By Jonathan Nda- Isaiah, Abuja, Osa Okhomina, Yenagoa and ANAYO ONUKWUGHA, Port Harcourt
Former Niger Delta militant leader, High Chief Government Ekpemupolo, aka Tompolo, and nine militant groups from the nine states of the region are engaged in a row over the sponsorship and motive behind the renewed threat by the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) to attack oil facilities in the region.
The coalition of militants groups under the auspices of Reformed Niger Delta Avengers (RNDA) described as untenable and selfishly motivated the decision by the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) to pull out of the ceasefire with the federal government and resume fresh attacks in the region tagged ‘Operation Red Economy’.
It alleged that Tompolo and his followers are behind the plot to use NDA to distabilise the region.
But Tompolo who is also the Ibe-ebidouwei of Ijaw Nation denied the allegation, insisting that instead of listening to falsehood, the federal government should focus on trending issues in the polity, particularly restructuring and true federalism, among others.
In a statement issued yesterday by his media consultant, Mr. Paul Bebenimibo, Tompolo noted that nothing will make him resort to destruction of oil facilities he once protected in a contractual arrangement.
The statement made available to LEADERSHIP reads: “Ordinarily, we would have ignored these media statements by these so called avengers and reformed avengers because it is not a new tactics by these groups in bringing Tompolo’s name to whatever thing that happens in the Niger Delta region because of his legal battle with the government.
“Let it be stated at this point that Tompolo is not the only person having legal issues with the present government. Let us also state here that these accusations do not take away the fact that our dear country is in a crossroad.
“Eminent Nigerians have repeatedly said in recent time that Nigeria has never been divided like this since her independence in 1960. It is our sincerely advice to the government to urgently address the issues that are trending in the country’s political domain”.
The statement further noted: “The Restructuring/True Federalism, Participation of Niger Deltans in the oil industry, the Ogoni clean-up campaign, relocation of the headquarters of the International Oil Companies, Establishment of Modular Refineries, Resumption of academic activities in the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, and so on, are very germane issues that the government needs to address now, so as to shame mischievous elements in the polity.
“We wish to reiterate our earlier stand that nothing will make Tompolo to resort to destruction of oil facilities, he once protected in a contractual arrangement. Those that have ears let them hear!”
In a separate statement it earlier issued after an enlarged meeting in the creek of Bini River in Egbema area of Delta State on Sunday Night, the coalition of militant groups described the NDA threats as “personal and greedy.
The Reformed Niger Delta Avengers (RNDA) also refuted claims that it is sponsored by the APC administration.
The militant groups said instead, it is involved in the campaign against the use of the contentious issues of the region for selfish gains.
The statement signed by Major General Johnmark Ezonebi, also known as Obama, stated: ”RNDA wish to state categorically that the so called High Command of the Niger Delta Avengers NDA is no other person than Tompolo who is presently under a wanted list is hiding in the creek for sins against the region by using the struggle to empower himself and his immediate family and few cronies.
“And the self-acclaimed spokesperson of NDA known as Major General Murdock Agbinibo is no other person than the three apostles of Tompolo who have deserted their Warri homes and are on the run with their master who is using the name of Niger Delta struggle to empower himself and his family alone to the detriment of the long neglected people of the Niger Delta region.
“RNDA wants to state that if any form of attack or destruction of oil pipelines and oil facilities happen in the creek of Delta State due to this shameless threat of statement by the so called Niger Delta Avenger’s formed and coordinated by Tompolo and his cohorts, the people of Gbaramatu should hold Tompolo responsible for any harm or damage that the people will face in the wake of this and also the federal government and the people of the Niger Delta region should hold Mr Tompolo, Chief Clark, one Dr mulade, the self acclaim coordinating secretary of disbanded PANDEF and the members of PANDEF responsible, with the likes of chief Anabs Sara-Igbe who is collaborating with Chief Clark to use PANDEF as a money making venture to seek financial assistance and support from people, NDDC and oil companies in the region”.
RNDA stated that it will not use the struggle of Niger Delta to be trading for personal gains and family enrichment to the detriment of the long neglected people of the Niger Delta region.
It continued: “RNDA members used to be the foot soldiers of Tompolo who carried out well coordinated and deadly attacks on oil facilities across the entire Niger Delta region right from the days of “Camp Five” even to the days of Avengers but we had to draw the line when we discovered that the struggle was been personalised for selfish gains even when some of our dedicated fighters had paid the supreme price for the region.
“Tompolo is presently counting his losses as the federal government had frozen his accounts and that of some of his cronies as well as some properties forfeited that were gotten through fraudulent business transaction with NIMASA. I wish to state that the statement by NDA is clearly “the hand of Esau and the voice of Jacob” because of the way the federal government had treated PANDEF following the withdrawal of mandate by militants from the group mainly made up of failed politicians and national treasury looters wish her his cohorts.
“Tompolo is seeking cheap relevance from the Buhari led APC federal government through the Niger Delta Avengers NDA statement that it would resume fresh attacks in the Niger Delta region but I want to remind him that the time had changed far beyond his reach as this was not the Jonathan administration where he held sway in the south south and Niger Delta region for his personal gains”.
Minister Pleads With Avengers
While the terrorists sing discordant tune, the minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Usani Usani, has pleaded with the Niger Delta Avengers not to carry out its threat to resume bombing of oil and gas pipelines in the region
Speaking with State House correspondents after meeting President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa, Usani restated the commitment of the federal government in developing the Niger Delta region in line with what the avengers are also demanding.
He said, “My message is not just verbal but it has been demonstrated by the fact at all times. We have been appealing to them to just be patient with us because most of the time, the issues that are brought up are those that tend to portray the quest for development of the region.
“And that is all we have been doing to say be patient with us. The issues raised genuinely to the benefits of people of the region are being attended to. For instance, the Okerekoko University; you are aware that the Vice President has directed that that University must take off.
“And he also directed that a minimum of N5billion be budgeted for the take off the University. So, it’s a matter of patience, knowing that some of these things have a procedure. It is not because it did not happen the way they wanted and so it will not happen. Everything has a phase of planning and a phase of execution”.
On the level of dialogue so far, the minister said, “Well, we are glad so far that all parties have listened to one another: Government, Avengers, elders and so on. We would wish that this continued. So, we would advise all of us to remain calm and see the things that we agitated for coming little by little.
“For us as a government, there hasn’t been any group from the region that intended to meet with any arm of government that has been rebuffed. So, if any people make such overtures, we are happy to receive them. We have been receiving different groups. We are not limiting our dialogue or discussions to any particular group”.
FG Should Fulfill Its Promises – Ijaw Youths
Meanwhile, following the recent threats by a militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) to resume hostilities in the region, the Eric Omare-led Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) has called on the federal government to fulfill all its promises to the people of the region.
Spokesman of IYC, Henry Iyalla, who disclosed this while speaking to LEADERSHIP in Port Harcourt accused the federal government of being insensible to the plight of the people of the region.
Iyalla said, “If you look at what the Federal Government is doing, it shows lack of sincerity and insensitivity of the plight of the people of the Niger Delta.
“After giving us all the federal promises- promises as to the relocation of the IOCs, promises as to the Ogoni cleanup, promises as to the modular refineries- they are instead giving it to their own friends and cronies. As Niger Deltans and the Ijaw Youth Council, we received those promises as political talks.
“Now, before things go out of hand, it will be better for the Federal Government to come down and fulfill these promises. We need to see a roadmap for us to know that the present Federal Government is sincere and that they are not only interested in our oil.
“What we can see is Crocodile Smile coming with free medical services, giving people injections and carrying out sanitation. That is not what the core Niger Delta people need. We don’t need Crocodile Smile; we need developmental smiles”.
Ndoma-Egba Appeals to Avengers to Sheathe Swords
Meanwhile, the chairman of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN), has appealed to the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) to reconsider its threat for renewed hostilities and bombings of oil installations in the region.
The chairman made the appeal in a statement in Abuja on Monday signed by Mrs Clara Braide, Special Adviser Communication to the Chairman, NDDC.
Norma-Egba appealed to the group to tow the path towards a peaceful resolution of all contentious issues.
He urged the group to sheathe their swords and also advised that violence will lead nowhere but aggravate the situation.
He stressed that the damage done would be felt by the region that is already overstretched and earnestly needs rapid development.
The NDDC chairman said that the Commission is doing all it can to intervene towards finding a lasting solution and appealed that dialogue be maintained with the Federal Government toward a path of peace and sustainable development.
He said: “Our environment is already polluted and is in dire need of restoration, destroying oil pipelines and installations would further destroy our environment and expose our people to sickness and untold hardship.
“It would worsen our already bad situation and expose innocent women, children and youths to grave danger. We appeal to NDA to still give the Government and Stakeholders more time.
“Resuming hostilities will be detrimental to all parties involved whether the NDA, the Region or the Government. At the end of the day it is the region that will be badly damaged and set backwards.
“NDDC is not resting on its oars in our efforts to finding a peaceful and permanent resolution of issues of development as the Commission has strategic intervention plans that should transform the region. To achieve this, however, peace is a must”.
Ndoma-Egba, however, emphasised that President Muhammadu Buhari means well for the Niger Delta region and has already demonstrated this in various ways and would continue to address the issues.