NIGER DELTA’S “OSAMA BIN LADEN” SURRENDERS TO NIGERIAN AUTHORITIES
Nigerian president Umaru Yar’Adua declared an amnesty program for armed groups in the Niger Delta on June 25. Those taking advantage of the program must disarm, renounce the use of violence and partake in rehabilitation efforts. The amnesty will be in effect until October 4. The Inspector General of the Nigerian Police, Mike Okiro, denied claims that the federal government introduced the amnesty under pressure from foreign governments to bring a resolution to the crisis in the Niger Delta where attacks continue to reduce oil output and raise global prices (Rhythm FM [Abuja], June 24).
The only local warlord to present himself in person for the amnesty so far is Solomon Ndigbara, better known in the Delta by his nickname; “Osama bin Laden.” Ndigbara is a local force in the Ogoni region of Rivers State. On June 26, Ndigbara met federal authorities about 25km east of Port Harcourt to turn in a small quantity of weapons, including two AK-47 assault rifles, five FN Light Automatic Rifles (FN-LAR), three pump-action rifles, a homemade pistol and about 1,000 rounds of ammunition. The disarmament ceremony was largely symbolic as most of Ndigbara’s weapons remain with his 60 followers in the creeks of Rivers State (ThisDay Online [Lagos], June 27).
So far the main armed group in the Delta, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), has rejected the amnesty as one better suited for criminals than political activists. MEND is seeking enhanced federalism for the region, restitution for civilian losses in military operations and the release of MEND leader Henry Okah from detention (Okah was extradited from Angola to face treason charges in Nigeria in 2007). Two days after proclaiming the amnesty, President Yar’Adua announced Henry Okah would be among those eligible to apply.
Despite early reports that four other militant leaders were ready to surrender, Farah Dagogo, Ebikabowei Victor (a.k.a. “General” Boyloaf), Ateke Tom and Soboma George will send proxy representatives to a Port Harcourt meeting with federal officials to discuss what they described as “grey areas” in the amnesty program. (Vanguard [Lagos], June 24). The militant leaders are wary of the amnesty, recalling the fate of two others, Asari Dokubo and Soboma Jackrich (a.k.a. Egberipapa), who came in for peace talks but were instead arrested (Vanguard, June 24). The four declared in a statement:
“We see the proclamation of amnesty strictly as an offer of peace; this is because the Niger Delta militants are not criminals, but freedom fighters who have over the years given their time, money, energy, liberty and lives towards ensuring that Niger Delta people receive a fair treatment from the oil companies and the federal government, that the God given resources of Niger Delta people are controlled by them and that the Niger Delta environment is restored and fully protected from further degradation” (AllAfrica.com, June 27).
The amnesty has also been rejected by another umbrella group, the Joint Revolutionary Council (JRC). A spokesperson condemned the regime in Abuja while acknowledging a degree of local responsibility for the ongoing crisis. “The Yar’Adua junta has failed the people of the Ijaw and Niger Delta region even as we recognize that the people of the region today constitute their own biggest problems. Fifth columnist elements, incompetent political leaders and outright stupidity have corrupted the minds of the people” (ThisDay Online, June 27).
Less than 12 hours after the amnesty was proclaimed, MEND blew up a Shell well head in Delta State in response to what MEND claimed was a Joint Task Force (JTF) “punitive expedition” against the community of Agbeti and retaliation for the destruction of militants’ homes there (Vanguard [Lagos], June 26; Times of Nigeria, June 25). Most security operations in the Niger Delta are carried out by the JTF, composed of representatives from all of Nigeria’s security agencies (Afrik.com, June 22). Recent operations by the JTF in Delta State, particularly in the Gbaramatu Kingdom, have displaced thousands of villagers.
The attack on the Shell installation in Delta State followed MEND’s destruction of a major pipeline in Rivers State on June 25, an event timed to coincide with the visit to Nigeria of Russian President Dimitri Medvedev to discuss a Russian-Nigerian joint gas venture, the unfortunately named “Nigaz.” A MEND letter to Medvedev warned, “This is the fate that awaits the gas pipelines you plan to invest in if justice is not factored into the whole process” (Daily Sun [Lagos], June 26).
IRAQI NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR DISCUSSES THE FUTURE OF THE IRANIAN MUJAHIDEN-E KHALQ (MEK)
Former Iraqi National Security Advisor Muwaffaq al-Rubay’i, a true insider to political events in Baghdad since the U.S. invasion of 2003, has started to give a number of lengthy interviews reflecting on his experiences over the last five years, from being the attending physician at the execution of Saddam Hussein to negotiating security agreements with Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia.
Al-Rubay’i is a British educated Shi’a neurologist and a former close ally of Ahmad Chalabi, the disgraced Iraqi politician and fugitive from Jordan. He returned to Iraq from London in 2003 and was appointed a year later as National Security Advisor by the Coalition Provisional Authority. After being dismissed as National Security Advisor in June, al-Rubay’i formed a new political party, al-Wasat (The Center). Contesting the procedures that led to his dismissal, al-Rubay’i claims he is still the Iraqi National Security Advisor.
Accounting the successes of the post-Saddam Iraqi government, al-Rubay’i cites the creation of a security infrastructure, the introduction of elections and a parliament, and the defeat of al-Qaeda and the militias. At the same time he acknowledges that ordinary citizens are worse off; services are a “catastrophe,” agriculture is neglected, food distribution is inefficient compared to the Saddam era and industrial production has nearly bottomed out. He admits, “We have committed thousands of strategic and tactical mistakes in the political process, on the security level, and in providing services” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, June 24).
Al-Rubay’i was asked about his role in isolating and disarming the Iranian Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a controversial Iraq-based Iranian opposition group with a U.S. terrorist designation. Efforts have been underway recently to reverse this designation so the MEK can be deployed against the Iranian regime. At the moment, the group is confined to Ashraf Camp in northeastern Iraq. Al-Rubay’i favors removing the group to western Iraq, saying Iran should not be given an excuse to attack Iraq as Turkey did with its offensives against the Kurdistan Workers Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan – PKK):
“We want to move them [the MEK] so they would not pose a threat to Iranian national security, so they would be beyond the range of Iranian fire, and so we can remove any pretext for the Iranians to interfere in our internal affairs. We have asked the Iranians to step up their security measures on the border to prevent the smuggling of arms to the militias, and they responded positively. In return, we must do something, as a goodwill gesture” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, June 24).
Al-Rubay’i suggests MEK members have two options: to return to Iran voluntarily, or to return to their countries of origin, mostly in North America or Europe. He claims 250 MEK fighters have already accepted an amnesty in Iran.
Despite his differences with Iran, al-Rubay’i insists that cooperation is the best available path for the rival neighbors. “I do not agree with the Iranians politically, and my relationship with them cannot be described as amicable and friendly. However, I think that we in Iraq must find an equation for coexistence with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and this must not be a confrontational formula as under Saddam Hussein” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, June 24). Deploying MEK’s bombers and assassins would not be part of a policy of coexistence.
Al-Rubay’i insists the MEK has launched a “political, media and public relations campaign” against him, “because I am convinced that Mujahideen Khalq and its members are a terrorist organization – like the Kurdistan Workers Party and al-Qaeda – and they should leave Iraq, but not necessarily go to Iran. What matters is that they should not remain in Iraq. We are not forcing them to go back to Iran, but they should choose a third country” (Ilaf.com, June 27).