Kidnapper Kelvin and his ultimatum to President Jonathan,By Uche Igwe

Uche IgweIt was an unusual press conference taking place in an unusual location conducted by unusual people. They were dressed in military camouflage, clutching AK47 rifles and were in a village square. Though they were masked, the wild excitement and intermittent ovation they drew from the crowd betrayed either some level of familiarity or endorsement. They are apparently respected or feared in this community, Kokori in Ethiope East Local Government Area in Delta State. The impressive turnout of people, especially young ones, can make anyone mistake them for being celebrities that they are not. A few people who could not come to the square climbed an uncompleted building (like the biblical sycamore tree) just to catch a glimpse of these men who stood like valiant warriors returning from a victorious battlefield. But Kelvin Oniarah and his gang are neither celebrities nor warriors. They are dreadful and most wanted kidnappers and daredevil bandits that have terrorised Delta State for months and who have been declared wanted for killing many soldiers, police officers and prison wardens. Interestingly their leader also doubles as the leader of the new Liberation Movement of the Urhobo People (LIMUP). There are many versions about this man’s personality. Some say he has diabolical powers of disappearance while others allege that he holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering.
It is reported that people are on oath not to talk about him. Rumour has it that once upon a time, two chiefs in the community tried to expose him. He allegedly slaughtered them and warned that he will execute anyone who unveils his activities to security agencies. Since then people became scared of talking about him and he now moves around like a colossus. Though several criminal activities have been traced to him, he has managed to smartly evade arrest. He had bamboozled security agents so many times and had even pretended to the Delta Police Commissioner that he was willing to accept amnesty some time ago. After hunting for him for several months, his country home was demolished, but he was nowhere to be found. But last week this criminal seemingly transformed to a freedom fighter, now confronting President Jonathan with what he described as ‘marginalisation’ of the Kokori community. That buzzword that is synonymous with the struggle, whatever that means. He asked for an unconditional amnesty to be granted to him and other kidnappers, failure of which he will have no option but to start attacking oil facilities. Same story, same style…
For many discerning minds there are many issues that can be extrapolated from that ultimatum which are potentially unsettling. The first is that it sounded like a familiar route. Many people who have become ‘transformed’ through the amnesty program once spoke and acted like him. So if they could be forgiven, why not him? Clearly this must count as one of the negative fallouts of the federal government amnesty program long foretold. If you pardon A, you must pardon B, and C may be on their way. Boko Haram insurgents have asked for amnesty, now it is the kidnappers, then the armed robbers and one day the rapists. A growing culture that condones violence as an acceptable way of expressing any grievance seems to be here with us to stay. If for any reason a government compromises law enforcement and subsidises criminality as is clearly the case in Nigeria, it will clearly lead to a vicious circle. Here we are again with a Kelvin, a most wanted outlaw complaining how the government has been drilling oil from his community for more than fifty years and cheating them in terms of infrastructural provision and means of livelihood, bla, bla, bla…
Let us look at three related issues. First is the seeming helplessness of the security agencies which in some ways can be alleged to be a conspiracy. How can the security agencies claim ignorance of the location of a man who can come out and call a press conference? I am not a policeman, but it would have been easy to cordon off the area during the press conference and pick him up. What are aerial helicopters made for? Is that not laughable that they cannot locate him still? Now how did he get the telephone number of the Police Commissioner that he allegedly called the other time? Another aspect of this is the dubious legitimacy that these criminals enjoy in their communities. Even titled Chiefs say he is fighting on their behalf. What a shame! I read that there was a time when he resisted arrest by surrounding himself with about two hundred young people. Yes two hundred. As he was barking and shouting during his press conference many members of his community were cheering and applauding him. Can you see what our country has been turned into by a policy mistake of a myopic few? So what if the amnesty program ends in 2015 as announced? Relative peace might have returned in some areas of the Niger Delta but at what total cost to the nation? So what do you do the amnesty culture which has developed?
Let us momentarily ignore the messenger and re-examine the message. Is it not a big shame that infrastructural decay still persists in the oil bearing communities in the Niger Delta, many years after their kinsman has occupied the highest office in the land, is simply ridiculous. When shall those be fixed? What is going on? With these sort of complaints, on what moral high ground will President Jonathan stand to campaign if he eventually decides to run in 2015? Now if his region remains this under developed, how will he convince other regions that he is capable of making development happen? That there is underdevelopment and infrastructural problems in Ethiope East local government area is obviously not in doubt, however, why must a character like Kelvin assume the role of spokesperson of such a community? Is this not the same community where former Secretary General of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Chief Frank Ovie Kokori hails from? Chief Kokori fought tirelessly to resist the annulment of the June 12 election, and I am not sure he needs a kidnapper to articulate the demands of his community to the President.
On a very final note, I do not blame Kelvin per se. The Commander in Chief(as they call him) is a smart guy who may know many things we do not know. The blame should be rightly placed at the footsteps of politicians and the government in Abuja who cannot deny any form of collaboration or collusion. At least Kelvin has seen what one of his brothers who formerly a driver in a popular B plus B company in Ekpan near Warri has been ‘transformed’ into. From being a driver, he joined the ‘lucrative business’ of violence against the state and militancy and later founded his own camp. At a stage it was alleged that it was this character and his foot soldiers that cruelly beheaded some military officers near his village in Delta state. Today, the man in question has been granted amnesty by the federal government. He is not only a Chief, he is also a big time government contractor, a powerbroker, billionaire and probably a member of the prestigious club of private jet owners. He and many others are hobnobbing with the President and are threatening fire and brimstone about the Jonathan 2015 project. They have all forgotten the message of marginalisation which they used to get access to the sharing table. Mr Kelvin Oniarah has read the times well and is probably just raising his hand to be counted, in confidence that he has the credentials. It is the national cake. What a country!
Uche Igwe is a Doctoral Researcher in Politics at the University of Sussex and heads the UK Bureau of Africa Courier magazine.

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