NEGOTIATIONS between the Federal Government and leaders of militant groups in the Niger-Delta on restoration of peace to the region have broken down with the Ijaw Youth Leaders Forum, which facilitated the seeming ceasefire and reduction in hostage-taking in the last few months, asking the Senator David Brigidi –led Niger-Delta Peace and Conflict Resolution (NDPCRC), which was specially inaugurated by the
President Umaru Yar’Adua government to act as a go-between with militants, to immediately suspend its activities in the region.
The Forum, in a statement, entitled, “The Niger-Delta Peace Process: A Critical Review”, signed by its chief facilitator, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, also ordered the T.K. Ogoriba-led nine-man Consultative Committee on the Road Map to Peace Implementation, nominated by the body, and inaugurated by the Federal Government in the Presidential Villa, Abuja, August 24, 2007 to shelve consultations with the Federal Government forthwith.
Sunday Vanguard learnt, yesterday, that the new position of the Forum caught the Federal Government unawares and Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, who traveled to Okerenkoko, Oporoza and several other creek communities to dialogue with leaders of militant groups and work out the under-attack peace initiatives was stunned by the development. In what is being interpreted as a possible return to anarchy in the region, the youth leaders directed all sons and daughters of Ijaw extraction on all peace related moves to return home for intensive consultation with youth leaders and Ijaw elders without delay.
The Forum stated: “The Federal Government of Nigeria should also halt forthwith any form of oppression or provocation against our people or communities under the planned orchestration of the Nigeria military, which is bent on working against a political solution to the Niger-Delta question. “We enjoin the international community to prevail on the Nigerian state to show appropriate commitment to the peace process, which the Niger-Delta (Ijaw people) are committed to. “All sons and daughters of Ijaw land in the region (at home in the Diaspora) should stay calm, unruffled and pray fervently for these gallant generation of Ijaw youths amidst these on-going aggressions, for we shall not abandon our God-given land and resources.”
Giving reasons for their tough stance, Ekpemupolo said the conditions given to the government for proper negotiation with the Federal Government were not met, while the government had embarked on military operation against the peace crusaders. According to him, the Forum gave as conditions for proper negotiation the withdrawal of troops from Ijaw towns and villages and replacement with police where necessary; amnesty to Ijaw freedom fighters in detention, prisons and those under surveillance; presidential visit to designated Niger-Delta (Ijaw communities) in the region and the declaration of a developmental emergency; rehabilitation of Ijaw communities destroyed by federal troops, for example, Odi and Odioma; and release of the former governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.
The Forum, he stated, was, however, aghast that after reaching Comrade Henry Okah and making him to concede to the on-going peace process, he was arrested and incarcerated in Angola allegedly for gun-running, querying, “Why is the Angolan government in want of charge against him for over three months if he has truly committed a crime for which he has been arrested? Why is the Nigerian government showing renewed interest in the matter recently, Does such not breach the peace process?
He wondered why the military attacked and bombarded Tom Ateke, a youth leader from Okirika, Rivers State, who has imbibed the peace process and even fast-tracking it by uniting rival groups and signing peace deals in his domain with armoured tanks after the youths leaders and the government agreed on amnesty to youths connected to and or with the struggle of the Niger-Delta. The Forum also queried the justification of the N444.6 billion budget proposal for security in the region in 2008 when only N69 billion estimate was made for the Niger-Delta Development Commission (NDDC), which is being owed over N200 billion.
“Will one trillion naira worth of weapons any longer silence the Niger-Delta people? Did the arrest of Asari solve the crisis? Has the arrest of Henry Okah solved the crisis? Can’t we see hundreds of Asari and Okah standing? Can’t we accept development and justice to the people of the Niger-Delta as solutions, instead of warfare,” the group stated.
– Vanguard Newspaper