Five days to the expiration of the amnesty offer to militants in the Niger Delta region to lay down their arms and embrace peace, the Federal Government yesterday read the riot act to unrepentant militants.
The government said it would deal “ruthlessly” with militants who fail to take advantage of the amnesty offer at the end of the deadline.
Government again ruled out the possibility of extending the 60-day amnesty period, which ends on October 4, 2009.
Rising from a two-hour review of the implementation of the amnesty process so far chaired by President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, Defence Minister and Chairman of the Presidential Amnesty Committee, Major-General Godwin Abbey (rtd), who briefed State House Correspo-ndents on the outcome of the meeting dismissed the request for the extension of the amnesty deadline by some militants.
Two militant leaders, Govern-ment Ekpemukpolo, aka Tompolo and Ateke Tom, had given conditions for accepting the amnesty programme.
Tompolo asked for an extension of the deadline by three months while Ateke said he would surrender his weapons only when the Joint Task Force (JTF) withdrew from the troubled region.
The government said it does not recognize the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
The minister warned MEND that it could not threaten the very existence of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, noting that the government is prepared to defend the sovereignty of the country in all its ramifications.
Abbe had met the two militant leaders in their camps about three weeks ago to urge them to embrace peace.
Yesterday, Abbey said: “As you noticed, Mr. President and the Vice-President, the governors of Niger Delta region, ministers of the Niger Delta Ministry, myself and other senior government officials have been deliberating in the last couples of hours and reviewing the amnesty programme and after looking at the various aspect of the programme, we have now come out with the conclusion that all the militants who have embraced the amnesty deserves commendation as patriots of this country, and to believe that between now and 4th of October if there are other militants who are still in doubt as to the sincerity of government to take advantage of this opportunity by embracing the amnesty.
“After the 4th of October the amnesty terminates, there will be no extension. Government is firm, is resolute and government will continue with subsequent aspect of the rehabilitation and reintegration of all those who have embraced amnesty.”
Reacting to the request for the extension of the amnesty deadline, Abbey said: “MEND is not recognized by the Federal Government as the spokesperson for the militants that is if they exist at all physically.
“MEND cannot choose for the Nigeria nation, if MEND decides to test the will of government and choose to threaten the very existence of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, government is prepared to defend the sovereignty of Nigeria in all its ramifications.
“MEND is only expressing their democratic right. The amnesty was granted unconditionally and they are expected to accept it unconditionally. What is important is that they cannot be discussing with government while they are carrying weapons. It is illegal and they have no right to bear arms.”
On the next step by the Federal Government after the deadline of the amnesty offer the minister said: “Government is going to pay attention to all the militants who have embraced amnesty; they are going to be put together in various camps that have been designated and in this camps they will be categorized and personal contacts will be established with each of them after thorough documentation and their choice of training and settlement will also be identified.
“Government is willing to train them and to join them in any rehabilitation effort that will bring about their going into life as normal citizens without resorting to militancy.”
The meeting also had in attendance Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, Chief of Defence Staff Paul Dike, Inspector-General of Police Ogbonna Onovo, Governors Liyel Imoke of Cross Rivers State, Godwin Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, Timipre Silva of Bayelsa State as well as Deputy Governors of Rivers State Tele Ikuru and Delta State, Prof. Amos Etuama.
Ministers of the Niger Delta Ministry, Ufot Ekaete and Godsday Orubebe, as well as the Presidential Honorary Adviser on Niger Delta Matters, Timi Alaibe, were all in attendance.
The amnesty programme, offered in June, is a major initiative of the government to tackle the conflict in the Niger Delta, which has cost the country billions in oil revenue.
Oil production had, however, picked up recently following the success of the amnesty programme.
Just last month, the government said the country's crude oil reserves stood at N37 billion barrels. At the height of the crisis, according to Petroleum Resources Minister Rilwanu Lukman, it dropped to N32 billion barrels.
Earlier this month, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, disclosed that the country's daily oil production was set to hit 2 million barrels per day (bpd). It had dropped below 1.3 million when the crisis escalated but the amnesty programme had pushed it up to 1.7 million last month.
Some militants had handed in their weapons at elaborate ceremonies, along with thousands of their boys. But others appear to be dragging their feet.