Written by Emmanuel Ogbeche

Consult ex-militants on how to stop the Avengers Obese

Tamunotonye-meiba Kuna, aka Obese is an Ex-militant Commander of Obese, an affiliate group of Farah Dagogo’s band which embraced Federal Government’s amnesty programme in 2009. In this interview with The Abuja Inquirer, he explains how he and his boys were robbed of the benefits of the amnesty programme and proffers solutions to renewed agitations in the Niger Delta region. Excerpts:
 
Seven years after the amnesty programme in the Niger Delta commenced, why has your group, Obese, not enjoyed full benefits of the package?
Before 2009, I was the General in command of Farah Dagogo’s camp. I was confirmed as a General in 2007 and had my own group called Obese.
When President Yar’adua asked us to come out and embrace amnesty, I knew Farah was not a straightforward person, so I told my boys not to surrender our weapons under Farah because we may have problems tomorrow.
We wanted to embrace amnesty directly from the government. But Farah made several promises and urged us to come together.
After pressuring us with promises, we decided to go with him to the State Security Service, SSS, in Port Harcourt and we embraced the amnesty.
Initially, we refused to do ID cards because I knew from the beginning that there was fraud. But he threatened to tell government that I didn’t want to embrace the amnesty for me to be killed.
Government only knew Farah and not me who was the second in command and always in the barracks doing things for him.
 
After supposedly embracing amnesty, what happened that you returned to the creeks?
Since we embraced the amnesty in October 3, 2009, nothing has been given to us. When we went out from the creeks to Port Harcourt, that night, before we came out, Farah said he was going to give my group N50 million.
He said government will also give us training and other incentives, so I should share the money among my people for them to rent houses for themselves.
Unfortunately, since we came out there has not been anything like that. To see him was even a problem. After he pressured me and I did the ID card, he said yes we are no longer in the creeks, if I do anyhow he would deal with me.
But I said, ‘Oga, I don’t understand what you are saying, you must give us all the things you promised and provide training for my people.’ Since then, it is difficult to even see Farah. He is just like breeze. You can’t hold him.
Shortly after we embraced the amnesty, I met Farah and asked him to fulfill his promises to us but he said government had not done anything, we should be patient.
But government had given him a job and offered training to some ex-militants. So I asked him when he was going to give us what belongs to us. At that point he threatened to call the hotel security to throw me out of his room.
Since he was the only one relating with the government, I resorted to what I could do for government to pay attention to me. I don’t know anybody in government.
From that day, I left and said Farah should go with his money. So me and my people went back to the creeks and made up our minds to be there until government asks us what is happening because I knew government was not foolish.
We also resolved not to fight government anymore but knew that someday, we will be sent for. In January 2010, we were back to the creeks. Again, I was asked to come out and surrender as they had heard everything that happened.
I willingly surrendered all my weapons. But after I gave them my weapons, Farah was working with the government, so I don’t know what he told them.
We later found ourselves in the DSS, and they carried the news that they have arrested us in the creeks while were disturbing the peace in the area. Can you arrest people with such amount of weapons? To tell you that there was fraud from the beginning.
 
What is it that has changed about you given your antecedents in the creeks?
As I am telling you, since we were arrested in 2010 till 2014, we were in prison awaiting trial until a court discharged and acquitted us on May 9, 2014.
When we came out from prison, we publicly declared our support for APC because PDP people were the ones oppressing us.
I made up my mind not to follow that group. I love the slogan of ‘change’ because I need change. That is why I came out from the creeks. I want to be a changed person.
For me, I know I am already a changed person because I can’t find myself anymore in the creeks. As I speak with you, I and my boys are barely surviving. Things are very difficult with us.
When we came out of detention, Goodluck Jonathan was still president. Some PDP leaders asked us to support their party but we said no.
They said if I can’t support their party, I will not benefit anything from the amnesty programme. Since then, there has been nothing for us.
 
How will you describe renewed agitations in the region and the activities of Niger Delta Avengers?
What I can say is that all the people carrying out the attacks are those who have been eating the amnesty money.
They have seen that there is a change in government and the people they knew are no longer in power. That is why they are doing all these things.
Frankly speaking, I am not happy with what is happening in the Niger Delta right now.
These avengers of a group, government should hold them responsible for their actions because government knows all the people that are doing these things.
 
What are the factors that gave rise to this new wave of agitations in the region?
What I notice is that the agitators want a president that will do whatever they want. But this government is not like that, we need change, things can’t continue that way.
Without speaking for the ruling party, the constant thing in life is change. Anyone who doesn’t want change doesn’t want freedom.
 
 What do you think the government can do to tackle the current crisis in the Niger Delta?
What I can tell the government to do is to reach out to the thousands of ex-militants who were sidelined from the amnesty programme.
Some of us have advised the ex-militants to be patient with the new Special Assistant to the President on Amnesty, Brig. Gen. Paul Boroh, because he will not do the same mistakes that Kingsley Kuku did. I also advise Boroh to be focused.
Boroh needs to put people that have been sidelined into the system. And we know ourselves. When government brings everybody that has been sidelined into the system, we will do a security meeting, and warn everyone.
 
What specific areas do you think Niger Delta youths can be better engaged to reduce criminality in the region?
Firstly, bring ex-militants who have been sidelined into the amnesty programme. Also, government needs to send the ex-militants for training on various skills.
And after training, they should be properly engaged according to their areas of training. I also think that government should create more jobs for youth in the region to discourage them from taking up arms.

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