A strategic security consultant, Max Gbanite, has challenged the Nigerian government to ensure it engages in dialogue with Niger Delta militants from a position of strength.
Mr Gbanite made the call on Monday while giving his opinion about the reports that the Federal Government had struck a deal with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), to end the crisis in the Niger Delta region.
“Whether you are going to negotiate, talk or discuss, any reasonable government must do that from a position of strength,” he said on Sunrise Daily.
Element Of Believability
While the security expert supported government’s dialogue with militants, he expressed concern at the position of the government in the matter.
“It is good to negotiate with MEND, it is good to negotiate with the Avengers, it is good to negotiate with the IPOB (and) it is good to even rehabilitate some Boko Haram people (after all they are all Nigerians), but the issue is what is government’s position?” Gbanite questioned.
While emphasizing the need for Nigerians to be aware of the progress, he insisted, “Until government comes out to say we have indeed negotiated and these are the outcomes of the negotiation, then there is believability”.
He challenged the spokesmen for the President, Mr Femi Adesina and Mr Shehu Garba, to “come out and say we are indeed (negotiating)”, insisting that “there must be an element of believability”.
At the side line of an event in Lagos State, Professor Soyinka told Channels Television that unlike the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), he was yet to find out what exactly the militants actually wanted.
He noted that the only thing he had seen was the unjust destruction of the nation’s oil facilities.
The Niger Delta Avengers have claimed responsibility for recent attacks on infrastructure in the oil rich region, crippling oil production and rendering the energy sector paralytic.
Founder of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Mr. Government Ekpemopolo, also known as Tompolo, has described the presidential pardon granted former Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepriye Alamieyeseigha, as the best thing President Goodluck Jonathan has done for the Niger Delta people.
Tompolo who was addressing journalists at Oporoza, Warri North Local Government said the action further guarantees the Niger Delta people’s support for the President’s second term bid.
He argued that as a Nigerian, President Jonathan is constitutionally qualified to run, having been given the go-ahead by a federal high court sitting in Abuja.
Tompolo said the Niger Delta people view the second term bid of the President as the right of the people of the region where the President is from.
The former MEND leader, however, declined further comments on the 24 years sentence handed MEND’s former leader, Henry Okah, describing it simply as a family matter that will be sorted out.
Activist lawyer, Festus Keyamo has described the trial and judgement of Henry Okah, leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) as political.
Mr Keyamo, in a telephone interview with Channels Television, said Mr Okah’s problems started when he refused an offer to support the leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan.
He said, “I want to let Nigerians and the World know that there’s a lot of politics involved in this matter; because I am aware that so many overtures were made to Henry Okah to support the Jonathan administration openly, like other militants were doing.
“They needed his support so badly and government officials, friends of Jonathan travelled to South Africa, met Henry Okah, stayed with him and courted his support. Henry Okah did not agree to their terms. They wanted him to openly support the Jonathan’s administration at that time.”
Mr Okah was on Tuesday jailed for 24 years by the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg after being convicted of masterminding the 15 March 2010 bombing in Warri, Delta State and the 1 October bombing in Abuja.
The court handed a 10 year jail term to Mr Okah for MEND’s threat to deal with South Africans.
Former member of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Henry Okah was on Tuesday jailed for 24 years by the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg.
The court sentenced the MEND leader to a total of 34 years imprisonment, but he will spend only 24 years as the sentence will run concurrently.
According to our correspondent, Betty Dibia, who was in the court, Mr Okah was found guilty on 13 counts and was sentenced to 12 years,
The first six counts were relating to the Warri bombing of 15th March, 2010.
He was also sentenced to 12 years on another six count charge for the October 1st 2010 bombing in Abuja, while he was sentenced to 10 years for MEND’s threat to deal with South Africans.
“Effectively, the accused (Mr Okah) is therefore sentenced to 24 years imprisonment,” Judge Neels Claassen said as he handed down sentence.
On 21 January, Mr Okah was found guilty on 13 counts of terrorism, including engaging in terrorist activities, conspiracy to engage in terrorist activities, and delivering, placing, and detonating an explosive device.
The charges related to two car bombs in Abuja, Nigeria, in which 12 people were killed and 36 injured on 1 October 2010, the anniversary of the country’s independence.
The second bombing took place in Warri on 15 March 2010 at a post amnesty dialogue meeting. One person was killed and 11 seriously injured.
In both bombings, two car bombs went off minutes apart in both places. The cars were parked in close proximity to each other.
Judge Claassen sentenced Okah to 12 years imprisonment for each of the bombings and 10 years for the threats made to the South African government after his arrest in October 2010.
The 10 years would run concurrently with the 24 years.
In January, during judgment, Judge Claassen said the State had proved Mr Okah’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and his failure to testify meant the evidence against him remained uncontested.
Mr Okah has denied any involvement, claiming the charges against him were politically motivated.
Born in 1965, Mr Okah came into the spotlight as a key leader of MEND, one of the armed groups involved in the struggle for resource control in the region
The fourth son of a naval officer, Okah was said to be enraged by the living conditions of the Niger delta people and subsequently used his experience as a gun salesman and a merchant navy mariner to further his self-chosen career as a rebel leader.
It will be recalled that MEND, which started its activities in 2006, has claimed responsibility for several attacks on oil companies operating in the Niger Delta, often through the use of sabotage, guerilla warfare or kidnapping of foreign oil workers.
According to the group their main goal is to destabilize the foreign oil interest in the Niger Delta, who they claim have been exploiting the local populace.
Okah organized and funded rebel groups and at a point, he relocated to South Africa, where he continued with his armed struggle.
In September 2007, Okah was arrested in Angola while trying to buy equipment and arms for use in the Niger Delta.
He was deported to Nigeria in February 2008 , detained in solitary confinement and charged with 62-counts of treason, terrorism and illegal possession of arms and firearms.
That trial, which began in April 2008, was held in private, because the government then headed by late President Umaru Yar’Adua said it would “jeopardize national security”.
But his lawyer, Mr Femi Falana insisted that a closed trial was an infringement of his rights and asked a superior court to overturn the decision.
In July 2009, Okah’s lawyer announced that he had accepted the amnesty, which had been offered by the Nigerian government to all the Niger Delta rebels willing to lay down their arms, in a bid to end attacks on the oil industry.
On the 13th of July,2009, Justice Mohammed Liman, the judge handling the controversial trial discharged Okah following a Nolle Prosequi entered by the then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr Michael Aondoakaa.
After he was set freed by the court he went back to South Africa, where he was living with his family and he was there till he was re-arrested for the Independence Day bombing in 2010.
Even though the alleged crimes occurred on Nigeria’s soil, and there is an extradition treaty between both countries, the Nigerian government refused to seek his extradition.
With this sentence, Nigerian history would record Henry Okah as the first Niger Delta militant leader to be convicted on charges of terrorism.
The Federal Government has dissociated itself from the conviction of Henry Okah, the leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) by a South African court following threats by the group to resume hostilities.
The government insisted that this is not the time to threaten Nigeria but to stand up in unity for it.
MEND had allegedly threatened to renew attacks and evolve fresh dimensions to it following the conviction of its leader in South Africa.
In a statement dated January 23, 2013 and signed by one Comrade Azizi, MEND insisted that the conviction of Mr Okah by the South African Court on all 13-count charge of involvement in the 2010 Independence Day bombing in Abuja which killed many people amounted to a betrayal.
It said Nigerians would feel its impact when it eventually commences attacks which it disclosed will not be restricted to the Niger Delta region. Reacting to this threat, the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku insisted that Mr Okah was tried in South Africa under due process of the law of the country.
He said it was very shocking that any Nigerian or group would take up arms against Nigeria on account of that conviction.
The minister said on the contrary, expectation was that all citizens should show higher level of patriotism. He argued that, “We should not live in a nation where we should abandon the law.”
Mr Maku noted that citizens should understand that the country offers the best opportunity to live in and urged for support for the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan.