Edwin Clark
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Clark blasts proponents of FG’s amnesty for Northern bandits, says comparing N’Delta ex-militants with bandits is myopic, criminal

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Elder statesman and the leader of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief Edwin Clark, has taken to the cleaners those canvassing that the Northern bandits should be given the same amnesty programme accorded Niger Delta ex-militants.

Describing equating Niger Delta ex-militants with bandits from the North as  obnoxious and criminal, Clark said they are incomparable.

According to him, the delta boys are legitimate agitators for the region as opposed to what he called the “blood-sucking bandits” in the North.

Addressing a news conference in Abuja on Wednesday at his Asokoro residence, the nonagerian also blasted former Zamfara Governor, Sen. Sani Yerima, and the Kaduna-based Islamic cleric, Shiekh Ahmad Gumi, taking exception to their positions on the issue.

The title of the text is, “The Attempt To Equate The Niger Delta Amnesty With The Northern Bandits Is Not Only Obnoxious But Criminal’’.

Persecondnews recalls that both Yerima and Gumi has canvassed granting  amnesty by the Federal Government to to the bandits in the Northwest like the Niger Delta militants.

“My first reaction to those who compare the murderous blood-sucking bandits from the northern part of the country, with the legitimate agitators from the Niger Delta, is that of pity at their ignorance on national affairs, and myopic.

“The condemnation of those narrow minded leaders from the north particularly, Shehik Ahmad Gumi, an Islamic Cleric, and Alhaji Ahmed Yerima, a former governor of Zamfara state.

“At this juncture, with the kind permission of the publisher of Punch newspapers, I should therefore like to quote the extract from the Punch Editorial of Thursday, July 13, 2023;

“Like others before him, Yerima is confusing two contemporary security issues– blatant criminality by the bandits in the North, and agitation over oil resources in the Niger Delta.

“Ahmad Gumi, an Islamic cleric, has repeatedly pleaded for amnesty for the bandits. He constantly defies logic by claiming that the bandits kill because of their `maltreatment’ by the Nigerian state. The amnesty advocates ignore the fact that many of the bandits are not even Nigerians.

“They also mistake amnesty for a blanket idea, to be politicised or invoked to reward mass murderers. It is not. Amnesty worked in the Niger Delta primarily because its militants anchored their fight on the sound economic and federalist principle of resource control.

“With their people alienated from the oil wealth extracted from their land, and the environmental despoliation in the region, the agitators had legitimate demands.

But the blood-thirsty bandits ravaging the North have no legitimate, political, or economic claim that Nigeria is obliged to countenance.

“Because of the bandits, killer Fulani herdsmen, Boko Haram/ISWAP/Ansaru, and IPOB, the 2023 Global Terrorism Index ranks Nigeria as the eighth most terrorised country in the world. Together, these terrorist groups slaughtered 63,111 Nigerians between 2015 and May 2023, the National Security Tracker estimated.

“Therefore, any deal with them translates to rewarding mindless criminality. As some North-West states discovered, negotiating with amorphous groups of bandits with no central command or leadership has no positive outcome,’’ Persecondnews quotes Clark as saying.

He also sad:“The statement of the Chief of Army Staff comes across to me as a proposal for the scrapping of the amnesty granted to legitimate agitators for a better life and environment by the Niger Delta youths,’’

While commending the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), for condemning Yerima’s advice, Clark, who is also the leader of Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, regretted what he said was the unfortunate statement credited to the new Chief of Army Staff, Maj.-Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja, who suggested a second look at the Niger Delta Amnesty programme.

According to the Army chief, it has created an avenue to “re-organize and launch attacks on defenceless
citizens’’.

Clark, therefore, warned against such a move that it could open up a fresh crisis in the region.

“However, I am also appreciative of some very prominent Northern Nigerians condemning Alhaji Ahmed Yerima’s statement.

“I deeply regret the unfortunate statement credited to our newly appointed most respected Chief of Army Staff, Maj. Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja that; “I think we need to look at this issue of Amnesty Programmes. The agreement have proven to be incorrigible and so Amnesty has created an avenue for them to re-organize and launch attacks on defenceless citizens.

“So, I think we need to look at that. We also have the issue of the Amnesty Programme that has been instituted, and which has failed not only in the North, but also in many other states.

“I seriously disagree with the Chief of Army Staff, and I advice him to consult through the past records of his former colleagues since the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999 viz; Lt. Gen. Victor Malu, Lt. Gen. Alexander Ogomudia, Lt. Gen. Martin Agwai, Lt. Gen. Owoye Azazi, Lt. Gen. Luka Yusuf, Lt. Gen. Bello Dambazau, Lt. Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika, Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minimah, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, and his predecessor in office, Maj. Gen. Farouk Yahaya, the state of insecurity in the Niger Delta before the granting of the Amnesty, and what it is now.

“I am confident that the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme has succeeded in bringing peace to Niger Delta particularly the vandalisation of oil pipelines and oil platforms. Operation Crocodile Smile could not stop the insecurity in the Niger Delta.

“As a leading stakeholder of the Amnesty Programme, it is therefore very necessary that I respectfully wish to draw the attention of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and his government, and the people of Nigeria and how the Amnesty was granted to the Niger Delta youths came about;

“Before President Olusegun Obasanjo, handed over to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2007, as leader of our people, I had earlier addressed a letter to him on the 11th of February, 2007 about Amnesty Programme, and he promptly replied on the 12th of February, 2007 and I quote;

“If MEND is ready to release the hostages in their custody and you are elected to mediate the process, this is acceptable to the Federal Government as I have indicated in the past, Government Ekpemupolo and his men will receive a general Amnesty if they agree to lay down their arms and follow the pact of peace, democracy and dialogue.

“Since it is obvious that you know them and you know their movement, I hold you personally responsible for bringing these boys to order, particularly through their so called leaders, Government Ekpemupolo and Henry Okah as indicated by you. I look forward to the release of the Italians and the Philippinos and their ship this week as you have promised.

“I would like to conclude by reiterating that the course in the Niger Delta can only be advanced if all stakeholders deal with a sense of honesty of purpose, integrity, and genuine interest in the development and prosperity of the region”.

“I wish you well in your undertaking which I hope will bring peace and sanity to the Niger Delta.

Yours,

Olusegun Obasanjo”.

“I carried out the directive given by the Federal government and the Italians and the Philippinos were released to me through Dr. Godknows Igali, Secretary to the Government of Bayelsa state, and Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, who was also the Secretary to the Government of Delta State at my residence, 5. Swamp Rd., GRA, Warri, and the photographs are still there for everyone to see.

“I again recall that on a particular day in 2009, during the tenure of late President Yar’Ardua, with Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, as his Vice, I was invited to go to Oporoza town, the headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom, as Father of the Day, to mark their annual festival, but I could not go personally, so I sent someone to represent me.

“By mid-day, I got a phone call from my representative that the festival could not hold because the Nigerian military has invaded the Kingdom; he said that as matter of fact, he was talking to me from the mangrove swamps, where they had gone into hiding, because the attacks were coming from all fronts, the Navy attacking from the sea, the Air Force was bombarding from the air, and the Army was attacking from the land; there was so much casualty because the bombings from the air and shootings took about 48 hours, some of the important communities in Gbaramatu Kingdom, Oporoza, Okerenkoko, Kurutie, were destroyed.

“I sadly recalled the message of distressed sent to me by Government Ekpemupolo alias Tompolo’s father Chief Thomas Ekpemupolo, that the Army is destroying his village, Kurutie, and I advised him to run for safety which he did.

“On getting that information, I made frantic efforts to reach the authorities concerned, from the President to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mahmud Yayale Ahmed, to the Minister of Defence, General Godwin Abbe (rtd), all to no avail. I called the then Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who was away in Sweden on official duties to please return home, that his home was burning. He listened to my plea and returned the next day.

“The Federal Government started holding meetings with us, with Mr. President and Mr. Vice President actively involved in the meetings. It was during these meetings, that it was resolved, and the Federal Government decided to set up a Presidential Amnesty Programme to deal wisely with the matter, asking that the youths, our children, who have taken up arms, to fight for their ‘emancipation’, should drop their arms and they will be granted amnesty, a programme under which they will be trained both in formal and informal education, and stipends will be given to them while the programmes is going on in phases, including the building of low cost houses, but this important phase of the development of the areas has not been achieved.

“It took several efforts on our part as leaders and elders of the region to convince these children, and with apprehension too on our part, because we were not sure of our safety as the youths were prepared for the worst, therefore anything could happen.

“We sent several Niger Delta personalities including Amb. Godknows Igali, who was then the Secretary to Bayelsa State Government, former retired high ranking military officers from the region like, Brig. Gen. Stanley Diriyai (rtd), Gen. Aper (rtd), Gen. John Yeri (rtd), Brig. Gen. Idada Ikponwen (rtd), Ms. Ann-Kio Briggs and other prominent Niger Delta men.

“Also, the team led by Wing Commander P.Y. Biakpara went to Letugbene town by the Atlantic ocean shore in Bayelsa state and met one of the militant leader, Victor Ben Ebikabowei, alias Boyloaf, and he sent me a big fish to signifies his acceptance of the Programme. These illustrious sons took the risk of going into the creeks pleading with the youths to lay down their arms and embrace the Amnesty programme.

“As God would have it, most of them embraced the programme. But Henry Okah, and Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, initially refused to embrace the programme because they doubted the sincerity of the Government, especially Tompolo, who felt so aggrieved, as someone from Gbaramatu Kingdom, whose kith and kin and Kingdom were needlessly attacked and almost decimated, and he was declared wanted after the invasion of his communities and Camp 5 which is still occupied by the military till today.

“Of course, the Federal Government gave an expiration date for people to embrace the amnesty, which was 4th October, 2009. Thus, Gen. Godwin Abbe and some military officers including Air Commodore Lucky Ararile, accompanied by late Chief Tony Anenih, the leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), had to travel again to Oporoza, to further persuade Tompolo, to accept the programme.

“Luckily, Tompolo was persuaded. He was flown to Abuja, and his first point of call was to visit me at my resident in Abuja, along T. Y. Danjuma Street, Asokoro. Thereafter, our late President Yar’Adua, granted the Amnesty Programme by Proclamation.

“A Secretariat was opened at Abuja for the Programme and Maj. Gen. Abbe was appointed its first Co-ordinator; Timi Alaibe took over from him, and Kingsley Kuku, later took over from Timi Alaibe. This, in a nutshell, is the story of the Presidential Amnesty Programme which commenced on or about 11th July, 2009.

“As leader of my people of the Niger Delta, I received a lot of reports about Amnesty Programme. One of such report was the offer of the Federal Government to employ three hundred and fifty graduates of the Amnesty Scholarship Scheme, who qualified with excellent grades ranging from First Class to Second Class Upper.

“The pronouncement of the offer of employment was made at a dinner ceremony held by the Presidency in honour of these graduates to appreciate their academic performance. Some of us from the Niger Delta were invited to the dinner including King Alfred Diette Spiff and myself, but I couldn’t attend, and at the end of the dinner party, Gen. Paul Boroh (rtd.), who was the coordinator of the office of the PAP at the time, was directed to submit the particulars for them to be employed into the Federal Civil Service. Gen. Boroh (rtd.), immediately carried out the directive.

“The employment of the graduate into the Federal Civil Service was immediately approved by President Muhammadu Buhari on the submission of the document by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, for which we were very grateful to Mr. President. But till date, the papers are still lying in the office of the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, unattended to. Most of these youths are roaming the streets today, unemployed.

“This matter will be a subject of discussion on another day. The PAP office is now filled up with non-Niger Deltans. Infact, it is alleged that during the time of Prof. Charles Dokubo, people from other regions feasted on the office. He appointed someone from Kogi State in the name of a Human Resources Consultant, whom it is alleged he is in league with, to employ some unqualified staff.

“Sons and daughters of the Niger Delta region were sacked or removed from office particularly the graduates of the Programmes, most of who graduated with First Class and Second Class Upper from their various Universities. We protested this unjust treatment to the Federal Government, when there was no head at the office of the PAP.

“It was said that Prof. Dokubo awarded a freight contract to his Consultant to carry equipment from the Kaiama Skill Acquisition Centre at the sum of ₦1.8 billion, to some alleged impacted locations. It was further alleged that in order not to default the Procurement Act of the Government, Prof. Dokubo had to split the payment of the amount to 25 Companies owned by the same person.

“When the invoice was presented for payment, the Financial Controller refused to act on it because it was at variance with the Procurement Act. This resulted into disagreements, and the fallout is several petitions which were written by various persons accusing and counter accusing officials of the Presidential Amnesty Programme,’’ Clark stressed.

The Ijaw leader added: “The Federal Government, like I said earlier, through the office of the National Security Adviser, Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno, (rtd), to set up a 4-man Investigative Panel headed by Amb. A. A. Lawal, from Bauchi State and other three northerners as members, on 28th February, 2020, and the job of this Panel, which all through its sittings, I understand, sat in the office of the NSA, which was to end on 24th April, 2020. Now we are getting information that this ‘Investigative Panel’ recommended the scrapping of the PAP by December, 2020.

“The question is, did Amb. Lawal and his team ever travel to the Niger Delta region to find out if the objective of setting up the Programme such as infrastructural development of sand filling; building low cost houses, building roads, etc, which are to be carried out by the PAP as its Second Phase activities contained in the Proclamation, been achieved?

“As someone outside of the region does he really understand or feel the sufferings of the people of the region? Also, what measures have been put in place by the Federal Government to fulfill its promises to the region such as setting up modular refineries, the relocation of the operational headquarters of the International Oil Companies (IOCs) and the Ogoni Clean-Up as contained in the 16-Point Agenda of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) which we presented to Mr. President at the Presidential Villa on 1st November, 2016?

“Our living condition in the region has worsened. The Presidential Amnesty Programme should be allowed to continue for some more time. Once again, I wish to advise the Federal Government to tread cautiously, except they have prepared another ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’. Wake not a sleeping lion. This is not a threat; it is a clarion call for peace.

“But Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, Alhaji Ahmed Yerima and their cohorts, who seem to be ignorant and envious of the Amnesty granted by late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, in August, 2009, and which was opened for embracing until 4th October 2009, by the then Niger Delta agitators. The case of the Niger Delta agitators, is quite different from the case of these murderous, blood thirsty villains, who have taken up arms against the state, using different names, whether as Boko Haram, bandits, killer herdsmen, kidnappers, etc.

“What is it they are demanding? Initially, we were told that as Boko Haram, they were against western education, they started killing, maiming, and destroying properties. Then they changed and we were told that some of them have changed to answer bandits, and all sorts of names. We are even told by the Government, including Mr. President himself, that they are not Nigerians.

“We further learnt from very reliable sources that some politicians particularly the All Progressive Congress, APC, in 2015 were responsible for recruiting some of these foreigners from neighbouring countries to assist them in their campaign against President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in the 2015 general election, and at the end of the election, these foreigners did not return back to their country because they were not compensated by those who brought them.

“On the other hand, it was the dehumanization, environmental pollution, destruction of natural source of income generation, which include fishing, farming, timber work etc., exclusion from job which under natural circumstances they are qualified for, but the same Oil Companies, will rather go hinterland to recruit people that are not qualified, to do jobs such as diving, underwater welding, and boat driving.

“Instead of employing the community people who are naturally savvy in these fields/areas because the management staffs of these companies is from other part of the country, they are indeed responsible for bringing their own people to take over these menial jobs which should have been reserved for the catchments areas.

“Therefore, the grievances of these Niger Delta youths was and still is, against the government, and as against the exploiting International Oil Companies which have remained adamant by refusing to develop their areas of operation, but have continued to fly their people from Lagos to perform their job at the rigs in the creek, and flown back to Lagos at the end of each working day. For instance, without Chevron, there could have been no Lekki in Lagos.

“Today, more than half of the workers of Chevron live in Lagos. They had housing estate in Gbagada and Lekki. They spent so much money inference to the area of their operation because NNPC support them because they don’t see the pinch of what they are doing economically in their area.

“These companies have not deemed it fit to put up buildings and offices to accommodate and quarter their workers which will in turn give jobs to the host community youths including the women who engage in petty trading like selling of groundnut and water etc, and in fact, improve the standard of living of the host community by award of contracts to them. But instead, these oil companies will rather use houseboat which they hire at very high cost, and which they will dismantle at the end of the operation, and then move to another location at the end of their exploration.

“Worst still, if they decide to erect any form of camps in the community, there is an apparent discrimination between these camps which will be well lit with uninterrupted 24 hours electricity supply, with all amenities, such as hospitals, portable water, good schools for the children and wards of the workers, good roads, well stocked shopping complexes, all only available to the oil company workers, whilst the rest of the host community people can best be described as living in a stone age, with deplorable and impassable roads, no electricity, the roads around the camp will be tarred to their Airstrip.

“The villages and communities are left in abject poverty and neglect. The people of the host communities do not even take part in execution of contracts in these oil companies. The young men of the communities are jobless in their own homes; meanwhile jobs are flying over their heads. No oil blocs are given to sons and daughters of the region.

“Worst still, for which we strongly advised the Federal Government to take precaution, is the purchase of the abandoned oil operating stations (onshore) to non Niger Delta indigenes when the oil companies decided to move from land to the offshore without giving the indigenes the right of first refusal. Today, the exploitation of the Niger Delta by the IOCs has been taken over by fellow Nigerians from other part of the country who have now colonize our people, which our people have resisted without the Federal government showing any interest, which may result into an unpleasant consequences.

“When these agitations started, several attempts were made by the Federal Government and the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), where Committees were set up. For instance, there was the Gen. Ogomudia Committee, and there was the Gamaliel Onosode Committee. I remember in one of the Committee meetings at Saidi Centre, Benin City, where Gamaliel Onosode’s report was discussed. I warned that there was need to act fast, and that if those concerned do not listen to us, time will come when the youths will take their destiny in their own hands and fight for their rights, and that will be worrisome.

“It was thus the lack of timely intervention by all those concerned that escalated the whole thing. The whole mangrove forest is damaged; people can no longer fit fishes which of course is the peoples’ main source of protein. Frozen fish has now replaced their natural fish. The dangerous emission from gas flaring is a serious health hazard to the people of the Niger Delta. Inexplicable soot has taken over the air of the region.

“People breathe and eat soot in their water and food, because the soot settles on everything. Recently, we had cases of fishes dying mysteriously and floating on the rivers of Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta States. The people of Ogoni are being tossed up and down with regards the so called Ogoni clean-up.

“These and more, are the injustices, dehumanization, neglect, and marginalization of our people, the youths of the Niger Delta decided to fight against when they took the driving seat, when they discovered that all the efforts being made by their fathers, including going to Court to fight against constitutional breaches of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) they have with the IOCs, and together with the assistance and cover up being given to them by the Federal Government, in some cases, preventing the Oil Companies from providing hospitals, schools, social services and other amenities, because it will reduce the Oil Revenue of 60% of their profits being paid to the NNPC and the Federal Government. I have witnessed such occasions when I was a practicing Lawyer.

“The attempt to equate the Niger Delta Amnesty with the northern bandits is not only criminal, but obnoxious and unconscionable. The whole idea of comparing the Niger Delta militants who are exposed to all kinds of diseases, illnesses and deprivations, as a result of oil exploration, with people whom we are told are not Nigerians, who enter into the country illegally, thus violating the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocol, is very inhuman.

“Some Nigerians who live outside the Niger Delta, who are not affected by the pollution going on in the Niger Delta, but whose lifestyle is supported and sustained by the resources of the Niger Delta behave like the imperialists, who live by the proceeds of the colonized. Unfortunately, such wealthy Nigerians, particularly from other part of the country, rather than using these proceeds for the good of all by developing their region, they use it for and on themselves, for their selfish purposes, hence today, Nigeria is regarded the poorest country in the world taking over from India.’’

Still appealing to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu not to be carried away by various statements by some uninformed Nigerians that the Amnesty Programme in Niger Delta has not contributed to the peace in the Niger Delta, Clark restated that he should pay special attention to the survival of the Amnesty Programme in the Niger Delta.

“Meanwhile, I sincerely appeal to our youths to remain patient and not to do anything to affect the smooth operation of the oil companies while we continue to fight for our right legitimately.

“Finally, may I remind Mr. President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and the people of Nigeria that it is only in Nigeria that the oil producing communities are among the poorest, whereas, in other part of the world including USA, the oil producing states like California, Texas etc are among the wealthiest state in America, but here in Nigeria, the oil producing areas are being oppressed, dehumanize. Enough is enough!’’ Clark said.

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