By Sola Adebayo:
The much-advertised meeting between the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, and the repentant militant commanders in the Niger Delta was abruptly postponed on Friday as the Bayelsa State Governor, Chief Timpre Sylva, allegedly prevailed on the ex-fighters in the region to spurn the invitation of the Nigerian leader to the forum.
Jonathan had invited the ex-fighters to a crucial talk in the Presidential Villa, Abuja to seek the way forward for the region and he had anxiously waited to receive them before information got to him that the major ex-militant leaders had been asked to ignore him by Sylva.
Sunday Punch learnt that the action has further deepened the animosity between Jonathan and the governor of his home state, who had been widely speculated to be spearheading opposition against him.
Sunday Punch recalls that the governors and some unidentified political leaders of the South-South zone have been accused of making futile attempts to frustrate the emergence of Jonathan as the interim leader of the country.
Consequently, reliable sources in the Presidency told our correspondent that Sylva prevailed on some former freedom fighters in the region to shun the meeting convened by Jonathan to formally meet with them and seek their understanding in the concerted efforts to return the region to the path of sustainable peace and development.
One of the sources in the Presidency told Sunday Punch that Sylva, who moved to Abuja to perfect the plot to frustrate the meeting, returned to Yenagoa, the state capital through the Port Harcourt Airport on Friday, when he was convinced that the plot had succeeded.
Findings revealed that among the ex-militant commanders, who acceded to the position of Sylva and avoided the audience with Jonathan were the leader of the Niger Delta Vigilante Group, Chief Ateke Tom and Mr. Victor Ebikatowei, alias Boyloaf.
Although the Niger Delta ex-militant kingpin, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, was not present at the meeting, our correspondent could not ascertain if his absence from the Abuja meeting on Friday was induced by Sylva.
The meeting was earlier slated for 5pm on Friday by Jonathan.
A source in the Presidency told Sunday Punch that Jonathan had eagerly waited at his Akinola Aguda residence to receive the visitors before information was made available to him at 7pm that Sylva had persuaded the ex-fighters to shun the forum, apparently to spite the acting president.
Sunday Punch gathered that a few players in the crisis in the region, especially the Secretary of the Federal Government Committee on Peace and Conflict Resolution in the Niger Delta, Mr. Kingsley Kuku, the spokesperson of the Ijaw Republican Assembly, Ms Ann Kio Briggs, one of the lawyers to the leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, Mr. Henry Okah, Wilson Ajuwa, and other stakeholders, who had arrived for the meeting were politely asked to return home.
They were told that the meeting had been postponed by Jonathan, adding that a new date would be communicated to them in the next few weeks.
One of the guests at the meeting said, “The Governor of Bayelsa State, Mr. Timipre Sylva, is doing whatever he can to undermine the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. The truth is that Sylva is identifying with the people planning to fight Jonathan. He (Sylva) wants to frustrate the meeting and embarrass Jonathan. Sylva wants to paint the picture that Jonathan could not coordinate the post-amnesty and restore the region on the path of peace and development.
“That is why Sylva prevailed on some ex-militant leaders loyal to him, especially Ateke Tom and Boyloaf to avoid the meeting with Jonathan. To this end, Jonathan believed that the best decision is that the meeting be cancelled instead of it to fail. That it should be cancelled so that the Presidency can re-strategise.”
Briggs, who confirmed the postponement of the meeting in an interview with Sunday Punch on Friday, however, said she was not aware of the reason for the action.
Briggs said a future date would be announced by Jonathan.
However, another presidential source who confided to our correspondent attributed the postponement to logistics problems.
For instance, he stated that Tompolo and some other militants missed their flight due to inclement weather
But Sylva has denied that he plotted the failure of the meeting, adding that the allegation was aimed at smearing his image.
Sylva, who spoke to Sunday Punch in a telephone interview on Friday night, through his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Doifie Ola, said the ex-militant leaders were mature enough to determine their actions and activities.
Ola said the former militants should be held responsible for their actions and utterances.
The spokesman to Jonathan, Mr. Imma Niboro, declined comment on the report. Niboro neither answered persistent calls nor replied text messages sent to his cell phone by our correspondent on the matter.
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