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Amnesty - Yar'Adua Meets 32 Militants in Nigeria

Published on Saturday 8th August 2009

Two days into the commencement of the federal government's amnesty programme, President Umar Yar'Adua yesterday met with 32 leaders of various militant groups from the Niger Delta at the State House, Abuja.

Also yesterday, confusion trailed the implementation of the amnesty plan in Rivers State because the designated arms submission point at Federal Government Primary School, Shell Road, Bonny Island was not functional.

Accompanied by Governor Timipre Silva of Bayelsa State, the militants publicly renounced violence and accepted the amnesty offer of the federal government.

At a ceremony which lasted about twenty minutes in Abuja and was attended by top security operatives and government officials, leaders of the militant groups publicly pledged to work with government to bring about peace and development in the region.

The president, who described the action of the militants to renounce violence and embrace the amnesty offer as extraordinarily courageous and a rare display of patriotism, promised that his administration would do everything within human capability to ensure that it addressed all the issues that led to the struggle in the first place.

The president said: "I want to first of all express my gratitude to God Almighty for his mercies in making this afternoon's event possible.

"After thanking God, I want to express also my gratitude to Ebikabowei Victor Ben and all the men and leaders with you for coming here this afternoon before me to declare your acceptance of this amnesty.

"I had made a proclamation and called on all militants and their leaders to take advantage of the amnesty so that we can have peace and security in the Niger Delta states without which development will not be possible.

"We have reached a situation, as you know, where even contractors are afraid to take contracts and execute work in the states.

"Peace, stability and security are necessary conditions for development and prosperity."

The president acknowledged that the leaders of the militants and the men they lead are young Nigerians "with talent, capacities and the ability to serve not only the people of their states but also the people of Nigeria."

He said some of them have the ability and capacity to even serve humanity if given the opportunity. "It is disheartening to see that young, energetic, intelligent Nigerians are spending their lives in the creeks which is not allowed for any Nigerian."

Yar'Adua made it clear that no Nigerian leader would wish to see any Nigerian living that kind of life, stating that it was high time the country gave the opportunity to its teeming youths in the Niger Delta states who are in the creeks to come out, be rehabilitated and given the opportunity that any other person in this country has.

"I have confidence that we have youths who are energetic, who can contribute to nation building, who will contribute to humanity, who have great support in seeking the peace and security in this region."

The president directed the repentant militants to work together with the chairman of the amnesty committee to work out the logistics of how their arms would be received and work out reintegration process for them.

He called on other militant leaders to follow the action of the 32 leaders and embrace the amnesty offer.

Silva who received commendations for convincing the militants to lay down their arms and embrace government's amnesty offer said many of the repentant militants had not left the creeks for the past three years and as a result, have not been abreast of life outside the creeks.

"What I have done is to give them the confidence they have been looking for.

"They wanted to come out and accept the amnesty but they wanted somebody of the stature of a governor to guarantee their safety," Silva said.

According to the governor, the confidence of the militants was boosted when the president released Henry Okah from detention thus encouraging them to gradually begin to emerge from the creeks.

Silva stated that from all his discussions with them, he received personal assurances that they were going to return all their arms and were committed to making the amnesty plan work.

"I don't think they will go back to the creeks and continue the arms struggle and I have no reason to believe they will," the governor affirmed.

Ebikabowei Victor Ben alias General Boyloaf who spoke on behalf of the 32 repentant militants, reminded the government of what led to the crisis in the Niger Delta.

"Our people are hungry and dying. Our infrastructure is in a deplorable state, our communities have no water and light, oil spills and gas flaring is the order of the day.

"In fact, you need to visit the region to see things for yourselves. Our youths are unemployed and this is the same region that produces over 90 per cent of our national income."

He wondered how the youths from the region could fold their arms and watch the future of the generation yet unborn crumble before their eyes.

He refused to place the blame solely on the administration of President Yar'Adua, adding that "it is just the long neglect of past administrations and the constitutional injustice by the Nigerian state that got us where we are today.

"Our people have been made promises in the past, but that got us nowhere. We want to believe that this administration is sincere and will keep to its promise of a holistic developmental approach to the region."

In a related development, efforts to verify the preparedness of government and security agencies to implement the amnesty programme in Bonny Island, Rivers State fell short of expectations.

When THISDAY got to the designated arms submission point in Bonny, the gates were locked and there was no sign of life inside the school compound meant for militants willing to surrender their arms.

When the state coordinator, Bestman Woke was called to explain if the venue had been changed, he asked for time to contact the military official who was supposed to head the team to the place.

He later confirmed that problems of funding and logistics had impeded the mobilisation of officials to the place.

He said if repentant militants are interested in submitting weapons in the area, they should contact the Joint Task Force Commander in Bonny, "who will collect the weapons and document them."

Apart from the problems of moving the soldiers to the designated place, Woke said they also did not want to encourage a situation that could pose a problem to the amnesty programme.

"We have the challenges of finance and logistics but you know it is part of the initial hiccups which will be sorted out within a short time.

"We also want to reduce any risks so that we do not scuttle the process. You know the movement to Bonny involves moving through the sea and if we make such movement and there is an attack, there would be reprisal attacks and we don't want anything that will scuttle the peace."

As the state coordinator made this disclosure, the leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Force, Mujaheed Asari Dokubo yesterday declared as untrue media reports that the arms and ammunition recovered last Thursday in Port Harcourt, Rivers State were imported by him.

In a statement issued by his lawyer, Festus Keyamo, Dokubo said the recovered arms were actually arms gathered by a faction of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force for the purpose of accepting the amnesty offer.

A section of the media had reported yesterday that the police acting on tip-off from one Prince Wisdom Amachree, recovered 26 brand new AK 47 rifles and other arms and ammunition allegedly imported by Dokubo and subsequently arrested some leaders of NDPVF.

But in the statement, Asari decried the arrest, stating that, "by arresting these leaders of the NDPVF who were about to surrender arms in acceptance of the amnesty package, the federal government had shown bad faith in its amnesty offer and has shown that, perhaps, the whole thing is a ruse and a trap meant to lure out militants for capture."

Asari, who is said to be undergoing treatment in Germany, gave the names of those arrested as Tamunokuro Princewill, Kingsley Solomon, Dapaye Dappa, Solomon Princewill and others.

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