10 February 2012

Nigeria: Jonathan and Politics of Fresh Militancy in Niger Delta

Port Harcourt — There are obvious threats of fresh militancy activities across Nigeria's oil producing Niger Delta. And there are some politics around the threats, it seems.

The Presidency and security agents may have underrated the capacity of a group of ex-militants who claim that they were not included in the 'largesse', coming from the amnesty programme.

Their colleagues, enlisted in the programme, collect moneys from the federal government; each gets at least N65, 000 monthly (these are juniors); many others get far more than N65,000 monthly, depending on their closeness to ex-militant leaders and politicians across the Niger Delta region.

Some have received training abroad; some have been sent to schools abroad. Ex-militant leaders are those who commanded 'troops' and called themselves 'Generals' during the militancy era.

Many of them are millionaires now. They have access to the Presidency, top government officials and high profile establishments. The presidency pacifies the ex-militant leaders to sustain stability in the Niger Delta since the leaders are thought to have control over their foot soldiers.

Indeed, many of the ex-militant leaders like Asari Dokubo (from Rivers State) Ateke Tom (from Rivers) and Tom Polo (from Delta) as well as some others have significant influence over their ex-militant members. To welcome Ateke Tom who had stayed long in Abuja, his boys staged a big party recently in Rivers State.

The ex-militant leaders are however the envy of many youths now threatening fresh militancy. Some of them feel unsafe, that some of their boys could harm them. This is mainly because the leaders have become so rich, leaving behind some of their members in anguish.

The boys insist that they fought the wars while the leaders argue that they took higher risks of providing arms and being the main persons hunted by security men prior to the amnesty regime. Some of the youths (called boys by the 'generals'), simply cannot feed now, others want to go to school, some want to be rich, some want to drive posh cars and fly on business class seats in airlines as most ex-militants do on domestic and international trips.

The Joint Military Task Force, JTF, charged with the responsibility of fighting militancy in the region does not seem to regard the 'boys' as threats. They believe they lack the capacity to wreak the kind of havoc recorded during the militancy era as masterminded by the 'generals', now 'big boys' in town.

Perhaps like the JTF believes, militancy requires mobilization of 'aggrieved youths as troops', having some conspirators in the security circles, acquisition of weapons which may have to be smuggled in from abroad and establishing camps in the creeks which is well being policed now by security agents.

Henry Okah, an ex-militant leader, allegedly the main supplier of arms to the 'generals' during the militancy ear, is in custody in South Africa, facing trials. Okah was amongst those granted amnesty (since the federal government has pardoned all role-players in the militancy era).

This means the boys may not have access to the kind of weapons the generals had. But then, the boys appear to be growing in numbers, they seem to be aligning from different states in the Niger Delta and one cannot doubt if they can mobilize themselves to return to the creeks.

It appears President Goodluck Jonathan hates to admit that crisis is resurfacing in his native Niger Delta region. But apart from the economic implications to the nation, fresh militancy could imply an embarrassment to him or even a show of rejection by his people.

This will especially be at a time when key elders from the Niger Delta as well as the likes of Professor Wole Soyinka have blamed northern leaders for bombings by the Boko Haram Islamic sect.

The elders and Soyinkas believe the northern leaders are bent on making things difficult for Jonathan as pay back for taking the region's slot in 2011. Most northerners and some observers have repeatedly dismissed Soyinka's view given the fact that most of the victims of bombings and killings by the Boko Haram are northern Muslims.

Now, President Jonathan is likely to find himself in a fix, dealing with fresh militancy threats in the Niger Delta. The ordinary thing to do is to extend the amnesty offer to the ex-militants and include them in the largesse but the President may find it difficult to do that without including members of the Boko Haram Islamic sect.

Though the President has lamented that the Boko Haram members are faceless (and possibly, amnesty struck with them) some Borno elders, like elder statesman, Shettima Ali Monguno, insists that the President can reach the sect members (unless he is reluctant to do so).

The Boko Haram claimed that its top member, Abu Darda, (the SSS insists he's Abu Qaqa, the sect's spokesperson) was arrested despite an arrangement that he (the arrested) represents the sect in a dialogue process. By that, the President could be seen as playing double standard, should he grant amnesty to his native youths from the Niger Delta, without the same deal for the Boko Haram.

The two groups are at variance.

The Niger Delta youths need money to live and hence are threatening to take up arms again and wage war against the state to get that money, whereas the Boko Haram members are ready to die in defence of their ideology.

They even see anyone who dies amongst them as a candidate for Haven so long as he dies in the course of their ideology, which is 'war against constitutional democracy and western ideals'.

So Mr President is likely to be in a fix, dealing with Boko Haram and the fresh militancy. The fresh militancy is seen by some pundits as the presidency's own making because he has been in open romance with ex-militant leaders to the envy of many youths in the region. A particular ex-militant leader from Delta State is said to have been awarded a multi billionaire naira contract to police the sea while he was said to have influenced the appointment of a certain top executive in the Nigerian Maritime Safety Authority.

The ex-militant leader moves in convoy of cars with security attached to protect him. According to sources, another ex-militant leader, Ateke Tom, from Okirika local government area of Rivers State enjoys accommodation in the villa anytime he is in Abuja. Tom is said to be close to the first lady, Patience, as both of them hail from Okirika. Daily Trust could not confirm his closeness with the first lady as well as the accommodation in the Vialla.

Asari Dokubo was in 2011, appointed a member of a federal government delegation to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for last year's hajj. Many other ex-militant leaders have unrestricted access to top government officials in Abuja. They can influence many decisions in the corridors of power and this scenario makes the youths in the region want to join them.

In fact, according to some security sources, lack of access to the presidency was why John Togo, a slain militant leader, re-launched militancy in 2010 as he was not recognized and treated as a 'general' like his colleagues, so, Togo went wild expecting a red carpet reception. At the end, he was alone in the battle and could not save himself.

Moreover, his men laid ambush and killed some soldiers. That angered the military more and he was marked for death. Togo however insisted that he returned to the creeks to salvage sufferers in the Niger Delta, claiming that the federal government was not ready to develop the region as against what is contained in the amnesty deal.

Security sources said that Togo was killed mainly to deter other youths who may, in future, seek to be militants. Though killing Togo ended the uprising in the region since 2011, recent bombing of an oil facility in Bayelsa points to the return of militancy in the region. Matters are now made worse with the frosty relationship between the President and former governor of his state, Timipre Sylva. Though Sylva may have no links with fresh militancy activities, the ousted governor, like other politicians in the region, has his own boys amongst ex-militants who may on their own go wild now that he has been kicked out of power. Most political leaders in the Niger Delta make efforts to have the loyalty of ex-militants. The former governor may equally have sympathizers within the security system.

But the ex-militants, threatening fresh militancy said they are working independently with one grievance; exclusion from the amnesty programme.

Leader of the aggrieved ex-militants, 'General' Ramsey Umukoro told Daily Trust on Sunday at a media briefing that the recent bombing of Agip's oil facility by members he doesn't know must be connected with their exclusion from the amnesty programme which they have been protesting.

"As the national chairman of the group, I have been on the side of Federal Government, trying to ensure dialogue when the boys threatened to go back to the creeks because the federal government failed to complete its side of the deal. They are threatening to go back to the creeks because they are fighting for their rights but I have been asking them to remain calm because Government cannot escape from this, we have so many evidences to proof it. Like I told you, yesterday (Saturday) 1930hours, the Agip oil pipelines were bombed. It is the same none inclusion issue.

So we are asking the federal government to listen to the cry of the people. With what I am seeing, the struggle is beyond my control. Right now I cannot hold them back. They are angry," Umukoro said.

"The bomb blast that took place yesterday is a signal by the freedom fighters, I am not excluding myself any way, we have over two thousand barracks, and we surrendered close to fifty thousand arms. I cannot tell which particular barrack that carried out that attack. With what I am seeing things are getting out of hand. The multinational companies should expect more of this attack if the federal government does not listen to us," he added.

He also said the special adviser to President Jonathan on amnesty, Mr Kingsley Kuku, was not helping matters. "For Kingsley Kuku, he is saying we are criminals just to protect his office. You received arms through the JTF and these arms were documented but at the end of the day, you are calling the people criminals.

We submitted our arms early part of last year at the JTF barrack in Warri, it was even signed and I received a copy of the document you can see it here. At this level I am now pleading with the authority to come out and look into this critically. If they do not honour our invitation before the expiration of the 10 days ultimatum, we may not help the situation.

Our struggle can take any form...The boys are really angry and that is why I am addressing the press so that the government can put the right instruction in place. We were even going out for a peaceful demonstration and the same government, who received our arms, is coming out for an arrest," the leader noted.

The JTF has, however, given the impression that it is on top of the situation. Lt. Col. Timothy Anthiga, spokesman of the JTF, gave the names of seven ex-militants including leader of the group that spoke to Daily Trust as responsible for bombing Agip oil pipeline.

The JTF asked the boys to turn in themselves before Wednesday, February 8, 2012. But it seems that the boys will not accept anything other than amnesty even though Mr President may find that difficult given the political implications.

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