Tuesday, September 30, 2014 11:52 am
By Stephen Davis
I read with interest Asari Dokubo’s comments published on 14 September in the Daily Post.
Asari is quite correct in saying that he knows me well and has met members of my family. In 2004, the Niger Delta was aflame with conflict. Asari, Ateke Tom and Tompolo were waging a fierce war against the Nigerian federal and state governments. Many people had been killed.
Nigerian military were having trouble contending with Asari’s guerrilla warfare. Small, highly mobile and heavily armed militant forces in fast boats struck across the Niger Delta targeting oil installations and military posts. Nigeria’s oil output at one point dropped to as low as 600,000 barrels per day and on average was halved to one million barrels per day.
This was a devastating blow to Nigeria’s economy and the operations of the major international oil companies. Apart from the economic impact, communities were suffering from the conflict with many innocent people killed in military efforts to purge the communities of militants.
My wife and I were living in Port Harcourt and, in 2004, I explored the idea of a peace deal with an Ijaw friend, Von Kemedi. As an Ijaw, he knew Asari who was also Ijaw. Von was able to make contact with Asari who agreed to meet with me.
Von and I subsequently travelled through the swamps in a speedboat to Opurata village to see the damage to villages before transferring to a canoe that we paddled to another village from where we were met by Asari’s men in another fast boat. With a blindfold on we were taken to another island where we waited until another boat escorted us to Asari’s camp. A vigorous discussion took place that night surrounded by Asari’s well-armed fighters. By the end of the night, the foundation of a peace deal had been set down.
I subsequently took the peace proposal to President Olusegun Obasanjo and found him ready and willing to support peace and disarmament. The deal also encompassed demobilisation and a programme to reintegrate the militants back into the communities. This required a skills training programme which President Obasanjo supported. A final essential element was weapons surrender and destruction. The protocol used was that set down by the UN and was agreed by both sides.
At the Villa I stayed in close contact with Asari by satellite phone each evening around 5pm. We worked out the details of the peace process. The first step was a ceasefire. The ceasefire was set in place on 8 September, 2004, but in the following days was broken three times and each time it was the Nigerian military that broke the ceasefire. Even when under fire during a ceasefire breach, Asari honoured his word and withdrew, firing only for self-protection.
To complete the peace deal, President Obasanjo directed me to oversee the extraction of Asari and his key commanders in September 2004. I travelled to the Niger Delta with a handful of SSS men headed by Fubara Duke, an Ijaw man known to Asari and trusted by President Obasanjo.