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Saturday, 23 July 2016

Niger Delta: Northern group takes over battle against militants

By Emma Amaize, Tompolo and Buhari

                       TOMPOLO & BUHARI            

Tompolo and Buhari

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South-South Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief when the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA and other militant groups suspended hostilities in the Niger Delta region following a two-week ceasefire announced by the Federal Government, June 6. Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu who also doubled as Group Managing Director, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, who led a Federal Government Pro-Dialogue and Contact team with President Muhammadu Buhari’s imprimatur, disclosed that the two-week ceasefire was to create a window for dialouge with the militants. Kachikwu hinted then: “The President is interested in dialogue and has mandated the military to halt actions for about two weeks to ensure a team that will be led by the National Security Adviser, NSA, dialogues with the militants to ensure peace in the region.” The team adopted behind closed door and open door approaches and was able to interface with some notable stakeholders and notable militant leaders. Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, the main militant group bleeding the economy of the country tactically suspended destruction of oil installations to see if government was sincere with the peace process. Curiously, the NSA who was supposed to lead the team did not participate and though, government ordered the military to withdraw from the creeks within the period, it was observably a cat and mouse relationship with the militants. Tompolo and Buhari Tompolo and Buhari Demobilization of a winning team The President also went on a two-week holiday in London at the time but many expected him to put on the table government’s outline for the planned dialogue after his return, June 19. Indeed, the footwork by Dr Kachikwu and his team was already yielding result with oil production recording a slight increase. A source familiar with the happenings said that while in London, some chieftains of All Progressives Congress, APC, and sectional leaders visited the President and mounted pressure on him not to accept Kachikwu’s model for the resolution of the Niger Delta crisis. Saturday Vanguard learned that Kachikwu submitted a template to the President to stem the crisis. A Presidency source, who confirmed this development to our reporter, said the blueprint was a typical Kachikwu out-of-the box idea. However, we gathered that Kachikwu, who cried inside the helicopter while returning from the creeks over the misery he saw in the riverside communities he visited, gave the oil companies a hard knock and his outline rankled feathers that were not happy with his growing influence and acceptability by stakeholders in the region. Avengers Discoveries about Tompolo Unconfirmed reports said the Kachikwu team found that Tompolo was a key figure to the resolution of the impasse, though he continued to refute relationship and sponsorship of the Avengers. We also gathered that Tompolo, whose the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC froze his bank accounts and seized his on court’s order was willing to relinquish the money and properties, acquired by him for the sake of peace in the region. However, he was not ready to allow the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, go extinct as planned by “detractors” of Gbaramatu Kingdom and Ijaw ethnic nationality. A source familiar with the unwritten pact with Tompolo, said he was ready to work with the federal government to end the bombing of oil pipelines and secure the region, a position he personally conveyed to President Buhari during his meeting with him before the present imbroglio, and in his several open letters published in the newspapers. However, the consensus was that he (Tompolo) could not play such role if government did not drop the allegedly politically motivated charges against him, but the question is how to get Buhari give in to the option, a sticky situation, which the northern group saw and took advantage of to work on the psyche of the president. Power play On the surface, things seemed to be well, but inside, there were dangerous power play and intrigues over how to handle the Niger Delta situation. The power play had been on, but just that it was undermined, but one of the militant leaders Kachikwu interfaced with raised the suspicion when he asked him pointedly why the NSA was not participating in the discussions with him. Our source did not immediately recall the retort Kachikwu gave him, but Niger Delta Avengers smelt a rat with President Buhari’s apparent failure to come out with a clear-cut pronouncement on the proposed dialogue and his body language more than a week after he returned from his London vacation. It returned to further blowing of pipelines and on Tuesday when the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, briefed the Senate, he said that the nation’s economy was in bad shape owing partly to the activities of Niger Delta Avengers among others. He was specific that the renewed bombings by the militant group have taken a very bad toll and at present, there was no hope of arresting the downward turn. The militant group in an exclusive Vanguard interview, published July 11, said: “In the first instance, we suspended hostilities in good faith to see if the government of the day was sincerely speaking when it announced its dialogue initiative. That was why, for strategic reasons, we did not make open declaration of our cessation of hostilities. We wanted to watch and to show Nigerians and the world the insincerity of the government’s dialogue plans.” It blamed Buhari for the resumption of hostilities, saying: “Until we resumed operations, nobody reached out to us and government did not establish any genuine platform to address our grievances.” Its words: “Until President Buhari takes our demands seriously and sets up a genuine framework to address the Niger Delta question, we will continue to obstruct all avenues to export our crude oil to develop his 97 per cent (95 per cent).” “In fact, whenever we have any contact to establish a genuine negotiation and dialogue, we will not hesitate to let the world know that we are in dialogue with the government and her representatives. “This is another phase of the Niger Delta struggle to reclaim our resources for prosperity. Some mischief-makers can tag it Ijaw struggle, but our short, medium and long-term plans are for us, the people of the Niger Delta, to control our resources and develop our land and pay tax to the central government,” it asserted. Buhari’s real dilemma Unknown to Nigerians, President Buhari actually found himself in a catch-22 between the forces that want him to go ahead with dialogue with militants to avoid winning the battle and losing the war and those that believe that he should not give any quota to the rampaging militants. Close watchers of the President said that as a retired military officer, he was more comfortable with handling the insurgents militarily, and much as he admired Kachikwu’s tenacity and sincerity of purpose, the advice of those who did not want him to dialogue with militants sank better with him. In fact, those against Kachikwu’s development model for Niger Delta region argued that following his “intellectual submission” would amount to succumbing to the blackmail and threat of Niger Delta Avengers, which they submitted no government worth its onion would accept. Spanner in the work A source told Saturday Vanguard: “This was how spanner was put in the work and all the efforts Kachikwu put in to sway the militants to ceasefire and wait for President Buhari to come out with government’s position on dialogue with militants and other stakeholders in the region were circumscribed.” The new group, comprising mainly of retired and serving Northern military officers had, in actuality, taken over the battle against the Avengers and other militants with an entirely different modus operandi and structure. The group maintains that the sponsor of Avengers is ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo. They were said to have recruited some former ex-militant leaders and few leaders from the South-South zone to track Tompolo and his lieutenants down. It was in realization that government was more disposed to resolving the matter through methods other than dialogue that made the Avengers to resume fresh hostilities. Manhunt for Tompolo, associates “So far, the new undertakers have launched a manhunt for Tompolo, his associates and friends in Delta state and other parts of the region, the hunt is being carried out by the Navy, Army and Department of State Services, DSS. Angst with Kachikwu “The group believes that it can do better than whatever Kachikwu could do to resolve the Niger Delta quagmire. They think that the project is a source of income and will not allow a technocrat to spoil their business,” a source told Saturday Vanguard. His words: “Their opinion is that Kachikwu was becoming too powerful and with their influence around the president, they got him to remove him as the GMD of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC to clip his wings.” Buhari, who resisted the lobby over the months to remove Kachikwu as GMD, saying that he had brought good reforms to the organization suddenly caved in during the last Ramadan when the group was said to have mounted suffocating pressure on him. Group moves into action Investigations by Saturday Vanguard revealed that the group has recruited a coalition of ex-agitators in the Niger Delta region to fight the Niger Delta Avengers and other militant groups still blowing up pipelines in the region, but actual details of the deal have not been ascertained. However, a reliable source hinted that the group was determined to rout the Avengers not only to ensure smooth oil production for Nigeria but also to prove its point to Buhari that they could do without Kachikwu’s blueprint. “The group enjoys the support of some ex-agitators from Niger Delta that are opposed to Tompolo, and who also share the opinion that he is behind the Avengers,” the source added. In fact, many were unhappy that Tompolo reportedly ‘cornered’ all the goodies from NIMASA, saying since he shielded them away from the agency; they were not ready to act as shield for him in his hour of need. The group spanning the various security agencies in the country with a powerful federal government official as its coordinator has reportedly received dossiers on Tompolo , which it is understudying with a view to locating his hideout and going straight for him. Our source added: “That is the reason you see that strong efforts have been devoted in arresting people they believe are close to him.” “They convinced the President that they have a better option and they have to perform to prove it. They are poised to arrest the militants bombing pipelines. If they do not succeed in using Tompolo’s boys to get him, they will attack his suspected hideouts in the creeks,” the source said. No inroad yet In all, the group has not made appreciable headway in resolving the crisis. The problem is deepening by the day and it is not clear how it is going to play out at the end of the day. Observers also believe that if government did not abort Kachikwu’s trouble-shooting moves, it would have rolled out the outline for dialogue with militants by now and at least, have the militants in check while discussions are on. Buhari comes to judgment! Our findings indicate that the group, however, was not satisfied as rather than diminish his fame; Kachikwu’s removal increased his reputation in Niger Delta region. Therefore, it hatched a plot to discredit him. Nevertheless, an ingenious attempt to smear the Minister of State for Petroleum by purporting that he was under probe over his dealings, as NNPC GMD did not go down well with Buhari, who rebuffed the players by giving him a clean bill. A source said that despite the circumstance that made him remove Kachikwu as NNPC GMD, President Buhari strongly believes in his competence. He, therefore, would not close his eyes to any attempt to ridicule and bully him. MEND soft landing approach However, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, the militant group that once championed the blowing of crude oil pipelines in the region, but had retreated from violence, is spearheading a fresh move to get Niger Delta Avengers to the dialogue table with government. This is in spite of the statement from the Vice President; Prof Yemi Osinbajo that government would not dialogue with militants. With the gritty determination of MEND suspected to be working in collaboration with the group to continue with peace talks, it was ambiguous at the weekend if the group was employing a diversionary tactic or is now amenable to dialogue, the same “offence” they accused Kachikwu of committing. Nevertheless, MEND has proposed among other things that Niger Delta Avengers and indeed other militant groups should denounce violence, recognize President Buhari as Commander-in-Chief and vote that any agreement reached at the planned dialogue between the Aaron Team 2 established by government would be binding on it. So far, MEND had made audacious claims indicating its working agreement with government. The spokesperson, Jomo Gbomo, in a recent statement, said: Accordingly, after receiving firm assurances from the highest level of government about its readiness to dialogue with the Aaron Team, MEND has decided to expand the representational capacity of the Aaron Team to accommodate the Niger Delta Avenger (NDA) upon the following terms and conditions.” Tompolo crucial to N-Delta peace – MEND From the proclamation of MEND, it has also become obvious that for peace in the region, nobody can wish away the influence of Tompolo. MEND asserted in a memo to President Buhari: “High Chief Government Ekpemupolo’s inclusion in the final list was principally because of the key role he continues to play in the Niger Delta as a notable ex-militant leader; philanthropist; traditional title holder and mobilizer of amazing capacity.” “It will therefore be counter-productive if the Federal Government ignored such an individual who may be capable of talking to the militants in the creeks to ceasefire. “We are very much aware of the pending criminal charges filed against Government Ekpemupolo by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). However, we strongly advise the charges be suspended until after the conclusion of the Aaron Team assignment. “This is to ensure that Mr. Ekpemupolo devotes his time, energy and resources towards the resolution of the current Niger Delta crisis without any fear of arrest, intimidation or harassment,” MEND stated. Why Okah brothers should also be free It is unclear if the avowal of MEND has the blessing of the northern group, which is to a degree the same reason they condemned Kachikwu. But MEND in the letter to Buhari added: “Your Excellency, the MEND Aaron Team 2 dialogue and peace initiative would not have materialized if not for the tireless work and support of the Okah brothers – Henry and Charles, who are currently in prisons in South Africa and Nigeria, respectively.” “It is our humble submission that the release of the Okah brothers is a crucial factor in the peaceful resolution of the Niger Delta crisis. If Senator Ali Ndume, who is still facing a terror charge of sponsoring Boko Haram can be granted bail by the Judiciary and thereby permitted to participate in nation building at one of the highest levels as Majority Leader of the Senate then we see no reason the Okah brothers who have enormous capacity to help Government bring the Niger Delta crisis to an end are still held in prison. “Sir, cases abound in history where prisoners were released from prison to help save the nation in times of crises. Examples include the likes of the Hebrew slave, Joseph, who was released from prison to help save ancient Egypt from famine. “Nelson Mandela was also released from prison in 1990 to help restore multi- racial democracy in South Africa in 1994. We, therefore, urge the release of Messrs Henry and Charles Okah similarly as former President Olusegun Obasanjo was released from prison to become President and help to nurture the then nascent democracy in 1999,” MEND asserted.


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