- Says fight against corruption not selective
- Reveal your identities, ex-militants tell N’Delta Avengers
- Osinbajo, Seriake, security chiefs, oil firms hold crucial meetings on oil industry attacks
Tobi Soniyi in Abuja, Ibrahim Shuaibu in Katsina, Ejiofor Alike in Lagos, Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa and Monday Osayande in Warri
Following the heightened attacks on oil industry installations in the Niger Delta, the threats by militants to bomb major cities in the country, and break up Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari monday restated his determination to deal squarely with insurgents wherever they are in the country, promising that his administration would ensure the continued existence of Nigeria.
His threat came as the military invaded Oporoza community, the traditional headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State in search of members of the Niger Delta Avengers who had claimed responsibility for the spate of vandalism of oil and gas facilities in the state and threatened to extend their attacks to major cities in the country.
Gbaramatu Kingdom is also the hometown of Government Ekpemupolo, better known as Tompolo, who is a fugitive of the law.
Speaking at the Emir of Katsina’s palace during his four-day official visit to his home state, Buhari recalled that the nation was embroiled in a 30-month civil war in the late 1960s leading to the colossal loss of lives and properties in the bid to ensure its unity.
The president charged traditional rulers across the country to spearhead the campaign for peaceful and harmonious co-existence among the diverse socio-political groups in the country.
Buhari said the call had become imperative in view of the activities of some groups, which had been preaching hatred, disunity and divisive tendencies among Nigerians for their selfish motives.
He enjoined all Nigerians to always ignore such individuals and groups calling for the break up of the country due to their inability to achieve their selfish goals.
The president who narrated the role he played during the civil war in Nigeria, said over two million lives were lost during the war.
“I always say that the civil war was fought for the unity of Nigeria because then we had not even discovered oil, let alone enjoyed it. But two million people were killed,” he said.
He said some people who had not even been born when the war was fought were now threatening to divide Nigeria
“The way the Sahara (Desert) is advancing, with Boko Haram growing, and the number of people displaced and uncertainty over rainfall in a land where we fought a civil war leading to the deaths of about two million, for someone to just say he will chase us is not acceptable,” he said.
He assured his audience that his administration would do all that was possible to ensure the continued existence of Nigeria as a peaceful and united entity.
Buhari also said that the ongoing war against corruption was not selective but aimed at ensuring financial and economic discipline in the country, promising that his administration would not relent in recovering all of Nigeria’s stolen funds.
He also expressed concerns over the prevailing harsh economic climate in the country, just as he called on the traditional rulers to assist in educating their subjects on the need to be patient and to always exercise restraint while commenting national issues.
The president also called on community leaders across the country to introduce monthly or quarterly meetings in their respective communities to address issues concerning their welfare.
According to him, such meetings will provide solutions to some challenges facing the people rather than waiting for the government’s intervention to resolve such problems.
Buhari appealed to leaders to always be honest and straightforward while dealing with the people in order to engender good upbringing of the younger ones in the society.
On the current economic hardship, the president attributed such hardship to dwindling oil revenue occasioned by the unstable price of the commodity.
He called on Nigerians to diversify their means of livelihood by engaging in agricultural activities to alleviate their sufferings.
Earlier in an his address, the Emir of Katsina, Abdulmumini Kabiru Usman accused the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan of abandoning the contract for dredging the River Niger.
Usman said inland waterways are the wealth of the nation, “yet some people didn’t want it here”.
He called on the federal government to fulfill its promises to complete the dredging of the River Niger as well as the Katsina State water and dam projects to boost irrigation farming in the state.
He also called on the federal government’s intervention in reviving teacher training colleges to uplift the quality of education in the country.
Masari Promises Diversification
Also, the Katsina State governor, Aminu Bello Masari, said that he administration has developed an economic blueprint that would reduce its reliance on oil revenue.
Masari who spoke to journalists after receiving Buhari at the Katsina Government House, said the purpose of his Economic and Investment Summit was to put the state on a sound economic pedestal for it to survive on revenues generated within.
Masari said: “We intend to place Katsina not only on the map of today but in the next twenty years. So the purpose of this economic and investment summit is to put Katsina on a more firm economic base in such a way that oil or no oil, the state will survive.
“This is what we are working on, to completely free Katsina from depending on oil and other states, but to depend on what we here in Katsina can do or can produce. We did it before and we can do it now for the future.”
Asked what the state hoped to leverage on to achieve economic independence, the governor said: “Let me tell you, there was a time Katsina was sufficiently economically dependent on agriculture and the supply of livestock.
“Then the native authority was responsible for the police, judiciary, prisons, the bureaucracy, health care and education, and it was doing well.
“Then Katsina was number one on the Northern Province in the area of education and was self-reliant. It was done before and it can be done now especially with the large volume of untapped water that we have in the state that is idle.
“Agriculture can free us. And in this state, we have some solid minerals. We have large deposits of kaolin; we have gold and we have diamonds. We are the number one producer of cotton. And the cotton has the longest value addition across the country. So I assure you that Katsina has done it before and it can done today and tomorrow,” he stressed.
Military Invades Gbaramatu
But as Buhari met with leaders in his home state, the military monday invaded Oporoza community in Gbaramatu Kingdom in search of members of the Niger Delta Avengers who have claimed responsibility for the spate of vandalism of oil and gas facilities in the state.
The soldiers came in two gunboats at 12.30 am yesterday when residents were asleep and laid siege on the community until about 5 am when they departed, said villagers.
A source said the army reportedly acted on intelligence that the militants had secretly converged on the community.
However, the Pere (traditional ruler) of Gbaramatu Kingdom, HRM Oboro-Gbaraun II, Aketekpe, Agadaba, who was very concerned following the invasion, immediately offered to mediate in the face-off between the federal government and Tompolo despite his dissatisfaction over the neglect of the kingdom by government.
Also, speaking on the phone with THISDAY yesterday, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, the Benemowei of Gbaramatu, distanced his kinsmen from the activities of the renegade group under the guise of fighting the Niger Delta cause.
He said the presence of the military in Oporoza and the Delta waterways had heightened tension in the area, as people were forced to move around with apprehension.
“At about 12.30 am yesterday, the Nigerian Army came in two gun boats loaded with its personnel, throwing the community into panic as the people scampered for safety. Some were even forced to run into the bush to avoid being taken away by the military,” he said.
He added: “The military stayed till about 5.30 am before they moved their gunboats to an unknown location. We have seen a situation where people want to use the present crisis to cause problems in our community. We are not part of the attack and will not support anything that will bring problems for us.”
The Benemowei was of the view that the order to the military by Buhari to go after those who perpetuated the recent attacks on oil installations in the state was not enough for the military to invade the community, harassing and intimidating innocent citizens of the kingdom.
He called on the military to work on its intelligence, alleging that the attacks were the handiwork of fifth columnists who might be involved in tarnishing the image of the former Niger Delta freedom fighter, Tompolo.
While assuring that his people would continue to support oil operations in the kingdom, he stated that residents would do everything possible to protect Chevron and any company operating in their area and oil facilities in the domain, knowing fully well that any act of sabotage on an oil installation will degrade the environment.
Nonetheless, the rampaging Niger Delta Avengers, which had claimed that it has no link with Tompolo and had threatened him for denouncing the group, remained unperturbed, as sources said that it had concluded plans to extend its attacks outside the Niger Delta.
A source said leaders of the militant group reviewed their operations at the weekend and were satisfied that the group was able to effortlessly cripple oil operations in Delta State and would continue with the bombings if Buhari fails to address their demands.
Again, Tompolo Disowns N’Delta Avengers
However, following the invasion of his community yesterday, Tompolo, for the second time in one week dissociated himself from the Niger Delta Avengers.
In an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, the ex-war lord informed the president that just as northerners supported him as of right throughout the presidential campaigns, he did not consider it a criminal offence for him (Tompolo) to have openly supported one of his own, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for the presidency in 2015
He urged the president to be wary of Niger Delta politicians around him, saying that the only means of getting his attention was to wickedly attribute the activities of the said group to him simply because of his running battle with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
“This is the height of desperation and hypocrisy on the part of such people. For one, I have chosen to pursue my case with the EFCC to a logical conclusion because I am yet to be convinced that the purported case instituted against me does not have an ethnic colouration masterminded by my traducers.
“Since the case is before a court of competent jurisdiction, I will refrain from making further comments on this.
“However, it will be in the interest of this great nation if Mr. President takes a painstaking study of certain political actors around him, most especially those from the Niger Delta region. I bear no grudge against any of such, but I am convinced beyond any doubt that they have taken solace in perpetual misdirection and mischief as far as my person is concerned,” he said.
He alleged that there are several elements of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) within and around Buhari’s administration, who see anything Ijaw as criminal and anti-Buhari.
The former militant leader also raised the alarm that certain non-Ijaw ethnic merchants cum bigots had expressly displayed open hatred for Ijaws in the Niger Delta region.
According to him, such persons had almost succeeded in distorting the government’s mindset against Ijaws, whether in or outside your government.
He described the development as a very dangerous dimension that could be avoided.
Stop Being Cowards, NDLF Tells Avengers
In a related development, the Niger Delta Liberation Force (NDLF), whose leader, John Togo was killed in an aerial battle with the Nigerian military five years ago, has dared the Niger Delta Avengers, the new face of militancy in the oil-rich region to reveal its identity or stop its destructive activities.
Describing the failure of the group to make open its identity as cowardly, the spokesman of NDLF, Capt. Mark Anthony, reminded the group that leaders of the NDLF, which took on soldiers before they were decimated by the combined land and air forces of the Nigerian security apparatchik, were man enough to operate in the open.
The NDLF warned that the new group destroying oil and gas facilities in the region should take full responsibility if innocent Ijaw citizens are attacked by the military again.
“Those bombing pipelines in the Niger Delta should not behave like cowards. If they have a genuine reason and they are fighting for the interest of the Niger Delta,” the group affirmed.
The NDLF leadership also took a swipe at the Presidential Amnesty Coordinator, Paul Boroh, describing him as incompetent and unable to isolate the troublemakers in the oil-bearing communities.
“They (the Niger Delta Avengers) should be man enough to come out. When we (the NDLF) were bombing, our leader General John Togo did not hide his face. John Togo was a man and a hero.
“We dealt with the Nigerian Army. We were not hiding. They should not hide their identity. Buhari is not God and they should not be scared of him and his Hausa-Fulani army of occupation. Let JTF not attack and arrest innocent Ijaw communities,” the group said in a statement monday.
The NDLF added: “The army should go for the real saboteurs, although we had told former President Goodluck Jonathan that the Nigerian army cannot protect the pipelines in the creek.
“We do not condemn the current bombing because during our surrender speech, we told the world that the bombing of pipelines was not over yet. The current amnesty chairman Paul Boroh does not know the boys in Niger Delta. He is not in touch with Niger Delta major ex-agitators,” the ex-militants noted.
Despite the position of the NDLF, the umbrella body of Ijaw youths, the Ijaw Youth Council Worldwide (IYC) yesterday condemned the activities of the new militant group in the Niger Delta.
The IYC spokesman, Mr. Eric Omare, said that the group did not see the justification in the Niger Delta Avengers’ embarking on the destruction of oil facilities and wreaking havoc on the region’s already wasted environment.
Omare, however, appealed to Buhari to go after the real culprits and not the innocent communities and people in the region in his government’s efforts to unmask the characters behind the new militancy group.
Osinbajo, Seriake, Security Chiefs Meet
Meanwhile, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) yesterday evening met with some stakeholders on the current attacks on oil industry installations in the Niger Delta.
Osinbajo first met with some security chiefs including those from the navy and army, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, and other officials of government.
He also met separately with the Bayelsa State governor, Mr. Seriake Dickson, and the Amayanabo of Toun Brass in Bayelsa State, King Alfred Diete-Spiff.
The vice-president also met with representatives of some oil companies in the company of Dickson and Diete-Spiff.
Firms such as Shell, Total, Agip, the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Company and Chevron, among others, were represented.
At the end of the meeting, Dickson informed State House correspondents that stakeholders in the Niger Delta had agreed to work together to stop further vandalism and disruptions to oil operations in the region.
He also said that the stakeholders had proposed a meeting with Buhari.
He said: “First, we are here because the vice-president took time to invite the state government and the representatives of oil companies that are operating in Bayelsa State because of the issues the government has with them in respect of taxation principally.
“But we have also used this opportunity to talk about the need for an enabling and secure environment for the oil companies to continue with their operations.
“This is a time that we cannot afford to have any disruptions, not to mention vandalism of critical national assets. This is a time that all hands should be on the deck.
“All of us as stakeholders are concerned and we have agreed to work together to ensure that production is not disrupted and that all partners should be responsible and do what we need to do.
“I want to use this opportunity to say that yesterday at the meeting of the South-south governors in Asaba, Delta State, this issue was discussed; the need for all of us to work together in the Niger Delta, compare notes and collaborate with the federal government was discussed.
“We agreed to have a meeting with the president. We have conveyed that message and we are looking forward to a date that will be convenient for the president.
“The meeting will be on how we can jointly protect strategic national assets, and discuss our common and shared responsibilities for security and law and order.”