Abuja, Asaba, Calabar — The Federal Government has resumed cash payments to militants in the Niger Delta, officials said yesterday.
The media consultant to the Presidential Amnesty Office, Owei Lakemfa, said the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) would directly pay into the bank accounts of beneficiaries. The Central Bank was not immediately available for comment.
The Amnesty Programme's spokesman, Piriye Kiyaramo, initially said the payments, which include tuition for those studying abroad, had been made on Monday, but militants told the BBC that they had yet to receive the money.
Kiyaramo later told the BBC that the money would be paid by last night according to Reuters.
"We expect the amnesty to be paid tonight to 30,000 youths involved in the amnesty programme. The Central Bank has released the money," he said yesterday.
Under the amnesty deal, each militant is entitled to N65,000 a month and job training.
The government stopped the payments in February, resulting in the militants accusing it of breaching a deal negotiated in 2009. But the government had said it was looking into aspects of the programme to see where it could be revisited. Local militants in the Niger Delta including the Niger Delta Avengers have claimed several attacks on critical oil and gas facilities in the area, especially since the beginning of this year, with the federal government accusing them of sabotaging the national economy.
The latest move is therefore seen as an attempt to curb the attacks which have severely affected oil production.
Lakemfa however said the proposed Maritime University in Okerenkeko, Delta State, which is one of the militants' demands, is a project of the Ministry of Transport with the Niger Delta Development Corporation (NDDC).
The Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) recently said it had commenced the third phase of sustainable reintegration of about 30,000 ex-militants in the region.
Amid attacks and plans by the militants to disrupt the peace and national assets in the region, Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, had pleaded with the federal government to pay their outstanding allowances.
In a response, the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Amnesty Programme, retired Brig-Gen. Paul Boroh, said the payments would be made in July, and reiterated the federal government's commitment towards re-engineering the Amnesty Programme in their favour.
Boroh said the Amnesty Programme had been successful but added that vandalism in the region must be checked.
More militant groups emerge for dialogue with FG
Several groups have emerged to interface with the federal government in the ongoing dialogue for cessation of hostilities in the Niger Delta, as a result of which sources said the government was gradually being discouraged from the dialogue option.
Besides the well-known Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) that seemed to have struck an accord with the government, there are indications that the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), the National Coalition of Niger Delta Ex-Agitators (NCNDE-A) and the Adaka Boro Avengers (ADA) are presenting separate negotiating teams.
Ex-militant chides ex-president
An ex-militant leader, Israel Akpodoro, opposed the planned dialogue between the federal government and the militant groups.
He criticised former president Goodluck Jonathan over his alleged fraternity with the Niger Delta Avengers, (NDA) and the Adaka Boro Avengers (ABA), which recently threatened to declare a Niger Delta Republic but backtracked, saying they listened to appeals from leaders in the region.
The ex-militant was particularly miffed that the former president, an Ijaw leader, would wait until the militants threatened to declare the Niger Delta Republic on August 1 before intervening.
"This (dialogue) is coming on the backdrop of threats occasioned by ultimatum issued by the ABA to declare a sovereign state of Niger Delta on August 1, and subsequent suspension of same based on alleged intervention by political leaders in the region including former President Jonathan," he said.
He said the true sponsors of the violence in the Niger Delta were gradually being revealed after denying knowledge of those behind the renewed insurgency.
He further stated that his group, the National Coalition of Niger Delta Ex-Agitators, NCNDE-A had been vindicated by the latest revelation made by the ABA that the former president and a former Minister of Information, Chief Edwin Clark, were among those who urged them to halt their planned declaration of a sovereign state.
He urged the federal government to apprehend everyone suspected to be overtly or covertly behind the groups and bring them to justice.
Akpodoro advised President Muhammadu Buhari to ignore the "grandstanding posture" of MEND, noting that the group had no specific direction and lacked the needed cohesion to represent any person or group of persons in the region.
Mixed reactions in Cross River
The people of Cross River State have welcomed federal government's plan to unleash military forces against militant groups in the state and other Niger Delta states.
However, the Bakassi Strike Force led by General Simply Benjamin which has notable presence in two local government areas of the state, including Bakassi and Akpabuyo councils, have appealed to the federal government to include them in the Amnesty programme and give Cross River and Akwa Ibom States self-determination instead of confrontation . They claim they had eight barracks across the two states with increasing youth enlistment into the group to enforce the struggle.
People of the state who have witnessed activities of militancy, kidnapping, armed robbery and other forms of crimes in recent times were quick to encourage the federal government to unleash heavy military strikes on every militant target.
They said however that government should be mindful not to involve innocent lives and economic structures.
A community leader in Calabar, Mr Nelson Erim, said militants had wreaked havoc on the people, seafarers, merchant ships, oil pipelines etc, adding that there was the need for government to intervene immediately to tame them so that they do not become too entrenched.
"Militants in Calabar have made lives unsafe. They have made the waterways very unsafe for sea travellers," he said.
However, the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, John Gaul Lebo, said it was a wrong strategy by a democratic government operating under a constitutional democracy to contemplate military option.
The Nigerian military has however downplayed the option of a military strike against the militants. Despite tension in the region following the launch of a special training exercised called 'Operation Crocodile Smile' to train Special Forces, the Defence Headquarters said Monday that it had nothing to do with a possible military strike on the militants but rather a training exercise to ensure the security of oil infrastructure. Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson, had on several occasions cautioned the federal government against the military option.
John Chuks Azu, Clement A. Oloyede, Victor Sorokwu, Eyo Charles
With Agency Report