Sunday, 11 December 2016

Niger-Delta Leaders To Buhari: Militants Have Stopped Bombing, Let's Talk Now

More than forty days after the coastal states of Niger Delta under the auspices of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, led by former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark, met with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, the people are still unsure of Mr. President’s frame of mind.

Though the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, had consistently re-assured that the President was ready to tackle the issues raised by the stakeholders from the oil region but was disturbed if they were capable of reining in the boys still bombing pipelines as of the date of meeting, PANDEF remained uncomfortable many weeks after with the apparent game of wits.

A top member of PANDEF told Sunday Vanguard in Asaba at the weekend: “Recently, we heard that the Federal Government was proposing a former Chief of Army Staff, General Theophilus Danjuma (retd), to head its Negotiating Team. We also heard that the security chiefs and some ministers were meeting over the matter. We do not really know what the stand of the government is on this matter.

The prickly situation PANDEF found itself was not helped by the hostile response that trailed the meeting with Mr. President. There was jostling before and after the meeting on representation from different interest groups. Since the November 1 meeting, some ethnic nationalities have grumbled about the activities of PANDEF.

The third General Assembly of PANDEF, held December 9 in Asaba, capital of Delta State, provided the right ambience for stakeholders to appraise the meeting with Buhari, recent developments in the region and overall prevailing political and economic situations in the country.

Clark, whose address was adopted as a working paper by the assembly, explained that Co-chairman of the Central Working Committee, CWC, of PANDEF and former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, and Secretary, CWC, Ledum Mitee, were unavoidably absent because of their participation in the session by the Senate on the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB.

He stated that even though the region had not heard from the President on the way forward, the November 1 meeting with him in Abuja was a success, as it broke the ice.

The presence of the CWC Co-chairman, HRM King Alfred Diete Spiff, who led a separate Niger Delta delegation to visit Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, and made fresh demands after PANDEF had met with Buhari, assuaged the fears of many. Diete Spiff, who briefed the assembly on the meeting with the President, explained that there was no split in PANDEF under the leadership of Clark, pointing out that the meeting with the Vice President had been previously arranged and the demands presented by the group were not different from these PANDEF presented to Buhari. He said the group was not a new body outside PANDEF and had no name. He restated his commitment to PANDEF, which, he said, was incontrovertible.

The assembly was attended by about 200 delegates from the various ethnic nationalities in the region, including, academician and scholar, Prof B I C Ijomah, a former military governor of Akwa Ibom State, Air Commodore Ndogesit (retd.) Nkanga, Ambassador Godknows Igali, and a former National Chairman of Traditional Rulers of Oil Minerals Producing Communities of Nigeria, TROMPCON, HRM Charles Ayemi-Botu. Others at the meeting were the Ovie of Uvwie Kingdom in Delta State, His Royal Majesty Emmanuel Sideso, Ibenanaowei of Bomo kingdom Bayelsa state, HRM King Joshua Igbugburu, HRM Anthony Ogbogbo of Ozoro Kingdom, Delta state, HRM Joesph Timighaan of Ogulagha kingdom, Delta state, paramount ruler of Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom state, HRM, Edidem Udo Ntuk Obom and Col Paul Ogbebor (retd.) from Edo state. Also there were Senator Stella Omu, Senator Aniete Okon, chairman of Bayelsa State Council of Elders, Chief Francis Doukpolagha and Dr. Monday Okony (Rivers state). Delta state governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, who accepted to host the meeting at the eleventh hour, was represented by one of his commissioners, Mr. Henry Sakpra. 

In a communiqué, jointly signed by Clark and Diete Spiff after the meeting, PANDEF reiterated its avowed resolve and commitment to dialogue as the preferred means of resolution of the crisis in the Niger Delta region and expressed its deepest concern that the Federal Government has not shown enough readiness to embrace such dialogue through the setting up of its own Negotiating Team. PANDEF, therefore, called on the Federal Government to as a matter of urgency, set up its team to negotiate with PANDEF. It restated its belief that “military operations cannot be the means to resolving the lingering issues stemming from age-old neglect and injustice in the Niger Delta region,” and worry that ‘Operation Crocodile Smile, Operation Python Dance,’ etc. “can only exacerbate the agitations, human right abuses and overall insecurity in the region and calls for the immediate halt to such activities.

”The group said it received reports of the escalating military buildup and indiscriminate military operations in the Niger Delta region and “condemns the recent military raids in several Niger Delta communities, including the reported indiscriminate shooting, mass arrest of youths and destruction of properties of innocent villagers in Yeghe community, in Ogoni, Rivers State on the 15th November, 2016; Okosugbene fishing Camp aka 9000, Burutu local government and Sandfield II, Warri Corner in Warri South local government, both of Delta State, on the 24th of November, 2016.” PANDEF called on all Niger Deltans, especially the youths, not to be provoked into taking any action that could disrupt the exiting peace, , which has helped to raise the crude oil production in Nigeria from 900bopd to the present 2.2mbopd as recently confirmed by the Minister of State Petroleum Resources, in spite of these unfortunate developments. 

The group further urged the Federal Government to direct the immediate takeoff of the Nigerian Maritime University Okerenkoko, Delta state, as a follow-up to its recent policy statement on the issue during the visit of PANDEF to Mr. President on the 1st of November 2016, saying: “This will give enormous credibility and commitment to the proposed dialogue process.” It thanked Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, for the warm hospitality accorded its delegates from across the region and for providing a convivial atmosphere for the meeting.

The Federal Government’s argument all the while for the delay in appointing a Negotiation Team was that Niger Delta was not ready because the militants were still bombing. Buhari capitalized on it during his meeting with PANDEF when he told the group that he would want to discuss with people who could guarantee that the boys would not be bombing while talks were on. In the past few weeks, there had been respite in the region. Speaking on the matter at the Asaba meeting, Clark said: “Unfortunately, as I speak, we have not heard from the Federal Government. Tension is rising again.” He explained that the present peace in the region and rise in oil production were as a result of the intervention of the leaders and not due to military operations as some persons claimed.

The jab at the meeting was the courageous manner Clark took on those accusing PANDEF of misleading the region and accusing him of instigating and sponsoring militants. He also upbraided the youths in the habit of addressing elders without respect. He also took governors allegedly spending 13 per cent Derivation Fund at their whims and caprices to the cleaners and tongue-lashed South-South governors for quarreling among themselves, while governors from other regions were meeting and discussing issues of common development. 

On the allegation that he is the father of militants, he said: “I am going to be 90 years old and I do not think it will be fair for anyone to accuse me of instigating or sponsoring pipeline vandalisation or militancy. I did not do such thing as a young man, and I will not do it now that I am in the departure lounge, waiting for my boarding pass.” The PANDEF leader told those insinuating that PANDEF is an Ijaw group: “I want to use this medium to educate people who are making mischievous statements that PANDEF is a group that belongs to one ethnic group in the region, or made up of a group of corrupt politicians, who are also the instigators of the crisis, that the claim is very untrue, unpatriotic and vicious.” “It is one of the tactics of people who would want to create division in the region; I plead with all to put hands together to save our region, which is highly endangered. We may have our differences at home, but national issues affecting our destiny, must naturally too, bring us together.

Culled from: Vanguard Newspaper