N’Delta Peace Talks: MEND Recants, Agrees to Work with Clark’s Team

  • Avengers slam Buhari over Boko Haram ‘treatment’ threat
  • Troops sustain operations in oil region

Senator Iroegbu in Abuja, Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa and Idowu Sylvester in Warri

Citing the need for the Niger Delta to forge a common front in the proposed peace talks between the federal government and militants in the region, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) monday pledged its allegiance to the Edwin Clark negotiation team.

But MEND, which had earlier threatened to pull out of the negotiations aimed at ending the spate of vandalism of infrastructure in the oil-rich region, resulting in a significant loss of oil revenue, vowed to closely monitor Clark’s group in the next few months.
The group, which also nominated Mr. Ledum Mitee, an environmental activist; Ibanga Isine, a journalist; and Timipa Okponipere, a lawyer, to represent it in the elder statesman’s committee, insisted that the new group must take into cognisance the progress MEND had made in the talks with the government.

Specifically, the group maintained that the concessions it had succeeded in extracting from the government, including the release of those it described as “political prisoners” such as Henry and Charles Okah, who are in prison for their alleged involvement in the Independence Day bombings in Abuja six years ago, as part of the progress.
A statement signed by MEND’s spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, said the group reserves the rights to recall its nominees in Clark’s group within six months if it noticed anything untoward during the negotiations.

MEND had earlier rejected the Clark group, unlike the Niger Delta Avengers, the most violent of all the groups in the Niger Delta region, which had during its ceasefire declaration, picked the Ijaw leader’s group as its only recognised platform for any peace talks with the federal government.

“Thereby effecting the take off of ‘Operation Moses’, which is also hereby suspended. We sincerely thank all the patriots who honoured our invitation to serve and wish them well in their respective endeavours.

“The disbandment became necessary following MEND’s decision to recognise and work with Ijaw national leader, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, as the leader of a pan-Niger Delta dialogue and peace initiative.

“We have always advocated that the Niger Delta region must speak with a single voice under a single umbrella body, otherwise the much-sought-after peace and development shall elude the region, again.

“Therefore, under the new collaborative arrangement, MEND has nominated Messrs Ledum Mitee, Ibanga Isine and Timipa Jenkins Okponipere to work alongside Chief Clark and other stakeholders.
“MEND shall continue to monitor the pace of progress of the Chief Edwin Clark-led team and reserves the right to recall its nominees after six months.

“Nevertheless, MEND is compelled to categorically warn that it is not yet uhuru. The Chief Edwin Clark-led new initiative should realise that MEND was already in preliminary talks with the federal government as confirmed by President Muhammadu Buhari himself,” the group stressed.

It added: “In fact, we have so far been able to secure a number of concessions, some of which include, but are not limited to the release of political prisoners.
“We expect that Chief Clark and his team shall follow through with the rest of the dialogue and peace process.”

MEND had initially slammed Clark for lacking the moral authority to champion the restructuring of the country, noting that he and other leaders of the region kept quiet during the six-year administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

The group also asked the federal government to ignore the resolution reached at a Niger Delta stakeholders consultative meeting held at the PTI Conference Centre Effurun, Delta State, where Clark formally took charge of leading the ceasefire talks.
It said, among other things, that the leaders of the region failed to categorically condemn the criminal and treasonable activities of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), which has claimed responsibility for series of attacks on oil facilities in the region.

MEND Slams ‘General’ Africa

In a related development, MEND also accused the Bayelsa State Government of sponsoring killings in the state, alleging that the government had been using one of the group’s former commanders, General Africa, to commit crimes against innocent people.

“The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) also condemns in very strong terms, the extra-judicial killings and deception by the Bayelsa State Government-sponsored militia under the leadership of our former commander, Mr. Africanus Ukparasia, aka General Africa, an ex-militant whose legal agreement signed under the presidential amnesty programme clearly forbade him to bear arms under any guise.

“In flagrant violation and disregard of the unilateral ceasefire recently declared by the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), and previously declared ceasefire by MEND to give ongoing peace talks a chance, these soldiers of fortune calling themselves Bayelsa State Waterways Security Task Force and their military collaborators have been attacking and killing soft targets such as debtors, personal enemies and perceived informants of NDA and cultists, thereafter displaying their corpses and weapons from the military armoury as if those arms and ammunition were recovered.

“Africanus, his thugs and the military are hereby warned to put a stop to their criminal acts and respect the ongoing ceasefire or else he, Africanus, and all his known fixed assets acquired during the fraudulent amnesty period will become legitimate targets.

“Africanus is also warned not to venture close to any MEND camps as our commanders have been informed to see him as an enemy and defend themselves,” MEND said.

NDA Dares Buhari

But as MEND announced a new team to hold negotiations on its behalf, in collaboration with the team led by Clark, the Avengers monday broke its silence on the military exercise code-named “Operation Crocodile Smile” in the oil region, saying no amount of troops’ surge and simulation would make the federal government win the oil war.
The militant group maintained that it knows the secret of the terrain and survival of amphibious operations in the region.

According to a statement by its spokesperson, Mudoch Agbinibo, the Avengers also lambasted President Muhammadu Buhari over his threat to give its members the “Boko Haram treatment” should they refuse to dialogue.
On the military exercise, it declared: “The people of the Niger Delta have been living here from time immemorial, so we have the secret of the terrain and survival of amphibious operations.

“No amount of troops’ surge and simulation exercises will make you win the oil war, you can only win battles. You cannot apply the might of the state to restore the people’s confidence in your leadership when you cannot differentiate between genuine demands and being mismanaged by disorganised characters and tribal lords around you in your government.”

NDA said the president can deceive the whole world but not the Niger Deltans with the “glamorised ongoing military operations in the creeks of Ijaw communities in the Delta coded ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’.”

“The world should know that with your pronouncement in Kenya and your attitude to the military build up in the Niger Delta, it is crystal clear that the military has nothing less than pre-determined genocide in the Niger Delta and it is burning more already scarce national resources in the pockets of those that have failed to locate the missing Chibok school girls,” it stated.
The group wondered why Buhari is ever so eager to talk to foreign nations, rather than speaking to his fellow Nigerians about his plan of action.

It challenged the president to tell his foreign nation friends that his troops are about to carry out extra-judicial killings in the Niger Delta in violation of Article Four of the Geneva Convention with “Operation Crocodile Smile”.

“All sane minds know the meaning of the words ‘Crocodile Tears’ so by code-naming your military operation ‘Crocodile Smile’ only betrays your motives and attitude to the whole world about the Niger Delta question.

“The whole world will surely applaud you in The Hague when you leave office! This is not the Nigeria and the world of the 1980s and 1990s under General Sani Abacha and your watch,” the militia group stated.

Military Sustains Operations

As it issued its statement, the Joint Task Force (JTF) monday sustained its operations with a show of force around Warri and its environs in Delta State.

Fighter jets were seen hovering around Warri and its environs while military hardware, including new amoured tanks drove round the major roads, while boats mounted with machine guns patrolled the waterways and creeks.

The show of force, which started along the 3rd Battalion barracks at Effurun, took the JTF soldiers across major roads in Warri South and Uvwie Local Government Areas.
Speaking on the exercise, the Commander of the Nigerian Army 4th Brigade, Brigadier General Benbella Raji, said it was in line with Operation Crocodile Smile.

After the road show within Warri and its environs, the operation later shifted to the waterways and the air where armed soldiers took to speed boats, during which the newly acquired guns and speedboats and helicopters were on display.

Also, troops of the 4th Brigade sustained their operations against suspected militants, criminals and other armed groups in the Niger Delta region.
The Director of Army Public Relations (DAPR), Col. Sani Usman, in a statement yesterday, said that troops in gun and speedboats made tremendous progress, having raided suspected criminal hideouts in the creeks around Ajaosolo, Okogho, Opumani and Obodo general area.

Usman said that the troops, while conducting the exercise on Sunday, intercepted a suspected illegal oil bunkerer with a “Cotonou Boat” laden with crude oil, three 40 horsepower Yamaha speedboats and five 200 litres of illegally refined diesel oil.

He said the troops continued conducting the training exercise near Bomadi town, Bomadi Local Government Area and Pendo and Tuomu in Bururtu Local Government Area in Delta State, respectively.

“Two suspects, Mr. Tokolo Sawyer and Miss Showman Ebi-ere, were arrested at ‘Loveth Plaze’, while Mr. Kingsley Ebidimo and seven others with unidentified mission were equally arrested at Pendo, as they were found to be in possession of substance believed to be marijuana, an axe, two cutting saws and a long iron bender in their hideout.

“The suspects and exhibits have been handed over to the Nigeria Police at Bomadi,” he stated.

The army spokesman added that the troops continued with their field training exercise after taking possession of two more supporting weapons – a main battle tank, two Mine-Resistant, Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles and three Scorpion tanks – from the headquarters of the Nigerian Armour Corps.

He said as part of the training exercise, the troops carried out patrols along waterways in the creeks and recovered two “Cotonou Boats” and a 75 horsepower speedboat, 30 of 200 litres plastic drums containing liquid suspected to be illegally refined crude oil in the creeks at Ovwahwa in Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State in the afternoon of Sunday August 28, 2016.

Usman said three suspected persons — Messrs College Owahwa, Joseph Katte and Olisa Patrick — found around the vicinity were arrested. They are currently being questioned, he added.

Based on intelligence reports, he also revealed that two illegal crude oil refineries were identified and destroyed by the exercising troops traversing Ayakoromo and Esaba waterways in Burutu Local Government area of Delta State.

“At about 5.00pm same day, two pumping machines and sets of new pipes used for the construction of illegal refineries and siphoning were found in the bush.

“Two suspects were interrogated to ascertain their involvement on the recovered items. The troops have continued their training exercise without hitch,” he added.

In addition to the training exercise, he said the troops equally carried out free medical outreaches in Sapele and near the Olu of Warri’s palace in Warri.