By Amgbare Ekaunkumo, Yenagoa
Dignitaries and stakeholders have paid tributes to a foremost Niger Delta ex-agitator, Victor-Ben Ebikabowei, aka, ‘General’ Boyloaf as he turns 50.
The Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Douye Diri; the Interim Administrator, Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), Col. Milland Dixon Dikio (rtd) and the President of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Prof. Benjamin Okaba among others described the former warlord as a phenomenon.
They spoke at the weekend in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, at an event to mark the 50th birthday of the former leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and the official launch of the Boy Child Project by the Boyloaf Foundation.
Diri, who was represented by the Secretary to the Bayelsa State Government (SSG), Konbowei Benson said Boyloaf played a significant role in sustaining the peace and stability in the region.
While congratulating him on his Golden Jubilee, Diri said that his administration is open to working with individuals and organisations that are ready for the peace and development of Niger Delta.
Delivering a keynote address on the topic, “Peace a Priceless Asset for Niger Delta Growth and Development”, Dikio remarked that peace remains indispensable in the quest to make the Niger Delta the safest place to live and do business.
He said that the struggle for a better deal for the Niger Delta can be achieved if there is a change of approach and tactics.
He said: “Can we change tactics? Can we rely more on brain power than muscle power? We need to review our approach so we can attract better deals. What we need here is peace and development of the region. This can happen if we showcase what we have.
“It is when you are buoyant that you can negotiate. It is when you’re buoyant that you can make projections for development”.
The PAP boss, who said he was excited about the achievements of the celebrant after leaving the creeks and dropping his weapons, urged him to continue to be a worthy example and lead the way for others to follow.
He also commended Boyloaf and other ex-warlords for their efforts which brought the attention of the world to the issues bedevilling the region but added that there is still a lot to be done for the Niger Delta.
“Ebikabowei Victor-Ben, Tompolo, Bibopere Ajube and others have fought their own battles. This generation and future generations will also have their own battles to fight”, Dikio said.
“The present and future battles cannot be fought the same way; they are more intellectual and economic battles than muscle. We need to prepare and get into the space where we can win and win for the region and Nigeria in general.”
In his remarks, chairman of the occasion, Prof. Okaba went down memory lane to what led to the proclamation of the amnesty programme and also paid tributes to those who had been part of the struggle for environmental and social justice for people of the region.
He decried the seeming unwillingness to inaugurate a substantive board for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as one of the actions militating against its development.
He said: “The sustainable peace and development in the Niger Delta must be anchored on justice, equity and fairness. These ingredients have been lacking because of government’s approach to solve the region’s problems which includes the age long neglect of the area”.
The INC President lauded Boyloaf for floating a foundation aimed at tackling the problems of the boy child and appealed to well-meaning Individuals and groups to support the course.
He also thanked him for his commitment to peace and capacity building in the region and charged other leaders of the Niger Delta to invest in the area and on the people.
In his remarks, Boyloaf said he joined the Niger Delta struggle because of the neglect and perceived injustices, pointing out that he had no regrets defending his people.
He said his desire to give back to the society led to the establishment of his foundation.