20 November 2008

JTF to Militants: Surrender Arms IF You’re Sincere

Written by Pemii Ben

Mahatma Gandhi once said: “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary, the evil it does is permanent.”

Those who have been following the trend in the Niger Delta in recent years would be the first to admit that it has become more and more of a bloodbath, not because of any declaration of a Civil War, but because of the armed struggle aimed at the economic emancipation of the region. This was, ab initio, spearheaded by Alhaji Muhajid Asari Dokubo’s Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF), an armed militant group that claimed to have as its mission, the economic salvation of the Niger Delta region. Other groups soon sprang up following incessant disagreements in the mother group.

Initially, these militant groups and their acclaimed missions enjoyed a free rein in the region, having no restrictions or counter attacks from any quarters, save those of rival groups. Several innocent lives were lost and property worth billions of naira went down the drain. When the Federal Government eventually talked sense into Asari and the groups loyal to him, he found reasons to, at least at face value, “surrender” his arms and convinced his boys to do same.

Also on the prowl was the physically challenged Ateke Tom of the Niger
Delta Vigilante along with splinter groups, such as the Niger Delta Patriotic Force (NDPF). These groups seemed to find no reason to accept dialogue. To Ateke and his associates, the creeks seemed to have been the friendliest habitation. This, besides earlier provocations, ignited the use of military might to curb the menace.

The initial military intervention seemed as if nothing much was achievable in the face of the growing militancy, especially when the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) came on board. The tension increased and every movement of unknown persons was doubly checked with maximum suspicion and closer watch.

In all this, lots of blames were laid on the Federal Government whom many said lacked the political will to tackle the problem. Imbued, in some backwards way, with a will to solve the Niger Delta problem, military might was released in full force to combat militancy. Since then, the clash of the Titans had raged on.

Several years into the epic struggle of military versus militants’, yours truly ran into Lt. Col. Sagir Musa, the spokesman for the Joint Military Task Force. Assessing the situation, the JTF spokesman said “it’s nothing unusual, from time-to-time we do have clashes with militants. We are doing our job with the needed commitment, just the way it should be done.” He noted that here are some who, for the sake of personal gain, dislike “the good job we are doing, but that does not deter us.”

Sometimes in the recent past, rumors were rife that some military personnel were behind the recruitment and training of militants. Lt. Col. Sagir Musa said “I have not heard of that allegation. It is just a claim which has to be proven. I have not heard any case of that.”

Those with diligent observational prowess will also notice that militancy activities are concentrated in Rivers, Bayelsa, and Delta States. This gives the impression that the other Niger Delta States where militancy activities are not felt do not need the much trumpeted economic deliverance. Commenting on this, the JTF Spokesman said in those states where militancy activities are rife, “we are doing our best so that everything does not degenerate into a breakdown of law and order.”

There have been allegations against the JTF that in the course of their operations against militants, some innocent civilians were sent to their early graves. Not mincing words about the allegation, Lt. Col. Sagir Musa said “it is not true. It is sheer propaganda from militants.” He gave an instance of other such propaganda when the militants had said they killed over 20 soldiers, a thing that was promptly reported by the media, which, according to the JTF spokesman, was false. This also applies to regular claims by militants of blowing up oil installations, he said.

It would be difficult to believe that in their fight against militants and their activities, the military would have had their battalion intact without the loss of some men at the hands of the militants. The common expectation is that the military is bound to record some casualties in spite of their professional proficiency. Lt. Col. Sagir Musa agrees with this point but stated that the military has lost about 2 to 3 men, quite contrary to the “propaganda of the militants. There is no need for us to hide those killed on our side” he added. He emphatically stated that in the recent resurgence in some parts of Rivers State where he is based, there were no casualties on the part of the military but for an officer who sustained injuries and who will soon be discharged from the hospital where he is receiving treatment.

The recent declaration of a unilateral cease-fire by the militants is one thing that has gladdened the hearts of many. But then, the JTF spokesman said “the issue of cease-fire does not arise because we are not at war. At the JTF level, we will continue to do our job, monitor the situation, and wherever our men are, they should be at maximum alert. Our mandate is to ensure that an enabling environment is created for all law-abiding citizens to go about their legitimate businesses and we will not shy away from that responsibility. If MEND really means what it calls a cease-fire, then they should surrender their arms.”

Some critics have slammed the military option used to tackle the menace of militancy in the Niger Delta, while Lt. Col. Sagir Musa respects these opinions, he stressed that besides the military option, there has to be the political will to tackle the problems of the region, and with it, economic empowerment of the youths, holistic development of the region, functional education and health systems, among others, should be given priority. The JTF Spokesman stressed that religious leaders have profound roles to play in the fight against militancy. In his words: “the religious leaders must continue to expose the fallacy of a life of militancy.”

Africa is credited with a maintaining respect for elders, a thing that accounts for the survival of the traditional stool, not only in Nigeria, but in the Niger Delta as well. For this reason “our traditional leaders must condemn militancy,” as well as those Leaders of Thought whose voices cut beyond frontiers. “The entire society,” said Lt. Col. Sagir Musa, “should rise in total condemnation of the menace of militancy.” “This is the solution to the Niger Delta crisis.” By deduction, the JTF spokesman affirms the creation of the Niger Delta Ministry, which he noted could bring about development in concrete terms.

In spite of all odds, Lt. Col. Sagir Musa expressed complete confidence that the situation in the Niger Delta is under control. He however regretted the fact the media have succumbed to the propaganda of the militants especially those of MEND whose email, he said, the media swallow hook, nail and sinker. In any case, he acknowledged that alertness should be encyclopedic, leaving no room for miscreants to capitalize on.

It has been rumored in the media and in some other quarters that some 1,000 soldiers are on their way to the Niger Delta to beef up security on the ground. To this allegation, Lt. Col. Sagir Musa said, “it’s not true. There is no such intention. What we have on ground is enough to deal with the situation. With recent happenings, it is clear that militancy has come to an end. They did not stop at the so-called unilateral cease-fire, but they sent emissaries to Abuja asking for the dialogue they had initially turned down. I keep saying that nobody or group of individuals is beyond the capabilities of the Nigerian Army. Militancy is an in-house crisis and so we are managing it.” The JTF spokesman reminds the militants by way of advice that there is no option better than peace and so everyone should remain law-abiding and peaceful.

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