Niger Delta; Militant Camps in Disarray

There are indications that the amnesty deal with militants in Niger Delta has run into a major hitch, with conflicting signals from the various arms collection centres across the region. The 60-day unconditional amnesty for the militants, declared by President Umaru Yar’Adua on June 25,

commenced on August 6 with a handful of militants in Rivers State turning in a couple of weapons to the police on behalf of the Presidential Committee on Amnesty and Disarmament.

The situation was not the same in Bayelsa and Delta states where the militants shunned the collection centres.
In Edo, the rehabilitation centre (Edo State Scout Camp) and arms collection centre at Egbema Secondary School, Ofunama in Ovia South-West Local Government Area were not ready as at Thursday due to non-release of funds.

The main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), whose leader, Henry Okah, had earlier embraced the amnesty, also distanced itself from the process. The group declared that its arms were not for sale.
MEND, in an electronic mail response to Sunday Sun enquiry, maintained that it would disarm “when the time comes” but that it would not exchange its arms for cash.

The group is believed to have a large cache of arms and ammunition in its arsenal. These include AK-47, General Purpose Machine Guns (GPMGs), grenades, bombs and other small weapons.
Its spokesperson, Jomo Gbomo, said those rushing to surrender their weapons were driven by the enticing cash prospects.

Gbomo stated this just as the group described its self-styled Chief Mediator, one Prince Joseph Etella Harry, as a fraudster and an impostor.
Harry, at a press conference in Abuja, purportedly acting on behalf of MEND and other militant groups, had demanded the sum of N3 billion from the federal government for the militants to hand over 10,000 weapons.
According to Harry, the government was expected to pay N300,000 for each AK-47 and two magazines apart from building three-bedroom apartment for each of the militants to facilitate their re-integration into the society.

“The so-called Prince Harry is a fraudster and an impostor. MEND did not mandate him to act on our behalf as we do not plan to exchange cash for arms when the time comes to disarm.
“Nothing good comes easy. Those that are eager to disarm without even discussing the root issues that affect the region are being driven by the enticing cash prospects. We want an enduring peace and not the type that will collapse after a while. We believe that anything doing is worth doing well,” Gbomo responded.

Amnesty for sale
Signs that the amnesty deal will run into stormy waters appeared soon after President Yar’Adua announced the reprieve for the insurgents.
Driven by pecuniary motives, some of the militant leaders began speaking from two sides of their mouth.
One of MEND’s key commanders, ‘General’ Boyloaf, who was the generalismo in Bayelsa State, after allegedly collecting the sum of N250 million from the Bayelsa State governor, Timipre Sylva, was the first to jump ship. He turned around to accept the amnesty after spurning it days earlier.

According to a source, Boyloaf’s treachery put a spanner in the government’s effort to drive the disarmament process without paying for the arms surrendered by the militants.
“Now the militants are no more interested in the no-cash-for-arms deal. They are now insisting that the federal government pay for the arms because some of them feel short-changed that Boyloaf and some other militants have collected money or have struck a secret deal to receive cash when they hand over their arms,” the source informed.

But, following his expulsion by MEND, Boyloaf at the weekend opened a can of worms with his disclosure that the group’s sponsor is an aide of the President.
Although he did not mention names, the former MEND commander claimed that the aide gave him N15 million in 2005 to set up militant camps.
Impeccable sources informed that his allegation is not unconnected with the unfolding political drama in Bayelsa with regards to the governorship election in the state in either 2011 or 2012.
It is believed that Boyloaf has been recruited as one of the foot soldiers of the governor to prosecute his impending re-election ‘war’ against his opponents, particularly those with links in the Presidency.
The governor is reportedly not having a rosy relationship with the Vice President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, who is from the state.

He is also said to be uneasy over the purported governorship ambition of the immediate past Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mr Timi Alaibe, who is currently Yar’Adua’s Honorary Adviser on Niger Delta.
Already, there is raging cold war between the New Phase, a group rooting for the governor, and the Bayelsa Alliance, a nascent group comprising of Bayelsa politicians and representatives based in Abuja. The latter group is said to have the backing of both Jonathan and Alaibe, and has not hidden its disdain with Sylva’s style of governing the state.

But, apparently reacting to its former commander’s allegation, MEND said it does not support Alaibe’s political ambition, as its interaction with him was because the former NDDC boss had the President’s ears.
“Remember that MEND did not appoint Timi Alaibe to be in the position of a Special Adviser and so our interactions with him happen to be by chance. Our discussions are based on our concerns over the root issues that affect the region since he has the president’s ears. The fact that we are talking to him does not mean an endorsement of his political ambition,” Gbomo stated.