the extant faction of the group is already embroiled in a no_love lost with Jonathan, and so is threatening fresh war in the region.

As if the Monday threat was not enough, the group renewed it 48 hours later, specifically Wednesday, saying, “ Due to doubts as to the authenticity of our previous statement by the Joint Task Force (JTF), the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) is again stating it clearly that we will be commencing with our promised attacks on the oil industry and the occupying Nigerian government forces in the Niger Delta, starting with the ENI group, the occupying government forces and then all other oil companies operating in the Niger Delta.

“The justice seeking people of the Niger Delta have suffered long enough from decades of gas flaring and oil spillages which have only being tainted by bribes. We re_iterate our lack of respect for President Goodluck Jonathan. Rather than addressing the root issues responsible for militancy in the Niger Delta, he is misleading gullible foreign investors and the oil companies operating in the Niger Delta in believing his presidency marks the end of militancy in the Niger Delta”.

For the avoidance of doubt, it added, “MEND and other armed groups in the Delta are not sacrificing the lives of their fighters for the provision of social amenities. We are fighting to reclaim our stolen land and restore our environment destroyed by the activities of irresponsible western oil companies”.

‘Amnesty Charade’

The group tagged the post_amnesty programme, which had seen many ex_militants going on training for skills acquisiton outside the country, as a travesty, saying, “The so_called amnesty committee headed by a Kingsley Kuku, who is absolutely clueless of the Niger Delta issues, is just another ploy to plunder the resources of the Niger Delta”.

According to its spokesman, “We urge the government to do the right thing by probing this amnesty committee and not listening to a group of miscreants calling themselves ex_creek warlords. This group of miscreants are only fighting to protect the bribes they are currently enjoying from the Nigerian government.

“International con artists from America and other countries are claiming to have reformed the miscreants assembled by the government at its post_amnesty camps after two weeks. If it is that easy, why is the American prison system over_burdened with about 2.3 million in its jails?

“The Nigerian government should draw their vision from countries such as China and Russia who are advancing economies and not hypocrites like America with 14 Trillion Dollars in debt and 14.9% unemployment rate”.

Obasanjo’s shot

The Federal Government had made some efforts, but has not really been able to stamp out militancy in the region due to certain factors. Eleven or so years ago, former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, in whose regime militancy took a leap, fastened the then symbol of the Niger_Delta struggle, leader of the Niger_Delta People Volunteers Force, NDPVF, Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo_Asari, in a top_security prison and basically pocketed the key. Obasanjo’s fury was that militants in the Niger_Delta were getting on the nerves of his government by constantly crippling the economy with their attacks on oil installations.

His action was in response to the breakdown in negotiations between government and agitators, led by Dokubo_Asari, who was flown to Abuja from the creeks in a presidential plane to consummate a no_ more violence deal. Obasanjo had before he assumed office in 1999, toured some Niger-Delta states and promised, in the course of his electioneering campaigns, to frontally tackle the problems of the region, which he failed to do.

Daring stride

His successor, Yar’Adua, retrieved the key from Obasanjo when he took over in 2007 and unlocked the dungeon for Dokubo_Asari with a charge to go and “sin no more”. Before then, militants had formed a merger, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta, MEND, to push for Dokubo-Asari’s freedom and they troubled the country to no end with Obasanjo bearing the lethal attacks, but not bating an eye lid.

Yar’Adua had hardly settled down after Dokubo_Asari’s bargained release when a section of the militant group, which obviously is in control of the group’s communication technology and also in control of a sizeable number of commanders and foot soldiers, fell out with the regime over its peace moves and amnesty programme and took MEND to a different facet.

The consequences reverberated all over the country, as foreign oil workers were kidnapped at will, oil installations blown up and oil prices skyrocketed around the world because of the sneeze by militants in the creeks of Niger_Delta.

Today, both the Federal Government and ex_militant leaders, who keyed into the amnesty programme, traced the cataclysm majorly to Henry Okah.

Since his arrest, last year, the wave of militancy in the region has condensed. Okah’s being taken into custody was not his first. He was arrested in Angola in 2007 by the country’s security forces on the suspicion that he came to acquire arms and ammunition, and was deported to Nigeria, the next year, where he was detained until he was released by Yar’Adua in 2009 following strong appeals by eminent Niger_Deltans and militants in the spirit of amnesty.

His fresh seizure by the South African government in collaboration with the Nigerian government has, however, not ended militancy in the region. It is a product of the dissatisfaction of some people in the Niger-Delta with government.

The government’s answer to the disenchantment after the proclamation of amnesty in 2009 was a post-amnesty programme to re-orientate militants, train them in various fields, vocational and otherwise, and provide jobs for them to make them useful members of the society. A good number of militants, about 20,192, embraced the programme. About 6,166 who were skeptical in 2009 have been further approved to enlist in the training programme. The post_amnesty programme, which, until recently, was under the watch of the former special adviser to the president on the Niger_Delta, Hon Kingsley Kuku, is going on well. The major distraction is the occasional protests for payment of allowances and deduction in the N65, 000 stipend paid to the ex_militants by their erstwhile commanders.

Clearly, the Federal Government has steered the agitation in the region away from violent approach, except for some few instances, like Henry Okah, who, though accepted amnesty before he was released from detention, is not persuaded by the amnesty programme. There is also the case of John Togo and numerous others who accepted but reneged on their promise. John Togo was recently killed by the JTF on the Niger_Delta after months of manhunt. The truth, nevertheless, is that even though Henry Okah is in detention and John Togo is, in all probability dead, they are many Henry Okahs and John Togos in the creeks waiting for opportunity to return to the trenches.

What Jonathan should do

Jonathan can avert the danger through his performance by being more pragmatic in the handling of the matters that affect the region. The faction of MEND that is still in existence sees him as an “enemy”, which is why it is fighting him. It is possible for him to make his “enemies” his friends, it depends on his approach.

Jonathan can make the Niger-Delta peaceful is to turn the region into a massive construction site with the provision of integrated industries to provide jobs for the millions of unemployed graduates and jumpstart the economy of the region, bridges and road networks to link up the riverine communities and the coastal states, provide potable water and electricity to banish water_borne diseases and remove them from pitiable darkness. That way, government would not only be doing the preaching to militants and up_and_coming agitators to leave the arms business, it only will also be doing so to their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters in the creeks, who know them; who see them when they wake up; when they gather the explosives; and hold nocturnal meetings on where to bomb next.

Believe it or not, militancy will be a threat to Jonathan’s government if he failed to manage the challenging issues of the amnesty programme. The programme is not supposed to be an everlasting project; it is a chapter that will come to an end, but when government said recently that it would not engage more ex_ militants in its training programme, after approving an extra 6,166 to the original 20,192, it raised quite some dust. Unquestionably, the progamme is not such that it could afford to be unbending to avoid going back to square one. Poser: If about 1,000 more pigheaded militants, let us even say 5,000 militants could spoil the gains of the entire amnesty programme, what stops government from bending backwards to accommodate them; after all, the objective of the programme is to transform them into better human beings. There should be nothing sacrosanct about the post-amnesty programme because the ultimate goal is to get the militants to stop violent agitation.


The militant group gave a clue to the personality war in a recent statement in which it berated South Africa for dancing to the tune of the Nigerian government in the incarceration of Henry Okah.

Former special adviser to the president on Niger-Delta, Kuku, is a product of the struggle and certainly understands the dimensions and intricacies of the struggle. Incontestably, a square peg in a square hole, he has connected well so far with the ex-militant leaders. Jonathan should give him the imprimatur to meet with aggrieved and non-aggrieved ex_militant leaders to sort out the thorny areas. If not for jumpiness of John Togo, who stormed out of the post_amnesty programme, and providence, which had decreed his days on the earth planet, the former special adviser was fine_tuning a safe_landing plan for him before his demise. If truth be told, Togo was already tired of fighting and was waiting for the sealing of the conditions for re_surfacing back to land when he was caught in the JTF bombardment, May 12, and he died two days later, May 14, from injuries sustained.

Though, Henry Okah, no doubt, irked Jonathan who visited him in South_Africa in 2007 as vice president on a ceasefire mission in the region, it is not too late to save him from his current travail, which was a deviation from the Niger-Delta struggle. Close sources said that even though a leopard does not change its spot, Henry Okah should have learnt his lessons by now, and allowing him to die in jail would spark the beast among those who do not necessarily love him, but because he represents a chapter in the militant world. And that is why the recent threat by MEND to resume hostilities should be cautiously handled.

The fact that Jonathan’s trouble shooting with Okah in South_Africa in 2007 did not produce the desired result does not mean that the grievances cannot be resolved. The group had a negotiating team, made up of Nigerians, but for palpably a matter of ego, the president has not deemed it crucial to negotiate with the team, even though his former boss, Yar’Adua, met with the group before his death.

For an enduring peace in the region, nothing stops Jonathan from permitting the Amnesty Office to confer with the Aaron Team, a group of mediators, comprising the former Chief of General Staff, Vice Admiral Mike Akhigbe (rtd), Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Major General Luke Kakadu Aprezi (rtd), Architect Denzil Amagbe Kentebe and Mr. Henry Okah, appointed by MEND itself, to fashion a way out and offer the die-hard militants, including Henry, the last chance to repent. However, Prof Soyinka is believed to have resigned his membership of the Aaron Team, while Mr. Farah Dagogo, who was also a member of the group that met with the late Yar’Adua in 2009, later disengaged from MEND to embrace amnesty. But Akhigbe could still lead the team if Jonathan is prepared to listen.

Although, the argument is that Okah had no tenable grounds to return to militancy after accepting amnesty in 2009, he has not been found guilty of the charge yet, and because the manner his current trial is being conducted does not indicate that he is undergoing a free and fair trial, the Federal Government could liaise with the South_African government to end the trial. That is not to say that violence and bloodshed should be condoned by the government, but the Niger_Delta crisis is like a fly perching on the scrotum, using more than necessary force to kill the fly may cause collateral damage.

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