From the restive creeks of Imo State came something to cheer yesterday. The Niger Delta Red Squad, the major militant group that has been responsible for the bombing of pipeline and other oil facilities surrendered their weapons after embracing the state’s amnesty programme.
They were pardoned by Governor Rochas Okorocha, who presided over the disarmament under the watch of the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Taiwo Lakanu, the Commander of the 34 Artillery Brigade, Brig.-Gen. KAY Isiyaku and other security chiefs.
Also embracing the amnesty were over 900 former militants belonging to other armed groups which also handed over their weapons, including AK 47 riffles, rocket launchers, pump action guns of various sizes and large quantity of explosives.
Presenting the militants to the Governor at the Government House Chapel, the Chairman of the State Disarmament Committee, Mr. Kingsley Uju, said that it took the committee over four months to get the agitators to renounce militancy and embrace the programme.
He noted that from their interactions with the militants at their various camps in the creeks, the major reasons they gave for taking up arms after the Federal Government Amnesty Programme of 2008 was their exclusion from the empowerment programme and the underdevelopment of the region.
He told Okorocha: “These people you see here gathered are from Oguta and Ohaji-Egbema council areas of the state. Your Excellency, on assumption of duty, the Committee met with the militants and in the course of our deliberations with them, we were able to find out that the oil companies that have been operating in their land since 1953 have done nothing to develop the communities.
“It was on this note that we appealed to them to renounce militancy and embrace peace as the only way the development they are yearning for will come to them. Today, these ones are yearning to be reintegrated back to the society. They have decided that they are tired of sleeping in the bush and carrying guns. This is why we are presenting these leagues of agitators today for state pardon, having lost a lot to militancy.
“We are appealing that the state will therefore extend pardon to these ones and save them and their families by recommending to the Federal Government to grant them full amnesty.”
While publicly renouncing their membership of all militant and cult groups, the armed militants said they were forced to resort to armed struggle as a result of marginalisation by oil companies operating in the communities.
They also expressed their anger over their exclusion from the training opportunities and empowerment offered to other militants from other Niger Delta states by the Federal Government, adding that they felt used and abandoned after they were lured to surrender their arms in 2011.
They said: “We are happy to announce today that we will no longer destroy pipelines or kill anyone. We have embraced the amnesty programme of the state government. We want to be empowered and we will help to guard the pipelines. We are happy that we have been forgiven our crimes and we want to be reintegrated into the society.”
Okorocha urged the former militants to go back as responsible members of the society and contribute to the development of their state.
He assured them that all their grievances will be forwarded to the appropriate quarters for prompt attention.
The governor, however, gave Thursday next week as deadline for those who were yet to surrender their arms.
Okorocha said: “By the powers conferred on me as the governor of the state, I hereby grant you pardon. You can now go and become good citizens and contribute to the development of your state and for those who are yet to hand over their weapons, you have up to Thursday next week to do so.”