Ex-armed men, once notorious for the long-run militancy in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta, are set to endorse President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election bid, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
The endorsement is to come at a press conference scheduled to hold in Port Harcourt today, Wednesday. The conference is to be addressed by Victor Ebikabowei, also known as General Boyloaf, a source close to Boyloaf told PREMIUM TIMES.
PREMIUM TIMES has previewed the text of Boyloaf’s address, which notes the tension between the ex-militant leaders, now cooperating under the aegis of Peace Ambassadors of the Niger Delta, and the Buhari government at its inception.
It reads: “In spite of the tense beginning and moments we have had with the current administration following his defeat of our brother Goodluck Jonathan, we have formed a new partnership for the Niger Delta and have seen a deep-seated commitment to addressing the issues that we in the region are facing.
“We have to give special credit to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo for painstakingly leading the engagements in the Niger Delta and assuring us of his plans.”
Apart from Boyloaf, other ex-warriors believed to be at the vanguard of the move are Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over allegations of money laundering; Ateke Tom, now a traditional ruler; Bibrope Ajube, also known as General Shoot-at-Sight; and Farah Dagogo, who is the Peoples Democratic Party candidate for the Bonny/Degema federal constituency election.
“In the Niger Delta, these are people who matter,” said our source, playing down the influence of Edwin Clark, respected Niger Delta leader who is supporting PDP’s Atiku Abubakar. “Edwin Clark is well respected but he’s old.”
On Mr Dagogo, a PDP member currently in the Rivers State House of Assembly, our source said: “this is not about a political party. It is not about endorsing APC. It is about Buhari.”
The Niger Delta is a region where Mr Abubakar is expected to record a clear win. Apart from being traditionally a “PDP home,” Mr Abubakar’s core campaign vow to restructure the country to allow states have greater responsibilities and control of resources appeals to the region, long drawn in agitations for resource control and more development.
However, the endorsement of Mr Buhari by the ex-warriors who wield some influence in the region may swing some votes across the states in the region to APC.
According to our source, the endorsement would be a part of a “peace workshop” promoted by the ex-militant leaders.
They were high-ranking commanders of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, and also ran, separately, camps of guerrilla fighters spending years in violent protest of the environmental degradation and socio-economic underdevelopment of the Niger Delta.
But in 2009, they accepted the amnesty programme initiated by late President Umaru Yar’Adua.
They enjoyed generous government patronage during the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, who offered them contracts to safeguard oil and gas infrastructure. They then supported Mr Jonathan’s re-election bid, which failed in 2015.
The amnesty programme led to relative peace in the region but attacks on oil and gas installations were renewed by a group Niger Delta Avengers following Mr Jonathan’s loss.
The Avengers were condemned by Boyloaf and Tompolo in separate reactions. MEND also described the group as a bunch of criminals at the height of their violent campaign which affected Nigeria’s crude production.
The Niger Delta is volatile and has remained largely impoverished, despite decades of oil production that has provided much of the cash Nigeria uses. Trillions of naira in federal allocations to the region have not changed much.
But the endorsement of Mr Buhari by the “big five” ex-militant leaders, according to our source, follows his “government’s efforts on Niger Delta’s environmental and development concerns, including Ogoni cleanup and infrastructure.”
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