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Key Militant Offers to Accept Yar'Adua's Amnesty in Nigeria

Published on Tuesday 16th June 2009

Leader of the Niger Delta Vigilante Movement, Mr. Ateke Tom has asked President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua to define the terms of the amnesty he is offering rebel groups in the Niger Delta, following which he will be prepared to immediately surrender all the arms in his possession to benefit from the government's olive branch.

Ateke's offer to accept the federal government's amnesty is coming on the heels of threats by another militant faction in the region to disrupt the FIFA Under-17 World Cup tournament to be hosted by Nigeria later this year, advising the football body against the selection of Nigeria hosting the event, as the safety of players cannot be guaranteed.

But in a swift reaction, the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for the football tournament said that the federal government is well on top of the situation, adding that FIFA is not so fickle to buckle under the threats of a band of elements that have axes to grind.

Meanwhile, speaking through his lawyer, Mr. Ikenna Enekweizu, yesterday at the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) Correspondent's Chapel in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the warlord who had waged relentless battles with the Joint Task Force (JTF) said he was now ready to lay down his arms.

The lawyer said his client was ready to return to Okirika and be part of the development going on there, adding that it was necessary to spell out the terms of the amnesty so that he would know how to rehabilitate and reintegrate his boys into normal society.

In an apparent sign of good will, he also sent a message to other militant groups in the region to drop their arms and work with the federal government for the much needed development of the region since they have successfully drawn global attention to their plight.

"Chief Comrade Ateke Tom hereby declares on behalf of himself and all members of the Niger Delta Vigilante, the Niger Delta Patriotic Forces, that he is prepared to hand over all arms and ammunition in his possession and that of his boys, preparatory to handing them over to the federal government, the moment the modalities for the grant of the amnesty are completed and announced by the federal government.

"Chief (Comrade) Ateke Tom hereby calls on the federal government to immediately make public the conditions for the said amnesty and put in place all the necessary framework (both legal and otherwise) for the facilitation of the grant of the said amnesty," he said

The lawyer said that there was considerable apprehension among the boys on what would be their lot especially as there is no spelt out document, which if not produced, might lead to their being used upon surrendering as moving targets.

As a gesture of appreciation for their acceptance of the offer of amnesty for peace in the region, Ateke appealed to President Yar'Adua to order cessation of hostilities especially at Gbaramatu Kingdom where former Government Ekpumopolo alias Tompolo held sway till he was sacked by the JTF about a month ago.

He explained that the withdrawal of troops and ordering them to stop action would also assure the people that there was no programme to exterminate them especially as they have seen the need for peace.

Reacting to the acceptance of Ateke to lay down arms, the Action Congress (AC) in the state hailed it as a positive development which would ensure the much needed but so far elusive peace in the Niger Delta region.

"The surrender of Ateke Tom is the greatest news in the ears of every Rivers state AC members.

"To us, today marks the beginning of the end of the evil type of militancy in the Niger Delta where kidnapping, bunkering, assassination, political thuggery and other associated crimes in a once peaceful region where misguided elements have turned the suffering and struggle to free and emancipate our people into a hilarious criminal empire," AC said.

All the hotlines through which Ateke could be reached were all switched off. As a result, efforts to verify whether the offer to surrender was announced with his blessings could not be confirmed.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), meanwhile, in an e-mail yesterday threatened to extend its operations beyond Delta State to others in the oil-rich southern region.

MEND said it had started a massive fire that destroyed the Abiteye flow station and blew up two other Chevron facilities early yesterday.

"Hurricane Piper Alpha hit the Abiteye flowstation operated by Chevron today... which resulted in a massive fire outbreak that is consuming the entire facility," it said in the statement.

MEND vowed to move "into the neighbouring states of Bayelsa and Rivers before passing through the remaining states of Ondo, Edo, and Akwa Ibom then finally head off-shore."

The group also took "the opportunity to advise FIFA to have a re-think about Nigeria hosting the under-17 World Cup tournament at this time, as the safety of international players and visitors cannot be guaranteed due to the current unrest."

The tournament is due to run from October 24 to November 15, and Nigeria has scheduled some matches to be played in the restive region.

Before the latest attacks, Nigerian authorities at the weekend gave FIFA guarantees of security during the competition.

The MEND statement also urged people from the Niger Delta region living in northern Nigeria to return home within the next eight weeks.

MEND said it was issuing the warning "because a major event will occur in that part of the country and reprisal attacks directed at them cannot be ruled out."

It gave the same advice to northern Nigerians living in the Niger Delta.

But the spokesman of the JTF, Colonel Rabe Abubakar, downplayed the MEND attack saying that there was "a serious exchange" of fire between the militants and troops, but that only Chevron could speak on its facility.

"There was a serious exchange of fire between our troops and them at the flow station. We were able to chase them away. They fled and there was no casualty on our side. We are waiting for the company has to speak about their facility," he said.

Chevron did not confirm or deny the latest attack, but said investigations were under way.

Chevron is "not speculating on any comment while investigations are being undertaken," a company spokesman, Scott Walker, said in a statement.

Yesterday's operations were the latest in a series of MEND attacks on Niger Delta facilities run by the US oil giant designed to demonstrate that a recent government crackdown in the region has had no effect on its ability to operate. One attack in May cost Chevron 100,000 barrels a day in lost production.

MEND, which says it is fighting for a fairer distribution of oil wealth to local people, said it would keep up its operations until oil production in the country had been brought to a halt.

"We hope that by the time the oil and gas exports come to zero, Nigeria will maintain those positions from the export of groundnut oil," it said.

Overall, the unrest has caused oil production - Nigeria's main export - to fall by nearly half to 1.7 million barrels a day.

Late last night, the General Manager, Media of the LOC, Emeka Odikpo, reacted to the new threat by restating that the federal government had already signed a statement of guarantee to FIFA that it will not only help get the facilities ready, but that the safety of lives and property of visitors to Nigeria, before, during and after the competition would never be at risk.

He added: "Early this morning (yesterday morning), the chairman of LOC addressed media men to reassure them on the fact that the federal government is on top of the situation.

"As much as we cannot say that this kind of threat is not a serious matter, we have to also remind you that recently, the federal government granted amnesty to all militants. I think they will not attempt impose any harm to the ambitions of the country."

The LOC spokesman acknowledged that it might be difficult for countries to send in their under age wards to a country where they could not completely guarantee the safety of their children.

"But I can also say on behalf of sports all over the world that having some political issues bedevil the hosting of events, is no new thing in the games.

"The last Olympics in Beijing went on despite the fact that China had some political problems that was in the global domain.

"What I am saying in effect is that having accepted all the guarantees from the government of Nigeria, FIFA is not that fickle as to buckle in to a band of elements in the country with axes to grind and then say we would no longer be allowed to host the event.

"It does not work that way. Even if the threat of MEND is real, it is not a threat to the hosting rights," he said.

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