LEADER of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Mr. Henry Okah and the Chairman, Technical Committee on the Niger Delta, Mr. Ledum Mitee, have expressed serious doubts over the effort by the Federal Government to tackle the Niger Delta conflict through the ongoing amnesty program.
Okah and Mitee insisted that the current effort to end the restiveness in the Niger Delta is unsustainable unless the Federal Government involves international mediators like the former United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Koffi Annan, who can command the respect of the parties in the matter.
Okah, reiterated that the amnesty program as currently being implemented is doomed to fail unless foreign help is urgently enlisted by the government. He also said that it is not his duty to show the government security agencies where arms were being kept, as demanded by the amnesty program officials.
Okah, on Al Jezeera, had rattled the government agencies, said his regret is not the granting of the interview, but that Al Jezeera over-edited what it aired last Sunday. According to him, if the full interview had been aired, it would have shown many positive things he wanted the government to take note of in the implementation of the post-amnesty plan.
He explained what he meant by hostilities resuming soon in the Niger Delta, saying: "Al Jezeera deliberately distorted the interview by excluding all positive comments I made in the course of that interview, and decided to highlight only portions they felt suited them."
And on the positive things he said during the interview, the MEND recalled: "I said that there is a need for all parties to allow the ongoing process of dialogue to play out before considering a return to armed struggle.
"I also asked the government to seek foreign help in the post-amnesty phase of the program because as I see it, those currently in charge of the program have little or no experience in crisis management. They are unqualified."Another thing I said in that interview was that I was working actively to ensure the success of this process of dialogue."
On why he granted the interview at all at this time of the amnesty program, Okah said: "To assist the government in charting a proper course as it is apparent that most of those involved in the program are feeding the government with lies in order to gain financially from the President's good intentions."
The MEND's chief also shed light on the weapons remaining in the creeks and why, as Timiebi Koripamo-Agary asked, he has not pointed out where the weapons are being hidden. "Since when did I become a government informant? The government's agencies such as the JTF (Joint military Task Force), the SSS (State Security Service), the Police and others should go in and look for the weapons," Okah said.
When he was asked whether if the government were to send in troops again to look for weapons, the natives will not cry that their homesteads were being raided, Okah said: "There are civilized ways of going about such tasks. If the government agencies respect the rights of people in carrying out their activities, I doubt if there would be an outcry."
On whether there are still militants in the creeks, he replied: "Even the Minister of Defense (Maj.-Gen. Godwin Abbe, rtd) once confirmed that not all those who came out are real militants. No true fighter will go in to sit down in those camps as they are.
"I reiterate that almost 100 per cent of all those in the camps are rented crowd. I am surprised that the jobless youths in the Niger Delta have not taken the opportunity to flood the camps to take advantage of the government's largesse. I really thought that the camps would by now have between 300,000 to one million youths. The 15,000 people that are being claimed to have come into the camps, I believe, were rented by the amnesty committee and interested governors to show the government that they are working."
Mitee, expressed dismay over government contravention of the committee's recommendations which clearly stipulated that the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program should meet the United Nations' standard.
He insisted that if the British government could engage George Mitchell to mediate in the conflict with Northern Ireland, then there is nothing wrong with the Federal Government doing same by inviting someone like Annan.
He said: "Clearly, we have failed in all these efforts and Nigerians should recognize that and say we have failed to tackle the Niger Delta conflict. We need to accept the fact that there is need for help from the international community. There are tremendous skills and resources to be used."
According to him, "we have failed in trying to solve it ourselves. We should seek help and not help in terms of guns. It is in terms of negotiation. Others in worst conflict than ours have done this. I don't know why Nigeria is nervous about this."
Mitee warned that the country should not delude itself that the conflict in the Niger Delta has ended because some militants have handed in their weapons. He said only time could tell whether the surrendering off arms could translate to sustainable peace that the country craves for.
MEND recently named the Aaron Team comprising Vice Admiral Mike Akhigbe (rtd), Prof. Wole Soyinka, Maj.-Gen. Luke Kakadu (rtd) and Prof. Sabella Ogbobode Abidde, to negotiate on their behalf.
"If MEND says these are our representatives, why not talk to them. Those are their representatives. If the people (MEND) say these people have our mandate, I do not understand what is the problem there. Beyond that, I see them, MEND meeting directly with the Federal Government through the negotiation team," Mitee said.
He described as disheartening the failure of government to make public the white paper on the technical committee's recommendations, which was submitted to it over 11 months ago.
Mitee said it would be erroneous for government to assume that with the amnesty program, it has settled the conflict in the Niger Delta because the core issues that necessitated militancy have been glossed over.
Meanwhile, a member of the House of Representatives, Dr. Sokonte Davis, has suggested that the government budget N500 billion yearly for development projects in the Niger Delta in the next 15 years to sustain the current calm in the region.
Similarly, the Hope Democratic Party presidential candidate in the 2007 election, Mr. Ambrose Owuru, has urged President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua to demonstrate further goodwill to the Niger Delta by increasing the derivation to at least 25 per cent.
It would be erroneous for government to assume that since the militants have laid down their arms, the issues that led to their uprising could be swept under the carpet.
He expressed misgivings that the money appropriated for development projects in the region in the 2010 budget may not be enough to drive the development process the region eagerly craves for.