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Shell attack: Militants demand VP’s Presidency

Some of the militants believe that it is part of the marginalisation of the Niger Delta for some cabal to refuse to hand over power…

Some of the militants believe that it is part of the marginalisation of the Niger Delta for some cabal to refuse to hand over power to Vice President Jonathan pending the return of President Yar’adua. Barely 24 hours after MEND called off its ceasefire, Trans Ramos pipeline facility belonging to Shell was attacked leading to the closure of Forcados stream, which averaged around 150,000 bpd of production in 2009.  

The military Joint Task Force (JTF) in collaboration with Shell described the attack on the Trans Ramos pipeline as an act of sabotage, claiming that it was an attempt to steal crude oil, but MEND in a swift reaction said no bunkerer breached pipelines with explosives as in this attack and promised to revisit the Trans Ramos pipeline, which they attacked in June last year after it had been repaired, as well as other oil facilities in the Niger Delta in the coming weeks.

On Wednesday, 50 other militant groups under the aegis of Network of Niger Delta Freedom Fighters (NFF) threatened fresh violence over the refusal to transfer power to Vice President Jonathan. In a communiqué signed by Nengi James and Kelvin Moses, coordinator and secretary respectively, it was stated that, “if government fails to abide by the provision of the constitution, we will join forces and direct strategic units to commence hostilities which will lead to a black day for the country”.

The Minister of Defence and Chairman of Amnesty Implementation Committee, General Godwin Abbe (rtd), told journalists on Wednesday that the incident of non-payment was because of the refusal of some repentant militants to open accounts in some banks which the amnesty committee had listed for such purpose. Abbe said some of them were afraid of being arrested.

“In a democratic system, you just don’t go to the national coffers and pick money like that and start spending because you are carrying out amnesty programme. These are the issues. Besides, most of the militants that you hear are complaining that they have not been paid were asked to go and register in the banks”, Gen. Abbe insisted.

He had assured that the committee is working to actualise the integration and rehabilitation phase of the amnesty. “We want to make sure that the data that would be required for work is completed, and that when the call-up starts, there would be no stop at all. That is on the one hand, but remember that other committees have also been established,” he explained.

“These committees border on infrastructure, environmental sanitation of the area, provision of key facilities like the railway line and are also busy trying to work out all the details and it is the totality of all these that would be put together. When the costing is made, then, of course, the process of funding will also have to be followed.

“And until the proper documentation of the militants has been completed, even the gazette action the government promised will not take place, because we are not ready to include the names of criminals and ex-convicts as repentant militants. We will not”, he stated.

Abbe said it is unpatriotic for anyone to continue to threaten the security of this country with violence, fire and brimstone because they do not have the monopoly of violence.

Jomo Gbomo, the spokesman for MEND in his reaction to statements made by the Defence Minister, told Weekly Trust that General Abbe is a frustrated man. “It is the ranting of a confused and frustrated man,” Gbomo said.

Port Harcourt where most of the militants are harboured is increasingly witnessing robbery involving ex-militants. Residents attributed this to the failure of the amnesty. On Tuesday, Briggs Wilkinson Frank, a renowned militant, was killed in a shootout with police when they attempted to rob a bullion van.

When the police later searched his body, they found an identity card indicating that he was an ex-militant who had benefitted from the Federal Government amnesty a couple of months ago. Also in the possession of Briggs was a bank account number.  Further checks by the police, according to the Rivers State Police Commissioner, Alhaji Suleiman Abba, revealed that Briggs was the owner of the account and he had over N600,000 stashed away in it.

The police said they also recovered one AK47 rifle with three cartridges of round live ammunition. Alhaji Abba told our correspondent that the police also discovered that the black Honda Accord used for the botched robbery attack was the same used a fortnight ago when a branch of Guaranty Trust Bank on Aba Road, Port Harcourt was stormed in broad daylight costing a customer over a million naira loss. Also destroyed during that incident was a patrol van belonging to the air force wing of the Joint (Military) Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta.

The spokesperson of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Victor Burubo, asked “If a man is an ex-militant, what business does he have robbing a bullion van? He interjected that the INC does not endorse any form of belligerence despite the fact that it has reservations as to the way and manner the amnesty was handled by the apex government.

“The aggressor and the aggrieved should maintain peace. We in the INC have always posited that there is no military solution to the Niger Delta crises. Not even the marshalling of the greatest global arsenal against the Ijaw people specifically and the entire people of the Niger Delta can solve the age-old problems here. It is time everybody prioritised dialogue in their respective agenda,” Burubo stressed.

On the speculations that MEND and other like-minded groups are revisiting the option of violence in order to force Nigeria to accept Vice President Goodluck Jonathan as acting president, Burubo said such reasoning is wrong and not founded on truth. “The VP”, he argued, “although an Ijaw man, does not need anybody to blow up pipelines on his behalf. He is honest and unassuming. The current problem is a constitutional one and so it is a Nigerian problem and has nothing to do with the problem of this region”.

Although the police in Rivers State deny that Briggs and his men have no connection with the innocuous Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the incident coincided with the recent declaration by the movement that it will resume hostilities in the hitherto troubled region.

In a similar vein, the Network of Freedom Fighters in the Niger Delta coordinated by Nengi James linked the absence of President Umaru Musa Yar’adua to some of the festering crises in the Niger Delta. According to him, “We have declared the President missing. We have placed our natural resources as gift for whosoever gives information on Yar’adua’s whereabouts”.

This statement came after Nengi led hundreds of Bayelsans to protest in Yenagoa last week for the installation of Vice President Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President. The crowd danced and chanted that if their son is denied the position they covet, they will resort to violence to get what they want.

Commenting on the state of the nation recently, prominent Niger Deltans under the auspices of the United Niger Delta Energy Development Security Strategy (UNDEDSS) said adhering to the constitution is the only way to guarantee peace in the country. The group, comprising 150 Niger Deltans, said the void that has been created in the Presidency has now been firmly hijacked by some cliques who wish to upturn the Nigerian Constitution without caring whether the country runs into the abyss of democracy-abortion, disunity and possible disintegration.

Tony Uranta, the Secretary-General of UNDEDSS, told reporters that “I can give notice of one thing; the South-South, as represented by UNDEDSS, will not fall over this precipice. If the rest of the nation decides to be so stupid and so blind and by next week we do not see action as to the right thing being done the right way, we shall approach the United Nations and we shall use every resolution and every charter, including that of self-determination, to force the hands of this cabal of crooked leaders in Nigeria.

“If this cabal and the president will not respect the constitution, how will the president or the ruling class honour the pacts they have reached with the repentant militants as per the post-amnesty situation? he asked.

“You may be aware of the fact that at this point, two very key so-called repentant militant leaders – Ateke Tom and Tompolo – have given a warning that things may go back or even worse than the level of the pre-amnesty days,” Uranta indicated.

The group endorsed the move by the Senate to make President Yar’adua to hand over to his VP. They averred that although the decision of the lawmakers is belated, it should be commended and acted upon. They lambasted the Federal Executive Council (FEC)’s “putative ‘resolution-of-fitness’ that President Yar’adua is capable of discharging his duties while still in a hospital bed in Saudi Arabia.

In the wake of the recent threats by MEND and other affiliate groups in the Niger Delta, Anglo-Dutch Shell is considering selling its equities in some of its onshore facilities vulnerable to security breaches.  The oil giant on Thursday agreed to sell three oil leases worth $5 billion to a Nigerian-led multinational consortium. NNPC, which has a stake in all the joint partnerships with Shell, has not made any clarification on this.

The company’s Chief Financial Officer, Simon Henry, said the equity slated for the trade-off “is Shell’s 30 percent share”. Much of these, about 175,000 barrels per day (bpd) in the fourth quarter (Q4) last year, plummeted to about 150,000 bpd “today due primarily to attacks in the last few days on flow lines”.

Persistent attacks by MEND over the past three years have cut oil output in the OPEC member, the world’s eighth biggest oil exporter, to less than two-thirds of its installed capacity of three million barrels per day.

MEND first burst onto the scene in 2006, knocking out more than a quarter of Nigeria’s oil output – then around 2.4 million bpd – in a matter of weeks. It would be recalled that MEND had on October 25, 2009 declared a unilateral ceasefire to encourage the process of dialogue between the government and the Aaron team that the group had selected to negotiate its demands for lasting peace in the region after President Umaru Yar’adua, declared an amnesty for all militants in the region.

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