UNTIL November 15, 2005, when the Metropolitan Police in London are likely to charge the Bayelsa State governor, Chief Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha to a court of competent jurisdiction on allegation(s) of money laundering, it seems to be the words of the British Police against that those of Alamieyeseigha, with the way the matter is twisting and turning presently.
The Federal Government, nevertheless, upped the ante, Tuesday, in the Niger-Delta region in which Bayelsa is located when security agents arrested the leader of the Niger-Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF), Alhaji Mujaheedeen Asari Dokubo, a latter-day re-embodiment of Ijaw self-determination fighter, the late Isaac Adaka-Boro in connection with what government calls treason and unlawful assembly.
Dokubo’s take into custody in Port Harcourt, the Rivers state capital, from where he was whisked to Abuja has only added to the Alamieyeseigha money-laundering tale. For before then, many believed that the Ijaw groups threatening fire and brimstone over his arrest were merely grandstanding. And what more, Dokubo was not even in the best of terms with Alamieyeseigha and his other South-South contemporaries, who he supposed were giving little thought to the self-determination quest of the people of the zone.
Incensed by Dokubo’s arrest for questioning, his group gave the Federal Government a 24-hour ultimatum to let him go. With the explosions of suspected dynamites, Wednesday, in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa capital, people thought the much-orchestrated “war” had started. Only on Thursday also, armed militants seized control of Idama flow station in Rivers State and ordered the staff to shut it down. They complied. But are these just isolated incidents or not?
However, with the heavy movement of Ijaw warlords into the creeks of Bayelsa and other South-South states between Monday and Thursday, there has been a mortal fear that angels of hell may be let loose.
Saturday Vanguard learnt that though Dokubo was in the net, he is not the lone target of security agents. There are others suspected to be on the list including the MASSOB leader, Chief Ralph Uwazurike. Also on the list, according to an Ijaw warlord who joined his colleagues in Bayelsa State, Tuesday, were the leader of the South-South Liberation Movement (SSLM), John Adie; Delta state co-ordinator of the group, Bailbond and another dreaded Ijaw warlord, Chief Government Ekpemukpolo. Saturday Vanguard could not confirm the authenticity of the list, Thursday, but a military intelligence officer was alleged to have communicated the information to the group.
No doubt, there is an avoidable tension in the Niger- Delta but will the various groups strike as threatened, whether for the Dokubo or for any other reasons? The answer is not quite clear and much also depends on how the Federal Government handles the matter. And without mincing words, the government, Wednesday, was firm that it would not be intimidated.
The gathering storm
The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) and the chairman of the umbrella body of the dreaded Egbesu Boys, the Supreme Egbesu Assembly (SEA), Sergeant Werinipre Digifa fired the first salvo two days after Alamieyeseigha’s arrest when they threatened to attack British nationals and their interests in the Niger-Delta region. The IYC, in fact, ordered all its affiliates “to mobilise, be on full alert and await further directives”, claiming that the goveronor’s arrest was a calculated plot to provoke the people of the Niger Delta to violence so that a state of emergency could be declared in Bayelsa state.
“We reject all such pretences and shall resist all such evil plans of the politicians to take over the only Ijaw state in Nigeria. The British and Nigerian authorities should forthwith cease all acts of exploitation, intimidation and oppression against our people”, the council stated.
Another group, the OPU, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Bayelsa frowned at what it described as the “on-going persecution of the governor-general of the Ijaw nation and governor of Bayelsa state, Chief D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha by the British authorities working in close collaboration with the Federal Government of Nigeria”, adding that “it is an unnecessary insult, a provocative assault on the sensibilities of the Ijaw who have suffered serial indignities in the hands of federal authorities”.
As if giving credence to the position of the youth groups, the president of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Prof Kimse Okoko, Monday, at a press conference in Yenagoa claimed that some persons were given N100 million to foment trouble in Bayelsa, adding that he had it on good authority that no money was actually found in the London home of the governor and that the contentious one million pound sterling which one Ogbomo claimed belonged to him was the imagination of journalists.
There are, however, other Ijaw groups that do not see the point like their other kinsmen who were threatening to go to war over the arrest of Alamieyeseigha. The president of the Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities (FNDIC), Chief Bello Oboko dissociated his body from the crowd and insisted that justice should be allowed to prevail. In his words: “We believe in the rule of law and not violence. The rule of law should be allowed to take its course and if the governor who I know believes in the rule of law is not guilty, he would be declared so by the law”.
Already, oil firms in the Niger Delta have adopted some security measures to safeguard not only British nationals but also all foreigners in their employ. The British Embassy was said to have raised a security alarm, which prompted the Federal Government to deploy troops to strategic places in the region, especially following the arrest of Dokubo. It is evident that security had since been beefed up at most of the oil installations in the region.
And with the seizure of the Idama pump station in Rivers State by militant gangs two days ago, there is red alert in the Niger Delta by the government as well as the oil companies. Already, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) has evacuated its workers from the creeks in Rivers and Bayelsa as a result of threats by militant Ijaw youths to attack oil workers over the arrest of Dokubo. And from the streets of the troubled Port Harcourt to the creeks in Bayelsa, Delta, Akwa Ibom and other states that may not be under serious threats at the moment, there is deployment of troops or an intent to do so. Yet, the angry groups have continued to vow that they would shut down oil installations. When will there be respite?
Anxiety amongst governors
Information pieced together by this paper showed that since the arrest of Alamieyeseigha in London was broken, some of the South-South governors as well as their other colleagues from other zones, have been wondering how the cat was let out of the bag. More interested in solving the riddle are some of the governors who are believed to have foreign accounts.
Indeed, before the Bayelsa governor was picked up, the Economic Crimes and Financial Commission (EFCC) was said to be keeping its eyes on some of the governors’ accounts both within and outside the country. But it is not only the governors that are in the racket. Local government chairmen are also said to be in the big business. Some of them are alleged to have bought houses in London and other countries within two or three years in office and have eye-popping sums stashed away in bank accounts abroad.
The governors are, however, not leaving Chief Alamieyeseigha to carry his cross alone. This reporter was told that some of them were lobbying the presidency to simmer down. A top politician from the South-South who is close to President Obasanjo had been contacted to speak to his friend but it was not known as at Thursday, if he had been able to meet with Mr. President. Though, indications from the presidency were that the Federal Government would want the Metropolitan Police to go ahead with the prosecution if there is the evidence against the governor, the lobbyists want to play to his sentiments, given the embarrassment the trial would cause the country.
Politricks of Alamieyeseigha’s arrest
Leader of the South-South, Chief Edwin Clark, a former federal Commissioner for Information was at the Heathrow Airport in London on his way back to Nigeria when the news of Alamieyeseigha’s arrest filtered to him. The Ijaw leader, who had told this paper the previous day that he would return to Nigeria on Thursday, was dumbfounded and had to cancel his flight. Not even the September 20 “bridge building” meeting of the North and South-South, being convened by former President Shehu Shagari, which he was strongly opposed to and wanted to come back to Nigeria to mobilise support for its postponment was enough to make him abandon the embattled governor in his hour of need. He was still holed up in London as at the time of filing this report.
Earlier reports indicated that the governor was arraigned in court and granted bail but the Bayelsa state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Oronto Douglas, a lawyer, rose stoutly in defence of his boss, saying that the governor was not charged for any wrongdoing or arraigned in court for any offence.
His words: “It is commonplace fact that when a person is charged, certain counts would be read to him in respect of which he is expected to plead guilty. Chief Alamieyeseigha was not charged before any court, so the question of his arraignment does not arise, this trite legal matter that should not be allowed to confuse the people of Nigeria by those who have selfish agenda. Is it not surprising that until now, no one has been able to tell us the name of the court, the name of the magistrate or judge and the counts of offences?”
While it is clear, however, that the reason the Bayelsa governor could not return to the country was because his movement has been restricted by the Metropolitan Police until after being possibly charged on November 15, the Bayelsa State government had claimed that Chief Alamieyeseigha stayed put because he was directed by his surgeon to observe a bed rest.
Also, the state government has so far stuck to its story that no money was found in Alamieyeseigha’s custody. A man known as Ogbomo had actually showed up at Scotland Yard, claiming to be the owner of the controversial one million pounds. The police in London have not amply countered this claim or provided satisfactory answer to the contention that there was nobody in the governor’s residence when it was searched. No doubt, a clearer picture of the jigsaw would become known from November 15 upwards.
Britain’s spirited defence
The British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Richard Grozney who was obviously seeking a soft-landing for his government and nationals in the country, said during the week, that the Federal Government inspired the arrest of the governor.
President Obasanjo had earlier given indication that the Federal Government had no hands in the governor’s arrest and that if he broke the laws of another country, he should not expect any immunity to cover him. However, respected lawyer of repute, Prof. Itse Sagay faulted the government’s position, insisting that Alamieyeseigha as a governor in Nigeria enjoys the same immunity as Obasanjo outside the country.
In effect, argued Mr. Preye Wariowei, the acting chief press secretary to the governor, the United Kingdom Diplomatic Privileges Act of 1964 and the State Immunity Act of 1978 of the same country protects the governor from prosecution. The differing claims notwithstanding, Nigerians and the entire world can only wait till November to know where the pendulum swings.
Will they strike?
National chairman of the Traditional Rulers of Oil Producing Communities Organisation of Nigeria (TROMPCON), His Royal Majesty, Pere Charles Ayemi-Botu told Saturday Vanguard in an interview recently that the Federal Government seemed to be contributing to the tension in the Niger Delta by the way it deploys soldiers to the region and carries out its activities generally in the region. The traditional ruler’s expression vividly captures the present nervousness in the region due largely to the arrest of Dokubo and Alamieyeseigha.
But of more anger to the militant gangs in the Niger Delta is the predicament of Alhaji Dokubo who was not among those spoiling for a showdown over the travail of Governor Alamieyeseigha. He had told this paper 24 hours before his arrest that his group would do anything including arms struggle to achieve resource control for the people of the South-South region but that he would not exchange blows with anybody because a governor was arrested for money laundering.
“We’re waiting for directives from our commanders before we act”, an Ijaw warlord told Saturday Vanguard on phone from Bayelsa, Tuesday evening, indicating that they were waiting to see what the Federal Government would do in the next few days with Dokubo before taking their next line of action.
Port-Harcourt on its knees
The directives came later the night of that day to stir Port Harcourt a little and at about 10 am, the next day, Wednesday, hundreds of youths believed to be supporters of Dokubo stormed the streets protesting his arrest. The NDPVF members were armed with knives, bottles and machetes and they mounted a roadblock on Tombia Street before setting bonfires.
On its part, the police and other security agencies reacted by sending its men out to contain the protesters. Soldiers were deployed in Port Harcourt on the orders of the Chief of Defence Staff, General Alexander Ogomudia to checkmate the protesters while troops were already on the alert in Yenagoa and Warri.. And will remain so for quite sometime.
But that also did not stop some armed youths from taking over the Idama flow station, Thursday, before ordering Chevron workers to shut down the station.
And Yenagoa bleeds
Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State was somewhat quiet since the news of the governor’s arrest even though virtually everybody was edgy. The tension remained palpable and people were ready to take cover at any slight disturbance.
But four successive explosions in an uncompleted building on Aretahin Street were to shatter whatever graveyard peace that existed. The police in the state quickly moved in but no arrest has been made as at the time of this report. People ran helter-skelter on hearing the explosions, thinking that their worst fears had come to pass. Still, there is pervading fear that anything could happen in the state at anytime as tension has continued to mount.
Besides the fact that the headquarters of the Joint Military Task Force in the Niger Delta is in Effurun, Delta State, there is not that same level of feeling of fright in the oil city of Warri for now. But it was learnt that some Ijaw youths from the state had left for Yenagoa to join others in the crusade to force Alamieyeseigha’s captors to set him free.
‘It has nothing to do with resource control’
For the average South-South person, the biggest matter for concern is how others perceive the region’s resource control struggle. National vice-chairman of the South-South Peoples Assembly (SSPA), Brig-Gen. Idada Ikponmwen (rtd) was emphatic that the arrest of an individual or a governor from the zone has nothing to do with the resource control struggle of the region. He said that both were two different things and people should not confuse them. He, nonetheless, pointed out that he believed for now, the averment by the Bayelsa State governor that the one million pounds do not belong to him until proven otherwise.
According to him” “Resource control is the right of a people to control their resources in a true federal system of government and it is not negotiable as far as the South-South is concerned”.
Speaking at a two-day seminar on “Grassroots Peace Management and Sustainable Democracy”, organized by the office of Special Duties, Inter-Ethnic Relations and Conflict Resolution, Delta state for traditional rulers, community and women leaders in the state, during the week, Governor James Ibori said: “While the government of Delta state remains committed to its demand for true fiscal federalism and greater say in the control of the natural resources of the federating states in the country, I must appeal to you on the need for us to work towards political and economic stability of the state and nation.
“We are not daunted because ours is a just struggle, which must be pursued with perseverance and in strict accordance with the laws of the land. I, therefore, admonish our people to maintain the peace no matter the provocation. We must not allow common criminals and social miscreants to hijack the people’s just struggle and economic emancipation”.
Renewing his appeal on oil and gas companies as well as their subsidiaries to have confidence in the ability of government to protect their workers and investments, he reminded community leaders of the need to discourage youths from unwholesome involvement in ethnic militia groups as survival strategies.
“It is my view that in order to strengthen our democracy, all elements of thuggery and quasi-militia groupings in our state must be displaced to provide a conducive atmosphere for the emergence of a democratic culture that encourages men and women of character and integrity to take part in politics. This administration does not believe in a leadership that encourages youth restlessness and lawlessness. I, therefore, invite you to be part of our efforts to sanitise our society to create a responsible leadership that will carry on with the progressive policies of this administration at the end of our tenure”, he said.
Who broke Alamieyeseigha’s hedge?
The information that the general overseer of the Government House (Creek Haven) in Yenagoa, Pastor Leghemo asked the people of the state to embark on a three-day fasting from last Sunday to seek divine intervention was not unanticipated.
Thickset, tall and ebony-looking Alamieyeseigha who likes swinging his walking stick in his resource control attire whenever he appears, in actual fact, needs all the prayers now because these are not the best of times for the former Airforce officer. His father, Pa Alamieyeseigha must be wondering like the Biblical Job where the blunder that has landed his son in hot soup in a foreign land came from. For the past 53 years, the spirit behind his son’s name, Dipreye –– “this is your gift” and Alamieyeseigha –– “God never does any wrong” has been guiding his governor-son. Besides his first name and surname, Governor Alamieyeseigha also needs the good fortune in his two other names: Solomon, meaning, “wisdom” and Peter, meaning, “rock” to triumph at last. Ditto for Dokubo who may be formally charged next week.
But even as the nation waits to see how things go, there is no doubt that the huge surveillance and security alert in the Niger Delta region may remain for quite sometime.
Copyright ©1998 - 2005 Vanguard Media
We report to nobody but Obasanjo – EFCC
By MURPHY GANAGANA, Abuja
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Public anxiety and fears over the ability of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to conduct a credible investigation on allegations of corruption against President Olusegun Obasanjo received credence Wednesday, as the anti-graft agency declared its absolute loyalty to the president.
At a session with a team of United States government officials on a visit to the commission’s head office in Abuja, chairman of the EFCC, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, said emphatically that he is answerable to no other person other than Obasanjo.
Responding to enquiries by a member of the team on channels of reporting the agency’s activities, Ribadu, who was represented by the commission secretary, Mr. Emmanuel Akumaye, said "we report absolutely to the president".
Amidst further probing from the visiting US officials on EFCC operations, Akumaye abruptly ordered reporters covering the event out of the conference room, fuelling a mild protest by the newsmen who wondered why the EFCC was more favourably disposed to divulging its secrets to foreign government officials rather than the Nigerian public.
Commenting on the composition and functions of the commission, Akumaye said most of its personnel are in the operations department spread across three offices in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja, with 27 staff in the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).
He disclosed that banks operating in the country are not comfortable with regular EFCC spot checks, urging financial institutions to brace up for war against money laundering, warning that the commission would not excuse any bank which fails to comply with the guidelines.
"EFCC wants to see how banks are complying with anti-money laundering guidelines. We are not going to excuse any financial institution for non-compliance.
The sanctions are clearly stated, and this includes revocation of operational licence," Akumaye noted.
In his remarks, Regional Advisor of the US Department of Treasury, and leader of the five-man team, Mr. Jerry Rowe, said the US government has budgeted $1.7million to assist in combating money laundering and other financial crimes in Nigeria.
Out of the amount, $1.1million is expected to be spent on projects by the office of the Accountant General of the Federation.