Cracks widen among Niger Delta militant groups

The cracks within the rank of the former and current militant agitators in the Niger Delta appear to be widening in the face of denials, accusations and counter-accusations on the motive behind the militant groups’ activities.

The cracks became more noticeable going by the content of the various statements being released to the public, in recent times, on the reasons behind the spate of bombings of oil facilities, allegedly by the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA).

According to findings by Sunday Tribune, some of the former warlords in the region had been condemning the activities of NDA, allegedly as part of a bid to join forces against Government Ekpemupolo (a.k.a Tompolo), a former warlord who had been declared wanted by the security agencies.

In the same vein, it was learnt that the emergence of another militant group, the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force (JNDLF) and the renewed resurgence in the region had been similarly condemned as a result of what a source said is renewed rivalry among the former creeks warlords and their desire to pay back Tompolo in his own coin.

The contention, according to a source, was that many of the ex-militants felt betrayed for being excluded from the amnesty programme as well as the failure to accord them same recognition as given to Tompolo.

Interestingly, most of the former militants came from the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), even as the source told Sunday Tribune that the source of discontent was that “while some of them worked for the largesse that came with amnesty programme, only a few clique enjoyed the dividends.

“Some of them also see this new development in the region and Tompolo’s predicament as an opportunity to relaunch themselves into public consciousness”.

The source also claimed that many of the aggrieved ex-militants also saw the current happenings as an opportunity to “repay the powerful men of yesterday,” a veiled reference to those who held sway during the Jonathan administration.

“Some of them are still angry with Tompolo for being excluded from the amnesty programme of the late President Umar Yar’Adua government and pipeline protection contract. They also felt that Tompolo is becoming too powerful in the region and needs to be cut down to size,” the source said.

Some of the militants, it was further learnt, felt that it was now their own turn to be recognised by government, believing that, “with the admonition by stakeholders, especially the United States and United Kingdom,, the Federal Government should engage the militants in dialogue, while a new round of amnesty programme should be implemented.

The US Government had, on June 7, issued a statement, saying it was monitoring “reports of attacks and other incidents in the Niger Delta.  We share the concerns of all Nigerians about these attacks.

“Furthermore, the US remains supportive of efforts, including the promotion of dialogue, to address grievances in the Niger Delta.  We encourage all parties to resolve their disputes through peaceful means and emphasise that human rights of all Nigerians must be protected.”

The statement by the US and the recent announced intention of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to enter into a dialogue with the NDA, it was learnt, gave a renewed hope to some of the militants, some of whom, Sunday Tribune gathered, wanted to extricate the Niger Delta  from the powerful grip of Tompolo and were willing to sacrifice him to achieve that purpose.

However, while NDA had remained obstinate and insisted that it would not enter into dialogue with the Federal Government, MEND and another group, Voice Delta, had taken turns to denounce NDA, a group they alleged was being sponsored by the embattled Tompolo.

The Voice Delta had vowed to continue to expose the operations and movements of NDA and also to reveal Tompolo’s hideout, which they alleged is in the creeks.

MEND had, while commending the Federal Government, recently, for kick-starting the process of the implementation of the UNEP Report on Ogoniland,  condemned NDA over the spate of attacks on oil installations in the Niger Delta.

The group also accused the International Oil Companies (IOCs) of complicity in the pillage of the commonwealth generated from the Niger Delta region within the last six decades.

“MEND notes with grave concern the recent renewed spate of unprovoked and persistent attacks on Nigeria’s oil installations by the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA),

“Many of its (NDA) members were MEND commanders and fighters who jumped on the presidential amnesty gravy train without knowing why they took up arms in the first place.

However, in the face of the unrelenting attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta region, allegedly by NDA, MEND, in another statement issued penultimate Sunday, enjoined the former to partner with it on a proposed dialogue with the Federal Government.

Jomo Gbomo, in the statement, further claimed that it had constituted a negotiating team, tagged ‘Aaron Team 2’ to dialogue with the government on the immediate, medium and long-term future of the Niger Delta region.

He listed the names of members of the negotiating team to include Henry Odein Ajumogobia SAN (who had since denied being a member), Bismark Rewane, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, Timipa Jenkins Okponipere, Ibanga Isine, Ledum Mitee, and Lawson Omokhodion.

Similarly, another prominent former Niger Delta warlord, Chief Ateke Tom of the defunct Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV), absolved himself of involvement in any criminal activity as alleged by NDA.

The former militant leader, while speaking with newsmen in Port Harcourt, last Wednesday, said his agitation was for development and advised members of NDA to shun violence and not to drag him into the renewed violence in the region.

“Don’t attempt to drag my name into the renewed violence in the region. Stop dropping my name on issues relating to violence. I also want to advise the NDA to stop the unwanted destruction of oil facilities in the region because it is causing untold hardship on the people of the region.

“My struggle was devoid of criminality and was a true agitation for true fiscal federalism which eventually paved the way for the emergence of the first president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from the Niger Delta region; increased political participation of indigenes of the region and emergence of more educated youths from the region under the amnesty programme,” he said.

NDA, on the other hand, had accused MEND as well as other groups in the region of being sponsored by politicians to cause a rift among people, naming a governor as the brain behind the resurgence of MEND.

NDA is however unrelenting in the face of the several denials and allegations, as its spokesman, Brigadier General Mudoch Agbinibo, in a recent statement said the Niger Delta struggle was not for those he described as political thugs.

General Agbinibo vehemently condemned the linking of NDA with the government, adding that the group would not be part of any dialogue that would bring about “the peace of our time; but we want a peace with honour.”