By Jonathan Ugbal: Government House Correspondent
Wanted militant and leader of the Bakassi Strike Force, Simply Benjamin Ene popularly referred to as G1, on Monday surrendered arms alongside members of his team in a special amnesty offered by the Cross River State Government.
The amnesty comes almost two years after Mr. Benjamin had indicated interest to that effect and written three times to the federal government but were denied, CrossRiverWatch gathered.
Mr. Ene while surrendering the arms and charms to the Operation Delta Safe component of the Nigerian military at the Bakassi local government council secretariat said his decision to take to the creeks to terrorise the Gulf of Guinea was borne out of the Government’s neglect of the Bakassi people after the ceding of the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon.
“We viewed the ceding of our home as a great betrayal by the Nigerian State who sold our ancestral land in the first place without our consent as a people. We have today resolved to give peace a chance and urge all to do same,” Ene said.
He also explained that: “We had remained in the creeks fighting and dying for our cause, although our struggle is born out of the failure of the past Nigerian government and international community to demonstrate the minimum level of responsibility and other obligations spelt out in the Green Tree Agreement.”
Ene, who also said that: “You have won the battle and the war and we have won our freedom. We want to pass the message of the suffering of our people to the government and the relevant organizations worldwide that though, not totally addressed,” commended stakeholders who made the gesture a success.
The ex-agitator who described the gesture as “historic,” added that: “My boys who are still in various detention camps and awaiting freedom appreciate this gesture and hereby willingly surrender our arms and never to go back to armed struggle or insurgency but to be law abiding citizens and pass all our grievances through every lawful means.”
Receiving the arms, the commander, OPDS, Rear Admiral AO Suleiman asked Mr. Ene to drop the nicknamr, ‘G1 and urged all parties which signed the memorandum of understanding for the special amnesty to stick to their end as the Nigerian military will not hesitate to go after any militant who returns to the creeks.
According to Suleiman, the military had insisted on a total surrender and not amnesty. He said: “When I met with the governor, I told him that we shall not grant amnesty based on any conditions. I insisted on an unconditional surrender. We also met with the agitators and made it clear to them that once they surrendered their arms, we will on our part do the needful. Ours is sacrifice and service to our fatherland. We do not need praises. What we are doing is a job we have made sacrifices to do.”
Insisting that the joint task force would stop at nothing to rid the state of criminality, Suleman said: “We will fight criminality to its logical conclusion around the shores of Cross River State. We are apolitical as we are only discharging our role as defenders of our country. We have a mandate to protect the oil and gas infrastructure and that we will not compromise.”
Addressing the ex-militants at Ikang, Governor Ben Ayade who said the gesture Iwas aimed at sustaining the State’s investment climate, said: “I have a duty as a father to protect all citizens and a responsibility as a governor to ensure security of lives and property. Therefore, there is a complex relationship between my office as governor and my traditional role as a father. In the light of this, therefore, allow me the luxury to maneuver through such an agony that I have found myself today. It is totally unacceptable, no matter the circumstance, for any citizen of Nigeria who is not trained to bear arms to carry arms. To that extent, I wish to particularly thank President Mohammadu Buhari, the Chief of Army Staff and the Commander of Operation Delta Safe for making this event possible.
“We thank you for your patience, tolerance and understanding that despite your superior fire power to take them out, you have chosen to allow dialogue to prevail and in the process, you showed compassion, humility and that truly truly, you love the people of Bakassi and indeed, Cross River State. And by so doing, lives are saved and this is the real essence of governance.”
While not justifying the activities of the militants in Bakassi, Ayade regretted that: “The Bakassi Strike Force, led by Benjamin Ene, who is from where we are building our deep seaport, though originally not designed as a criminal gang, became a product of agitation to draw attention to the painful and sad loss of identity, ancestral heritage and a means of livelihood, occasioned by the heartless ceding of Bakassi peninsula without a plebiscite or a referendum with the attendant loss of our oil wells, pain, hunger and suffering that has characterized the state since the loss. This has gone on without the correspondent commitment and concern from the federal government.”
“Naturally, when all avenues for negotiations have failed, people are forced to attempt alternative methods of seeking redress,” he said, regretting that the militants chose the wrong option in their attempt to draw attention to the plight of the people.
However, Mr. Ayade expressed happiness that the young men have now seen the folly of that decision and have repented.
“I thank you for submitting to reason. I thank the Bakassi Strike Force, as it then was for coming out of hiding. As I look at you, I feel pain and a sense of shame, defeat as a governor that it took me this long to bring my brothers out to come join me to build the Cross River of our dream. We welcome you back home, and as we welcome you, we do so with all sincerity and every fiber of my being to respect all the terms of the memorandum of understanding contained in the agreement.”
In his remarks, the State Security Adviser, South, Mr. Ani Esin said the amnesty offer encouraged the agitators to lay down their arms.
He expressed optimism that the gesture, “will engender peace in Bakassi and safety not only in our inland waterways but also in the entire Gulf of Guinea where piracy and other maritime crimes will be a thing of the past.”
He sued for the signing into law, the anti-kidnapping bill passed by the Assembly and an increase in funding to the security architecture of the State.
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