From Omon-Julius Onabu and Ahamefula Ogbu:
The fragile peace in the Niger Delta was further threatened yesterday following two explosions outside the perimeter fence of the Delta State Government House Annexe in Warri, Delta State, aborting a Post-Amnesty Dialogue organised by Vanguard Newspapers.
The two-day programme that attracted major stakeholders in the region abruptly came to an end amidst stampede and the news of the death of one person.
Militant group, the Movement of the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The first explosion went off at about 11am, some 200 metres from the Government House Annexe. Security personnel, government officials and the organisers reassured conference attendees of their safety.
As officials were trying to calm an obviously shaken audience, another explosion planted in a car parked close to the gate of the Government House Annexe exploded.
The second blast sent splinters into the Government House, shattering windows at the conference hall. Four cars and a motorcycle were burnt down while many others were damaged.
The state Governor and Chief Host Emmanuel Uduaghan, Minister of Niger Delta, Chief Ufot Ekaette, who represented Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, the Chairman of the occasion and one-time Chief of General Staff, General Andrew Azazi, Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, Govenror Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State and the representatives of Governors Theodore Orji of Abia and Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom were whisked out of the Conference Hall by security operatives.
Other participants were also evacuated. The conference was titled “Restoring Hope in the Niger Delta.”
The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in Delta, Mr. Charles Muka, confirmed the death of one person. Other unidentified persons were also said to be injured, according to the police. The number of the injured was however not released.
A statement by the state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Oma Djebah, confirmed the incident. The state government said: “The people of the Niger Delta will not be intimidated nor deterred by the cowardly act of a few opposed to a peaceful and non-violent approach of resolving the historic grievances of the region. We assure all that we will not be deterred in our determination to fast-track the development of our people.”
Also, a statement signed by the General Manager and Editor-in-Chief of Vanguard Newspapers, Mr. Gbenga Adefaye, expressed shock that a conference organised in the interest of peace is being aborted by the same people it was meant for.
“For a successful dialogue, Vanguard had lined up all representatives of all tiers of government to come and discuss their scorecards for development in a way that must ginger all to action. These were supposed to be discussed by the militants, members of the civil society, international organizations and the road map for development clearly re-defined with stated deliverables and timelines.
“It is therefore most regrettable that this noble project was aborted by the same people for whom it was designed to elevate. Vanguard, as a public trust had diligently invited all, including the known leaders of the militants to this proactive event. Vanguard remains committed to peace and development in the Niger Delta and shall pursue this noble initiative after due consultation with all stakeholders. We shall not relent on our pursuit of common good, equity and justice in our federation,” he said.
Meanwhile, MEND has said it planned and executed the attack. In what looks like a movie, the group sent out a warning about the impending attack before detonating the bombs.
Two statements from Spokesman of the group, Gbomo Jomo, sent to THISDAY at 10.44am and 11:26 am confirmed this.
Jomo’s statement also appears to be a premeditated attack on Uduaghan who he claims declared on February 22, 2010 that the group is a media creation. MEND therefore wanted to prove its existence, hence the bomb attack, he said.
“After receiving the baton of ignorance from his Bayelsa State counterpart, the Governor of Delta State declared in the Vanguard newspaper of February 22, 2010 that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) is a media creation,” Jomo said.
“This assertion coming from the same person who claimed publicly that an oil pipeline can be destroyed by one man armed with a bottle of petrol, is hardly surprising. What is surprising is how he managed to obtain a science degree.
“Thinking of no better way to announce our continued presence in the Niger Delta to Mr. Uduaghan, operatives of MEND today March 15, 2010, successfully breached the security at the Delta State Government House in Warri and planted three explosive devices in and around this compound which is the venue of the Vanguard Post Amnesty Dialogue organised by the Vanguard newspaper. These devices will be detonated remotely.
“In our usual effort to prevent the loss of innocent lives, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta advises the immediate evacuation of the Government House Annex Warri and its immediate surroundings up to the Delta State Broadcasting Corporation.
“The time given for this evacuation before the detonation of the first bomb is thirty (30) minutes which will elapse by 1130 hrs Nigerian time. The primary school bordering the Government House Annex should be evacuated immediately! The first bomb will be detonated at exactly 1130 hrs. We will thereafter advise on the other devices planted within and around the venue of the Vanguard Newspaper organised and Delta State sponsored conference. Organisers and participants at this jamboree will ignore this warning at their peril!!!
“People must not remain in their cars and attempt to drive their cars and maintain safe distance from all cars and the area,” MEND added.
MEND said the Federal Government had been organising endless conferences which it said would no longer be tolerated, describing the Vanguard conference as “one of the tools of deception”.
The group insisted that what the Nigerian State continues to deny the Niger Delta people of the crumbs that fall from oil while big men in the North and other parts enjoy the full benefits.
It cited General T.Y. Danjuma as one of such beneficiaries. The militant body also berated the governors of the region, describing them as “shameless and visionless stooges of the Nigerian State seeking second term at the expense of the well being of their people”.
MEND warned of further attacks in the days ahead, particularly in conferences of such nature. It asked members of the public to stay away from such gatherings. The group would also carry out a number of attacks on oil installations across the Niger Delta.
“In the coming days, we will carry out a number of attacks against installations and oil companies across the Niger Delta and will spread out to companies such as Total which have been spared in the past. We hope the actions which will follow will persuade Mr. Uduaghan that we exist outside of cyberspace,” said the group.
Traditional rulers, former Governor John Odigie-Oyegun of Edo and Chief Felix Ibru were among the personalities that attended the meeting.
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