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NIGER DELTA: Awaiting Godot?!

By Tony Uranta
Dear Fellow Nigerians,
Prince Tonye Princewill is a personable young man that has the ability to charm people even when he is telling them bitter truths, as all other members of President Umoru YarAdua’s Niger Delta Technical Committee, on which he served, learnt…sometimes to their chagrin…

This 40-years-old Engineer crown prince of the Kalabari kingdom in Rivers State so easily reminds one of the charismatic one-of-a-kind former CEO of Cross River State, Donald Duke (by the way, Nigerians, we should conscript a Duke to head of our affairs come 2011, or what do you think?).

He virtually made history when (in protest against the genocidal actions of the JTF in Gbaramatu kingdom) he resigned his membership of the FGN’s pivotal socio-economic Vision 20:20,20 Committee, where he served as Chairman of the Sub-Committee on the Niger Delta. A rarity, indeed, in Nigeria.

But most people know him in Rivers State and the nation’s political space (where he is fondly known as “The Prince of the Niger Delta”) as the man who broke the mold of “politics-with-bitterness” to join hands with Rivers State’s Governor Rotimi Amaechi (whose Peoples Democratic Party had cost Princewill his chance to become the Rivers State Chief Executive!), even in the face of his party’s (the Action Congress) national leadership initially opposing what they thought would herald their structures being hijacked in the state.

They were soon to applaud his obvious apolitical love of service to his people, plus his political loyalty.
Not only has the Action Congress not suffered any loss because of this strange political romance, it has flourished; with Princewill exhibiting an uncanny ability to usher in billions of naira worth of investment towards the common good of Rivers State citizens, whilst jealously maintaining the autonomy of his party, and still being part of a coalition-government which features two of Princewill’s nominees as Commissioners.

Whilst this technocratic young man is intriguing with respect to his aristocratic carriage, political savvy and social graces (all of which were celebrated this year, when many of the great and mighty of this nation and abroad, congregated to usher in his wise years as he turned forty in January) his major relevance to us today is borne out of a one-liner phrase that we could term his signature-phrase, viz., “I do not believe my breakfast until I have eaten it!”

This writer was reminded of this mantra of Tonye’s following the secret meeting between Nigeria’s strong_willed President YarAdua and alleged leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, Mr. Henry Okah.

First of all, the phrase reminded one of a corollary one, viz., “Never say never!”, for it had been stated repeatedly by Federal and States public officers (many of whom were well-meaning) that Mr. Okah and MEND were irrelevant in the future equation of the region and the nation.

Yet, here was the President of Nigeria hosting him to a private tete-a-tete in a serious bid for sustainable peace, and away from the circus of photo-ops, after having put a presidential jet at Okah’s service, to ferry him to-and-fro South Africa, where the quiet spoken Okah resides with his family.

The scenario was not un-akin to two serious-minded statesmen gingerly engaging in a lives_and_deaths interface, as the two men (one middle-aged, the other young; one welcoming and compassionate, the other respectful but principled…) came to an understanding that opens the doors of positive possibilities if both keep their words. And something tells one that this may be truly our chance.

At least, for the first time, MEND had positive words of “cautious optimism” regarding the President’s intentions and the region’s future outlook.

And at last, Mr. President listened to his heart, not his hawks, and did what right-thinking Nigerians and the world had been urging him to do: Open negotiations and hold consultations with representatives of MEND and other key stakeholders belonging to the region. At last, we all can hope that a truly sustainable peace can be celebrated soon….BUT…

But?! Yes, there is a “but”! And this is where Princewill’s signature-phrase becomes even more apt. We all must have heard the oft-misquoted quote of the late Samuel Johnson which really is that “Hell is paved with good intentions”.

And there is more and more a unanimity of national opinion that YarAdua means well for all Nigerians…which by extension means we think Mr. President might mean well for Niger Deltans.

Now, that may be a fact. But Mr. President has not rated too highly in how Nigerians and Niger Deltans perceive him as being sincere about his yearnings regarding the beleaguered region!

Perception is, often, as vital as (even, sometimes, more vital than!) reality. And nobody knows this more than this fourth President of a “democratic” Nigeria, who time and time again, laces his speeches with the word “perception”. How best to manage this challenge of perception?

Here is the crux of the riddle: YarAdua holds the keys to a justice, development and security_based sustainable peace in the Niger Delta, which will benefit all stakeholders of the region…whether regional, national, multinational, international or cosmic.

First, he must apologise to all Niger Deltans for seemingly-contemptuously (remember, “perception”!) relegating to the garbage_can the Report of a Technical Committee ALL Niger Deltans had consensually and passionately demanded for (after refusing to submit themselves to the FGN’s planned farce of a Gambari-led Summit); and which he set up, mandating it to prepare a road-map for the self-same peace he had sought to gain within six months of taking over the reins of power from a militaristic OBJ.

When YarAdua stops randomly cherry-picking highlights (including Amnesty and Royalties to communities) of that Niger Delta Technical Committee’s Report, and produces the too-long-overdue White Paper on the Report (which is the best way of capturing his time-bound short, medium and long term plans for the region); invites the region’s representatives (including MEND’s Aaron Team and the Pa Edwin Clark-led Elders and Leaders Forum) to a Round-Table with him; and immediately starts implementing the promises he accedes to…then, we will trust him.

Then, and only then, will he have written his name in gold, as being the man that brought peace into the Niger Delta…then, will we nominate him for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, which has been won this year by a bold, sincere and creative USA President Barack Obama.

Until then we wait and we watch…impatiently! Because, like Tonye Princewill, we learnt not to “believe in our breakfast until we have eaten it”. Shalom.


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