MEND Constitutes “Aaron Team II” For Proper Dialogue With Buhari

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta is considering dialogue with the President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, on unresolved issues affecting the region, PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report.

A South African source who cannot be named for security reasons, said MEND’s leader, Henry Okah, has already given a nod for “Aaron Team 2” to be constituted.

At the peak of the Niger Delta crisis, which resulted in a dip in the country’s oil production quota, MEND had set up what it referred to as “Aaron Team” to dialogue with the Federal Government on ways of ending the long-drawn hostilities.

The Aaron Team was set up in 2009 shortly before late President, Umaru Yar’Adua, became sick.

It consisted of Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, former Chief of General Staff, late Mike Akhigbe, a retired vice admiral, Luke Aprezi, a retired general, Denzil Kentebe Amagbe and Sabella Abidde.

MEND’s leader, Mr. Okah and Farah Dagogo, were on the team as observers.

Mr. Yar’Adua, on November 2009, met with the Aaron Team against the advice of his Defence Minister, Godwin Abe, and some repentant militants led by Government Ekpemukpolo, alias Tomplo.

The late president, during the closed door meeting, assured the team that he would undertake a tour of the Niger Delta to see things for himself and urged cooperation with other stakeholders in order to restore peace to the region ravaged by bloody conflict.

The meeting was said to be largely exploratory but the team strongly canvassed true federalism as a means of engendering unity and economic development of the country.

Shortly after the meeting, the team, led by Mr. Akhigbe launched a website which sought to rally Niger Delta people and Nigerians to contribute to the dialogue.

“As you are all aware, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta [MEND] has put together a team of well-meaning Nigerians called Aaron Team, to dialogue with the Federal Government in order to find lasting solutions to the problems plaguing the Niger Delta,” Mr. Akhigbe wrote.

“The Team hopes to use this website as a means through which Niger Deltans, Nigerians, and Friends of Nigeria, can contribute to and follow the process.

“As much as we cannot address each individual comment or question, please know that we will do our best to keep you abreast of the dynamics of our dialogue. We are committed to working with the Federal Government of Nigeria to identify lasting solutions to the problems plaguing the Niger Delta.”

However, our source said MEND did not subscribe to the Amnesty Programme initiated by the Federal Government on the ground that it did not address the core issues that led to the armed struggle in the region.

“A new team is being assembled to dialogue with the new government of General Buhari over the root issues that gave rise to militancy,” said the source. “Those issues have not been addressed long after the government singed the fraudulent amnesty deal.

“President Goodluck Jonathan abandoned the blueprint prepared by late Yar’Adua which could have provided a holistic solution to the region’s many problems.

“He even refused to dialogue and rather preferred to court a few commanders to abandon the struggle, employed divide-and-rule tactics and used the fraudulent Niger Delta Amnesty programme as a smokescreen.”

He noted that the new initiative for dialogue by the group had nothing to do with the defeat of Mr. Jonathan at the presidential elections.

According to him, the Niger Delta struggle was never an Ijaw cause or about Mr. Jonathan, adding that the amnesty declared by the government only benefited a few Ijaw youth, while majority of the people of the region are still suffering.

When contacted, a member of “Aaron Team 1” and United States-based Professor of Political Science, Mr. Abidde confirmed that MEND will soon name a new team to dialogue with Mr. Buhari’s administration.

Mr. Abidde, a longtime critic of Mr. Jonathan, teaches at the Alabama State University.

Unlike the ongoing amnesty and empowerment of a few, Mr. Abidde insisted that the Niger Delta struggle has never been an Ijaw agenda.

The professor of political science noted that the Niger Delta region is not inhabited by Ijaws alone, adding that the amnesty and other Federal Government’s interventions in the region largely benefited Ijaws to the detriment of the other tribes.

Instead of a holistic development and comprehensive empowerment which were promised, he said the Jonathan administration doled out cash and juicy contracts to some Ijaw in the struggle and abandoned the entire region.

“As we speak, there is not a single five-star infrastructure anywhere in the Niger Delta region,” Mr. Abide said. “The Ogoni lands and waters are yet to be cleaned after the UNDP report was published.

“Many oil bearing communities across the region are still drinking polluted water and fishing in waters flowing with spilled crude. They are still cultivating farms with thick parches of crude and nobody is doing anything about it.

“The Niger Delta struggle issue wasn’t about the Ijaws alone. It was about every ethnic nationality that calls the region home — including the Isoko, Ibibios, Itsekiris, Urhobos, Binins, Esangs, Ogonis, Efiks, Ikweres and many others.”

The Okah brothers, Henry and Charles, who are top leaders of MEND, are currently being held in prisons in South Africa and Abuja respectively for their alleged roles in the 50th Independence Anniversary bombing in Abuja.

MEND has been fighting for years for a greater share of oil revenues from the Niger Delta, home to Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry.

The region, which is also home to President Jonathan, is impoverished and polluted by spills.