It gives me a great pleasure to welcome you all to this occasion of the extension of Amnesty to our armed youths whose activities have in the last few years hampered harmony, peaceful coexistence as well as a friendly business environment.
Perhaps, it is important that we recall the journey to this day. Prior to the present situation of insecurity in the riverine areas of the State, the people of the area, especially Ilaje and Ese-Odo, used to live in peace and harmony. They had lived among themselves and conducted their businesses without any hindrance.
However, the unfortunate Ilaje/ijaw crisis of the late 90s created a situation of arms flow into the area. Even though the government of the day in conjunction with community leaders of both sides succeeded in ending the crisis between two brothers, the level of arms flow could not be controlled. Therefore, a new but dangerous dimension came. Armed youths who had participated in the unfortunate crisis gradually turned themselves to ethnic war veterans whose activities suddenly became unbearable even for communities they took up arms to defend. The situation became worse as it coincided with a new phase of armed struggle in the Niger Delta region that was brought about by long years of neglect of the region as well as the harsh environment caused by degradation.
Just as the mopping up of arms that was not successfully carried out after the Ilaje ijaw crisis did not help matters, the offer of Amnesty by the late Yar’Adua administration to those carried arms against the government did not also put a stop to pockets of violence in some parts of the Niger Delta region. In very clear terms too, the offer of Amnesty became highly politicised to the extent that some armed youths were left out in the programme.
It is therefore needless to recall that upon assumption of office, the present administration led by Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu SAN, met a huge security challenge on ground. This challenge was very uncommon in the sense that youths from the riverine communities of the State had taken up arms against State-owned oil facilities in neighbouring Lagos and Ogun States. To be precise, this menace had remained without solution for almost five years.
In most cases, the perpetrators of such acts have claimed they are from the riverine communities of Ondo State, precisely Ese-Odo local government area. But the highpoint came with the kidnapping of the six pupils of Igbonla Model College, Epe, Lagos State by another group of armed youths who are from Ondo State. At this point, the international attention this act attracted was such that the Federal Government became very concerned and decided to think outside the box to find a lasting solution. Our Governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu(SAN) had to be contacted to wade in and the six children were rescued unhurt.
We thank God Almighty for His grace and favour for making the release of the Epe 6 possible through dialogue and persistent interface with the armed youths. In this regard, Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo(SAN) as well as the Governor of our dear Sunshine State, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu (SAN) deserve appreciation for their quick intervention. The role played by my brother and colleague, the Deputy Governor of Delta State, Barrister Kingsley Otuaro as well as those of Ogun and Lagos are also worthy of mention. The uncommon understanding displayed by the security agencies while the Ondo State government interfaced with the armed youths is also commendable.
The reason we are here is simple. The common ground that was achieved by the Ondo State government while interfacing with the armed youths was the need to embrace peace. The Ondo State government reiterated this timelessly. As a way of fostering peace through dialogue, the State government with the support of the Federal Government, came up with a plan to clean up the riverine communities of arms through yet another opportunity. Today’s occasion which is the widening of the Federal Government Amnesty Programme through the efforts of Mr. Governor should therefore be seen as an ample opportunity that youths of Ilaje and Ese-Odo must maximise to their advantage. Mr Governor’s magnanimity is such a laudable one that all stakeholders must key into it.
Accepting this Amnesty offer in good faith therefore means that our riverine communities will experience economic boom and commercial posterity. This is more so that in a matter of months, oil drilling activities are likely to commence in the Mahin and Ese-Odo areas of the riverine part of the State. This will not just improve the revenue base of the State but will equally enhance the economic activities to the advantage of all youths who will find meaningful things to engage in. No seriousness can be more than what our amiable governor has displayed in this direction.
Lastly, as the Committee saddled with the responsibility of driving this process, we do not know it all. In this regard, we are open to suggestions and advice that will ease our work. We will equally approach relevant stakeholders and development partners for capacity building for the armed youths whose disarmament will commence from today.
Once again, I welcome you all to this very unique occasion. I wish all of us God’s guidance as we proceed to make our dear Sunshine State the investors’ destination.
Thanks and God bless you all.