Ateke Tom is a former militant leader in the Niger Delta..In an interview with Punch, he opened up on why they were different from Boko Hram and should not be labelled terrorists.
How is life as a repentant militant?
Life here is better than the life I once lived in the creeks because I now enjoy free movement and I see my family. I do businesses and I’m free to embark on other gainful ventures outside the creeks. In the creeks, we didn’t use to drive cars, but outside the creeks where we are now leading a normal life, we drive our cars and do other things that will benefit us and the society at large. So, we are comfortable outside the creeks.
What was life like in the creeks?
It was tough there. We were bitten by mosquitoes, but the difference then was that we were not deterred from continuing with the struggle. Our mind was constantly on the fight to liberate the Niger Delta region from marginalisation.
Many are casting aspersions on the ex-militants for accusing Boko Haram of acts of terrorism while they (Niger Delta militants) were also guilty of the same act
It is wrong to describe the struggle we embarked on then as an act of terrorism. We were notterrorists; we were freedom fighters because we had a reason why we were fighting. You can remember that when amnesty came from the Federal Government, we embraced it. Everybody was aware of the reason behind the struggle. The international community and other relevant bodies were aware of the reason for our struggle.
What was the reason for the fight?
We were fighting for our rights. We have the oil; we have the resources being used to feed Nigeria. But they did not want to give us anything and that explained why we were fighting. They refused to employ our people; instead, they (government) brought in foreigners to work in oil companies while we were suffering. That was why we determined we would fight our cause and make the authorities realise that we were not happy with the situation of things. We needed employment; we needed to work. We needed good hospitals, good roads and other social amenities, but there were none. We had to embark on the struggle to make them realise that we were being marginalised.
Everybody knew that we were fighting for our rights. The Federal Government called us and asked us why we were fighting. When the late President Musa Yar’Adua called us, we came out to tell him and Nigerians why we were fighting and they reasoned with us and asked us to cease fight. We accepted and embraced amnesty.
But in the case of Boko Haram, why have they refused to come out? What are they fighting for? Who are they fighting for? They (Boko Haram) members should come out and tell Nigerians why they are fighting. So, it is not right to compare us with Boko Haram. What is stopping them (Boko Haram) from telling Nigerians the reasons they are fighting? President Goodluck has called on them several times to come out and tell Nigerians their grievances, but they have refused to do so. So, we are not similar to them.