….Confab seeks intâ€™l intervention on Mitee Report
Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, Niger-Delta (Just back from Netherlands )
Last month, a Non-Governmental Organization, (NGO), Hope for Niger-Delta Campaign (HNDC), inÂ a two-day confab, dubbed, aHHâ€œNiger-Delta Peace Consolidation Conferenceâ€ choseÂ The Hague, Netherlands, for the international summit.
The Hague , which is the seat of government of the country with parliamentary, democratic constitutional monarchy, is the international headquarters of the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).Â The Radio Netherlands described the â€œNiger-Delta Peace Consolidation Conferenceâ€ as an event that held in the â€œbackyardâ€ of Shell.
HNDC was foundedÂ in Netherlands in 2005, 10 years ago by the political refugee, human rights activist and motivational speaker, Comrade Sunny Ofehe from Isoko North Local Government Area of Delta State. He fled Nigeria on November 26, 1995, in the wake of the clampdown on pro-democracy activists and 16 days after the execution of Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 9 by the late military junta of the late Gen. Sani Abacha who was then the Head of State
Ex-militant leaders led by Victor Ebikabobowei Ben, alias â€œGeneralâ€ Boyloaf, formerly of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND) who were scheduled to attend the conference could not make it because they were not granted visa by the Netherlands Embassy in Abuja.
Saturday Vanguard learnt that one of the angry ex-militant leaders, â€œGeneralâ€ Ezekiel of the Deadly Underdogs almost created a scene at the Netherlands Embassy in Abuja for being refused visa to Netherlands for the confab. He and Boyloaf were not alone, a lot of others, including journalists, did not get visas for guarded reasons.
At the end of proceedings on the second day, it was obvious that majority of the participants favoured a peaceful resolution of the Niger-Delta crisis, rather than Dokubo-Asariâ€™s option of war, but, they agreed with him that the people have been pushed to the wall.
Probably for the first time, an international community that included unnamed representatives of the Dutch government and legislature, spies from multinational oil companies got to some major actors in the Niger-Delta struggle, notably Dokubo-Asari for the first time and heard from them the real reasons for the conflict in the region. The way forward, the conference concluded, is for the NTDC report to be holistically implemented and for the oil majors to stop playing double standards.
Dutch/FG/ Shell seeming conspiracy
The Dutch government was understood to have pulled out of sponsorship of certain aspects of the conference at the last minute due to what appeared to be discomfiting signals from the Nigerian government. Although, Nigeria â€™s ambassador to Netherlands , Mrs. Akani led a trade delegation to Nigeria during the conference, available reports indicated the embassy did not have a warm relationship with the HNDC because of its bid to â€œdragâ€ the international community into the Niger-Delta problem. The Dutch government apparently took a cue from it.
The case of Shell is understandable; the multinational oil company was not expected to support an NGO that is disposed to allowing the wind blow for its anus to be exposed.
The two-day confab, which held on February 25 and 26 was attended by notable participants and speakers, including the chairman of the Niger Delta Technical Committee and leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Mr Ledum Mitee, presidentÂ of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Dr Atuboyedia Obianime, acting executive director, Centre for Advanced Social Science, University of Port-Harcourt, Rivers state, Dr Sofiri Joab-Peterside; executive director, Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Rivers state, Mr Anyakwee Nsirimovu; and leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari.
Others were president of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) Worldwide, Dr Chris Ekiyor, activist and human rights lawyer, Mr Festus Keyamo, lawyer and social commentator, Mr. Mike Igini, international affairs coordinator, Milieu Defensie/Friends of the Earth, Netherlands, Mr Geert Ritsema; Mr Jo Croft of Stakeholder Democracy Network, London. Nigeriaâ€™s ambassador to Netherlands, Dr. (Mrs.) Nimota Akanbi was represented by a senior official of the embassy, Mr. Kabim Ibala.
However, there was a mix-up that almost detracted from the representations at the conference. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND) through its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo,Â dissociated itself early in the day from the Netherlands confab, saying the claim by the organizers in a report, credited to Radio Netherlands that MEND was coming to the show was a travesty.
Comrade Ofehe, nevertheless, explained in an interview with Saturday Vanguard that, â€œWhat we said was that ex-MEND leaders were coming for the conference but unfortunately, they were denied visa at the 11th hour and we are already addressing the matter.â€
Investigations by Saturday Vanguard revealed that either the Netherlands Embassy was not properly put on notice that ex-militant leaders were part of the conference or it wasÂ notified but itÂ had other reasons for refusing them visa. Whatever is the case, there was no need for the friction between MEND and the HNDC over attendance, as the former was against the conference ab- initio, while the latter sent invitations to ex-MEND leaders.
Conference not to antagonize anybody- Ofehe
Contrary to the widely-held notion on the purpose of the conference, Comrade Sunny Ofehe, a non-violent campaigner in his welcome address said the confab was not to antagonize anybody or organization but to create a forum for the Nigerian government, Niger-Delta freedom fighters, both ex-militants and militants alike, the multinational oil companies and the international community to understand themselves on the Niger-Delta crisis and fashion an acceptable way forward. He said it was also to consolidate on the post-amnesty programme of the Federal Government.
He posited that it was time the crisis in the region ended, saying that he took up the battle in the heat of the crisis to stop violence in the region by visiting MEND camps with three Americans and a Dutch citizen to prove to the world that Niger-Deltans were not brutes and animals, as they were painted outside. He said that old women and children ran after the delegation in the creeks, urging the team to tell the whole world that their anger was that their communities were undeveloped and that they want water, roads, electricity and other social amenities.
Ambassador appeals for calm
Ambassador Akanbi who was represented by Mr. Ibala, sued for calm, saying the President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua government has a seven-point agenda, one of which is Niger-Delta. She said the government was doing everything to resolve the Niger-Delta impasse and that the amnesty programme was specifically put in place to let bygone be bygone and give government the needed peace to execute its programmes for the development of the region.
She said government should beÂ not criticized unduly by Nigerians outside the country for no just cause, adding, â€œThe government should be given credit for what itâ€™s doing to resolve the Niger-Delta problem.â€
The envoy advised those involved in the Niger-Delta struggle to show sincerity in the efforts to find solution to the problem, pointing out that it was disturbing that some people took delight in causing turmoil in the region. According to her, â€œWe should do whatever it takes to promote unity in the country. Going it alone, as some people are saying, will not solve it. We should all have faith that the country has the capacity to solve the problem. If we are united, there is no problem we cannot solveâ€.
Dokubo-Asari spits fire
Leader of the NPDVF, Alhaji Dokubo-Asari who literarily belched smoke at the confab maintained that the Nigerian government was deaf and the only language it understood was that of violence. He submitted that he was not for the graveyard peace the government was preaching but for arms struggle. As if to compound matters, the exiled freedom fighter served a notice that he would come out from the trenches soon to wage a decisive arms battle against the Nigerian government.
â€œThe same blood that flows in the vein of the oppressor flows in my vain also. If they are the first to shoot me, I may die, if am the first, they may die also. I am ready to die. Revolution is sure. No point of talking, they are not listening; the kind of peace they want is that which enables them to continue doing what they are doingâ€, he said.
The fiery-looking Dokubo-Asari emphasized, â€œThe peace they want is close your eyes and close your ears. My father was cool tempered, we now have super-rich and super-poor. We donâ€™t have middle class. General Theophilus Danjuma has 1billion dollars of my money- money belonging to my people; I have been outside my country for seven months. I donâ€™t want peace of the graveyard. I want peace of mutual respect of each other. I am not a Nigerian. Iâ€™m an Ijaw, an Ijaw chief with 15 children, etc.
â€œToday, I am blind. I cannot read, my bladder cannot even hold solid materials for long time, all these because of the suffering that was meted to me by the Nigerian state for demanding the rights of my people. I submitted 3212 rifles and several millions of ammunition to the Nigerian state in the name of peace. After I accepted peace, I was arrested and put in prison for 22 months by the former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who called me one day and said I will die in prison. But I told him I will not die.
â€œThe peace I seek is the peace that respects me as a human being, peace that respects the environment, not peace that degrades me, not peace that degrades my people. If you fire me, I fire you, that is the peace I wantâ€, Dokubo-Asari, the militant leader who maintained that he is not a militant in the context the Nigerian government uses the word thundered.
Violence not the way â€“ Dr. Ekiyor
If you just entered the conference hall of the Novotel Hotel at The Hague at the time Dokubo-Asari was vibrating, you would think it was all over with Nigeria. But the president of the IYC, Dr. Chris Ekiyor who admitted that Dokubo-Asari, a former president of he IYC was his mentor, begged to depart from the views of his â€œmasterâ€.
Agreeing that Dokubo-AsariÂ is entitled to his views, he said it was not true that even though Niger-Deltans were dissatisfied with the manner the government was handling the affairs of the region, the people still believed in a peaceful resolution of the crisis and that was why he and others were at the HNDC confab.
Ekiyor said, â€œThere is no bad peace and no good warâ€, pointing out, â€œWe have told ourselves that the road to peace must be peaceful.â€
He asserted in reality that oil has been more of a curse to the people of Niger-Delta than a blessing since it was founded and those who speak out were marked for elimination. He, however, said he was surprised that people were not asking the questions that ought to be asked regarding why Niger-Deltans who received the white men on their land with open arms when they came for oil exploration in the fifties were no longer happy with them.
Oil majors apply different rules
The reason was that the oil companies were applying different rules in their country and Nigeria . â€œWhat brought about the hate is that they take the money from oil, undermine standards. They donâ€™t care whether we are organized or not as long as our government has given them the leverage to trample upon usâ€, he explained.
â€œThey create their own class. Major Jasper Adaka-Boro and Ken Saro-Wiwa rose to speak for us, they were killed. As IYC president, we have the militant wing of the struggle. In fact, we have a mix of violent and non-violent agitators and we have been trying to manage them to embrace peace. But the oil companies funded the military adequately to destroy our people who are asking questions. I hope you can see where the problem is coming from and why there is hate.
â€œMultinationals and governments have turned their faces the other way. That is the attitude of the Western world. It is not enough to do research on the problem and end there, what is the role of the international community in stopping the anomalies in the Niger-Delta. The Nigerian government borrowed amnesty, it is transient. Itâ€™s not the end. And people think itâ€™s over, itâ€™s not over. The oil companies should be sincere and encourage the Nigerian government to be sincere too in their dealings with the Niger-Delta people. They should not mpromise standard because they want to please somebody in Nigeria .
â€œWhy do the oil majors not tell our government that itâ€™s awkward for us not to be refining crude after 50 years in oil production? Why do they feel comfortable when they know our environment is gone? They know what they are doing, that is why I say we need the support of the international communityâ€, he stated.
Our tactics have to change â€“ Dr Peterside
Lecturer/consultant, Dr. Sofri Peterside said it was time the tactics of the Nigerian struggle changed, saying he believed in rational violence. Given a background to crisis, Sofriside said he was one of those that started what is today known as the Niger-Delta struggle by ventilating their position through picketing and press conferences. He said people were arrested for speaking out their minds on the Niger-Delta problem.
â€œSuccessive governments have set up committees upon committees on the Niger-Delta crisis but the problem is not lack of committees but lack of political will by the Nigerian leadership to address the problem. That was how they called for international conference on the Niger-Delta. And that was how the NDTC was set up. It did its work, submitted a report that was applauded by the national and international community.
But unlike previous reports, in this one, for every thing recommended, the committee stated how it should be implemented. The report re-echoed what each of the three tiers of government ought to do. But we ask the question, why is it that up till now, the government is yet to implement the report? One aspect of the report has been isolated for implementation, which is amnesty, what the report called enabling condition for peace. The government is now treating amnesty as if it is the end and not a means to an end. Amnesty cannot be implemented outside the context it was recommendedâ€.
â€œIt has set up rehabilitation camps but no facilities. In Rivers State where I was a camp consultant commandant for one of the rehabilitation centres, we had 300 trainees with only 150 chairs. It is embarrassing, a chair is just N1, 000 but members of the committee meet once in a month. If they meet twice in a month, they collect N1 million each.â€
How FG almost buried Mitee committee
According to him, â€œBut for members of the committee, the report would not have been ready. At times, to enter your hotel room, the door is locked; government had not paid for the room.
And eminent daughters and sons of Niger-Delta would stand on the lobby of the hotel room from 7.00 am to about 11 .00 am waiting for an officer of government to pay for them to have access to the room. On the eve of writing the report, they said no, we have overstayed, every member must leave and that was how the governor of one of the South-South states provided accommodation for this report to be written. Money to print the report became a problem; the chairman of the committee had to provide money to print it.â€
Amnesty programme is a sham – Nsirimovu
Mr. Nsirimovu was dumbfounded that the international community was clapping for the government for announcing an ill-planned amnesty programme. He saidÂ it was clear theÂ government was not serious about amnesty until it found out that its military apparatus could not finish off the boys who practically crippled the nationâ€™s economy be blowing up oil facilities, last year. The crux of his submission was that government was not sincere in its intervention efforts on the Niger-Delta and that the international community should ask for sincerity for things to work in the region.