It was drama at the Izon House in the capital of Bayelsa Saturday, July 25, 2015, the proposed venue of the keenly watched meeting of the Niger Delta militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) as armed soldiers and policemen invaded the building in the early hours of the day.
The proposed meeting of “commanders and leaders of various wings” of the militant group was being convened by MEND leader, Government Ekpemupolo, also known as Tompolo, and was slated to hold at the Izon House (also known as Ijaw House) by 2pm. A copy of the invitation signed with Tompolo’s traditional title, Izon Ibe-Ebidouwei of Izon Nation was made available to The Trent.
When contacted, Tompolo, speaking through his media aide, Comrade Paul Bebenimibo, confirmed that the meeting was aimed at “deliberating on recent developments in Nigeria as well as the fate of the Niger Delta region in the current political dispensation” with a view of charting a path for progress of the region.
A top security official, who spoke to The Trent earlier in the week, on conditions of anonymity, said that the planned meeting was a source of serious concern for military and the security agencies of the country.
An eye-witness who passed by the Izon House at 1pm told The Trent that residents of the town noticed a heavy military presence around the area.
“Some people wondered if someone important, like the president was coming to town,” the eye-witness said. “People were advising us to stay away from that area. Just to be safe. The soldiers were so fierce looking.”
“Com’on, this display of force was uncalled for,” another Yenagoa resident told our reporter. “Militants don’t meet like that. When we heard MENDS was meeting here (Yenagoa), we knew it was a joker. The government should have known that.”
Security sources confirm to The Trent that Tompolo and other Niger Delta militancy group commanders such as Mujahid Dokubo Asari, commander of Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF), and Ateke Tom, leader of Niger Delta Vigilante, and Ebikabowei Victor Ben, also known as Boyloaf, a MEND commander have been placed under security watch since President Jonathan lost the March elections.
The Bayelsa State Governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson had appealed to MEND to postpone the meeting.
The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) has issued a statement, Saturday, condemning the invasion of the Ijaw House, where the Bayelsa State Ministry of Ijaw National Affairs and Council has its offices. The building also serves as the administrative headquarters of the Ijaw National Congress (INC) and the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC).
In a statement signed by spokesperson for the IYC, Eric Omare, the youth group said that the invasion was illegal, unconstitutional, and a draw back to the dark days of military dictatorship in which Nigerians were deprived of their fundamental human rights.
“The IYC wishes to remind the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari that we are in a constitutional democracy where things are done according to law.
“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 assembly in a meeting and free movement.
“The fears of many Nigerians that General Buhari would take Nigeria back to the dark days of dictatorship where there is no regard for human rights are coming to reality.
“President Buhari did not go to a war with the Niger Delta people in the March 28, 2015 Presidential election with Niger-Delta born Goodluck Jonathan but only contested an election for which he came out victorious.
“We are therefore at loss as to why President Buhari has decided to treat the Niger Delta region like an enemy zone and a conquered territory,”‘ the statement read in part.