By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Sam Oyadongha, Jimitota Onoyume, Gabriel Enogholase, Festus Ahon, Egufe Yafugborhi, Emmanuel Una, Ike Uchechukwu, Chioma Onuegbu, Emem Idio, Perez Brisibe, Ozioruva Aliu and Paul Olayemi
LATELY, there have been undercurrents from a number of persons who feel Niger Delta militants have turned empty barrels, issuing threats all the time to blow up oil facilities while kidnappers, armed robbers and other criminals run riot in parts of the oil region.
Residents resentful of those they call “internet” militants, “laptop” and “newspaper” militants, who they accused of looking for settlement, dared them to confront the criminals terrorizing the people or stop disturbing their peace with endless sound of threats.
Not many, however, think the challenge on militants to take on criminals was warranted though they agree that some agitators have derailed.
No legal basis for militants to combat kidnappers and other criminals – Brigadier- Gen Ikponmwen (retd.)
Notable South-South leader and former Provost Marshal, Nigerian Army, Brigadier-General Idada Ikponmwen (retd.), who opposed the call, said there was no legal basis for Niger-Delta militants to engage people suspected to be carrying out kidnapping and other criminal activities in the region.
His words: “There must be a legal basis for every action of any group or people, I have said it on more occasions than one that we do not have a proper constitution in this country, our constitution is faulty in so many ways. The constitution says that there shall be no other police force save the one we call federal police, so all these Amotekun, militancy, civilian JTF and others, they cannot work because there is no legal status for them.”
“If we want to solve this problem of insecurity, we must solve it in totality, we must look at the cause of insecurity because there is no one solution to insecurity problem in this country.
Militants not empty barrels —Ekpoudom, ex-DIG
Retired Deputy Inspector General of Police, DIG, Udom Ekpoudom, informed one of our reporters at Uyo, Akwa Ibom state, that there was nothing wrong with agitation of the Niger Delta militants against marginalization and policies that do not favour the Niger Delta, adding that it was also wrong to see them as empty barrels just because they chose to concentrate their agitation to issues that affect the Niger Delta most.
“There is no part of this country that is not marginalized and neglected, I will advise governors of the Niger Delta states to set up sub-security department that will ensure the security of the area,” he said.
Militants shouldn’t fight herdsmen —Okorotie, PANDEF leader
Deputy National Chairman, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Chief Thompson Okorotie, said: “Well, it is their (militants’) right to protest and they are not divided. The militant groups are many; let them remain the way they are. They all listen to PANDEF and that is why some time ago when they took on the oil facilities, Nigeria was brought to its knees and was producing only about 700,000 barrels. We the leaders moved in and went to the creeks and talked to the boys and they now said ‘okay we will listen to you’ and production came back to two million and what it is now. So, they have people they listen to.”
“Sometimes when the people they listen to are not listened to by the Federal Government because after we called them to leave the oil facilities under the leadership of Chief E.K Clark who is PANDEF national leader, a delegation went to Mr. President and presented a 16- point agenda which less than half of it has been implemented three years after. So how do you manage a situation like that?
“There is a lot of disquiet and divide, all self-inflicted by government. When government does the right thing, you will see citizens standing up for their country. The country is supposed to be owned up by the citizens and citizens should be in a position to do so if they are giving a sense of belonging in a system where economic benefits are shared equally to the different parts of the country, but this is not done.
“So, we are pleading with every layer of authority in the country that let there be a sense of belonging, provide for each part of the country. There should be equality of opportunities. There should be mechanism for promotion of peace and security in this country and we will better off,” Okorotie said.
Agitators know the mind-set of govt —Rev Bassey, environmentalist
Activist and environmentalist, Rev. Nnimmo Bassey, who has been in the forefront of the fight for justice or Niger Deltans, told Saturday Vanguard: “We always play diverse politics in Nigeria, when people speak, embark on peaceful resistance, not violent resistance to political marginalization, ecological destruction or peaceful campaign, the government and political leaders simply ignore them. Recently, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Dr. Matthew Kukah spoke on the state of leadership in the country and he was attacked here and there. But, if he has been somebody who picked up militancy, nobody would have shouted down the issues he raised. They would have said, let us negotiate.”
“When kidnappers take people hostage, they negotiate officially or unofficially. Some of the Niger Delta militants understand the system that when there is threat to the economy of the country and the conduit pipe, the revenue they get is threatened, the government responds. And when that becomes the norm, some of them are not driven by a deep- seated philosophy like Adaka Boro or motivated by what stirred the Ijaw Youths Council to hold Kaiama Declaration of 1998.
“So those were the people who were driven by ideas, now, do we have such ideas among the militants, perhaps, but this is not being displayed. Now to your question. Confronting the kidnappers, you are not getting any positive responses. The best you can get is to keep them out of your community or territory. Nobody is going to respond and you will not derive any positive response, rather, you will get negative response.
Govt not militants should stop criminals – Sintei, ex- militant leader
Speaking, Akwa-Ibom ex-militant leader, self -styled “General” Nico Sintei, said he would not support the idea that Niger Delta militants should fight criminals, pointing out that it was the responsibility of government to fight and stop all forms of crime.
“The truth of the matter is that our, struggle is genuine. The reason for the struggle is not about killing people, it is because of the neglect, underdevelopment and marginalization of our region. We did not carry arms then in order to kill innocent Nigerians, we wanted to get government attention, unlike Fulani Herdsmen that are killing our innocent people.
“And we are not happy about what is happening but we will not want our youths to take laws into their hands, it is the government that should stop them. If we want to stop them ourselves, it is going to be war and I want to say that Federal government is aware of what is happening.
“ Boko Haram insurgents are killing innocent people, they are killing soldiers and they have not gone to destroy any of the villages, but if a Niger Delta youth kills one military man today (not that we are in support of that) they will go and burn down our villages.
“What did the Ijaw people do that made government to massacre Odi people like they did? But they cannot do same thing in the north where insurgents, bandits are killing military men, civilians on daily basis. The bandits, Boko Haram are walking freely but if it had been Niger Delta militants, government will come after them.
Govs, Houses of Assembly should come up with security architecture —Hon Eyiboh
Similarly, a former member House of Representatives and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Akwa Ibom state, Hon Eseme Eyiboh, regretted that all the time that South -South people have met to discuss issues concerning the region, the glaring insecurity never formed the main issue of such discussions.
“So it is high time they took the issue of security seriously. The governors, have to come together, and with the State House of Assembly, come up with a law and create security architecture. If you look at the Amotekun in the South West, that is a security architecture put together by the states in the South West. What stops the governors from doing that because they are the chief security officers of their respective states, and the state Houses of Assembly are representatives of their people at the sub-national? What stops them from coming together to form such security architecture and with the backing of the state Houses of Assembly give it the force of the law?
“Their security votes should be enough to do that and with the money they spend paying allowances to people who are not productive to the system to protect their image. And from what I have been reading, the challenges of kidnapping, banditry and herdsmen have come down in the South West.
“As leaders, if we are unable to come together, to ensure the protection of the people, then, we are not leaders, we are dealers. We should stop talking about APC, PDP, APGA and all that and concentrate on how to provide security and governance in the South- South,” he noted.
Cacophony of noise- Wills, IPA president
President, Ijaw Professionals Association IPA, (Homeland chapter, Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta), Iniruo Wills Esq., said: “Most of the noises from the region in recent years have been a cacophony with neither rhyme nor reason. For now, the Niger Delta region has lost its way, including most so-called youth leaders and sadly even the majority of notable elderly voices.”
“We have an Esau Generation today, with the noisiest actors aiming for some pottage or instant noodles to quench their immediate hunger, in exchange for our region’s and communities’ collective birth rights. There is a leadership and moral void at all levels of stakeholder ship, elders, youth and community,” he added.
Those issuing threats are media militants —Omare, ex-IYC president
Miffed by the demeanor of present-day militant groups, former national president of IYC, Eric Omare Esq., declared: “I think the truth is that those who call themselves militants, issue regular threats in the media are at best media militants. They only exist on the pages of newspaper without any base. Therefore, I find it difficult to make any proposal on the basis of media militants.”
“Niger Deltans know the militants who I prefer to call ex agitators that dropped their guns in exchange for presidential amnesty. Those are the only ones qualified to be called militants and they do not issue the regular threats you referred to. The militants who issue threats on regular basis do so from the comfort of their hotels, hence I cannot use their actions as a basis to make any proposal.
“However, if the idea is to incorporate the real militants into the security architecture of the different states, I think it is up to the state governments of the Niger Delta region to decide as the south west governors did with Amotekun,” Omare intoned.
Threats by militants are bizarre —Morris, environmentalist
Renowned environmentalist, Alagoa Morris, said: “To a great extent, some Niger Deltans even see some of us advocating against acts that further degrade our fragile ecosystem and environment as enemies because they feel everyone should support whatever they decide to do hook line and sinker. World view and what we observe locally have shown that sabotage is part of conflict, especially between government and rebels. In the Niger Delta, sabotaging oil installations has been part of the struggle for a better deal for our people and communities.”
“And whether the actors have used that means of pressurizing the government and oil industry operators in positive ways and in the collective interest of our communities and people is a matter of academic debate. For me, l believe it is this threat to so-called critical infrastructure or assets that has led to the militarization of the region. However, even the presence of the military cannot completely stop act of sabotage as experience has shown.
“It is, however, sad that some group of persons would threaten destruction of oil facility at the slightest opportunity like dogs showing their teeth to strangers always as a way of threat. Attacking oil facilities is tantamount to attacking and destroying our environment which leads to loss of livelihood and health. They say the idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Even though the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) has engaged quite a good number of the former militants, there is still much to be done.
“For effective use of these former militants in the Niger Delta; the South- South governors should make good their promise of setting up a regional security outfit. It is sad that we hear about sea piracy and kidnapping daily in our states. We also head of how passengers plying the Port Harcourt- Bonny route are becoming victims of kidnappers and sea pirates daily and this is what is happening in most of our creeks in Bayelsa too. This is sad and unfortunate.
“For security and boosting the local economy, especially tourism; the Niger Delta States, should come up with the establishment of Coast Guards empowered by law. This should be part of the regional security outfit. And we have the requisite manpower to get this through. If our creeks regain their lost peaceful and serene disposition; we stand to gain more than not thinking along that line and taking action
Not the best to destroy economic assets in our region – Nwauju, NDRA spokesman
Spokesman, Niger Delta Rights Advocates, NDRA, Darlington Nwauju, said:”We find this an interesting debate. First, we do believe the Niger Delta struggle and what the militants represent today is an evolutionary process. Between today and the pre-amnesty epoch, strategies were deployed to get federal attention culminating in the 2007 Amnesty program initiative, which was adopted as one of several measures to end the agitations in the region.”
“Having attracted foreign and local attention to the region’s challenges with the setting up of institutions that should be able to develop the Niger Delta (i.e. NDDC, PAP, NCDMB, HYPREP, the unabated hullabaloo over development issues in the region, stems from failure of most of the interventionist institutions originally designed to lift the region out of poverty.
“It is not also the best option under the circumstances we find ourselves to encourage the destruction of economic assets sited in the region as this would add to the environmental degradation currently challenging the region and also cut off funds that should be utilized to develop the region.
“On turning the militants into Amotekun-style security structure, we had argued on other platforms that there is every need for a regional security summit to proffer solutions to the region’s security challenges, which would require the endorsement of governors from the region.
“Only such an outfit with force of legality would be able to confront criminals fire for fire without creating extended confrontation with government security forces.
“Experiences abound that many times community youths have taken their destinies in their hands to fight criminals.”
Militants shouldn’t fight criminals—Cleric, activist
But, Alaowei Cleric, a lawyer and national president, Centre for Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade, CHURAC, maintained: “To constitute regional security apparatus like Amotekun in the South West is a welcome development. We need it in the Niger Delta region. However, the suggestion that our para-military body should be inaugurated to fight kidnappers is not very palatable.”
Agitators suffering – Ozinko, solicitor, Bakassi Strike Force
A legal practitioner and counsel to defunct Bakassi Strike Force, BSF, Ozinko O Ozinko, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard on phone, said there was no nexus between the objectives of militants and fighting criminals or supporting the government in curbing crime , especially kidnapping in the Niger Delta.
Ozinko said government was partly responsible for what is happening in the Niger Delta region and there was no way militants would form security networks to assist because in most cases, the government has failed to live up to expectations.
“For instance, the objectives of militants in Niger Delta have no correlation with fighting insurgency because of the kind of neglect , the militants, including the repentant ones are suffering now .
“Take a look at the defunct BSF, since they laid down their arms in November, 2019, not one of the agreements in the MoU has been fulfilled ,yet you expect such a person to support you in any way in fighting crime? .
“Even if they wanted to , they do not have the legal backing to do so and besides, their ideology is different from forming security outfits .On the other hand it is the government that ‘cooks’ the crime , the perpetrators merely carry out the crime.
“Proliferation of arms is always on the increase whenever there is an election, after elections these boys are abandoned and after taking drugs on empty stomach, the next move is crime.
“No militant group will purchase hardware and start using it to fight criminals unless they only decided to just do so and I do not believe that they are empty barrels because these are serious minded persons ,it is just that the government has failed to do the needful,” Ozinko said.i
Ozinko asserted that if a legal framework is put in place, then, they can form something like civilian- JTF like we have in the northern part of the country, but many may not be willing because they have been treated without regards and disdain.”
Not sanctioned by law – Uket, CSP
On his part, Obetan Uket, a Chief Superintendent of Police, CSP, said it was not possible because they were not authorized by law to carry arms, but they can only support security agencies by providing intelligence.
He stated:”The militants can only support from a distance by providing intelligence to security agencies but carrying out the real operation will amount to illegal possession of firearms.
“There is no legal framework for them to set up an outfit like Amotekun but they can support by providing information and other vital resources that is not against the law of the country,” he added.
Allow militants to tackle criminals – Adom, Edem, community chair, lawyer
President, Eniong Abatim community and chairman, APC Elders Forum, Cross River state, Elder David Adom, declared: “Militants have for some time now been making empty threats. I say empty because they have not translated their words to action. All they have been doing is make press releases and soon after that, we do not see any action.”
“If they are capable, they should direct their arsenal towards criminals and kidnappers who are wreaking havoc in the region. Every day we hear of kidnaps, criminal herdsmen’ atrocities yet the militants are there in the forest with them. If they can, let us see action from them not words so that our people can go about their businesses in peace.”
A lawyer, Mr. Efio Edem agrees with him, saying: “We have had enough of their show of force at home, let them fight criminals so we know how far they can go.”