From Madu Onuorah, John Abba-Ogbodo, Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Alex Olise, Kelvin Ebiri and Chido Okafor:

* Ag President meets N’Delta panel
* Senate summons security chiefs

DEFENCE, Police and the State Security Service (SSS) were yesterday directed by the Federal Government to begin an immediate investigation into Monday’s bomb blasts in Warri, Delta State.

Two persons were killed in the explosions in two cars parked outside the Delta State Government House Annexe, Warri, venue of the post-amnesty dialogue.

Apart from deploying more operatives the scene to clear the area of possible explosion devices, the government has directed that security be fortified in the Government Houses and other public institutions in the Niger Delta.

Apparently disturbed by the incident, Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday met with the members of the Presidential Co-ordinating Committee on the Niger Delta with the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Ufot Ekaette, expressing sadness at the Warri bombing.

Jonathan asked members of the committee to fast-track all issues the implementation of the post-amnesty programme in the regions, saying that “in the coming days we want to see action.”

Jonathan also said any issue which would block the speed execution of the agenda should be brought to his attention swiftly “so that they are dealt with.”

He therefore “gave a marching order to all agencies and bodies involved in the amnesty process to immediately go to work and ensure that whatever challenges that are holding up in these areas be surmounted immediately so that the process can move ahead flawlessly.”

Senior Special Assistant to the Acting President, Mr. Ima Niboro, told journalists at the end of the meeting that “we just had an emergency meeting of the Federal Government side of the amnesty committee. You know, it is an enlarge dcommittee that involves governors. So, we just had an emergency meeting of the Federal Government side. Next week, we are going to have full meeting with all the governors in attendance. The meeting was actually a reaction to words which are understandable in some several quarters that the amnesty programme is failing. The Acting President wants to assure Nigerians that the amnesty process is on course. It is a multi-pruned approach that we have adopted for the amnesty.

“There are actually four key levels to the amnesty. The first one being the disarmament, which has been done very successfully. The second step is demobilization. The camps have been virtually demobilised. We have achieved some 75 per cent success. The area where we are now is the area of rehabilitation of the militants. The rehabilitation and reorientation of the militants and of course ,infrastructure. In the area of rehabilitation, work is going on. Of course, there are challenges here and there but they are being surmounted.

“Therefore, today (yesterday) the Acting President has given a marching order to all agencies and bodies involved in the amnesty process to immediately go to work and ensure that whatever challenges that are holding up in these areas be surmounted immediately so that the process can move ahead flawlessly. Of course, we know that the area of infrastructure development may take more time. But he has also directed the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs to fast-track all issues concerning infrastructure development of the region so that the perception that the amnesty programme is sleeping is corrected.

“He has also appealed that all stakeholders be brought on board so that we can all be on the same page as far as the issue of amnesty is concerned, whether as community leaders, governors. All stakeholders including militant leaders must be on the same page, since the amnesty is for the militants in the first place. The militants are key stakeholders in this, the whole amnesty is about them,” Niboro said.

Ekaette told journalists at the end of a meeting held at the conference room of Jonathan’s office that he was at a loss as to why “a meeting that was convened by one of their members to dialogue on sustainable development of the Niger Delta has to end up that way. We felt very sad because the conveners meant well. They wanted to put all of us together to talk, identify the problems and the challenges and come up with the way forward. And that is why the Acting President sent me to represent him. But that thing happened the way it did and I could not even read his paper. And the whole thing was scattered, and people were scattered, running helter-sketer. And why they had to do that is still a mystery to me.”

Reminded that the militants, who claimed responsibility for the attack, frowned at “long dialogue” on the amnesty issue, Ekaette said: “There is a problem, the best way to find solution is for you to sit down to talk. I hear people say amnesty has failed. It has not failed. They don’t know the steps government is taking to ensure that amnesty is on course. And that forum could have provided that missing link between what the various committees set up by government are doing and the perception of the people that say amnesty has failed, which is wrong.”

Asked about the implication of the blasts on the post-amnesty deal of the government, Ekaette said: “It will not stop us from doing what we are supposed to do. We will continue to work hard, to actualise the programme of the amnesty and that is the best we can do under the present circumstances.”

The Commissioner of Police in charge of Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) a unit of the Nigeria Police, Mr. Chris Olakpe who confirmed the deployment of operatives to the scene of the blast. He said they had started combing and the area to clear any other explosive substance that might still be there.

Olakpe told The Guardian yesterday that: “Everything must be done to make the Government House safe and secure for the well-being of the citizenry and governance in the state.”

It was learnt that the first team of experts that arrived at the scene on Monday discovered some explosives, which prompted the police to move more anti-bomb experts to the scene.

The Guardian also learnt that many officers would de deployed in all government offices in the Niger Delta, especially Asaba, the Delta State capital, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River States.

The probe of the explosion is to ascertain the security lapses created despite large number of operatives who had arrived at the venue before the dignitaries came.

A worried Senate over the incident will this morning begin deliberations on the nation’s security situation with a view to providing lasting legislative solutions to the threat to peace, good governance and safety of lives and property.

Moved over the incident, the Senate Deputy Majority Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, drew the attention of his colleagues to the security implications of the explosions, pointing out that the Senate ought to give it urgent legislative attention.

It was also disclosed yesterday that the Senate Committee on Defence and Army had invited some security chiefs to brief it on the measures being taken to curb the security lapses in Nigeria.

And ruling on Order 42 of the Senate Standing Rule, which was relied upon by Ndoma-Egba, Senate President David Mark said that the matter would be debated today.

But briefing journalists at the end of the session, Senate’s spokesman, Ayogu Eze, said: “It is important for you to know that the Senate is distressed enough to have admitted it as an emergency item to be taken as a matter of urgent national importance because we believe it is a very serious matter.”

Regarding the invitation of the security chiefs, the chairman of the committee on Defence and Army, Senator Ibrahim Ida, who also attended the press briefing, said: “The crux of the statement issued by the Senate President before is that our security forces, the Army and the Police are doing a very good job trying to curb the crisis nationwide. It is natural that some people will criticise here and there. When the military are sent on assignment, they have rules of engagement and they abide by that rule. Naturally, some people will raise issues here and there. At the same time, we are not oblivious of all these and we have already invited them to appear before us to tell us what they are doing. We need to encourage them by understanding the terrain and the circumstances under which they operate.”

The Minister of Police Affairs, Dr. Ibrahim Lame yesterday assured that those behind the blast would be arrested and prosecuted. He also denied criticising the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ogbonna Onovo over insecurity in the country.

Lame told journalists at the Force Headquarters in Abuja after commissioning about 134 patrol vehicles bought for the force by government that the police were on top of the situation in Warri. He added that some measures were taken by the police before the blast by screening vehicles and persons before the event and that was why only few vehicles were allowed into the venue of the event.

“The bomb blast is being investigated and the IG is on top of the situation. He just briefed me this morning about what they did before the incident. Even before the actual thing took place they took certain measures to ensure that this thing did not happen and if they did not take the steps, the casualty figures would have been something else.”

Denying that he queried Onovo over insecurity in the country, Lame said both of them had been working closely to find a lasting solution to security challenges in the country.

“Some of these journalists think I have forgotten my English language. I am teacher by profession, not only am I a teacher, I am also a politician. So you should know that whatever I say I must weigh it. You asked whether I said that the Nigeria Police is not performing, I did not say that.”

The Joint Task Force (JTF) code-named Operation Restore Hope, has said it has sufficient personnel to protect key and vulnerable oil installations in the Niger Delta from attacks by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).

The Joint Revolutionary Council (JRC), an umbrella body for militant groups, which has condemned the bomb blast dissociated itself from the attack.

JTF spokesperson, Col. Timothy Antigah, told The Guardian in Port Harcourt, Rivers State yesterday that the command in collaboration with other security agencies had commenced investigation aimed at determining those behind the bomb blast and forestall future occurrence.

Following MEND’s threat to unleash fresh attacks on oil installations, particularly, those of French multinational, Total, Antigah explained that the JTF had moved to protect the country’s key and vulnerable oil installations from attacks.

JRC spokesperson, Cynthia Whyte, who dissociated the group from the blast, described it “an act of evil devised from the pit of hell and within the corridors of Lucifer.”

Whyte said the JRC believe that “the act is the handiwork of a dementia-afflicted cabal who have cunningly infiltrated the just and noble struggle for the liberation of the people of the Ijaw and Niger Delta.

“However, we still maintain our demand for the immediate expulsion of Chief Ufot Ekaette as Minister of the Niger Delta. Ufot Ekaette and his likes are the reasons why there will continue to be arrant and unjustified attacks like what was witnessed yesterday (Monday),” Whyte said.

And in Vienna, Austria, Nigeria has urged the international community not to panic over the bomb blast in Warri.

It also said the incident should be misconstrued for a resurgence of armed struggle by pockets of militants in the Niger Delta.

Minister of Petroleum Resources, Dr. Rilwan Lukman, who spoke in Vienna yesterday ahead of today’s meeting of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) told Reuters that the amnesty programme was on course.

He said a majority of the militants who took part in the amnesty last year in the oil-producing region, still had faith in the programme, adding that the government had demonstrated enough commitment to its successful implementation.

Lukman insisted that the overwhelming support for the amnesty programme where thousands of militants had laid down their weapons and were being rehabilitated, had shown that they were still behind the plan to bring peace to the Niger Delta.

“Most of them are on board,” Lukman said.

“Very generous provisions were made for the militants in the amnesty. They’re being re-trained, rehabilitated and many things are being done. It is a matter of continuing to do what we can,” he said.

The Delta State Deputy Governor, Prof. Amos Utuama (SAN) yesterday said despite the bomb blast by MEND, the state remained safe for business, describing the disruption of the post-amnesty dialogue as an isolated case that should not be seen as a threat to anybody.

Receiving the management of United Geophysical Nigeria Limited on a courtesy call in Asaba, Utuama said the unfortunate incident being an isolated case, should not deter any genuine investor from doing business in the state.

He said: “Delta State is very safe despite what happened yesterday (Monday).”

Also, the Action Congress has appealed to MEND to support ongoing peace efforts in the oil region. It said reverting to attacks against oil facilities and other acts of violence, as threatened by the group would not advance the course of peace.

In a statement issued in Lagos yesterday by AC National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said the deadly bomb explosion’s that aborted the post-amnesty dialogue in Warri, for which MEND claimed responsibility, negated all efforts to restore peace to the Niger Delta.

It warned, however, that all stakeholders, especially the governors of the states in the Niger Delta, must refrain from inciting and insulting comments like the one describing MEND as a paper tiger.

“While negotiating peace, it is necessary for all stakeholders to refrain from making such incendiary comments like the one attributed to some governors in the Niger Delta.

“Such careless comments helped trigger the latest action by MEND. Of course, it is the height of ignorance – or perhaps of deliberate mischief – for anyone to seek to belittle MEND’s role in the search for peace in the Niger Delta. But now that MEND has made its point, it should refrain from any act that can throw the region back to those days of endless violence,” AC said.

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