Al Jazeera speaks to Henry Okah

Al Jazeera’s exclusive interview with Nigeria’s rebel leader – 01 Nov 09

As if in response to this video, THE Federal Government commenced the post-amnesty programme in the Niger Delta region as it directed 3,000 former militants who had accepted the amnesty offer to report to

camp between now and November 11 towards rehabilitating them just as the government approved N2 billion for immediate construction of physical development projects in the region.

According the VANGUARD, Some of the ex-militants however expressed regrets over their decision to lay down their arms citing insincerity on the part of the government.

Chairman, Presidential Committee on Amnesty and Minister of Defence, Major-General Godwin Abbe (rtd) who spoke yesterday in Abuja at a meeting with leaders of ex-militants, assured that the region will witness aggressive physical development if the current peace is sustained.

Ex-militant leaders, who attended the meeting include, Ateke Tom, Government Ekpemupolo (alias Tompolo), Chief Jacob Odiki, Ezekiel Akpasebewa, Bonny Godei, Lubi Akpobi Ebi, Joh Toso and Hon Ayela.

A cross section of former Niger Delta militants, who had accepted the amnesty offer nwo asked to report to camp between now and November 11 towards rehabilitating

A cross section of former Niger Delta militants, who had accepted the amnesty offer nwo asked to report to camp between now and November 11 towards rehabilitating

Major-General Abbe explained that with the successful implementation of the first phase of the amnesty programme by the Federal Government, the next stage is now the rehabilitation and the reintegration of the ex-militants.

According to him, “the essence of this meeting is for the amnesty committee to interact with you all and let you know the steps of government as affecting the next stage of the implementation of the amnesty programme, which has to do with rehabilitation and reintegration of all of us back into the society.

“We are going to be discussing with you the plans we have and how we intend to implement the plans. We are also in this meeting to get your own contribution towards this programme so that together we can move on.

After that, we will have someone who will be speaking to us on the process of law and order, so that we take the message back and get ourselves organised.

“For a start, between now and November 11, 2009, there will be a call up for our boys to start reporting to the camp. And because of the difficulties in accommodation facilities, we are going to put together two camps.

“These two camps established are at Agbarho in Delta State and Alu in Rivers State. We have plans to establish another one in Bayelsa State the moment we finish further discussions with the Governor of Bayelsa State who will tell us his own plans. He too is also working and very soon, we will hear from.

“But be that at it may, the call up will not work effectively unless you participate, in the number that we have to go into now from the beginning, and what we want to do is to give preference to those who really picked arms and later surrendered and accepted the call of Mr. President”.

General Godwin Abbe further told the Niger Delta leaders that “In the process, we are going to have the opportunities of discussing with every individual as to the type of training that individual will be interested in.
“When we have done that, and we are satisfied, we will move to the next stage of dispersing everyone who have been categorised into the various institutions of their choice.

“Some who will want to go to school because they stopped schooling will also go and continue their school; those who want to go to the university should know that university admission has strict rules, which has to be followed, and admissions are over now, so those who want to go to university should wait and prepare for admission examinations.”

N2bn for roads; plan for rail line

General Abbe also disclosed that the Federal Executive Council, FEC, has approved the sum of N2 billion intervention fund for Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, for the construction of major roads in all the oil producing states.

He explained that the Federal Government is also working towards the construction of the first phase of the railway project from Calabar to Uyo-Port Harcourt-Yenogoa and Warri, adding that the second phase of the project will be linked to Lagos.

Abbe noted that President Yar’Adua has directed that work should commence on the Inland waterway project, adding that relevant government agencies have started studying the East-West Coastal road project which will commence from Calabar.

The minister further explained that government is also planning the construction of some houses in various communities across the region with a view to ensure re-integration of the ex-militants and address the problem of shortage of houses for the residents of the region.

Abbe further disclosed that the Federal Government through the National Poverty Eradication Programme, NAPEP, would provide revolving loan for some of the fishermen who embraced the amnesty offer.

In his comments, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Ufot Ekaette, said all what was needed was for “all to work together so that peace is restored to the region.

Ekaette said his ministry had organised a job fair and trade expo earlier in the year and “we were able to identify  job providers who were not only prepared to offer jobs but to ensure that jobs are given to the Niger Delta. I have also been privileged to hold discussions with some foreign investors and all they are saying is if peace returns to the region, we will come and invest; so we are appealing that peace is sustained in the region.”

Meanwhile some of the ex-militants who attended the meeting have accused the Government of insincerity.
President of the Ijaw Youth Council, Dr. Chris Ekiyor, who spoke on behalf of the other ex-militants expressed doubts over the sincerity of the Federal Government to implement most of the programmes it enumerated prior to the amnesty deal.

According to him, “Thirty days after our people surrendered our arms, we have not seen any progress. The fundamental question is on government plan for the pre and post amnesty programme. We are tired of having these meetings.

“We are beginning to ask the question if we actually took the right decision. Those at the helm of affairs already know the problem and we should not be at the planning phase at this time.”

Ekiyor noted that, “We are tired of having these meetings. The way and manner we have been attending meetings, I am aware that from 2007 till date, we have exhausted whatever is needed to be said and we are beginning to wonder why we accepted having this meeting today. Today, you call this group, tomorrow you call another group and nothing is being said.

“These agenda are the reason why we are here. People are wondering what questions are we going to ask and what answers are you going to give. So, with this question and answer session, my people are wondering what answers you are going to provide.

“What they want to see is that these are things that can be done now, tomorrow, next tomorrow and two years from now.”

He said the people of the Niger Delta and Nigerians are asking “what are those things you are doing now that are doable ones, because what we see are the same programme of events, planning stage and all what not.