By Shola O’Neil:
Govt: we won’t be intimidated We’re for peace, say organisers
IT was meant to be a session to oil the newfound peace in the oil-rich Niger-Delta. But, yesterday’s post-amnesty talks organised by a newspaper turned bloody in Warri, Delta State.
As the Vanguard – organised talks got underway, a bomb went off outside the venue. Then, another. There was panic.
By the time calm returned, three persons lay dead. The police confirmed only one death. Thick, Black smoke billowed into the sky. There was panic.
The governors at the session – the host Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, Edo State’s Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and Imo State’s Chief Ikedi Ohakim – and a large crowd of dignitaries rushed out of the hall.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) claimed responsibility for the bombs that went off near the venue – the Delta State Governor’s Office Annex.
Among the victims was an old woman, who was burnt.
The victims were mostly pedestrian and motorists driving on the busy NPA Expressway. A grey Mercedes Benz car and its occupant were burnt.
The explosions occurred at about 11a.m., shortly after MEND’s spokesperson Jomo Gbomo hinted that the group would be making an announcement at 1100hours, warning residents to stay away from the venue of the Post-Amnesty Summit of governors.
The MEND leader said the action was in reaction to a statement credited to Dr Uduaghan that the group was dead.
The explosives were planted in the vicinity of the Governor’s Office Annexe, prior to the arrival of guests for the summit, it was learnt. They were later set off.
But in a swift reaction, the chief host of the event, Dr Uduaghan, said his administration would not succumb to the antics of MEND and renegades, who parade themselves as freedom fighters.
Speaking through Information Commissioner Oma Djebah, he said: “The peoples of the Niger Delta will not be intimidated or 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.’’
The explosions occurred barely minutes before the Summit began.
The dialogue organised by Vanguard Media Limited, publishers of Vanguard, to chart a course for the restoration of hope for Niger Delta ended in disarray. Guests were left scampering for safety.
The remotely detonated bombs went off at about 10.47 am.
The hall was packed with dignitaries.
publisher Sam Amuka-Pemu was in the middle of his “welcome address” when another explosion went off at about 11.15a.m. The second blast, which was heavier, sent pieces of broken glasses around the shaken conference hall.
Many stood up to see what was amiss. They peeped through the window.
The three feared dead included traders and a woman who was riding in the passenger side of a Mercedes Benz 200 when the blast went off.
A visibly distressed Chief Executive Officer of Newswatch Mr Ray Ekpu, said: “The conference is supposed to find a way out of the problem and this sort of thing happened. I don’t understand. I think the militants should be happy that these prominent people are here.”
A member of the Post-Amnesty Committee, Tony Uranta, said: “Security could be better all over Nigeria but that would be by empowering the civil security structure. What is collateral about the bomb is that one or two things may have gone wrong; first of all, a lot of elders were there. What I didn’t support is if the motive was to harm, but it goes to show that it is not yet Uhuru in the Niger Delta.”
Earlier in a statement, Jomo Gbomo said: “In our usual effort to prevent the loss of innocent life, 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!!!”
A massive security blanket was thrown around the twin cities of Warri and Effurun, following the incident. Bomb experts and operatives of the Joint Task Force – the special security squad for the Niger Delta – combed public buildings.
The offices of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), among others, were evacuated.
Vehicles entering and leaving Warri through Effurun Roundabout and the Ughelli – Port Harcourt Highway were searched – a development that led to a huge traffic build-up around the cities.
The Joint Task Force declined comments on the explosion. Its spokesperson, Lt.-Col. Timothy Antigha, said he had nothing to say at the time.
However, military intelligence sources said the bombs may have been packed in some cars parked at the venue.
A source said bomb experts assessing the scene suspected that the cars were most likely stolen or may have been abandoned by their owners.
Yesterday’s explosions werethe second similar incident within the Warri metropolis since MEND began its attack on government’s interests in the Niger Delta.
A similar explosion rocked the Effurun Petroleum Tankers Park in 2006. No death was recorded in that incident, which was carried out with a Blue Mercedes Benz 190 car.
People’s Redemption Party (PRP) governorship candidate in the 2007 governorship election Emmanuel Igbini condemned the incident and called for investigation into the role of the security agencies
His words: “I must hasten to state that this sad incident has again called to question the role and effectiveness of the JTF and the Mobile Police Anti-Terror Squad deployed in Delta State and the Niger Delta region to restore hope and actual security. How did the bombers succeed in transporting and detonating their explosives so close to the Governor’s Office at a time when these security agencies (JTF and Anti-Terror Squad) were expected to be at highest alert to give maximum security to the governors and top Federal Government officials at the programme?”
Abia State Governor Theodore Orji last night described the explosions as unfortunate.
Describing the perpetrators as enemies of progress, Orji said South South governors would not be deterred by the incident in their efforts to improve the people’s lot.
The Senate arm of the review committee has opted for 180-day interval while the House of Representatives’ group is rooting for 120 days.
The House of Representatives has concluded work on the review of the 1999 Constitution and shifted attention to amending some sections of the Electoral Act, Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Hon. Ita Enang, said yesterday.
Enang, who spoke from Makurdi, Benue State, venue of the Electoral Act Amendment, said that the 44-member House Committee on Constitution Review concluded its work in Kaduna last week.
Enang promised that the amendment would be concluded early enough for elections to take place early next year.
There were also strong indications in Abuja that the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, may leave the National Assembly to determine the fate of the report of the Justice Muhammadu Uwais-led Electoral Reform Committee.
It was also learnt that the Acting President is under pressure not to effect changes.
A senior government official, who spoke in confidence with The Nation last night, said: “We have not sent Uwais Report to the National Assembly afresh because they already have it. I am not aware of any latest dispatch of unedited version to the lawmakers.
“All I know is that the position of the Federal Government is that it will allow the National Assembly to determine the fate of Uwais Report.
“We will only collaborate with the National Assembly to hasten the amendment of some sections in the 1999 Constitution.
“If you look at Section 9, the procedures for carrying out amendments are complex but if there is understanding between the Executive arm at the Federal and state levels and the National Assembly/state Houses of Assembly, we can effect amendments within two weeks.
“So, the Acting President is looking forward to the National Assembly to carry out constitutional amendments.
“The appropriate officials of the government will soon meet with the leadership of the National Assembly on how to effect the amendments.”
Scathing criticisms have continued to trail the decision of INEC to release the two timetables.
The commission is said to have scheduled elections to hold in January or April, depending on the electoral reform.
This is even as the Conference of Speakers of State Houses of Assembly is set to meet over the division in their ranks occasioned by their different views on the electoral reform agenda.
Former Kaduna State governor and Chairman of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), Alhaji Balarabe Musa, said the commission was out to confuse Nigerians with the two timetables, urging Nigerians to rise against the move.
Musa told our correspondent in an interview that there had been no serious effort on the part of the commission to correct the mistakes of the 2007 election –a situation, which he said could make the 2011 election worse than the ones before it.
The CNPP Chairman said that the adoption of the Uwais Electoral Reform Committee report remained the only option for the conduct of credible elections, but lamented that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led Federal Government has not demonstrated sufficient commitment to the report.
The co-ordinator of the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform (CODER), Mr Ayo Opadokun, described the INEC timetables as another demonstration of the commission’s penchant for deceit.
The former NADECO secretary said that the fact that the 12-member board of the commission has been depleted to only three.
He said CODER is of the opinion that there should be no election, until the reform is fully carried out.
“INEC is not working, it cannot work because of its present composition and the absence of sincerity. The Anambra governorship election, where about 70 per cent of the electorate were disenfranchised, is a ready example.”
Second Republic Governor of Borno State Alhaji Mohammadu Goni said INEC should abide by the existing law. “It cannot sit back and watch things while waiting for the Act to be amended; that will be negligence,” he said.
Meanwhile, the United States has commended the bold steps taken by Acting President Goodluck Jonathan for sending the Electoral Reform Report by the Justice Mohammed Uwais-led committee to the National Assembly.
In a statement yesterday, US offered to further support Nigeria towards more transparent and credible elections. The U.S. Mission to Nigeria said the National Assembly has the opportunity of making a positive contribution towards 2011 election.
The statement reads: The U.S. Mission to Nigeria commends the Government of Nigeria for transmitting the full, unedited Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) report to the National Assembly for its consideration.
“We applaud this bold action to send the unedited ERC report to the National Assembly, which demonstrates Nigeria’s willingness to work toward holding more transparent elections.
“The National Assembly now has the opportunity to consider a wider range of potential reforms recommended by the ERC. We hope the National Assembly will deliberate and move forward quickly on passage of important electoral reforms so that key steps can be taken toward holding credible elections in Nigeria in 2011. ”
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