Niger Delta: Militants Must Lay Down Arms – Yar’Adua

President Umaru Yar’Adua again on Thursday justified the military swoop on insurgents in the Deep South who twist the legitimate demands of the people and threaten national security.

That gels with the take of federal lawmakers who, nonetheless, seek the use of minimum force in quelling the rebellion.

Yar’Adua restated his earlier call on the militants to drop their arms in exchange for amnesty.

He spoke at the Villa in Abuja when he received the report of the Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament of Niger Delta Militants, presented by its Chairman, Godwin Abbe, who is also Interior Minister.

He explained that the developments in the past few weeks necessitated the decisive action against armed criminals who have hijacked genuine agitations and pose very real threats to national security and economic survival.

“Our agenda for resolving the lingering development challenges in the Niger Delta is still very much on course,” he stressed, but noted that providing infrastructure for its development depends on an enduring atmosphere of peace and security.

He reiterated his commitment to granting amnesty to all militants ready to lay down their arms and return to being law-abiding citizens.

Yar’Adua urged “all militants to take advantage of this offer, and lay down their arms and cease all acts of disobedience to law and order. All law abiding citizens should to go about their lawful duties without let or hindrance.

“The accomplishment of the task of national transformation, which our administration is embarked on, leaves no room for any distraction.”

He appealed “to all our leaders – political, religious, and traditional – to be guided at all times by a sense of a proper appreciation of the greater good and an abiding faith in the peace, security, and prosperity of our dear nation.”

He thanked the panel for the “painstaking and expeditious manner” it carried out the assignment.

Abbe told Yar’Adua that the recommendations of the panel, if implemented, would end the crisis, as “we have tried to proffer solutions to a number of the challenges that will arise in the course of giving meaning to your magnanimity.

“We are convinced that the recommendations in the report will provide a comprehensive framework for dealing with the matters of disarmament, demobilisation, and rehabilitation or reintegration of the militants.”

The framework recommends the full participation of all tiers of government, security agencies, civil society groups, and other stakeholders to achieve amnesty for repentant militants and establish lasting peace in the Niger Delta.

Lawmakers have voiced support for the military incursion, but want troops to act “professionally” and with “minimum force.”

Lower House members demanded that on Tuesday when they met with the Minister of State for Defence, Ademola Seriki, and Service Chiefs.

They reminded the Service Chiefs that the soldiers are not at war with militants, hence they should approach the conflict with intelligence, not brute force, to avoid damage to the civilian population.

The meeting in Abuja held in camera, after which House Army Committee Chairman, Wale Oke, told reporters that “no nation will fold her arms to allow the lives of her citizens and property to be destroyed. Our discussion with them is continuous.

“We are monitoring the situation in the Niger Delta; we have implored them to deploy minimum force in the Niger Delta.”

He said the agitation by the militants is no longer healthy for the development of the region, and that Abuja has responded “fairly” by opening five windows to address the problems.

The House plenary last week mandated the Committee to meet with the Service Chiefs and seek ways to end the bombardment now in its third week.

The meeting on Tuesday came 10 days after the House had okayed military action with a resolution that the offensive be extended to other states, particularly Bayelsa and Rivers.

The resolution arose from the motion moved by Halims Agoda for the House to counsel cease fire so the government and the militants could dialogue.

But as the debate progressed, opposition to the motion peaked and forced an amendment to Agoda’s initial request.

All the Service Chiefs attended the meeting on Tuesday, led by Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshall Paul Dike.

By Chesa Chesa, Snr State House Correspondent, Daily Independent Abuja