From Ayodele Samuel, Lagos
The Niger Delta region seems to be sliding back to hostility, following Fridays attack leaving 15 police officers dead. The attack, followed Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) threat to resume attacks in the oil rich Niger Delta to avenge alleged collaboration between the Federal Government and South Africa to jail its former leader, Henry Okah. Security agencies had dismissed the threat and said they were ready for MEND which tagged its promised resurgence of attacks, 'Hurricane Exodus.'
While Former Niger Delta Warlords in the likes of Chief Ateke Tom, Chief Ebikabowei Ben (aka Boyloaf) and Chief Soboma Jackreece (aka Egberipapa) had earlier dismissed the threat, recent attack has continued to raise threat to the peace brought into the region in 2009 by Late President Umaru Musa Yaradua in an amnesty deal with the militants. MEND had claimed responsibility for the killing of 15 security officers in the latest attack.
Though It was however not possible to determine if the statement was authentic, Bayelsa state Police commissioner Kingsley Omire, claimed that recent violence in the Niger Delta was not linked to the group, which has been mostly inactive since a 2009 amnesty deal brokered by former President Late Umaru Yaradua.
MEND has broken down in the years since the 2009 amnesty, with most major militant leaders having embraced the deal. Omire, said the killing of his men had nothing to do with MEND's threat of last week and there was no link and the ambush appeared to be related to a dispute between an ex-militant and his gang.
He said the attack came while officers were escorting an ex-militant for his mother's burial. Omire blamed the fate of the policemen on a dispute between the gunmen and the government over their amnesty payments. According to police, the attackers were members of the gang linked to the ex-militant and who have alleged that he had not properly distributed amnesty payments.
Also leadership of Ijaw extraction in Nigeria and beyond, under the aegis of "Izon Ikemi", has said that the alleged threat to bomb the Niger Delta was not issued by MEND.The Niger Delta group warned those behind the threat to retrace their steps so as not to plunge Nigeria into war.
Izon Ikemi Chairman, Tony Uranta, averred that the Niger Delta people remained committed to the peace and amnesty process in the region."There is no person of Ijaw or Niger Delta extraction who is involved in anything anti-government as our investigations revealed. The threat is not from MEND, as the group is no longer in existence, but was dissolved when the Niger Delta armed agitators accepted amnesty", Izon Ikemi stated.
The Ijaw group said that the attack statement may be by the Boko Haram sect in its efforts to expand its operations, but wanted the blame to go to MEND."We have deployed our own intelligence all over the region and would resist any attempt to bomb our people, or smear our name", the group further stated.
Izon Ikemi however urged the people of the Niger Delta to remain calm. It also urged the Boko Haram sect to accede to a total ceasefire and dialogue with the authorities, if they desire amnesty.
MEND had in a statement purportedly issued by it, and signed by Jomo Gbomo, announced that it would commence attacks from midnight on Friday, April 5, 2013 in sustained attacks code-named "Hurricane Exodus."The threat was issued a few hours after a South African court sentenced MEND leader, Henry Okah, to 24 years imprisonment over the October 1 Independence Day bombings in Abuja. It said the incarceration of its leader would not affect its activities. However, another email from MEND, signed by a Comrade Azizi, claims that "Jomo Gbomo no longer exist", and that Henry Okah has condemned the earlier mail, and dissociated himself from any planned violence in the Niger Delta or any other part of Nigeria.
As arguments and counter arguments continues, Nigeria can ill afford a return to violence in the Niger Delta, with security forces already battling a deadly insurgency by Islamist extremist group Boko Haram in the country's northern and central regions. Meanwhile, youths in the oil producing region have appealed to MEND to give peace a chance and shelve their planned resumption of hostilities.
National Coordinator of the Niger Delta Youth Parliament, Mr. Imoh Okoko, said that it was imperative for MEND to sheathe its sword so as to ensure that the Federal Government would not have any excuse not to develop the region.
"We in the Niger Delta Youth Parliament believe that things would only get worse for the region if MEND carries out its threat of resuming hostilities. Creating more crises is not the best for Niger Delta now.
"We are appealing to MEND to exercise patience. President Goodluck Jonathan and Okah are from the same state. There is no need for MEND to strike so that the government will not have any excuse for not developing the Niger Delta."