By Taiwo-Hassan Adebayo
A group of ex-armed militants led by Victor Ebikabowei, alias Boyloaf, on Wednesday, endorsed Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, for re-election.
Mr Ebikabowei, once notorious for the long-run militancy in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta, made the endorsement ahead of the polls on Saturday.
A source close to Boyloaf had told PREMIUM TIMES four other ex-militant leaders were part of the endorsement move.
The source mentioned Government Ekpemupolo, or Tompolo as he is more widely known; Ateke Tom, now traditional ruler; Bibrope Ajube, also known as General Shoot-at-Sight; and Farah Dagogo.
However, none of the four men mentioned by the source was present at the press conference addressed by Boyloaf in Port Harcourt on Wednesday. And at least two of them – Tompolo and Mr Dagogo – have denied their involvement.
PREMIUM TIMES have not been able to verify if the other two – Mr Ateke and General Shoot-at-Sight – consented to the endorsement yet.
In a statement to PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday, Mr Dagogo, who is the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) candidate for the Bonny/ Degema Federal Constituency election, reaffirmed his support for his party’s candidate and Mr Buhari’s main challenger, Atiku Abubakar.
“As an astute and grounded politician, my support and dedication are geared towards ensuring the total victory of all PDP candidates including our presidential candidate, Alh. Atiku Abubakar, Rivers State Governor, Chief (Barr.) Nyesom Wike, among others,” said Mr Dagogo
He added that his name was included to attract public sympathy for Mr Buhari, “owing to my popularity and the unfailing love the people of the Niger Delta have for me as a shining light among the youths.”
Similarly, Tompolo, through a spokesperson, Paul Benimibo, said he was not aware of the endorsement and that he had not been in touch with Boyloaf since 2015.
“Tompolo is presently troubled with the way and manner his kinsmen in Gbaramatu Kingdom are being harassed and intimidated by President Buhari military on daily basis,” said the spokesperson, quoted by a local newspaper, Gbaramatu Voice, on Wednesday.
He wondered why his principal would back Mr Buhari: “To further kill his kinsmen?”
Tompolo is wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over money laundering allegations.
Why we endorsed Buhari
In his address on Wednesday, Boyloaf said the “crux of our resolution”, following consultations, was to prioritise the interest of the Niger Delta.
“Our interest is presently being served by the present administration which has shown more resolve to engage with the critical issues of the Niger Delta beyond the surface dressing of the past,” said Boyloaf.
He added that: “In the past, politicians would always throw money at the Niger Delta problem but this has not taken us anywhere. The Niger Delta in spite of its wealth has continued to remain the poorest region of the country in spite of the dominance of a single party.”
He identified the sustenance and reform of the amnesty programme, first initiated by late President Umaru Yar’Adua, the Ogoni cleanup programme, improvement of the local through a commitment to the development of modular refineries, and Infrastructural projects, such as the East-West Road, as the motivational variables for the endorsement.
He said the amnesty programme in the focused on palliatives using stipends to pacify the youth of the region, once involved in militancy.
“(Under Mr Buhari), We have seen a resolve to reform the programme in such a way that focuses more on the human capital side over the routine welfare and palliative payments,” said Boyloaf.
“This is what progress means to us and this is the type of programme we would align with and encourage.”
He added: “All of these achievements find expression in a 20-point plan for the Niger Delta which has been presented to us by the Petroleum Minister, Mr. Ibe Kachikwu. The plan also covers the need for government and Oil companies working in our region to create at least a 100,000 jobs yearly. The plan for the Niger Delta is what we need now for a more sustainable future.
“As witnesses to the commitment of this government to these issues that we have presented over the years through various fora and the tangible achievements we have seen as it concerns our region over the last four years, we have decided to endorse the government to continue beyond 2019.”
The Niger Delta is a region where Mr Buhari’s main challenger, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, is expected to record a clear win.
Apart from being traditionally a “PDP home,” Mr Abubakar’s core campaign vow to restructure the country to allow states have greater responsibilities and control of resources appeals to the region, long drawn in agitations for resource control and more development.
However, the endorsement of Mr Buhari by the ex-warriors who wield some influence in the region may swing some votes across the states in the region to APC.
But, for a professor of Political Science at the University of Ibadan, Osisioma Nwolise, the endorsement may not count much to anything.
“I don’t believe in politics of endorsement or adoption,” said Mr Nwolise, speaking with PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday.
“That some people adopt a candidate or you see crowds may not translate to results. Many are paid. You only know what people have chosen to do by checking the results after the election.”