President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua pressed on with his amnesty package for militants as he insists on strict adherence to the United Nations (UN) standards in reintegration and rehabilitation of militants in the Niger Delta.
The Federal Government also named special centres where the armed men can submit their guns in some states in the oil-rich region and military formations.
Also yesterday, President Yar’Adua directed the chairman of the Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament of Militants in the Niger Delta, Maj Gen Godwin Abbe (rtd) to arrange a meeting with Mr. Henry Okah and formally offer him the amnesty as proclaimed.
Special Adviser to the President (Media and Publicity), Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, said last night that because the amnesty was voluntary and could not be done by proxy, it was necessary for Okah’s acceptance of it and its terms to be obtained before government could proceed with the next line of action.
Adeniyi explained that “the diplomatic side of the Okah’s matter would be tidied up as soon as his acceptance of the offer is obtained. If it is obtained, government is expected to finish with that in a couple of days.”
As the government forged ahead with the state pardon deal, some armed men yesterday continued with their sabotage of oil firms’ operations.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which destroyed two well clusters owned by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in Forcados, Delta State, claimed that it killed 23 soldiers and sank a gunboat belonging to the Joint Task Force (JTF) during a gun duel.
In a prompt reaction, JTF admitted the attack on the oil facility but denied any confrontation with MEND fighters. The military team said no gunboat was sunk because the destroyed facility was in an unmanned area.
To the Presidential Implementation Committee on Amnesty and Disarmament, Yar’Adua charged it to comply fully with all UN provisions in the operation of the centres in the Niger Delta states.
It was learnt that headquarters, 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Enugu will serve as the coordinating centre for disarmament and the demobilisation of militants, who accept the amnesty offered them by the President.
Under the arrangement, weapons surrendered by the militants in centres in the Niger Delta will be kept at the Enugu Army formation.
A breakdown of the centres, shows that Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta States will each have four collection points and two re-integration centres while Edo, Akwa Ibom and Ondo states, where militant activities are less pronounced will each have two collection points and one re-integration centre.
Media Coordinator of the Implementation Committee, Dr. Timiebi Koripamo-Agary, said yesterday that Enugu was chosen “because of a presidential directive that a neutral state outside the Niger Delta be used as coordinating centre.
“We are out in the field to inspect the centres that have been identified by the state governors, for upgrading where necessary to ensure it meets the UN standard as it concerns disarmament and demobilisation. We just arrived in Port Harcourt from Enugu where we have inspected the coordinating centre and we are now in Port Harcourt to look at the location on the invitation of the state government; that will serve as collection and integration centres with adequate facilities that are suitable in line with UN standard.
“The UN standard includes a recreational centre, a functional catering centre, adequate accommodation (hostel) complete with necessary facilities like water, electricity.
Shell, which also confirmed the attack, said it had stopped production in the area as a precautionary measure while it investigates to determine what precipitated the action.
Of late, Shell has been the target of MEND, whose spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, said the sincerity of the government on the amnesty came into question again at the weekend when Interior Minister, Maj.-Gen. Godwin Abbe tied the release of Henry Okah to the outcome of Nigeria’s consultations with the governments of Angola and Equatorial Guinea.
MEND alleged Monday that Hurricane Piper Alpha had struck at the Shell Forcados offshore platform in Delta State yesterday at about 0330 hrs.
“Cluster 11 and 30 are currently on fire after a massive explosion.
“A military gunboat patrol on noticing the fire stumbled upon heavily armed fighters and the confrontation resulted in the sinking of the gunboat with all the occupants numbering between 20 to 23 soldiers.
“We have made it clear that patrols must not open fire at us as our target is the oil infrastructure. This unheeded warning resulted in the death of these soldiers,” MEND said.
But JTF said pipelines belonging to Shell were vandalised by militants at an isolated area off Forcados, in Warri South West Local Council of Delta State.
Shell spokesperson, Mr. Precious Okolobo, who confirmed that incident, explained that the attack occurred on two clusters at the Estuary field in the Western swamp operations. He, however, declined to indicate the barrels of crude oil that were affected.
MEND, which alleged that the government had offered N1 billion to each of its camps, accused Abbe of lying when he said Okah travelled to Equatorial Guinea. According to the group, Okah “never set foot in that country; not even on transit .”
Gbomo said: “MEND will negotiate as a group when the time comes.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Merchant Navy has advised the government to reduce the number of creeks in the region as it provides infrastructure in the Niger Delta.
They appealed to the National Assembly to quickly pass the Coastal Guard Bill into law to allow the maritime police combat the Niger Delta crisis.
At a press conference in Sagamu, Ogun State yesterday, the Nigerian Merchant Academy, which described the crisis in the Niger Delta as a national embarrassment, canvassed adequate training for youth in the area for gainful employment. The Director of Information of the organisation, Capt. Banjo Akintunde, said the training of the youth in maritime related courses and subsequent engagement would stem insurgence in the zone.
Customs Suspends Rice Sale As Seven Die In Stampede
The Nigeria Customs Service has announced the suspension of the sale of foodstuffs following a stampede that reportedly killed seven persons at the NCS Old Zonal Headquarters in the Yaba area of Lagos State, last Friday.
A Chief Superintendent of Customs and National Public Relations Officer for Comptroller General of Customs, Abdullahi Maiwada, disclosed the suspension of the exercise in a statement on Monday.
Nigeria Customs had said it was selling seized food items at N10,000 per 25kg to alleviate the people’s suffering as a result of the current high cost of living and other economic hardships.
Last Friday, a pregnant woman and six others reportedly died in a stampede after some suspected hoodlums attempted to force their way into the Yaba Customs office compound.
Some Lagos residents who thronged the NCS office in Yaba expressed disappointment on Monday following the suspension of the initiative.
However, in a statement on Monday evening, the NCS said the suspension became necessary considering “the recent unfortunate event.”
“We regrettably announce the suspension of this exercise until we establish what transpired on Friday, February 23, 2024,” the NCS spokesman said.
He explained that: “The disposal of the food items got off to a smooth start at about 0800hrs. We enjoyed the cooperation of the large crowd that obliged us, giving preferences to the elderly, people living with disabilities, pregnant women, and other vulnerable Nigerians who showed up for the exercise.
“This was the case up until about 1700hrs, as attested to by the over 5,000 beneficiaries and members of the press. However, unforeseen challenges arose when we ran out of stock and announced the continuation of the exercise the following day, leading to a regrettable outcome.
“The crowd became desperate and charged through our barricades in search of rice bags inside emptied containers. In the stampede that ensued, some fatalities and injuries were regrettably recorded.”
The Customs extended its “heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives during the unfortunate incident.”
The service said it was working with health authorities to establish contact and engage directly with the victims’ families on their next steps.
Court Dismisses Police Objection Against Fubara’s CoS …Restrains Police From Arresting Ehie
A Rivers State High Court in Port Harcourt, yesterday, dismissed the preliminary objection by counsel to the Nigerian Police, Celestine Dickson, challenging the jurisdiction of the Court to hear the fundamental rights suit by the Chief of Staff to Governor Siminalayi Fubara, Hon. Edison Ehie against the police for lack of merit.
The trial Judge, Justice Sika Aprioku, in a ruling, yesterday, assumed jurisdiction and held that the non-joinder of the Nigeria Police Force in a matter that the Commissioner of Police is a party to does not render the suit incompetent.
Justice Aprioku said the application by the Police lacks merit and thereby dismissed it with a cost of N100,000 in favour of Hon Edison Ehie.
Aprioku also granted the prayers of the counsel to Edison, Damian Okoro to restrain the Police from arresting, detaining, harassing, or inviting Ehie based on the trumped-up charges in the suit by Rt Hon. Martin Amaewhule in connection to the destruction of the Hallow chamber of the Rivers State House of Assembly.
Speaking to newsmen outside the courtroom, counsel to the Police, Celestine Dickson, said he would study the judgment and advise his clients accordingly.
Dickson stated, “That is the wisdom of the court and we cannot criticise the wisdom of the court. The outcome of court decisions must bind parties.
“If you are not satisfied I think you study the judgement and take the next step. The court made it clear that in a couple of minutes, we were going to have copies of the judgement. That will give us the opportunity to look at the judgement and advise our clients accordingly.
On his part, one of the counsel to the Chief of Staff, Ibioku Mac-Barango said the judgment reflects the position of the law.
Fubara Expresses Confidence In Tinubu To Address Labour Concerns
In the midst of the ongoing nationwide protest organised by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Rivers State Governor, Sir Siminalayi Fubara, has expressed confidence in President Bola Tinubu’s ability to address the concerns raised by the organised labour and alleviate their fears.
Fubara gave the assurance during the NLC’s protest to the Government House, Port Harcourt, yesterday .
The State NLC, led by its chairman, Alex Agwanwor, had joined its counterparts in other parts of the country to protest against high cost of living in the country occasioned by the fuel subsidy removal by the Federal Government in May last year.
Recall that there have been a series of protests across the country over the cost of living, inflation, insecurity and hardship among Nigerians.
The NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) had on February 8 issued a 14-day nationwide strike notice to the Federal Government over the failure to implement the agreements reached on October 2, 2023 following the removal of the fuel subsidy.
Responding to a letter of demands presented to the governor by the State NLC, Fubara noted that the grievances outlined by the protesters primarily fell within the purview of the Federal Government.
The governor, who was represented by the Head of the Rivers State Civil Service, Dr. George Nwaeke, said, “To all who listened to every presentation of the labour leader as it is being read out, we can find out none is local, not originating from local source here. They are all national issues and we have hope in the Renewed Hope Agenda of the Federal Government. We have hope. And I know Governor Fubara will also deliver this message as presented by you to the President.”
Fubara further assured the protesters that his administration remained committed to alleviating the economic hardships faced by the people of Rivers State.
He highlighted initiatives such as the provision of palliative buses in response to the fuel subsidy removal and the ongoing development of 20,000 housing units for low-income earners.
The governor also emphasized his administration’s dedication to improving the welfare of civil servants, citing measures such as the employment of 10,000 youths into the state civil service, promotions, and the provision of bonuses.
He affirmed the significance of the issues raised and reiterated his commitment to prioritizing the welfare of workers in the State.
He, however, assured that the NLC’s demands would be conveyed to the President as presented.
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