Category Archives: NIGER DELTA
Conflicts and security developments in Niger Delta
On 5 February, a group identifying itself as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), claimed responsibility for an attack on an oil pipeline owned by the Italian firm, Agip (Eni), in Bayelsa State. Witnesses had reported a fire on the company’s Nembe-Brass pipeline late the previous day.
In a statement sent to the media, the group said: “On Saturday, the 4th of February at 1930hrs, fighters of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (M.E.N.D) attacked and destroyed the Agip (ENI) trunk line at Brass in Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria”.
The statement added that: “This relatively insignificant attack is a reminder of our presence in the creeks of the Niger Delta and a sign of things to come”.
MEND was the main militant group in the Niger Delta and responsible for years of attacks on the oil industry. However, following the Federal Government’s offer of amnesty in 2009, virtually all of its known commanders and thousands of its fighters dropped their arms and joined the government’s re-orientation and rehabilitation programmes, which also guaranteed them monthly stipends from the government. Several thousands have been enrolled in vocational and academic training courses, in Nigeria and abroad.
MEND purportedly sent several threats to the media in 2010 and 2011, but the threatened attacks never materialized. Oil industry sources said most of the recent damage to oil infrastructure in the region had been caused by gangs stealing oil, rather than insurgent militants. Security sources add that these gangs lack the capacity to cause the level of damage and disruption that was seen in early 2011, when attacks slashed the country’s oil production by more than 50 per cent.
The military Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta said: “JTF advices Niger Deltans to be mindful of people who are out to swindle them by wrongfully appropriating the identity of the erstwhile leadership of MEND to curry sympathy for their selfish and criminal interests”.
On 30 January, at least two persons were killed in a bloody fight between Fulani herdsmen and members of Ohoro community in Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State. The two victims were said to have died of machete wounds.
There were reports that two other members of the community were shot dead by soldiers deployed in the area to restore peace; but the Media Coordinator of the military Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta, Lt Col Timothy Antigha said: “There was no such thing”.
Local sources said trouble started when the herdsmen’s cows strayed into farmlands belonging to the community, and damaged crops. Angered by the trespass and damage, the farmers confronted the nomads. One source said the nomads suddenly attacked two of the farmers with daggers, killing them on the spot.
As news of the incident spread, youths in the community mobilized and went after the killers, in a bid to avenge the killing of their kinsmen; but they were unable to find the fleeing nomads. The youth then turned their anger against all Hausa-Fulani in the community, and sent many of them fleeing the area.
The near breakdown of law and order caused a major traffic gridlock along the Delta-Bayelsa stretch of the East-West Road. Reports of the incident also raised tensions as far as the state capital, Asaba, and other towns with Fulani residents.
This incident, coming at a time when many southerners are already fleeing deadly attacks by Islamist militants in the predominantly Hausa-Fulani far north of the country, could aggravate ethnic and religious relations in the Niger Delta.
However, the JTF said it had taken measures to restore peace in the Ohoro community and other towns in the area. Col Antigha said: “JTF is at the scene. Efforts are being made to calm down nerves with a view to commencing investigations”.
The men, armed with AK-47 rifles and explosives, invaded the riverside community after midnight and blew up the main gate to the house, using an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). Some residents reported hearing a loud blast around 12.45am.
Reports said the invaders thereafter ransacked the house, looting vital property which they loaded unto their speed boats. The invaders then torched the multi-million naira building and conference centre, as well as a property owned by the minister’s mother, before fleeing the community.
The motive of the attackers was not yet established. Some residents speculated that they may have been armed robbers, acting on allegations that the minister had kept a large amount of money in the house. Others said the attack may have been staged by ex-militants or other interests in the Niger Delta, who had accused the minister of “not carrying them along” in the award of contracts by his ministry.
However, Orubebe himself alleged that the attack was politically motivated. He claimed that, from the report available to him, the attackers were loyalists of the Bayelsa State Governor, Chief Timipre Sylva. He said: “They claimed that they carried out the action to protest my roles in the exclusion of Governor Timipre Sylva from the governorship election in February. They said I was part of the syndicate that denied the governor the second ticket”.
Governor Sylva, speaking through his Commissioner for Information, Mr. Nathan Egba, promptly dismissed the Minister’s allegation as unfounded and baseless.
On receiving the report of the incident, the Commissioner of Police in Delta State, Mr. Ibrahim Tsafe, directed the Divisional Police Officer in charge of Burutu Local Government Area to send men to Ogbobagbene community, for first-hand assessment of the incident and also for speedy investigations.
The year 2011 was a security nightmare for most Nigerians. In various parts of the country, terrorists, armed robbers and kidnappers kept citizens under siege. Yet, while the risks of conflict and criminally grew in many parts of the country, the Niger Delta, once notorious for battles, bullets and blood, grew remarkably calm.
The relative peace in the delta was, partly but undoubtedly, the result of the sustained and diligent implementation of the Federal Government’s Amnesty Programme for former militant youths in the region. For very ably steering that programme – refocusing the youth on constructive life, improving human safety in the region and boosting the economic fortunes of the nation – Hon KINGSLEY KEMEBRADIGHA KUKU, Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs and Chairman of the Presidential Amnesty Office, is SAFER AFRICA MAN OF THE YEAR (NIGERIA) 2011.
The Niger Delta Amnesty Programme began as an off-shoot package of the presidential pardon granted to Niger Delta militants through a proclamation by then President Umaru Yar’Adua on 25 June 2009. The programme offered transformation training and skills acquisition opportunities for any militants who laid down their arms.
The Presidential Amnesty Office chaired by the Special Adviser to the President on the Niger Delta was mandated to administer the disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration of the ex-militants, as a pre-condition for medium and long term development in the Niger Delta. Specifically, the Office was to groom the 26,365 ex-militants who accepted the offer of amnesty in 2009, to become key players in the emerging economies of the Niger Delta.
Kuku was appointed Special Adviser to the President and Chairman of the Amnesty Office on Niger Delta in January 2011 and formally took over from his predecessor, Chief Timi Alaibe, on 3 February 2011. As they say, he hit the ground running, completing the disarmament and demobilization processes, and forging ahead with the task of reintegration.
On 25 May 2011, Kuku and his team achieved closure in the disarmament phase of the Programme. In collaboration with the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army in Enugu, the Amnesty Office publicly destroyed the arms and ammunition that were submitted to the Federal Government by the ex-militants in 2009. The weapons destruction exercise which took place in Lokpanta, a boundary town between Enugu and Abia States, was carried out in conformity with the extant DDR codes as spelt out by the United Nations.
The next major challenge Kuku and his team had to tackle involved the demobilization and re-orientation of the ex-militants, away from violence and crime, towards constructive and productive life, and in line with the second core objective of the Amnesty programme.
Former militants who enrolled in the programme were taken through non-violence transformational training at the Amnesty Demobilization Camp in Obubra, Cross River State. The curriculum at the camp, delivered by experts from Nigeria, South Africa and the United States of America, was designed to “extinguish the belief of the ex-agitators in violence and provide them a more powerful alternative: non-violence”.
On 24 September 2011, the final batch of 616 out of the 20,192 ex-combatants that enrolled in the first phase of the Amnesty Programme left the camp. With the successful completion of that demobilization process, Kuku and his team wrote Nigeria into history as one of the few countries of the world that achieved successful closure to the Disarmament and Demobilization phases of its DDR programme, following the cessation of armed conflict.
The next challenge has been that of reintegrating the ex-militants into peaceful, productive society. Kuku once observed that: “The phase of reintegration, for me, is more difficult than the disarmament phase”. After taking the ex-militants through their non-violence training and career classification at the camp in Obubra, the Amnesty chief and his team painstakingly placed them in study and training institutions in Nigeria and abroad.
To ensure that they would be of good conduct throughout their training, Kuku, on 11 March 2011, introduced a Code of Conduct which every trainee was required to sign. By this Code, the trainees committed to abide by the laws of their host country and to avoid any form of disorderly conduct before, during and after the training programme. The penalty for violating the Code was expulsion from the Amnesty Programme. The trainees’ subscription to this Code has gone a long way in ensuring their good conduct, particularly in training centres and institutions abroad.
By the end of September 2011, the Amnesty Office had successfully placed a total of 5,349 former combatants in skills acquisition/training centres as well as in formal educational institutions, both in the country and offshore. The courses for which they were enrolled included pipeline welding, underwater welding, ocean diving, crane operation, oil drilling, automobile technology, fish farming and entrepreneurship, as well as formal academic courses leading to the award of degrees in various disciplines.
As at the end of September, a total of 3,482 beneficiaries had been enrolled in 77 training centres in the country. The offshore placement quota, as at that date, was as follows: South Africa: 933; Malaysia: 172; Russia: 64; Benin Republic: 42; Israel: 22; Sri Lanka: 34; United States: 56; India: 65 Poland: 21; and Philippines: 129. However, on 20 November, another 247 trainees were sent off to Malaysia and South Africa for six months vocational courses.
Furthermore, on the persuasion of the Amnesty Office, key operators in the nation’s oil and gas industry (OGI) set up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to help with the reintegration of 3,000 of the ex-combatants. As at the end of September 2011, members of OGI, using the modules and templates developed by the Amnesty Office, were sponsoring about 1,000 trainees in skills acquisition centres across the country.
IMPACT OF THE AMNESTY PROGRAMME IN 2011
Throughout 2011, the Amnesty Office under Kuku’s leadership made considerable progress in reintegrating the ex-militants. It refocused many of them towards becoming key players in the emerging economies of the Niger Delta. Equipped with new skills and knowledge, a growing number of these youths have now been empowered to work not only in the oil and gas sector, but also in the many new construction sites, town development projects, railway projects, agriculture and pipeline protection projects that are expectedly underway in the Niger Delta.
However, the impact of Kuku’s work has gone well beyond the primary mandate of his office, which was to refocus the ex-militants and reintegrate them with normal society.
Perhaps the most critical indicator of its impact beyond that mandate is the improvement in public safety and security which it has brought to the Niger Delta. Prior to the programme, kidnapping and hostage taking targeting both expatriate and local workers, as well as sabotage and outright damage of oil and gas infrastructure, were rampant across the region. The sustained implementation of the Amnesty programme and the non-violence transformation of many former members of cults and gangs has had a calming effect on the region. The improved climate of public safety and security contributed significantly to curbing electoral violence in the region, in the run-up to the April 2011 polls.
Peace in the Niger Delta is also creating an environment for revival of economic activities, return of foreign investment and improvement of economic security. By 2009, the conflict in the region had greatly eroded the confidence of both foreign and even local investors. But with the effective end of armed conflict and the progress in peacebuilding, that confidence has been greatly restored, and is now attracting new investment, particularly to the upstream sector of the nation’s oil industry.
Peace in the region has also enabled an increase in the production of crude oil and boosted the revenue accruing to the nation’s Federation Account. In 2008, it was estimated that Nigeria lost over 3 trillion naira due to militancy in the Niger Delta. By mid-2009, the conflict in the region had virtually crippled oil production, cutting output down to only 700,000 barrels per day. Today, following the improved security situation in the region, production has bounced back to about 2.6 million barrels per day. This amounts to an estimated N6 trillion more revenue in 2011 than what the country would have earned if production had continued at the 2009 level.
Furthermore, the improved security situation in the region has also created an enabling environment for the implementation of several infrastructure development projects, planned by the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and various state governments across the region.
On 24 September 2011, as the 17th batch of ex-militants graduated from the Obubra camp, President Goodluck Jonathan observed that the amnesty programme had succeeded far beyond expectations. Again in his New Year message to the nation on 31 December 2011, the President counted progress on the Amnesty programme as one of the positive developments recorded in the country during the year. Jonathan said: “We have, with the astute and diligent implementation of the amnesty programme, fully restored peace in the Niger Delta and boosted the production and export of crude oil which had plunged to record lows in the dark days of militant agitation in the region”.
The success recorded by the Amnesty Office in 2011 owes largely to a number of personal attributes which Kuku brought to the job.
First, he is a true believer in the cause of the Niger Delta, having paid his dues at various points in the region’s struggle for a better deal in the Nigerian nation. He therefore came to the office with a clear understanding of the tasks and challenges at hand.
John Idumange, a Certified Business Analyst, and Fellow of the Institute of Public Management in Nigeria observes that: “He (Kuku) has been involved in the Niger Delta struggle and that has given him first class knowledge of the needs of youths in the region. Thus, in managing the process, he gets the youths emotionally involved to appreciate the essence of the programme and what they stand to gain when they painstakingly undergo the required training and acquire the requisite skills”.
Secondly, the Amnesty Chief is a good manager of men and other resources. “My verdict as a stakeholder and a social critic”, says Idumange, “is that the Amnesty Chief is generously endowed with a team-building spirit, the right organizational skills, the passion and, above all, the right strategy”. Idumange further notes that, in terms of timely decision making, Kuku is “not only alert, but consults widely before taking actions”.
Thirdly, those who have worked with Kuku, say he is a tireless workaholic who pays good attention to every aspect of the programme. Kuku is keenly involved in networking with training institutes across the world to identify those with appropriate and credible training programmes; and he keeps a close eye on everything from the processing of trainees to their studies and welfare. As the need arises, he visits them at various training centres, tracking their progress and ensuring that they remain focused on their goals.
Fourthly, Kuku’s success also owes to what a former colleague describes as the “high sense of discipline” and zero tolerance of shoddy work, which he brought to the office. Several incidents have repeatedly underscored these attributes. In seeking to maintain a high level of discipline in the programme, Kuku has had no reservations in showing the red card to any trainee who violates the Code of Conduct or abuses the opportunities offered by the amnesty programme.
For instance, in February 2011, when some of the 212 trainees initially sent to the National Vocational Training Institute (NVTI) in Ghana heckled a hotel attendant and held their coordinator hostage in Takoradi, Kuku immediately deported five of them. Other trainees who misbehaved, in such countries as Sri Lanka and Russia, have also been recalled, instantly.
In April 2011, when six of the 38 trainees he took to train as marine mechanics in Florida, USA, got there to say they didn’t want to be mechanics but Marine Captains, “a field that does not exist” as he said, Kuku lost no time in shepparding them home.
He said: “We brought them back, passed them through Immigration. I told the security agencies: Pick up their passports from them, because I don’t want them to find their way back to the US with the visas. We wrote to the American Ambassador: 38 visas issued but six returned with me on issues of the course they will like to go through, which is not existent in Wyotech Technical Institute, Florida. We are back. Here are the passports, you may cancel their visas”.
Some of those who have worked with him over the years say Kuku has a no-nonsense approach to the job. In May, Mr Ekpein Appah, a senior staff of the Amnesty Camp in Obubra, granted an unauthorised newspaper interview accusing the Bayelsa State Governor, Timipre Sylva, of harbouring the fugitive militant leader, John Togo, in his Government House. “That allegation”, Kuku told The News magazine, was “a very terrible statement…the most severe embarrassment the amnesty programme has faced ever since we commenced”. He lost no time in sending Appah on indefinite suspension, for “fundamental breach of the rules of his engagement”.
Later in the year, when it was established that a South African company, Westgate Unique Alliance Limited, which had been contracted to facilitate the professional training of 87 trainees in crane operation and pipeline welding, had failed to abide by its contractual obligations, Kuku sought and obtained President Jonathan’s approval to terminate its contract on 25 November 2011. He warned that he would not hesitate to take similar action against any other training provider whose services fell short of the Amnesty Programme’s contractual expectations.
This firmness in dealing with issues has won Kuku the respect, not only of his staff, but also of all the stakeholders which the Amnesty Office collaborates with, in carrying out its mandate.
In spite of his successes and achievements, Kuku’s office still faces several challenges in 2012.
First, groups of youths going by various names, are still popping up in the Niger Delta, seeking for inclusion in, or indeed claiming rights to the benefits of, the amnesty package. Explanations by the Amnesty Office, and even categorical statements by President Jonathan, that they cannot now be included in the programme as they did not come forward on or before the 4 October 2009 deadline, are still falling on deaf ears.
Clearly, these youths cannot now be admitted to the amnesty programme, but they also cannot be ignored. Federal, State and Local Governments, along with relevant ministries and other agencies of governments, need to work out modalities for training and empowering them within a framework of programmes for human capital development.
There are also concerns about the fate of the programme’s beneficiaries on graduation from skills acquisition centres and other training institutions in Nigeria and abroad. As Kuku himself readily admits, “The success of the amnesty programme will be determined by our ability to provide gainful employment for trainees”. On 2 August, the Amnesty Office took a lead in this regard, partnering with Century Energy Services Limited (CESL), to provide placement for a first batch of 500 trainees either within the Century Group of Companies or in third party companies in the sector.
The Federal, State and Local governments as well as the major oil and gas companies in the Niger Delta must follow that lead and work out creative ways of employing the graduates or giving them robust starter packs to go into self employment. The Nigeria Local Content Office should also streamline policies on how to accommodate the youths, not only in the oil and gas industries, but also in such other areas as the marine, tourism and ICT industries.
Thirdly, going by the budget proposals which President Jonathan presented to the National Assembly in December 2011, the budget of the Amnesty Office is being slashed from N96 billion in 2011 to N76 billion in 2012. This colossal reduction, if approved by the federal law makers, could undercut the Amnesty Programme significantly and jeopardise the sustained achievement of its stated goals.
Other persisting challenges have to do with the slow paced processes which the Amnesty Office continually has to go through in sending trainees offshore, due to the complexities of immigration matters and fund transfers. Furthermore, the programme is still manoeuvring between the lack of specialised vocational training centres in-country and the limitations on resources for sending trainees abroad, especially with its budget severely slashed in 2012.
There are also lingering doubts about the sustainability of the programme and the durability of the relative peace currently prevailing in the Niger Delta.
Hon Dakuku Peterside, a Federal legislator from Rivers State and Chairman of the House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) says he doubts whether the “relative peace in the region” achieved by the amnesty programme is sustainable, considering that the more fundamental issues of resource control, infrastructure development and environmental restoration have not yet been addressed.
Dr Timiebi Korimapo-Agary, a retired federal permanent secretary and one-time media coordinator, Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament for Militants in the Niger Delta, says she is impressed that the amnesty programme has brought “peace in the Niger Delta” and that “income from oil and gas has gone up tremendously and the country is better for it”; but she also adds that “the downside is that not enough is being done to address those fundamental issues that raised activists that metamorphosed into militancy”. Many would agree with Hon Peterside and Dr Agary on the persistence of the “fundamental issues”; but they also agree that these issues are outside the mandate of the Amnesty Office and must fall into the courts of other stakeholders.
A COMMON VERDICT OF SUCCESS
Thus, the common verdict is that judged strictly by the provisions of its mandate, the amnesty programme, under Kuku’s leadership, had been one of the most successful conflict management and youth transformation programmes ever implemented in the history of Nigeria. Nwokedi Nworisara, a policy and media consultant based in Port Harcourt, observes that: “The success of the Kingsley Kuku-led Amnesty programme is just a pointer that this is actually the direction government should be going, if she is serious about ending youth unemployment and its inherent instability in the polity”.
The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo used to say that “The great man is not he who comes home to distribute bread, but the one who comes home to distribute hope”. Kuku, by his dedicated service to building peace in the once-violent Niger Delta, offers us the hope that someday peace and progress will be possible in all other troubled parts of the Nigerian nation.
On 27 December, a bomb thrown into an Arabic school wounded at least seven people in Sapele, Delta State.
The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Mr Charles Muka, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), said some men driving past in a car threw a locally-made, low-capacity explosive into a building where an Arabic class was taking place at 10 pm on Tuesday night. “Six children and one adult were wounded”, he said.
The police spokesman said the children, aged between five and eight years, were at the school for their early night Arabic and Koranic lessons when the explosive hit them. He said: “They are receiving treatment in the hospital. No deaths were recorded and no arrests have been made”.
The attack on the Arabic school is the second incident of its kind in Sapele in less than three weeks. On 10 December, a blast occurred at the city’s main mosque at about 5.30 am, wounding several people. However, Muka said that incident was not a bomb attack and was, in fact, insignificant. He said: “If it is a bomb, we will see the particles. We have combed the place, we found nothing to show it is a bomb”. Even so, that explosion generated much anxiety and tension among residents, especially among the town’s small Hausa-Fulani community.
The most recent attack also comes just two days after multiple bomb attacks on Christmas morning killed an estimated 40 people, most of them Christians worshiping at a Catholic church in Madalla, near the Federal capital, Abuja. Those attacks, for which the militant Islamist sect Boko Haram claimed responsibility, have heightened sectarian tensions in some parts of the country.
In a statement on 27 December, Christian leaders under their umbrella organization, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), threatened to resort to “self defence” if the government could not stop the attacks on their followers.
However, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, who is also the spiritual head of Nigerian Muslims, cautioned against viewing the Christmas Day attacks as a religious or inter-faith conflict. He told newsmen, after a meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja, that: “There is no conflict between Muslims and Christians, between Islam and Christianity…It’s a conflict between evil people and good people. The good people are more than the evil ones, so the good people must come together to defeat the evil ones”.
The National Security Adviser to the President, Gen Andrew Azazi (retired), spoke in the same vein: “We are Nigerians. I don’t see any major conflict between the Christian community and Muslim community. Retaliation is not the answer, because if you retaliate, at what point will it end?”
On 10 December, an explosion occurred at the main mosque in the city of Sapele in Delta State, injuring several persons.
The blast which occurred around 5.30 am, damaged the ceiling, roof and interior of the mosque. One of the wounded, identified as Tanko, was rushed to the nearby Delta State University Teaching Hospital, Oghara, but was reportedly denied treatment on suspicion that he could be a member of the militant Islamist sect, Boko Haram. He was later rushed to the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, in Benin City, Edo State, where he was placed under intensive care.
The cause of the explosion was not immediately known. One local source said an explosive was thrown into the mosque by two passers-by, which was then followed by a loud blast. However, the spokesman of the Delta State Police Command, Mr Charles Muka, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), told newsmen that the explosion was not caused by a bomb, but resulted from a fire in the mosque.
Another local source reports that the incident might have resulted from a rift between Muslim worshippers at the mosque. The source said there had been disagreements on the mode of worship at the mosque, particularly after a new Imam introduced preaching in Hausa and English languages. This innovation was opposed by a section of the worshippers, who insisted on strict adherence to the long-standing tradition of preaching only in Arabic.
The explosion generated much anxiety and tension among residents. Many deserted the Boma area of the city, some of them for fear of being apprehended by the police.
But Police spokesman, Muka, said it was an insignificant incident and cautioned against blowing it out of proportion and context. He said: “If it is a bomb, we will see the particles. We have combed the place, we found nothing to show it is a bomb”.
On 8 December, hundreds of ex-militants from the Niger Delta, who were heading to Abuja at night, with the intention of staging a surprise dawn protest in the Federal capital, were stopped by military and police personnel near Lokoja in Kogi State.
The group, whose leader identified himself as ‘General’ Ramsey, said it was on its way to Abuja to protest the Federal Government’s implementation of the amnesty programme. The ex-militants’ convoy and their blockage of all vehicular traffic on the Lokoja-Abuja Highway, caused a traffic gridlock for over eight hours, before a combined team of Army and Police personnel cleared the road for thousands of stranded travellers to continue their journeys.
Explaining the basis of their protest, Ramsey alleged that some of the ex-militants had been denied participation in the Federal Government’s Amnesty programme. He further claimed that others had graduated from the demobilization/re-orientation camp in Obubra in December 2010, but that till date, they had neither been paid nor ‘settled.’ He said they were appealing to the Federal Government to address their grievances, so that they would not have to go back to the creeks to resume trouble.
Ramsey said: “Now, we are giving four days ultimatum to the Federal Government to fulfil its side of the bargain. Our boys are angry, and they want to go back to the creeks and we are tired of holding them back”.
He also denied any responsibility for the chaotic traffic situation and the distress caused to thousands of travellers. He said his convoy did not obstruct traffic, but was blocked by the security men. He said: “The police intercepted us at about 4 am and asked us to go back to where we were coming from. They said our convoy was too long to go to Abuja for any protest. We did not block the road; it was the police that blocked the road and prevented travellers from moving freely on the road. We are not armed”.
The Commissioner of Police for Kogi State, Mr. Amana Abakasaga, said: “The police intercepted the militants…They were too many and we considered the security implications of allowing them to reach Abuja”.
In Abuja, the Special Adviser to the President on the Niger Delta and Chief Executive of the Amnesty Office, Hon Kingsley Kuku, condemned the action of the youths. At a media briefing, Kuku clarified that even if these youths were genuinely ex-militants, they did not accept the amnesty offer before it closed on 4 October 2009. He said as things stand, only President Goodluck Jonathan can order their admission to the programme. Said Kuku: “Until he does so, the amnesty programme cannot include them”.
The gunmen struck at night, near the company’s vast Agbami oil field, about 70 nautical miles offshore from Bayelsa State. Chevron company sources said eight gunmen boarded the ship, MV C-Endeavour, attacked the crew and seized three sailors. They said the ship belonged to a contractor company, Edison Chouest Offshore, based in Galliano, Louisiana, in the United States. One source reported that the abducted sailors were foreigners, but this was yet to be confirmed.
The Agbami field, with a production capacity of up to 250,000 barrels a day, is Nigeria’s biggest offshore oil field, according to Chevron.
The incident is the latest in a surge of attacks on ships in the Niger Delta and further afield in the Gulf of Guinea recently. On 30 September, a sailor was kidnapped from a ship supplying an Exxon oil platform in Akwa Ibom State. On 8 October, pirates seized an oil tanker, the MT Cape Bird, with its 20-member Eastern European crew, 90 nautical miles off the coast of Lagos; they released them unharmed after five days in captivity.
On 17 October, a 17-man armed gang attacked an ExxonMobil-chartered vessel, AHST Wilbert Tide, near the company’s Oso gas field offshore Bonny in Rivers State, abducting the master sailor, a Bangladeshi. Another vessel, Joan Chouest, was also attacked in the same area around the same time as the WIlbert Tide.
Analysts and maritime industry operators are concerned that these attacks may signify an increase in organized, oil-related criminality in the Niger Delta.
On 6 September, hundreds of youths identifying themselves as former Niger Delta militants, blocked the East-West Road which runs from Rivers State to Delta State, protesting their alleged exclusion from the Federal Government’s post-amnesty programme.
The ex-militants, under the aegis of Niger Delta Development Ex-militants Third Phase, led by Julius Joseph and Tam Odogwu, converged from Akwa Ibom Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers, and Ondo States.
They said they had recently written to President Goodluck Jonathan, alleging that the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs and Coordinator of the post-amnesty programme, Mr Kingsley Kuku, was trying to exclude some of them from the programme, even after they had surrendered their arms and obtained certificates of disarmament. In the said letter, they had warned of “dire consequences”, if the amnesty office persisted in its policy of excluding them.
Their action in blocking the road, they said, was to warn the Federal Government, of their capacity to disrupt the economy of the region, if there was no positive response from the government at the expiration of their one-week ultimatum.
The action of the youths seriously disrupted the flow of traffic on the busy road, with queues of vehicles stretching many kilometres in either direction. Many innocent travellers whose journeys and businesses were marred by the unexpected road blockage denounced the action of the youths, wondering why they must ruin other people’s business in the pursuit of their own interests.
The situation soon attracted the intervention of military and police units. However, the military and police officers, led by Col M. Lasisi, Commander Sector 2 of the Joint Task Force (JTF) and Mr M.I Buruche, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) in charge of the Area command, Ahoada, opted to persuade the youths to clear the road, rather than dispersing them forcefully. After several hours, the road was eventually cleared without any casualties.
The action of the youths is seen as an indication of the threat continually posed to peace in the Niger Delta by the large army of youth who were, or claim to have been, ex-militants in the region.
On 19 August, eight ex-militants from the Niger Delta, sponsored to training courses in Sri Lanka under the Federal Government’s post-amnesty programme, were repatriated home over unruly behaviour.
Confirming their return, the spokesman for the Amnesty Office in Abuja, Mr. Henry Ugbolue, reported on 20 August, that they had been “handed over to security agents for investigation and prosecution”. He said the repatriation was on the orders of the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Chief Executive of the Amnesty Programme, Hon. Kingsley Kuku.
The ex-militants were among the batch of 50 ex-militants that left the country on 22 July for a nine-month vocational training course in undersea welding and boat building at the Topher Zhang Maritime Vocational Centre in Sri Lanka. However, a statement by the Amnesty Office last week, said Kuku had ordered their repatriation, following their expulsion from the training centre for offences ranging from fighting to wilful destruction of training equipment.
The statement named the expelled trainees as: Chinese Igoli, Weri Kingdom, Ekankumor Ogosi, Prince Jonathan Omie, Brinimugha Orunisiede, Elvis Oto, Agbabo Suama and Sinclear Thursday. Ugbolue said the trainees had “serially breached” the code of conduct they signed at the commencement of the programme.
Seventeen ex-militants had earlier been deported from Ghana, Russia, South Africa and the United States for similar offences.