…MEND backs use of force, secures concessions from FG
From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
The Nigerian military is preparing for a final showdown with Niger Delta militants to stop the bombing of oil facilities in the Niger Delta region. This is even as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) disclosed that it has secured some concessions from the Federal Government.
The group also backed the use of force if “the recalcitrant Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) continue on their senseless and political-motivated path of attacks on the country’s oil assets.”
Minister of Defenc Dan-Ali (retd), who stated the position of the Federal Government over the weekend in an interview after a closed door meeting in Yenegoa with Commander of Operation Delta State (ODS), Rear Admiral Joseph Okojie, operational officers and explained that despite the ongoing talks with militants to address their grievances, the use of force was not ruled out to end the criminality being perpetrated by some of the groups.
He restated that the Federal Government was committed to peace in the Niger Delta and was prepared to do everything to ensure that the ongoing talks yield positive result.
Dan Ali who was accompanied by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Lt. Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin, said the Federal Government was implementing resolutions reached with government of the Niger Delta State on the conduct of it operation in the region.
He disclosed that like it did in the North-east, civilians would be involved in its operations and would work with the special force being trained to ensure that fake websites used to dish out rumours to intimidate people were closed down.
Dan Ali explained that former agitators trained under the amnesty programme would also be involved in the efforts to secure peace in the region. He allayed the fears that collateral damage might occur when the military operation start.
“We are not going to war. It is an internal security operation. We know our rules of engagement so there is no need to talk of collateral damage. As far as we are concerned, what we are doing is to stop the criminality in the Niger Delta region.”
Also speaking, Olonisakin said the Federal Government has provided the opportunity for negotiation, adding however, that the military would not condone the continued destruction of oil facilities.
“We are doing everything to secure peace. We have provided the opportunity for negotiations and discussions and we expect those sabotaging the nation’s oil infrastructure to come to the negotiation table.
“We want to assure that those that want to continue to destroy oil facilities would be dealt with,” he said.
In a related development the MEND has thrown its weight behind the use of force by the Federal Government to end the wanton bombing of oil and gas infrastructure by the NDA.
In a statement made available to Sunday Sun, the spokesman of MEND, Jomo Gbomo said the preliminary deliberation with the Federal Government team has been fruitful.
One of the fallout of the meeting, Gbomo said, was the decision by both parties to cnommence ‘Operation Crocodile Smile,’ with the aim of urgently rescuing and securing the region if NDA does not back down from its campaign of bombing of oil facilities.
“Thus far, the deliberations have been fruitful. Various concessions and guarantees have 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 representatives for Abia and Imo states, conditional release of IPOB Leader, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu and others if they renounce their agitation for “Biafra Republic”, that Mr. Government Ekpemupolo shall not be arrested, harassed and/or intimidated wherever 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, Lanre Cpl Alexander Davou, and Lanre Cpl Nnandi Anene, L.Cpl Taatihi Emmanuel and Pte Caleb Bawa.”
Sunday Sun further learnt that among the top Niger Delta leaders who brokered the deal were the Chairman of Zenith Bank Plc, Jim Ovia, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources Ibe Kachikwu, former Senate president, Adolphus Wabara and Senator Ita Giwa.
Gbomo implored states, local governments, oil and gas communities as well as law-abiding citizens in the Niger delta region to go about their lawful and legitimate concerns without fear, stressing that MEND had received firm assurances from the Federal Government that ‘operation Crocodile Smile’ is an innocuous exercise in the national interest.”
He further disclosed that a meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and the MEND Aaron Team 2 would hold between 22nd and 26th August.
He said discussion with other critical stakeholders including government of Niger Delta states would be rounded off by October to achieve the desired peace in the region.