- Created on Tuesday, 26 May 2009 10:23
- Written by The Guardian
From Kelvin Ebiri (Port Harcourt) and Hendrix Oliomogbe (Asaba)
The plight of victims of the ongoing military campaign in Delta State at the weekend worsened as the restriction on movement and use of only wooden boats for relief operations impede access to the displaced persons.
During talks with aid workers of Federal and Delta State governments, the military had barred the agencies from using speed-boats to carry relief materials to persons displaced by the ongoing military action. The military also directed that only a limited number of people, particularly relief agencies' officials would be allowed into the affected areas.
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the Delta State Rehabilitation Committee, which met with the Joint Task Force (JTF), drew the military's attention to the plight of the victims.
NEMA, which brought relief materials to the people, however, pledged not to interfere in the Search and Rescue of the JTF but said the JTF should create easy access to those trapped in the scene of the crossfire between the militants and the JTF.
NEMA Director-General, Air Vice Marshal Mohammed Audu-Bida (rtd), at the event, said the Federal Government was concerned that Nigerians were displaced in their own country.
In a statement yesterday, NEMA's Head of Press and Public Relations, Yushan Shuib, said Audu-Bida assured the people that more materials would be sent to them to alleviate their plight and promised to take up their plea for immediate return to their homes with the military authorities.
"We are deeply saddened by this unfortunate development, the situation is pathetic, we pray that normalcy returns as soon as possible so that people can go back to their homes and resume their normal lives," he said.
The NEMA boss, who met with the leadership of JTF at the Army Barracks in Effurun, reportedly appealed to the JTF to create an atmosphere that would enable the rehabilitation committee access to those trapped in the creeks.
He said the agency had to take over a primary school in one of the areas as a camp for the displaced, hungry and sick people and might open up more camps soon.
Audu-Bida added that NEMA was working hard to verify the figures of the victims estimated at 3,000, adding that being a retired General in the Air Force, he understood the magnitude of the military operation and would not interfere in its mandate.
The Maritime Component Commander of the Task Force, who received the NEMA team, Commodore Azubuike Ajuonu, said the military would not shift its position in its search and rescue operation until troops located the missing officers and men of the Nigerian Army that were abducted by the militants about two weeks ago.
The Diocese of Sapele, Anglican Communion, yesterday expressed concern over the humanitarian catastrophe in the zone. The Chairman of the Delta State Rehabilitation Committee on the Warri Crisis, Mr. Kingsley Otuaro, confirmed that the arrangement with the military excludes the use of speed boats for the relief operations and limited movement of people in the Gbaramatu area and other parts of the creeks.
NEMA, which described the situation as pathetic, said it had to take over a primary school to ease the distribution of materials to victims.
For the displaced persons, those who spoke with the aid workers, said they want to return home. Leader of the Warri South Local Council, Mrs. Rose Tulu, who pleaded for the early return of the people to their homes, said "home will always be the home than life in the camp or other hideout."
Otuaro, who spoke when he received foodstuff, toiletries, beddings and other essential materials form NEMA at Ogbe Ijoh, said the state government would continue to stand by the displaced persons during their ordeal.
He said there was a proviso that in carrying out the exercise, only wooden boats would be allowed to move on the waterways.
The committee expressed readiness to collaborate with relief agencies, persons and organizations to bring succour to the victims.
Otuaro said one of the greatest challenges before the panel was how to reach persons stranded in neighbouring communities and creeks that were in dire need of food, water and medication.
He said discussions with the JTF had raised hope of prompt response to the plight of the displaced persons as the military had "agreed to allow supplies and a limited movement of people."
Otuaro said: "What we got from the military is a reprieve. At least, now we can concretise our preparations to reach our brothers and sisters, our children and aged ones, who are stranded and have gone days without food and the basic necessities of life. We are indeed glad that the military authorities have agreed to give us passage to reach our people with relief materials.''
He however said the military would not "tolerate the use of speed boats for now while all movements on the waterways in the affected areas must have adequate clearance as there would be strict monitoring."
Otuaro therefore appealed to elders in the affected areas to assist in the plans to bring succour to their kinsmen in distress.
Speaking with reporters in Sapele ahead of a seven-day interdenominational Holy Ghost conference, which begins today, the Bishop, Rev. Blessing Erifeta, said the church would continue to pray for God's intervention in the crisis in Gbaramatu Kingdom.
Also, The Netherlands-based group, Hope for Niger Delta Campaign (HNDC), has asked the Federal Government to separate criminals who under the agitation for a better deal for the region perpetrate heinous crimes from innocent civilians.
Erifeta, who accused the government of inflaming the simmering crisis by deploying more troops to the area, lamented that innocent people have been killed in the maelstrom of cross fire and called for a ceasefire.
He advised the government to tackle the problems bedeviling the Niger Delta head-on and stop going round them.
He said: "I felt so bad going through the stories in the papers. In trying to stop a problem, you fuel it. Government is not doing the right thing. Government should look into their problem and not resort to force. It is only fuelling it . You don't deploy army into a place and you think innocent people will not be affected. Government should look for a way to fish out the perpetrators. The western world has a way of going about such issue without unnecessarily harming the innocent ones. The church will continue to pray for them because what happens there could occur in any part of the country. We will pray seeking God intervention in the crisis."
At a meeting with the different stakeholders, HNDC's Founder, Sunny Ofehe, said criminals' activities were at variance with genuine struggle, noting that such unwholesome acts were aggravating the crisis in the region.
Another group, Gender Coalition Against Genocide (GAG) has urged the House of Representatives Speaker Dimeji Bankole to change his stance on the military offensive in the Niger Delta and approve the immediate call for a ceasefire by the Delta State caucus in the Lower House.
GAG is headed by renowned artist, Hilda Dokubo, Annkio Briggs and Emem Okon . The group urged the Speaker to uphold his oath of office by calling for immediate ceasefire because of the innocent Nigerians who were trapped in the creeks and swamps.