Article published on the 2009-08-05
Nigeria's main armed group in the Niger Delta has said it will not accept money in exchange for laying down arms. The message was contained in an email statement posted on the internet on Wednesday, by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend). The group claims to be fighting for a larger share of the oil revenues for the impoverished Niger Delta community. It said it was important to make the clarification to counter what it termed "propagandists and rumour mongers."
This comes just ahead of a three-month window opened by president Umaru Yar'Adua which will grant unconditional amnesty to militants who lay down their arms. Mend declared a 60-day ceasefire last month in response to the amnesty , but is yet to accept the offer.
RFI spoke to Dokubo Asari, leader of the Niger Delta Peoples' Volunteer Force, another armed group in the Niger Delta. He is currently in Hamburg, Germany receiving medical care.
Asari: "Yar'Adua does not have any authority to grant amnesty to persons who have not been convicted by any copurt of law. The constitutional provision that he is quoting, section 195, does not give him that power.
Until these fundamental issues of sovereignty and the right to control the territory and the resources of our people are disposed of, I think whatever quick fix situation that is being brought by the government will not succeed.
RFI: Are you speaking for the Niger Delta Volunteer Force?
Asari: I speak for the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force. I am the former president of the Ijaw Council, the umbrella body of all the organisations in the Ijaw Niger Delta.
RFI: You are speaking to us from Germany. You are the beneficiary of an amnesty by President Yar'Adua?
Asari: I have never been a beneficiary of any amnesty and I would never accept any amnesty. I have not committed any crime and I have not done anything wrong.
RFI: There are so many sons and daughters of the Niger Delta who are currently under detention. Some people are talking about 10,000 of them.
Asari: Yes, so many people. There has been a clampdown since this agitation started, with Ken Saro-Wiwa. So many people have been killed, so many people have been in detention several times. I was there for almost two years.
RFI: Some people claiming to belong to MEND posted an email message on the internet today that they would not trade the armed struggle for money. Are you saying that is not on the table at this moment?
Asari: I have said it several several times. There is no organisation known as MEND. When I was arrested and went to prison, the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force federated the Ijwa community in the Niger Delta. They came together to prevent any more arrests in the leadership cadre of the movement.We decided to provide a platform that doees not have a name so that nobody will be arrested. These two groups met in October 2005 and decided to float a faceless organisation known as MEND.
The people carrying out the attacks and activities going on in the Niger Delta today, they are not MEND. We have also received their messages. We have decided on a cease-fire. We have suspended armed struggle since 2004. We know these commanders. Most of them are NDPVF.
RFI: Do you think it is necessary to sit down with the government to find some kind of framework under which the Ijwa youth can be released?
Asari: No, what I am saying, a fundamental issue triggered the struggle of sovereignty and the control of the territory and these proceeds of the people, because sole of us are dying. What will we tell those who have died, that we abandoned the struggle?
RFI: We understand you have some health problems.
Asari: I have problems with my kidney, my liver, I am on drugs. There is nothing I can do because there is no cure. I will continue to be supported by drugs. I am returning home and I don't know what will happen to me when I go back home. All that they are doing about people in the North, that Boko Haram, it is just to say when they want to kill our people, they will say after all we killed them."