■ IPOB, South-south activists denounce negotiations ■ Govt buying time for clampdown –IYC
By Enyeribe Ejiogu ([email protected])
The gulf between the Federal Government on the one hand and the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) and the Indigenous People of Biafra, (IPOB), on the other, which the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, attempted to bridge, has drastically widened as both key stakeholders threw the claims by MEND that it had obtained concessions from the government on their behalf, into the thrash can.
This development and the continued build up of military force in the region have made the execution of Operation Crocodile Smile more imminent as the deal touted by MEND has effectively crumbled.
President of Ijaw Youth Council, Udengs Eradiri, who spoke with Sunday Sun indicated this summation when he dismissed the purported deal negotiated by MEND as a ruse and wondered how MEND could claim to have negotiated for NDA and IPOB, when emerging facts now show it did not have the mandate of either NDA or IPOB.
He said: “How can MEND say it is negotiating on behalf of the Avengers and bombing is still going on? It is either the Federal Government is on the wrong track or some people are orchestrating it for personal gain or the Federal Government does not have control over it. It is very clear that you can’t be negotiating and pipelines are being destroyed. That means that you are talking to the wrong people.
“I believe that the report of concessions is just a ruse and a ploy by the Federal Government to buy time. For instance, the government declared ceasefire. The question is, who were they fighting? Is there war in the Niger Delta? Is there a Sambisa Forest in the Niger Delta, where Niger Delta Avengers are hiding, which they now want to dislodge them from? The truth is that the Federal Government just wants to commit genocide against our people.
“The massive military mobilization indicates that intelligence services are not doing their job. That is why the military is mobilizing to fight ghosts. So all the talk about the Federal Government’s move to work out a peaceful solution is just a smokescreen.”
Senior Advocate of Nigeria and prominent lawyer as well as human rights activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome, who also questioned the veracity of the concessions poured cold water on the purported FG-MEND deal, saying that the “cacophonous tones show that the agreement has collapsed,” noting that the “disagreement between the critical stakeholders means that there was no agreement between them.”
He added: “I know that the Niger Delta Avengers has consistently said that MEND cannot speak for it. MEND on the other hand said that NDA is not important and should not be negotiated with. MEND sees the avengers as meddlesome interlopers or miscreants who they severally labelled as destructive elements.
“On its part, NDA believes that MEND comprises the older generation or older brigade of Niger Delta agitators who they feel have eaten so much to their satisfaction and, therefore, they are no longer fighting for the good of the people. Therefore, there is a strong ideological difference between the two camps. The elders of the Ijaw nation or the leaders of the Niger Delta – the Ijaw, Urhobo, Itsekiri and the Isoko feel that MEND may not necessarily be negotiating on their behalf.
On account of this obvious fact, Ozekhome said: “I, therefore, think that the Federal Government should do more of diplomatic engineering to find common grounds among critical stakeholders (MEND, NDA, IPOB, elders and leaders in the area and the Igbo race) and bring all of them on board because you cannot shave anybody’s head in his absence. So the Federal Government may be negotiating with the wrong people as it did sometime ago when it negotiated with people who were not the real Boko Haram; that was why the negotiation with Boko Haram broke down. The Federal Government has to be very discerning, by using the intelligence gathering to identify the real leaders of the groups. Otherwise it may buy a pig in a book. In other words, it may be doing the wrong thing.”
Recall that a week ago, MEND through its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo said that preliminary deliberations with the Federal Government team had resulted in some key concessions by the government to facilitate the end of the bombing of oil facilities by NDA. In the statement it issued, MEND said: “Thus far, the deliberations have been fruitful. Various concessions and guarantees have already been secured; some of which include, but are not limited to: release of Henry Okah, Charles Okah and Obi Nwabueze; review of the life sentence handed to Mr. Edmund Ebiware; based on a proposal put forward by the Aaron Team representative for Abia and Imo states, Senator Adolphus Wabara, conditional release of IPOB Leader, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu and others if they renounce their agitation for a “Biafra Republic”; that Mr. Government Ekpemupolo shall not be arrested, harassed and/or intimidated whenever he makes himself available as a delegate of the MEND Aaron Team 2; that, the American international arbitrator and conflict negotiator, Dr. Judith Asuni shall be accepted as the representative of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) on the MEND Aaron Team; that the criminal charges against Urhobo freedom fighter, Mr. Kelvin Prosper Oniarah shall be reviewed; that, the 2008 life sentence handed to seven soldiers who actively supported the Niger Delta struggle be reviewed under the Presidential Amnesty Programme. The affected persons are: Major Suleiman Alabi Akubo, Sgt Mathias Peter, Lance Cpl Alexander Davou, and Lance Cpl Moses Nwaigwe, L.Cpl Nnandi Anene, L.Cpl Taatihi Emmanuel, and Pte Caleb Bawa.
The group listed the top Niger Delta leaders who, it claimed, brokered the deal: the Chairman of Zenith Bank Plc, Jim Ovia, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources Ibe Kachikwu, former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara and Senator Florence Ita-Giwa.
Gbomo further said that MEND received firm assurances from the Federal Government that “Operation Crocodile Smile” is an innocuous exercise in the national interest.” He added that President Muhammadu Buhari and the MEND Aaron Team 2 would hold between 22nd and 26th August even as he said that discussions with other critical stakeholders including governments of Niger Delta states would be rounded off by October to achieve the desired peace in the region.”
In the intervening period since MEND disclosed the concessions, there has been deafening silence on the part of the Federal Government. Like the Sphinx, it maintained sealed lips over the claims by MEND on the concessions. At the Presidency, officials rebuffed any attempt to obtain a word from them on what is considered a “very sensitive issue.” Nobody wants to be quoted on or even to offer off the record comments. “I will not deny or confirm that report. I only read it in the newspapers and heard on the news like everybody else,” one of the officials said.
Ozekhome described the government’s silence as “curious” and surmised that MEND was clapping with one hand. “If there had been an agreement with the Federal Government, what one would have expected the government to do was to come out immediately to own up. In fact, the first statement ought not to have come from MEND, but through its spokesman stating that the government had engaged MEND and also disclose what was discussed and agreed on,” Ozekhome said.
Both Ozehome and Eradiri expressed strong reservations over the way and manner the Federal Government had so far responded to the snowballing Niger Delta situation. On this score, Ozekhome said: “I am aware of the Aaron Team that was constituted to negotiate on behalf of these people, but what I do not know is whether the FG is genuinely interested, in all sincerity, in bringing peace to the Niger Delta. If what has been said that concessions were just a ruse, then using negotiation as decoy to engage in mayhem against the people would be very wrong. I know that Amnesty International, the United Nations Charter on Human Rights and other international bodies are watching to see the unfolding events. Even during wars, there are periods of cessation of hostility to allow people to negotiate. During that period, no bullet would be fired. Even in war situations, you cannot use negotiation to decapitate your enemy. It would easily make it a war crime or crime against humanity, which can be tried at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. So the Federal Government cannot be negotiating on the hand and at the same time preparing for war on the other. That would be contradictory. I urge the Federal Government not to see war or assault as something that can achieve the desired result because there are more than 2,000 creeks in the whole of the Niger Delta region. Then the question is: what is the strength of the military to cover the entire Niger Delta region? They cannot go to every creek. The best way out of this logjam is to genuinely negotiate with the people and find common grounds for peace, stability, justice and fairness in that region.
On the way forward for peaceful and lasting resolution of the deteriorating situation in the Niger Delta, Eradiri advised the Federal Government to borrow a leaf from the past administrations of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, all three of whom made genuine efforts to directly engage the people of the region.
He explained: “Look, Obasanjo started the whole thing with the Niger Delta. He did not negotiate with any pseudo-militant organization. We have governors, elders, community and youth leaders and other stakeholders. They are fully on ground. Yar’Adua did not talk to MEND. He spoke with the leaders who then rallied round the agitators after everything had been agreed on. I am the president of Ijaw Youth Council, and nobody has invited me to a meeting. And neither was the governor of Bayelsa State invited except the recent private meeting with the President. So who then did the FG talk with? Rather, you have a group of people who have negotiated under the Presidential Amnesty Programme and are now billionaires claiming to be negotiating on behalf of the Avengers.
“There are vital and fundamental issues in the Niger Delta that are not being addressed. You have issues about genuine neglect. If you are not talking about the issues that directly affect the people, what then are you negotiating on? I think that the presidency should gather the critical stakeholders to a roundtable where the real issues about the Niger Delta would be transparently and sincerely discussed. The issues are clear and have nothing to do with particular individuals or a group of people. When you deal with the issues, naturally things will fall into place.
“If the Federal Government has genuine interest in peaceful resolution of the situation, then it must come out and be transparent about what it wants to do, the way former Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan did it and the country was able to sustain crude oil production at over 2 million barrels for over six years.
“The Willinks Commission talked about issues, Ken Saro Wiwa was hanged because of the issues, Isaac Boro was killed because of the same issues. MEND came up and was settled. Now you are confronted with the Avengers. If you deal with the issues, you would not have all these agitations. If you mobilize the military and crush the Niger Delta Avengers, when you finish, other militant groups will rise again.”