Thursday, May 28, 2009

Nigerian Activist Killed by Police Amid Attacks Against People in the Niger Delta

Nigerian militant leader killed

A Nigerian oil militant leader has been shot dead in police custody.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) claim Ken Niweigha known as "Daddy Ken" was executed by the police.

But the police say he was killed in a shootout after he took them to his hideout to surrender his weapons.

Human rights groups say extra-judicial execution is "shockingly common" in Nigeria, where the police lack the capacity to do their jobs effectively.

After his arrest on Tuesday, Mr Niweigha, who led the Egbesu Boys armed group in Bayelsa State, was paraded in front of journalists.

He then agreed to take the police to his hideout in Odi town and surrender all his arms, local media reported police commissioner Onouha Udeka as saying.

"He promised he was going to take us to his hideout in Odi where he hid his weapons," said Mr Udeka.

"But we did not know that he had arranged with his gang to attack us and possibly get him freed. Ken was shot trying to escape."

'Harbouring militants'

Mr Niweigha was the only person killed in the shootout, he said.

A spokesman from Mend - an affiliation of armed groups in the oil-rich Niger Delta - accused the police of "summarily executing" Mr Niweigha.

"The Nigerian government in authorising extra-judicial killings is sending a clear message to youths from the region that it is better to die fighting for freedom than be killed by a lawless system of government," Jomo Gbomo said in an e-mail to journalists.

Mr Niweigha had been arrested after 500 women from Odi demanded something should be done to stop militants fleeing from an army operation in neighbouring Delta State coming to the town.

The women told police "Daddy Ken" that was harbouring them.

It is unusual for people to turn in militants as they are often feared or pay Delta communities to keep quiet, but Odi residents said they feared a repeat of an army operation 10 years ago which devastated the town.

Military operation

US-based rights body Human Rights Watch reported 50 people were killed in that attack, which was provoked by the murder of 12 policemen, allegedly by militants led by Daddy Ken.

Other local accounts put the number of dead at much higher.

A security operation is currently under way in the swamps of Delta State where the military Joint Task Force (JTF) is hunting Mend fighters.

Militant groups in the Niger Delta have flourished amid a lack of governance and rule of law.

They claim to be fighting to help local people benefit from the region's oil wealth but fund their activities with oil theft, extortion and kidnapping.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/05/28 10:28:01 GMT

Arewa backs action in Delta, S'South alleges genocide

Reps to meet service chiefs

From John-Abba Ogbodo, Terhemba Daka (Abuja), Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna), Kelvin Ebiri (Port Harcourt), Niyi Bello, Julius Alabi (Akure), Willie Etim (Yenagoa) and Alex Olise (Lagos)

NIGERIAN leaders and groups across the country yesterday took different positions on the ongoing military campaign against militants in the Niger Delta region. While some deemed it necessary, others accused the Federal Government of systematic extermination of a people.

The House of Representatives, which had earlier endorsed the military offensive, appeared to have softened its stance as it directed the Ad- hoc Committee on Niger Delta Crisis headed by Alhaji Abdul Ningi to meet with the Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, Chief of Air Staff and the Inspector-General of Police over the exercise.

But Northern elders under the aegis of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) yesterday asked the Joint Task Force (JTF) to go ahead with the expedition until normalcy returns to the region.

Their position is however at variance with that of their counterparts under All Niger Delta Peoples Assembly, which decried the killings of the people of the region and called for an immediate cessation of hostility in Delta State and the entire region.

The House of Representatives' directive was announced by the Speaker, Dimeji Bankole, who presided over yesterday's meeting.

He said Halims Agoda had in reference to his earlier motion last week, which led to the House resolution that the military operation in Delta State be extended to Rivers and Bayelsa states, requested that the House meet with the Service Chiefs and the Inspector General of Police.

Bankole said instead of inviting the Service Chiefs and the IGP, the parley is better conducted at committee level particularly by the House Ad-hoc Committee on Niger Delta crisis.

The planned meeting of the House with the military top brass may have been prompted by reports that innocent citizens caught in the action have been killed and several communities sacked indiscriminately.

Agoda had last week moved a motion seeking the Federal Government's intervention to check the bombardment of Delta communities to avoid civilian casualties.

The House however resolved that the military operations be extended to Rivers and Bayelsa states.

The ACF National Working Committee members, who met in Kaduna yesterday to deliberate on some contentious national issues, including the situation in the Niger Delta, the influx of foreigners into Nigeria, especially in the North, unemployment and the dwindling fortunes of the textile industry, said no patriotic Nigerian would oppose the government's against the militants.

In a statement signed by ACF National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Anthony Sani, the elders said: "The ACF observed the increase in the insurgent activities of the militants in the Niger Delta region and the corresponding responses by the JTF of the Armed Forces. Nobody with his right head, with a heart and with patriotic courage, can withhold support for JTF, and thus, for the Federal Government over the current campaigns against the militants for the express purpose of bringing the situation under effective control."

It further said: "No responsible government can afford to fold its hands and watch a few misguided elements of its citizens hold the nation, including their own people and communities, to ransom.

"More depressing, the will of the Armed Forces is being challenged when their members are killed in the course of their national assignment. In such circumstances, government cannot reasonably be expected to shirk in its responsibility of maintaining law and order. Hence the recent campaigns by the Operation Restore Hope by the military, aimed at ridding the Niger Delta region of criminal activities of the militants."

Sani admitted that "the campaigns must necessarily come with collateral damages," which he said "the JTF must maintain at its possible minimum", concluding that that is how the current actions of the military in the Niger Delta should be viewed by all fair-minded individuals with patriotic courage."

After its 2nd Assembly in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the 150 delegates of Niger Delta leaders in a statement issued yesterday by a prominent monarch, King Alfred Diette-Spiff and Alabo Tonye Graham-Douglas, declared the military operation a "genocide."

The Assembly said carnage in Gbaramatu Kingdom of Delta State, which has been described as a "genocidal by local, national and international observers" was avoidable.

The leaders condemned the delay in inaugurating a multi-stakeholder committee by the Federal Government to work out the comprehensive modalities for credible and gazetted amnesty, disarmament, decommissioning, demilitarisation, rehabilitation and reintegration processes to expedite sustainable peace and development in the Niger Delta as severally promised by President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua.

They also decried the "inexcusable delay in releasing the Federal Government White Paper on the Report of the Niger Delta Technical Committee, which was submitted to Yar'Adua on December 1, 2008, with recommendations that, if already implemented, would have averted the present humanitarian crisis."

Among the leaders who signed the statement on behalf of the delegates were Pat Utomi, Desmond Wilson, Austin Ikein, Kevin Etta, Eze Young Ogbonna, Pere Kalanama VIII, Dr. Monique Ekpong, Ambassador George Kobani, Dr. Omawunmi Davies, Chief Asuquo Ekanem, Annkio Briggs, Mr. Iniruo Wills, Mr. Albert Esiri, Emem Okon, Chief Francis Ifie, Mrs. Baarong Tony-Uranta, Eneruvie Enakoko, Ms. Joan Unuane, John Adie, Mrs. Sotonye Fulton.

Others were Mr. Onengiya Erekosima, Gloria Onowighose, Mr. George Kerley, Hilda Dokubo, Rev. Tony Essien, Bassey Henshaw, Mrs. Laura Erakpor, Mr. Belema Dickson, Tome Omu, Mr. Timi Igoli, Florence Kalio and Mr. Tony I. Uranta

They added that the persistent and inequitable under-funding of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Ministry of the Niger Delta, contrary to the provisions of the NDDC Act contributed to the escalation of the crisis.

The leaders also cited the rampant electoral and institutional corruption in the region, which continues to deny the people true representatives as worsening the situation.

Even the Federal Government's plan to commence dredging of the River Niger without carrying out comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessments was faulted by the Assembly.

The Assembly expressed dismay at the "unconscionable attempt to institutionalise genocide in the Niger Delta, as evidenced by the House of Representatives passing a resolution, which callously implores the Federal Government to extend the carnage in Delta State to Rivers and Bayelsa states, plus the condemnable call for the extermination of the 20 million Niger Deltans by Representative Bala Ibn N'Allah of Kebbi State."

As a way forward, the leaders asked the Federal Government "to end the humanitarian crisis that has attracted widespread opprobrium throughout Nigeria and the civilised world, by immediately declaring a cease-fire and stopping its bombardment of Gbaramatu Kingdom, and totally ignoring any untoward calls to expand the carnage into any other part of Niger Delta.

They also asked that:

-the National Assembly should immediately rescind its licentious call for the spread of the regrettable hostilities in Delta State to other states of the region;

-the Federal Government should allow unfettered access to the Gbaramatu Kingdom so that international and national relief agencies can better deploy resources to the grieving people, and

-the Federal Government should take full responsibility for all acts of misdirected military action against the Nigerian citizens and communities of the Niger Delta, including making full and appropriate reparations before June 30, 2009.

The Assembly threatens to use legitimate means and channels such as mass civil social action, litigation and advocacy to seek redress if its demand were not met.

Also, the Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (IHRHL) has admonished Niger Delta governors pushing for death penalty for kidnappers to change their stance and deal with the symptoms that necessitated the nefarious act.

It said only sustainable human development programmes and enhance social security in the region would solve the menace and not draconian laws and bullets.

Meanwhile, the leader of the militant gang in Odi, fingered in the killing of 12 policemen in 1999 at Odi town, in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Council of Bayelsa State, Mr. Ken Niweigha, has been confirmed killed in a gun battle between his members and a police team.

The state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Onuoha Udoka, who confirmed the death of the militant to journalists in Yenagoa, said after the arrest of Niweigha with five members of his gang yesterday, he had confessed and promised to take the police to their arms depot.

Udoka said as they were going to Odi at about midnight, the police didn't know that he had planned with his members to attack the police.

In the pandemonium that ensued, Udoka said there was an exchange of fire and "Ken was shot in the cross-fire and died."

The Bayelsa State government yesterday disowned Niweigha, who had allegedly told the police that he was licensed to carry arms because he was an official of the state security outfit "Bayelsa Volunteer" in Odi community.

But spokesman of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Jomo Gbomo, said Niweigha was summarily executed at the Bayelsa Police Headquarters without a chance to defend himself in the court of law.

Gbomo said the Nigerian government in authorising extra-judicial killings is sending a clear message to youths from the region that it is better to die fighting for freedom than be killed by a lawless system of government.

"Facts also emerging from the recent indiscriminate attack on civilians by the military is that the punitive action is a deliberate punishment to instil fear in civilians and turn them into informants.

"Even animals were not spared. All the horses in the royal stable of the king of Gbaramatu were shot in the head and the dogs were bludgeoned to death by Nigerian soldiers," he said.

The Special Adviser to the Governor on Youths and the Co-ordinator of the Volunteer Group, Mr. Sunny Israel Ikoli, told The Guardian that as a government that preaches the rule of law and respect for constitution, Niweigha's action could not be condoned.

He said Niweigha was indicted by the SSS for carrying arms along the Kaiama axis, suspended and was later sacked after a review of his case.

There were claims in military circles yesterday that more Air Force fighter jets had been deployed in the Niger Delta to strengthen the JTF personnel on ground.

A Defence official told The Guardian that the military would continue to protect the civilians because they are not the target of the action.

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