This Day (Lagos)

5 May 2008

Nigeria: Militants May Suspend Attacks After Obama's Plea

Port Harcourt — The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has said it is considering a temporary cessation of hostilities in the oil-producing region based on an appeal by United States presidential hopeful, Senator Barack Obama.

MEND also said in an e-mail that its ceasefire was to enable the federal government to have a rethink over the way it has handled the matter concerning its leader, Mr. Henry Okah.

The spate of attacks in the last two weeks has led to more volatility in the crude oil market with substantial production cuts in Nigeria.

The militant group also advanced reasons why it carried out several attacks on pipelines in the South-south region, saying it was "in chief" to prove to the oil companies and the Federal Government that they could not protect facilities by the "force of gunboats".

"The MEND command is seriously considering a temporary ceasefire appeal by Senator Barack Obama. Obama is someone we respect and hold in high esteem. The period of halting attacks, we hope, when considered, will afford the Nigerian government the opportunity to address the issues with Henry Okah, including improving his living conditions and having access to a bible which he has requested for but was denied," they said.

On the reasons why they stepped up attacks, especially in the last one week, on Shell facilities in Bayelsa State, MEND said: "This attack was prompted by four factors. (1) To support small cells like the ones that attacked Chevron in Delta state. (2) To let the oil companies know that we consider the military gunboats and soldiers guarding their facilities as mere ornaments and can confront them at will. (3) To dispel the assurances of ensuring peace by some compromised militants who have sold their birth rights. (4) The kangaroo court ruling insisting on a secret trial for Henry Okah".

In the statement signed by Gbomo Jomo, the militant group admitted that the man who led the attack on Chevron facility in Delta State, one Emmanuel Awala, died from injuries he sustained in the attack.

They however denied any involvement of its men in the kidnap of 56-year-old Mrs. Margaret Idisi, saying it is a taboo to take women into MEND camps where they perform their war rites, maintaining that they were not interested in taking local hostages.

They alleged that most kidnappings had "insider" involvement.

Meanwhile, Azuka, wife of Henry Okah, has said the refusal of her husband to concede to other means of settling the Niger Delta problem led to his being "set up" and incarcerated.

According to a statement she sent to THISDAY through the official e-mail address of MEND, said in an effort to resolve the problem, Vice- President Goodluck Jonathan, had met him at the Sheraton Hotel, Pretoria, South Africa on July 7, 2007 where her husband insisted in 50 per cent derivation "or nothing".

According to her, some other influential Nigerians also met and tried to represent Okah in the negotiations, but she said her husband rejected offers of oil blocks to abandon the campaign.

She wrote: "The vice-president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in a presidential jet with other top government officials and other Niger Delta stakeholders visited my husband on the 7th of July 2007. They had a four-hour long meeting at Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria. There is a disparity between this visit and my husband's arrest at 1400hrs on the 3rd of Sept in Luanda, Angola, and the reason for his illegal extradition to Nigeria.

"Sometime in August 2007, before he travelled, my husband informed me that President Yar'Adua phoned him in [on] finding a lasting solution to the Niger Delta crisis. My husband will also avail [unveil] at the main trial, the taped telephone conversation he had on him on that fateful day the 7th of July 2007 in Pretoria South Africa and every taped telephone conversation he held with all politicians and stakeholders of the Niger Delta. He has instructed me that this must be done to avail [unveil] the political cloud that befalls him unjustly.

"My husband had told me back then that the discussion having hinged on the Niger Delta crisis, that he had bluntly refused any and all monetary inducement, including oil blocks. He stated that the lasting solution for him was fiscal federalism and the 50% derivation as obtained in the 1960/1963 Nigerian constitutions.

"The world, Nigerians, politicians and everyone concerned on this matter should know that this is a Northern agenda to keep on milking perpetually the resources of the oppressed Niger Delta minorities without any protest. This is my testament."

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