THE spirit of the Niger Delta struggle is unspoken, but much as it is tacit, militants, the territorial soldiers of the fight back, are at loggerheads on how to prosecute the program in the current political dispensation.
Undoubtedly, the battle is how to get the Nigerian state, multinational oil companies and their subsidiaries, exploring and exploiting oil and gas resources of the Niger Delta, to appropriately give back to the people.
However, politics and politicians have torn the militants apart. They now speak in jarring tongues. While the Reformed Niger Delta Avengers, RNDA, and a coalition of nine other militant groups, led by self-styled ‘Major General’ Johnmark Ezonbi, aka Obama, are rooting for President Muhammadu Buhari in the general elections, the 21st Century Youths of Nigeria for Restructuring and Agitators with Conscience, headed by ‘General’ 01 Izon Ebi, rejected the President’s re-election bid.
Another group, under the aegis of Ex- Niger Delta Agitators, shepherded by the Convener, John Duku of the Niger Delta Watchdogs; Ekpo Ekpo of the Niger Delta Volunteers; Simply Benjamin (Bakassi Strike Force); Osarolor Nedam (Niger Delta Warriors); Henry Okon Etete (Niger Delta Peoples Fighters); and Asukwo Henshaw (Bakassi Freedom Fighters), is markedly not with Buhari.
The Ex-Agitators threatened to renew attacks on oil facilities in the region if Buhari refused to halt the trial of Nigeria’s Chief Justice, Walter Onnoghen.
Pan Niger-Delta Forum, PANDEF, the umbrella body for traditional rulers, leaders and stakeholders of the region, led by a former military administrator of Akwa Ibom State, Air Commodore Indogesit Nkanga (retired), with Niger Delta leader, Chief Edwin Clark, as the National Convener, obviously spread its arms towards the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, presidential candidate in the general elections, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, because of his promise to restructure the country.
The populist stand of PANDEF was not acceptable to some militant groups, chiefly RNDA, which alleged that leaders of the group were members of the opposition party.
The RNDA coalition screamed against the Ex-Agitators’ group from the creeks of Benin River, Delta State, vowing to wage war and expose those behind the mask.
It applauded Buhari “for the suspension of the CJN of Onnoghen” and warned other agitators who it branded the enemies of the region to steer clear of the presidential election in the region.
It condemned, in strong terms, the threat to attack oil facilities in the creek of Niger Delta by the coalition of Ex-Agitators, following the trial of Onnoghen over his failure to declare his assets.
The RNDA group urged the President to disregard what it described as the empty threat made by the Ex-Agitators.
The militant group also launched a blistering attack on the leaders of PANDEF.
Commending Buhari for the take-off of the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, the approval of N13 billion for the dredging of Escravos River, Warri to enable cargo vessels access Warri sea port, the authorization of Ogoni cleanup and the approval of N120 billion for the construction of Bodo/Bonny Inland Road, among others, it called for the implementation of the three per cent gas fund to NDDC by the multinational oil companies.
It said those calling for restructuring as a tool to decide who emerges as the next President were doing so to deceive the people of the Niger Delta.
21st Century Youths counters
Responding to the RNDA tirade, the 21st Century Youths of Niger Delta for Restructuring and Agitators with Conscience, alleged that the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, was patronizing RNDA and other ex-militant leaders with contracts to harm the collective interest of the Niger Delta, but the RNDA leader said he and other members of the group had not received any contract from PAP.
The 21st Century Youths leader, Ebi, who insisted on restructuring, called on the International Criminal Court, ICC, Amnesty International, the Senate and the EFCC to investigate how the leader of RNDA was awarded nine different jobs running into billions of naira by PAP.
“We, therefore, warn that no amount of militarization or intimidation would cow the Niger Delta people into submission not to vote for a President with capacity, knowledge of the economy, fear of God, love and who will treat all Nigerians as equal,” he added.
No contract from PAP- Ezonbi
Contacted, the leader of RNDA, Ezonbi, said that the 21st Century Youths for Restructuring “were set of boys being used by PANDEF to cause division in the region.”
He added, “RNDA has not received any contract from the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, and has nothing to do with the Chairman, PAP, Prof Charles Dokubo, but we believe that President Buhari has done his best for the Niger Delta and should be encouraged to do more. We disagree with PANDEF and what they are saying. PANDEF is a group of PDP politicians and we are not politicians.”
MEND joins fray
Adding to the confusion, a faction of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), penultimate week, declared support for Buhari’s re-election ahead of the general elections.
“In giving this support, we know the world is watching, notes this peaceful path and hopes that President Muhammadu Buhari will reciprocate rather than fritter away this sufficient goodwill freely given for his re-election. We wish to also affirm that MEND remains committed to the good of the Niger Delta”, a statement by the group said.
Fresh twist from Boyloaf
But, there was a new twist when news filtered in that some ex-agitators, under the Peace Ambassadors of Niger Delta (PAND), convened by former MEND Commander, Victor Ben Ebikakbowei, alias Boyloaf, planned to endorse Buhari.
The decision was reportedly taken after a meeting in Port-Harcourt at which Boyloaf was nominated to engage directly with the President after the elections “with a view to pursing the collective interest of all ex-agitators and the Niger Delta as a whole.”
The report claimed that ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, Ateke Tom, Shoot-at-Sight and Farah Dagogo were part of the plan.
Few hours after, Tompolo snarled from the creek, saying he was not part of ex-militant leaders that purportedly planned to endorse Buhari as preferred candidate.
His Media Adviser and Consultant, Paul Bebenimibo, said in a statement, “The attention of High Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, has been drawn to a press release in an online platform that he (Tompolo) is among five ex-militant leaders, who are set to endorse President Muhammadu Buhari as preferred candidate of the February 16 presidential election in Port Harcourt.”
“The endorsement is said to be coordinated by Boyloaf. It must be pointed out that Tompolo has not been in touch with Boyloaf since 2015. Tompolo is not in endorsement politics.
“Tompolo is presently troubled with the way his kinsmen in Gbaramatu Kingdom are harassed and intimidated by President Muhammadu Buhari military on daily basis.
“This same military harassed, brutalized and killed his father, Chief Thomas Ekpemupolo, in 2015, and up till now President Buhari has not made any statement by way of apology to him. Therefore, what will be the reason for Tompolo to endorse him? To further kill his kinsmen? Tompolo has been in agony since 2015 as the present government is after him for unsubstantiated allegations of corruption.
“It is not true that Tompolo is part of those who are set to endorse President Buhari in Port Harcourt. Therefore President Buhari and the general public should disregard the news as it is fake news”.
Dagogo disowns PAND
Also, Farah Dagogo, an ex-agitator and member, Rivers State House of Assembly, disassociated himself from PAND’s adventure, saying the stand was in conflict with the resolution of PANDEF and other regional groups to support Atiku.
Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, the most audacious militant group in the region, apparently misapprehending the role of other ex-militant leaders in PAND, gave a scathing remark on Tompolo, Shoot-at-Sight, Tom Ateke and Farah Dagogo on Wednesday, saying, “The high command of the Niger Delta Avengers were not surprised at the online reportage of Tuesday 13th February, 2019 that Boyloaf, Tompolo, Shoot-at-Sight, Tom Ateke and Farah Dagogo are set to endorse the re-election bid of President Muhammadu Buhari, the common enemy of the Niger Delta people and sane minded Nigerians.
“As a warning and closing note, we want to tell the international community, multinational corporations and subsidiaries operatives to withdraw their workforce and services from the Niger Delta within the period of these elections not to be casualties to the ongoing securitization and provocation in the Niger Delta by the Nigerian military command”.
Endorsing Atiku for the presidential election, the group said it was convinced that when elected, he will not only restructure Nigeria but will also reverse the “inimical ownership rights to natural resources alongside promises that fall within the basis upon which we declared ‘Operations Red Economy’ against the evil government of Nigeria”.
It added, “We use this medium to advise Alhaji Abubakar that, when elected into office, the cardinal demands of restructuring of Nigeria should kick start within six months to forestall further agitation from the Niger Delta”.