Ex-militants invade Abuja
Ex-militants in the Niger Delta region made good their threat by storming Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in the early hours of yesterday, to protest the alleged poor handling of the post-amnesty programme.
The militants took Abuja by surprise as they sneaked in by road through Gwagwalada via Lokoja. Their plan was, however, scuttled by officers and men of the Nigeria Police, as armed policemen took over all major roads and streets of Abuja as well as major highways, leading into the city.
As early as 4 o’clock in the morning, acting on security reports, the police hierarchy deployed officers to take charge to prevent the militants from entering Abuja.
It could not be confirmed when the rampaging youths numbering over 1000 departed their base in Bayelsa State. But reliable sources hinted that they arrived Abaji, a border town between Kogi State and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), at about 3.30am on Wednesday.
At Abaji, the youths ran into a blockade mounted by men of the police Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS), who were, however, reportedly overwhelmed by the numerical strength of the invaders. Even as the police, through wireless communication attempted to halt the ex-militants at a bridge a few kilometres after Abaji by using a patrol van to barricade the road, the youths, Daily Sun learnt, physically carried the vehicle off the road and proceeded on the journey.
The ex-militants, who gathered at student village, Gwagwalada, Abuja-Lokoja Road, were seen carrying placards with various inscriptions such as “Amnesty second is Here,” “Alaibe Must Go”, “We’ll go back to Creeks, Enough is enough”, among others.
The militants, whose strategies could hardly be predicted came in 66 buses and taxis. Their strategy worked as many of them were able to beat some security check points, mounted by the police and other security agencies and eventually found their way into Abaji, Kwali and Gwagwalada Area Councils of the FCT.
The police team, led by the Niger State Commissioner of Police, Mike Zuokumor, in a very calm and diplomatic manner told them that government was not comfortable with their invasion of Abuja, but that only their leaders would be allowed into the city.
The interaction that ensued between the police and the militants caused heavy traffic gridlock that lasted almost the whole day, forcing commuters to cancel their trips. Leader of the ex-militants, Aso Tambo, who spoke on behalf of his group said their mission was to see Mr. President Goodluck Jonathan, on the second phase of the amnesty programme that has not been documented.
The ex-militant leader also demanded the sack of the Senoir Special Adviser to the president on the Niger Delta, Mr. Timi Alaibe, for frustrating the efforts of government in considering the repentant militant, saying despite consulting him on three different occasions, there had been no fruitful result.
“Amnesty is a Presidential offer to all Niger Delta militants after we have surrendered our arms, it is for the government to mobilize us by rehabilitating our people. But Alaibe has been deceiving us from one office to the other,” he said.
Leader of the combined group of the repentant militants, Augustine Oges told Daily Sun in an interview “we are the ex-militants that have since dropped our arms nine months ago and embraced government’s amnesty programme but are yet to be documented for payment.
“We had been blocked not to enter Abuja by the police and the military. We understand President Goodluck Jonathan got some information that we are coming to protest in Abuja and had directed that we should be blocked. But we are only asking for our documentation and identity cards that will qualify us for payment of our allowances.”
According to Oges, they had deviced the peaceful approach because “we do not want to destroy the peace deal we had with government. We may decide to go back to the creeks and continue with what we know best to do but we have decided otherwise.” The ex-militants, however, blasted President Jonathan and his Adviser on Niger Delta Matters, Timi Alaibe, for not being sincere with the implementation of the amnesty programme since the late President Umaru Yar Adua who initiated the programme died.
“We regret with sorrow that Yar Adua is dead. We would have been better of by now. Our deal with government would have been perfected by now. The ex-militants claimed they had been dribbled by the Federal Government since they were asked to embrace its amnesty programme and surrender their arms for the sake of peace and development of their area but nothing had been done.
But Police Commissioner, Mike Zuokumor, explained that they had the directives not to allow them to enter Abuja. Though, he was quick to state that as Nigerians, they were free to move to any part of the country as citizens, but defended that government’s action was hinged on the fact that their gathering constituted security threat.
“We have been directed to get them off the road and get to take their leaders along with us for a meeting with the police and other top security hierarchy in Abuja. “We are here also to avoid the break down of law and violence,” he explained.
Commuters on the ever busy Abuja-Lokoja-Kaduna Expressway were stranded for several hours, just as residents of Gwagwalada, host town of the temporary site of the University of Abuja and neighbouring communities scampered for safety. In the ensuing melee, four of the buses conveying the ex-militants scaled the police barricade and zoomed straight to the Eagle Square in central Abuja, within the precincts of the Federal Secretariat and the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters.
Later, Chief of Staff to the President, Mr. Mike Oghiadome, arrived to address the ex-militants, who stated that they were excluded from the list of ex-militants registered by the Presidential Committee on Amnesty. They said they were also aggrieved by rumours that contracts awarded by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) were unilaterally cancelled by the Managing Director, Mr. Chibuzo Ugwuoha.
They also demanded for the payment of not less than N350,000 as their entitlements after passing out of the rehabilitation camp at Obubra, Cross Rivers State, where they are currently undergoing training for skill acquisition.
Oghiadome gave them assurance that the presidency would tackle their complaints within the next two weeks.
Key coordinators of the various militants groups in the Niger-Delta and their leaders including Ateke Tom, Fara Dagogo and some others, however, denied knowledge of the invasion of Abuja.
After hours of negotiations, the batch of ex-militants who had beaten the security network to the Eagle Square eventually agreed to retreat based on Oghiadome’s assurances. By 1:15pm, the convoy of the militants were eventually escorted out of the FCT by a team of policemen and other security agencies to Lokoja, the Kogi State capital, based on a mutual understanding that the promises of the Federal Government would be fulfilled in the next 14 days.