MEND’s Aborted Meeting: The Untold Story

Gov. Seriake Dickson

Gov. Seriake Dickson

More facts have emerged as to why the meeting of ex-militant leaders called by one of the ex-commanders of Niger Delta group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Government Ekpemupolo (Tompolo), scheduled for Yenagoa on Saturday, July 25, 2015 was cancelled.

Although previous reports indicated that the meeting was truncated by the Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, who allegedly ordered a group of armed police officers to the venue, recent findings show that other factors may have been involved.

A version of stories to this effect scooped by our reporters revealed that it took the intervention of the governors of the three oil-producing states of Bayelsa, Delta and Ondo for the repented agitator for the Niger Delta to back down on plans to continue with the planned meeting.

Another version, however, had it that Tompolo acted on intelligence reports, which allegedly indicated that some prominent members of the group in the rank of commanders, said to be aggrieved by the one-man style of leadership Tompolo led during the past government had planned to violently disrupt the meeting, hence the decision to call it off.

A third angle to what transpired has it that Tompolo may have read the body language of President Muhammadu Buhari, who, though has maintained an unassuming posture towards events surrounding the ex-Niger Delta leader, is more disposed to raising a different group of people in the rank of Tompolo to lead the Amnesty programme under his own government.

Tompolo, through a statement by his media assistant, Paul Bebeminibo, had announced, prior to the aborted meeting that it would hold at 10 am on the said date at the Ijaw House along the Sani Abacha Expressway.

The statement, gave as part of reasons for the meeting, the perceived poor attention the region has received from President Buhari.

It reads in part: “If you check the region since assumption of power by President Buhari there are signs of tension due to the administration’s perceived animosity against the region and the beneficiaries of the Federal Government amnesty deal.

“The boys have cried out, ex-militant generals have pleaded but no answer from Buhari. We cannot fold our hands and let the boys be provoked into violence.”

Sources, however, revealed that Dickson’s move to stop the ex-creek warlords’ meeting was for security and political reasons.

In a statement in Yenagoa signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Daniel Iworiso-Markson,

Dickson said the forum had been postponed, but did not state when it would be re-convened, neither did he give reasons for cancelling it.

The statement which was titled, “Dickson cancels meeting of ex-agitators in Yenagoa…To meet the leaders soon,” also called for the understanding and co-operation of the former commanders of MEND.

Dickson, it was learnt, consulted the governors of the oil-rich Niger Delta states and heads of security agencies who advised against the meeting.

It was also for fear of being accused of sponsoring the re-grouping of MEND ex-commanders to resuscitate agitation and cause political disharmony between the region and the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government at the centre, that the Bayelsa State Governor and his counterparts decided to intervene to halt the meeting.

“What happened was that Governor Dickson and the governors of the Niger Delta states reached out to one another on the Tompolo meeting in Yenagoa”, a source that pleaded anonymity said.

“It was not only Dickson and the other governors. Even the heads of security agencies were consulted and they were categorical that the meeting of the ex-generals will not augur well for the Niger Delta at this time”, our source added.

It was further learnt that Dickson initiated the move towards the cancellation of the Tompolo meeting following the condemnations that trailed his hosting of a similar meeting of ex-militants at Government House,Yenagoa, last January.

Erstwhile frontline commanders of MEND, including Tompolo, Mujahid Asari Dokubo, Victor Ebikabowei Ben, alias Boyloaf, Pastor Reuben Wilson and Eris Paul, also known as Ogunboss, led their boys to attend the meeting which was allegedly facilitated by the former Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Kingsley Kuku.

Also present at that meeting were  Dickson, his deputy,  John Jonah, the President of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Udengs Eradiri and the Secretary to the State Government, Prof Allison Oguru.

When contacted, the Bayelsa State Police Command, said Tompolo did not notify the command of the ex-generals’ meeting proposed for Yenagoa.

Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Asinim Butswat, told Sunday Independent the police also read about the meeting on the pages of newspaper.

“Officially, we were not informed about the meeting. I read it on the pages of newspapers,” he said.

Meanwhile, other sources have said  that Tompolo may have called the meeting to salvage his future, as it had become clear that he may lose out on most of the contracts he currently handles for the Federal Governmet, like he lost grip on all contracts at the Maritime University and the Pipeline Surveillance contract.

“The Bayelsa meeting was only a ploy to seek undeserved attention once again using us as bait, foot soldiers and sacrificial lamb,” some of the aggrieved persons told Sunday Independent.

Some of the aggrieved ex-militants, it was learnt, alleged that Tompolo was the one sitting on their allowances, accusing him of short-changing them, hence their resolve to take their pound of flesh, should the opportunity presents itself again, like the aborted Bayelsa meeting.

Meanwhile, a close confidant of Tompolo has disclosed under anonymity to our reporter that they were not in any way ready to confront the Buhari government, saying that they have vowed to let peace reign in the region and to give the new government ample time to settle down to business and clear whatever mess they inherited from the last administration.

Most of them have, however, kept mum on the issues, because of the fear of Tompolo and his boys.

The initial tension in the area was based on an earlier statement credited to Buhari that he was going to rejig the Amnesty programme. This was roundly misinterpreted to mean that he would scrap the programme.

But, in obvious recognition of these pockets of disenchantments in Niger Delta and the need to nip any resurgence of militancy in the bud, Buhari has since declared his intention to retain the Amnesty Programmes, but with some modifications.

According to the president, his administration would “build on good aspects” of the amnesty programme, instead of scrapping it, while also exploring other measures to enhance security in the Niger Delta as a way of optimising investments in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry.

Buhari’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, gave more insight into the President’s plan for the programme when he told a Nigerian television station that the administration intends to probe alleged corruption associated with it.

Adesina said it would be wrong for Buhari to continue the programme without taking a look at the whole amnesty package, adding that there are issues concerning the amnesty programme which the President is taking time to study.

“There are a lot of issues about it (Amnesty Programme) and the President is studying those issues. After he has finished studying them, the package will be unfolded on amnesty,” Adesina said.

Obviously flowing from that, Adesina last Tuesday announced Buhari’s immediate sack of the Coordinator of the Amnesty Programme, Kingsley Kuku.

The President replaced Kuku, who also doubled as former President Jonathan’s Special Adviser on Niger Delta Affairs, with retired Brigadier-General P.T. Boroh.

Adesina explained that the appointment of a new Coordinator for the Amnesty Programme is expected to lead to the speedy resolution of recent hitches in its implementation such as the non-payment of outstanding allowances to ex-militants.

It is also believed that this would work towards assuaging agitation by a few restless ex-militants who appeared to be gearing for a showdown with government over some issues concerning the programme.

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