The president of the world wide Ijaw Youth Council in Nigeria’s troubled Niger Delta is calling on the militant youths to hold off any armed attacks and kidnappings in the region and give the government of President Umaru Yar’Adua time to pursue the current peace process. But Doctor Chris Ekiyor, a dental surgeon, said the group would not stand idly by for the Ijaws to be undermined.
Over the weekend, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) threatened to end a four-month ceasefire by resuming attacks on oil facilities and kidnappings of foreigners to protest the reported arrest of one of its leaders – Henry Okah – by authorities in Angola.
Doctor Ekiyor told VOA that Henry Okah is an Ijaw businessman and not an arms trafficker as reported.
“As far as the Ijaw Youth Council is concerned, there is no agenda to purchase arms. We are going through a peace process with the government of Nigeria. We are trying to see if we could put the peace process together. To say that somebody is purchasing arms now, we are not too sure. So I need to do some verification, and I have sent out a network to find out if anybody was involved in that kind of deal. But to the best of my knowledge, the Ijaws as a people where Henry Okah is supposed to belong to, are not in a deal to purchase arms right now,” he said.
In a weekend press release sent to journalists and media houses, the MEND described Henry Okah as a silent player in the Niger Delta struggle and part of an ongoing peace process with the Nigerian government. MEND warned of unpleasant consequences if the issue was not resolved.
Ekiyor said the press release came from the Joint Revolutionary Council, which he said is the amalgamation of all the militants in the Niger Delta.
On the threat by MEND to end a four-month ceasefire by resuming attacks on oil facilities and kidnappings to protest the arrest of Okah, Ekiyor said the majority of Ijaw people are willing to let the current peace negotiations with the Nigerian government time to work.
“MEND is only a section, a unit of the Ijaw Youth Council. It’s one of the military wings of the Ijaw Youth Council. It has expressed its position because it is concerned. But there are other councils, organizational movements within the IYC. We need to meet as national council and look at it. And if we have taken a position, we will not pretend about it. We’ll be ready for the consequences. But for now, like I told you, the majority of the people are giving the government a chance to see how far it can move in this peace package. But we will not sit down and fold our arms for any Ijaw man to be undermined. But if you have broken the law, then the law will take its due course,” he said.
Ekiyor said the Federal government of Nigeria has finally begun to negotiate with the people of the Niger Delta about their long-held grievances. He credits this to the election of Vice President Goodluck Jonathan whom Ikeyor described as a big brother from the Niger Delta region.
“We have our own brother, our uncle, our son, our colleague as the vice president. The moment he was elected, we saw a ray of hope that if the president would listen to or work with the vice president as a team, unlike previous governments, then there is the need for us to begin to look inward. And then he started by inviting us for a talk. We have stopped kidnapping; we have stopped the hostage taking; we are saying, okay, government we can stop these things to prove to you that we are in control of this region. But if we are undermined, we will always agitate for our liberation, our resources, and our development,” Ekiyor said.