A team of armed policemen yesterday blocked the entrance to Izon Wari (Ijaw House), Yenagoa, venue of the cancelled meeting on the supposed resurrection of the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
The meeting was summoned for yesterday by former militant commander, Government Ekpemupolo otherwise called Tompolo, but was called off on Friday on the advice of Governor Seriake Dickson and largely on the strength of opposition by prominent former militants and a faction of MEND who alleged a sinister plot by the meeting’s convener.
Ex-militants like Victor Ben Ebikabowei, popularly known as Boyloaf, Africa, Pastor Reuben, Shoot-at-Sight, Ogunboss, Ateke Tom, Farrah and many other former ‘generals’, and ‘commanders’ as well as spokesman for MEND, Jomo Gbomo, had vowed to have nothing to do with Tompolo or his meeting.
The governor, however, proposed an alternative forum for the ex-militant leaders at a later date.
He promised to meet with them personally to discuss issues affecting them and other matters of overall strategic interest of the region and the country.
He called for their understanding and cooperation.
Tompolo denied any ulterior motive other than deepening the prevailing peace in the Niger Delta.
“The tension generated by the meeting is uncalled for, diversionary and mischievous as no evil is intended in whatever form,” he said in a statement to douse fears over the meeting.
However, policemen cordoned off the area yesterday just in case some militants might still want to defy the governor on the cancellation of the meeting.
A truck and five patrol vans filled by fully armed operatives were sent to the area.
It was also observed that strategic junctions leading to the Sani Abacha Expressway where the Ijaw House is located were manned by security men.
As at 11am, the security operatives were seen monitoring the activities of motorists and commuters plying the area.
The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr. Asinim Butswat, said the presence of security operatives in the area should not be considered strange since the police maintain a nipping point there.
He added that since Dickson had called off the meeting, the police expected the ex-militants to obey the governor’s directive.
He said: “The meeting was called off by the governor. We have a nipping point. It was not in any way to stop them from meeting. The meeting was already called off by the governor and we believe that they have adhered to the position of the governor.”
However, the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) Worldwide condemned the deployment of the police in the area.
It called action illegal.
Spokesman for IYC, Mr. Eric Omare, said the action signposted a return to the dark days of military dictatorship, saying: “This is illegal, unconstitutional and a draw back to the dark days of military dictatorship where Nigerians were deprived of their fundamental rights.”
The IYC said Nigeria is in “a constitutional democracy where things are done according to law.”
It added:”the 1999 Constitution which is the foundation upon which our democracy is built recognizes the right to freedom of assembly and movement. The Niger-Delta people whether as ex-agitators or youth groups have the right to assemble in a meeting and free movement.
“Since yesterday, the 24th of July, 2015, all officers and administrative staff of the INC and IYC including Bayelsa State civil servants under the Bayelsa State Ministry of Ijaw National Affairs and Culture have been denied access to the premises.
“This is a threat to our nascent democracy. Democracy is not only about having rice and beans to eat but the enjoyment of basic and fundamental rights which are enshrined and guaranteed in the constitution.
“The military movement into the Niger Delta region, we have been reliably informed, would commence this week. The IYC, the Ijaw Nation and the Niger Delta people wish to alert Nigerians and the international community of this impending humanitarian disaster.”
He accused the President of treating the people and the region as enemies and conquered zone.
“President Buhari has demonstrated so far in office that he is not interested in the welfare of the people of the Niger Delta but only in the oil resources found in the region.
“The IYC calls on President Buhari to order the military and police officers presently forcefully occupying Ijaw House, Yenagoa to immediately vacate the premises and stop forthwith the violation of the rights of people who have business to carry out at Ijaw House.
“Political, opinion and religious leaders and the international community should prevail on Buhari to have regard for constitutionalism in the Niger Delta region and stop the violation of the rights of Niger Deltans.
“The IYC would also take immediate legal and related actions to address these violations. Whether President Buhari likes it or not, the Niger Delta people would meet to determine their destiny in Nigeria.”