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Hostages Are War Prisoners

February 27, 2006
Over time, the word ?militant? has become synonymous with the Ijaws. Are the Ijaws violent by nature?

A: The Ijaw man is not a violent man. He is a peace-loving and law-abiding citizen.

But I make bold to say that it is the Nigerian state that has transformed the situation to what it is today. The Ijaw man wants autonomy; he wants to control of his God-given natural resources. All these demands have been espoused in the Kaiama Declaration.

The Nigerian state has done so much to push the Ijaw to the wall. So much has been said about the uncontrolled degradation of our environment, exploitation of our natural resources without adequate compensation and all that. But nothing has changed since then.

How would you describe the recent abduction of some expatriates by a group of Ijaw youths?

A: Well, the reason for the first incident of kidnap is already a matter of public knowledge. It has been published in the papers. I am not sure I am competent to speak for the group that carried out the operation. As a group, we do not believe in hostage-taking or abduction of foreign nationals. We are committed to attaining the goals of the Ijaws as provided for in the Kaiama Declaration. The cardinal focus is to ensure self-determination and autonomy for the Ijaw nation through dialogue and non-violent means. But I want to say that the Ijaw people had been in agitation before that incident. On the second incident, let me say that there is a strong thinking in some quarters among the Ijaws about what the press refers to as hostages. Most Ijaws see them as prisoners of war. The thinking here is that these ?hostages? are accomplices of the state in prosecuting war against the Ijaw. Rational people are looking at these developments from close range. We believe that he who seeks equity must go with clean hands. However, in trying to resolve other important and far-reaching issues, I believe that hostage taking is an additional problem, which is uncalled for. But again, some of us feel that the recent detention of some expatriates in the creeks was a result of an incident, which was caused by state aggression against the Ijaw community in Gbaramatu. What happened was that military helicopters attacked these villages and the soldiers were shooting randomly. In doing that, the casualties cannot be rightly said to be the so-called militant youths. Community members, women, children and the elderly were shot. Those that survived felt that they will not fold their arms and watch the military exterminate their community. It happened on the 15th, on 17th and now on 19th. So they decided to put up a defense. So, what is happening now can better be described as mass action; it is a spontaneous reaction of the people. It was obvious to them that they are slated for extinction. I want the world to look at it with a sense of sympathy. It?s a fight for survival.


But the military is saying that the attack on Okerenkoko was meant to check illegal bunkering...

A: One big story of bunkering in recent time was the case of MT. African Pride, but an Ijaw man did not carry it out; military men were involved and a martial court dealt with the case. We know that bunkering exists everywhere. If there is an official policy to stamp out bunkering through massive bombardment, I don?t think it should start from Ijawland. Don?t forget that the war on corruption also started from Ijawland.

People commit crimes all over the country; corruption takes place all over Nigeria, yet the Ijaw man is singled out for punishment.



But the military also alleged that Okerenkoko was attacked because it is believed to have a stockpile of arms and ammunition, especially during the ethnic conflict in Warri...

A: We have to be careful with the way we tackle this matter. The thinking is that there is more to what is happening than meets the eyes. Thank God you raised the issue.  One finds it difficult to draw the line between what is happening now and the ethnic conflict in Warri. It has a very close link and 2007 is almost here. We think that the crisis also has an ethnic undertone. From the feelers we got, the presidency did not order the attack and we know that this process is presided over by our neighbour who has been made the Minister of State for Defence. So, we believe that this whole thing has ethnic colouration. Yet, the struggle took place in Okerenkoko and even before the struggle started, Okerenkoko was attacked in November 2002 by the army because they felt there was a stockpile of weapons there. But when they went there, they found nothing and they had attacked the place and burnt houses. So, we can see that history is repeating itself. Your question is timely. The Ministry of Defence has been surrendered to our neighbour and a task force has been put in place under the supervision of our neighbour who is the Minister of State for Defence. And you cannot imagine that since this thing happened, the governor of the state has not deemed it fit to come down and sympathize with the community that was attacked, more so, when he was saying that the military are the aggressors. He should understand that there is a refugee problem. People are carrying bullets, some are homeless, but he is not thinking of that. Nobody is interested.


Should the joint military task force be withdrawn from the Delta?

A: The task force has outlived its usefulness. In a democracy, there is no place for such a garrison inside a civilian community.


But they are peacekeepers?

A: They have kept more hostages than peace. Only last week, they shot a young man for no reason even after the presidency has called for a ceasefire. The task force should be disbanded.


Do you have confidence in the 10-man committee, led by Chief Edwin Clark, set up to free the hostages?

A: We have confidence in E.K. Clark, but not in the committee. People are in a refugee situation and nobody is talking about that. The thinking is that the release of the hostages should not be the only item on the committee?s agenda. They must focus on the refugee situation created by the military attack on Okerenkoko.


What will you tell the boys?

A: I believe that the international community has been sympathetic to the problem of the people of the Niger Delta. So, it is important that we don?t hurt that aspect of our struggle. Moreso, when we are facing some hostile media reports at home. A section of the press has taken it upon itself to create a situation where Ijawland will be positioned for justifiable military attack. But there are people who take time to look into our case. So, we must not destroy our friendship with the international community in a bid to fight injustice and environmental degradation.


Is it likely that the Alamieyeseigha saga and the detention of Asari-Dokubo embitter the Ijaw youths?

A: We are embittered. Not only on the Alamieyeseigha and Dokubo issue, but we are also angry at many things. But what I am saying is that it does not justify this level of agitation. The lawmakers were made to sign Alamieyeseigha?s impeachment notice at gunpoint. That is hostage taking and impeachment was the ransom. They had to impeach the governor to regain their freedom and come back as lawmakers. It is the shortest impeachment process in history. The Ijaw people are not happy with the process; the law should not be enforced selectively. The highest lawmaking body is the National Assembly and they passed a resolution that Shell should pay $1.5 billion to assuage the oil communities. But nothing has been done and we have our fears. For instance, a place like Okerenkoko does not have its own ward despite its population. Whereas a place like Apapa, which is just less than a street, has its own ward in Warri.


Militants? 9-Point Demand

Martyrs Brigade 9-Point Demand

1. Great Britain must revalidate all protectorate treaties signed between her and the various city-states and kingdoms of the Ijaw Nation and the Niger Delta.


2. Great Britain must, within 48 hours, commence the revalidation of these treaties which she unilaterally abrogated and set aside without the consent and permission of the various city states and kingdoms of Ijaw Nation and the Niger Delta.


3. Great Britain must, within 48 hours, order the occupation forces of the Nigerian state to vacate and unconditionally withdraw from the Ijaw and Niger Delta-protected territory.


4. All foreigners and non-citizens of the Ijaw Nation and Niger Delta-protected territories must immediately vacate the territory.


5. Great Britain should immediately commence the process of handing over this territory to the United Nations as Trust Territory and eventually handing the administration of this territory to her citizens.


6. All foreign multinationals who have been involved in the criminal exploitation of the Niger Delta protected territory in collaboration with imperialist Great Britain and the dubious occupation Nigerian state should immediately compute the equivalent of the resources illegally exploited and stolen from Ijaw and Niger Delta protected territories. This computation must be done in dollars, Euros and other international currencies. This computed value must then be handed over to the United Nations in trust for the people of the Ijaw and Niger Delta territories.


7. Great Britain should immediately commence the process for the release of all citizens of Ijaw Nation and Niger Delta illegally detained or imprisoned under British laws and the laws of the Nigerian state.


8. Foreign multinationals must immediately commence the clean-up and revamping of the Ijaw Nation and Niger Delta environment.


9. The United Nations must set up a tribunal to try and bring to justice all those who committed the genocide in Ogoni land, Umuchem, Ogbia, Opia, Ekiye, Odi and Odioma. Failure on the part of Great Britain to start the process of implementation of these demands will met with severely unpleasant consequences.



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