By Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief
ABUJA â€” Niger Delta leaders under the aegis of Clapperton Accord have warned against militarisation of the region and called for immediate ceasefire of all hostilities in the area.
The group which met at the residence of Admiral Okhai Mike Akhigbe on Clapperton Street, Asokoro, Abuja also tasked the government to implement, immediately, the recommendations of the Niger Delta Technical Committee Report.
In a communiquÃ© issued at the end of the meeting signed by Prince Tonye T.J.T Princewill, the group recognised failure in leadership not just at the Federal Government level but also at the regional, state, local and community levels and challenged the leaders in the Niger Delta to start speaking more for the people and less for themselves.
In attendance at the meeting were Admiral Mike Akhigbe, Mr Sam Amuka, Prince Tonye T.J.T Princewill, Dr. Bolere Ketebu, Charles Edosomwan (SAN), Prof Julius Ihonvbere (OON), Ann Kio Briggs; Bassey Eniang and Chief Atuyota Ejughemre
In a communiquÃ© issued at the end of the meeting, the Niger Delta leaders said
â€œAs parents and children, we from the Niger Delta have not always gone about the issue of the underdevelopment of our region in the right way. This issue is not an Ijaw issue, it is a Niger Delta issue and the notion that guns will bring about development is a complete misnomer. When criminality which exists all over the nation was used to discredit our legitimate grievances, we watched in silence and gave an excuse to our enemies while alienating our allies.
â€œLeadership is earned not imposed and the expectation that individuals not from the people can speak for the people is at the very best wishful thinking. We the leaders in the Niger Delta need to start speaking more for the people and less for ourselves. Maybe if we had spoken up louder, earlier, as we no doubt should have, the vacuum which resulted would not have been occupied by violence.
â€œBefore we comment on the current development, let us state categorically that we totally condemn the killing of Nigerian soldiers. They are Nigerians with families who deserve to live life without fear at least of their fellow Nigerians.
We pray for their souls and pray their families are granted the fortitude to bear their irreplaceable loss.
â€œIrrespective of the various accounts and independent of the ongoing blame game, two wrongs donâ€™t make a right and the reaction by the military was to put it mildly, one wrong too far. The number of innocent people killed, injured and displaced is wholly unnecessary and downright extreme. Making our women, grandparents and children â€˜double victimsâ€™ is not the way to promote harmony, peace and reconciliation and it certainly is not the way to promote development.
â€œIf the speed the government has used to effect their idea of â€˜justiceâ€™ on the people of Gbaramatu Kingdom had been preceded with a similar urgency to address the Niger Delta peopleâ€™s idea of â€˜injusticeâ€™, maybe we would not be where we are today.â€
The Clapperton Accord further said in the communiquÃ© that â€œhaving said this, we would like to make the following pronouncements:
â€œThe Federal Government should cease immediately, the ongoing shooting and destruction in the area and withdraw to a â€˜safeâ€™ distance to allow peace, normalcy and the peopleâ€™s normal pursuit of happiness return. All hostilities must therefore cease immediately and violence on all sides be allowed to make way for dialogue. An extension of the war also will not be acceptable. We oppose militarisation of the Niger Delta.
â€œThe Federal Government should grant immediate access to the area by relief agencies and a more decentralised NEMA so that the people can survive. The same should apply to local, national and international media. It is quite clear that even as we speak, people are dying unavoidably in areas within the borders of Nigeria through no fault of their own.
Is this fair? Not even the International Red Cross has been allowed access to the communities.
â€œThe Niger Delta should realise that there are those that have sought to divide us and use criminality which exists everywhere in the country as an excuse to decimate our people and under-develop our region, we resolve to evolve a new leadership that confronts them with truth.
We are not a conquered people and we expect that the government should be able to, in the very least, discern between criminals and innocent people. From here going forward, the Niger Delta people resolve to work as one. United in grief, united in despair, united in humiliation but still united in the knowledge that justice, equity and fairness must be done
â€œWe challenge the Federal Government to publish the list of so-called sponsors and criminals so we can identify amongst us who the credible leaders really are.
â€œThe Federal Government should without any further delay implement the recommendations of the Niger Delta Technical Committee Report. We as a group in the days and weeks to come will make this document widely available so that others can see what Niger Deltans themselves have proposed as a way forward.
It baffles us that several months after submission of the Niger Delta Technical Committee Report to Mr. President himself, nothing has been done to a report which provides a detailed analysis of the solution to one of the Presidentâ€™s own items in his Seven Point agenda â€” the Niger Delta.
â€œAmnesty must be accompanied with disarmament and for the process to be credible, independent parties able to win the trust of all sides must be involved.
â€œFinally the Federal Government should, without delay, constitute the environment for dialogue. Nothing meaningful can be achieved without discussion. Peace is the objective and development is the goal. Only those who do not want progress for the people advocate war.â€
The meeting ended with a consensus to â€œidentify the type of leadership needed to move the Niger Delta forwardâ€ before reconvening. The approach to be adopted according to the group would be thorough, based on an intellectual, non â€“ violent agenda and would place the people first, no matter the cost. The leaders also resolved that no funds would be sought from government officials to run this exercise.