By Sam Eyoboka
SIX weeks after South- South governors threatened to pull out of the amnesty deal over certain unclear official pronouncements, Christians in the region under the aegis of the Niger-Delta Christian Leaders Forum, NDCLF, rose from an emergency meeting with a call on President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua to redeploy the current Petroleum Minister, Alhaji Rilwanu Lukman to any other ministry.
A communique issued at the end of the meeting which took place at St. James Anglican Church, Warri in Delta State and signed by the chairman, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor and secretary, Rev. Eddy Bebor as well as nine zonal officials, alluded to the same sentiments expressed by the South- South governors in their July protest for their position.
The group appealed to the president to accede to their call for the redeployment of the minister in the interest of enduring peace in the region, adding that the government should go beyond its clarification on the Federal University of Petroleum Studies, Effurun, by immediately matching its words with action.
The communique stated: â€œWe request that this clarification, as important as it is, should be backed up with visible developmental projects at the university site. We therefore implore the Federal Government of Nigeria to release adequate funds for the full take off and the running of the said university in Effurun.â€
It will be recalled that governors from the region also made similar demand in July after a meeting in Asaba, Delta State capital, citing certain uncomplimentary remarks by the minister over the removal of the petroleum university to Kaduna.
The group further recommended the release and implementation of the white paper of the Technical Committee on the Niger- Delta Development, saying â€œthis will help to avoid misconceptions and misinterpretations of governmentâ€™s intentions for the Niger-Delta.â€
In their 7-point communique, the NDCLF also punctured holes in the current Petroleum Industry Bill before the National Assembly, saying that one of the ways militants in the area who are currently being wooed to surrender their weapons, is the government to be sincere and transparent.
â€œA bill that addresses royalties to the Federal Government to the exclusion of the oil producing communities; considering the ecological devastating effect of the oil exploration cannot be said to be fair and just to the oil producing communities. It is our honest recommendation that the Petroleum Industry Bill be amended in the Senate and the House of Representatives to accommodate the views and interests of the oil producing communities.
â€œThis, to a great extent, we believe will ensure the success of the amnesty and other developmental packages of the Federal Government to the oil producing region,â€ the statement added.
Continuing, the group suggested that a well articulated package that will include employment, skill acquisition training, scholarships and soft loans be provided for the ex-militants to enable them be gainfully employed and re-integrated to the society to avoid relapse.
â€œFurthermore, we strongly recommend that a communication platform be provided by the Federal Government to enable government and the ex-militants to dialogue on the way forward vis-a-vis sustainable peace from the Federal Government of Nigeria on one hand, and the Niger Delta on the other,â€ it further stated.
On the current reorganisation going on in the NNPC, NDCLF said the exercise is biased and does not represent the interest of the people of the region.
â€œThe recent re-organization in the NNPC is of great concern to our people in the Niger Delta, considering that prominent sons and daughters from the South South are being dropped from positions in the corporation and are being replaced by their counterparts from other non-oil producing regions.
â€œMr. President, we know that you are a man of fair play and of high moral integrity who is sensitive to the plights and aspirations of the oil producing region. We, therefore, suggest that qualified indigenes of the oil producing areas be used to replace any Niger Deltan who, for any reason, is relieved of his position in the NNPC, other Federal Government parastatals and agencies in the Niger Delta,â€ the group said.
On the issue of bunkering in the region, NDCLF urged the Federal Government to demonstrate the political will to deal with the issue decisively by unmasking the individuals behind what they called, â€œthis act of sabotageâ€ and bring them to book no matter how influential in the society.
â€œThe alleged involvement of some senior serving and retired military officers and the so-called cabal in high places of government should be seriously investigated and made to face the wrath of the law,â€ the statement further added.
Reviewing the recent crisis in parts of the North, the NDCLF also drew attention to the dangerous and provocative trend that religious intolerance has assumed in recent times, especially in the northern part of Nigeria.
â€œA situation where the slightest misunderstanding between people who have little or nothing to do with religion, results in the burning of churches, killing of Christians and pastors and destruction of properties belonging to Christians, to say the least, is demonic and provocative.
â€œWe therefore call on the Federal Government to fish out all members of the Boko Haram Sect; and other similar militant groups and fundamentalists, their leaders and sponsors, no matter how highly placed in the society and made to face the long arm of the law.
â€œFurthermore, we implore the Federal Government, beyond the panel of enquiry, to ascertain the actual level of destruction and pay adequate compensation to churches and all families of victims, and take immediate steps to avoid a repeat of this carnage,â€ it stated.
The group did not fail to remind the president that he would have made history if sustainable peace and visible development finally come to the Niger Delta, in particular, and the nation in general.
â€œIt is our prayer that God will guide every step you take and every move you make in the right direction to move Nigeria forward,â€ they concluded.