- Amnesty office optimistic of favourable resolutions
Ndubuisi Francis in Abuja and Sylvester Idowu in Warri
Ahead of thursdayâ€™s meeting between acting President Yemi Osinbajo and leaders of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), there was a noticeable discord in the Niger Delta yesterday as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and the Reformed Egbesu Assembly (REF) withdrew their mandate from the Chief Edwin Clark-led forum.
MEND in a statement by the spokesperson, Jomo Gbomo, said the Clark and King Alfred Diete-Spiff group lacked the moral justification to issue ultimatum to the federal government, while the General Officer Commanding REF, Tony Alagbakereowei, said the group has lost its relevance in the scheme of things.
Dissociating MEND from PANDEF, Gbomo asserted: â€œIn view of our irreconcilable differences, MEND hereby recalls its representatives in PANDEF for consultation with immediate effect.â€
The group noted: â€œPANDEF, led by elder statesmens Clark, and King Diette-Spiff, lack the moral justification in giving an ultimatum to the federal government and making demands they never made from President Goodluck Jonathan when he was at the helm of affairs for six wasted years.
â€œInstead of listening to the so-called Niger Delta activists and the compromised Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), who have miraculously regained the voices they lost when Jonathan was president, and instead of issuing threats through fake internet-based militant groups, PANDEF ought to have used the forum and opportunity to commend the federal government for exposing the monumental looting of our commonwealth by some sons and daughters of the soil, starting from the former president, his wife, Patience, cousins, relatives and cronies and so many other traitors; down to the mind boggling theft by Diezani Allison-Madueke, who empowered others while her people lived in squalor and abject poverty.
â€œPANDEF is also pretending not to notice that the Amnesty Programme is still operating on the corrupt template that still pays ghost militants after it hoodwinked the government into believing in the fraud. A programme that has neglected the children of the dead freedom fighters and those in prison, for those that never made any sacrifice is cursed.â€
Also attacking PANDEF, the Reformed Egbesu Fraternity said: â€œAt age 90, Papa Clark should step aside for younger people if at all there is the likelihood of further engagement with the federal government, but we equally dissociate ourselves from the antics of the federal government in the peace process and calls for outright destruction of the oil economy in our territories and communities to teach the federal government a hard lesson.
â€œBy this resolution, we have withdrawn from the peace process and warn that the Niger Delta ethnic nationalities were never conquered and that we would match fire with fire with the Hausa-Fulani military â€“ we have always spared their lives even when their excesses were glaring but in the next ground of confrontation they would learn in a bitter way.â€
According to the group, â€˜Following the statements emanating from our sister organisations arising from the nonchalant attitude of the federal government and the issue of lack of unity of purpose and acrimony between the leadership of PANDEF, we, the REF, have totally lost confidence in the Clark-led PANDEF.â€
REF added: â€œWe hereby withdrew the mandate given them. However, we may revalidate our mandate in the near future if the need arises. We are aware that Clark and his cohorts are billed to attend a meeting in the Presidential Villa on August 3, 2017. They do not represent us.â€
Meanwhile, the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) has expressed optimism that todayâ€™s meeting between Osinbajo and (PANDEF) would foster good relationship between PANDEF and the federal government in a bid to develop the Niger Delta region.
Osinbajo is reported to have invited PANDEF leaders for a meeting in Abuja today after the latter issued an ultimatum, threatening to pull out of further discussions with the federal government by November 1 if the government fails to implement the 16-item demand submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari last November.
In a telephone chat with THISDAY, the Head, Communications, Presidential Amnesty Programme, Mr. Owei Lakemfa, said the threat by PANDEF to pull out of further negotiations with the federal government would be taken care of by the meeting scheduled to hold today between Osinbajo and PANDEF leaders.
He expressed optimism that the outcome would be positive.
On the claim by MEND that â€œthe amnesty programme is still operating on the corrupt template that still pays ghost militants after it hoodwinked the government into believing in the fraud,â€ Lakemfa dismissed the allegation.
He challenged MEND to come forth if they have evidence that some people are ghost beneficiaries in the scheme.
To buttress his position, Lakemfa said beneficiaries of the programme are not paid directly but through the Treasury Single Account (TSA) window via the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
The beneficiaries, he added, have individual accounts tied to the Bank Verification Number (BVN) mechanism.
â€œIf they have any evidence that some beneficiaries are ghost, they have two options–either to bring them to the Amnesty Office to be investigated or they take such evidence to law enforcement agents like the police and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
â€œAs far as PAP is concerned, there are no ghost beneficiaries, â€œ he said, adding that the Amnesty Office does not generate the names of beneficiaries in the programme.
According to him, the beneficiaries are people who accepted the offer of amnesty under the regime of late President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua and former President Jonathan.
â€œThis administration has not given amnesty to anyone. Therefore, we inherited from the previous administration,â€ he noted.
Responding to a question on why the annual budget of the PAP has been increasing instead of dwindling with the presupposed exit of many beneficiaries from the programme, Lakemfa said in the past, the beneficiaries were left with only training after which they were not empowered to start something.
He stated that this had been changed, noting that the slight increase in the budget was aimed at empowering the beneficiaries at the exit point of the programme.