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S/SOUTH LEADERS TO BUHARI: How to stop Niger Delta Avengers

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By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Egufe Yafugborhi & Perez Brisibe

PROMINENT elders, leaders  and groups in the Niger Delta have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to create a platform to listen to the grievances of the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, the militant group  blowing up oil facilities in the region, and impartially deal with their demands to avoid winning the war and losing the battle.

They disagreed with  Buhari’s directive to the armed forces to crush the suspected militants and “no negotiation” posture of the Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, General Gabriel Olonisakin, saying the Commander-in-Chief should facilitate a responsive environment to win their confidence and pull them to the dialogue table.

Meanwhile, this view on dialogue with the militants, who have been described in some quarters as criminals, is yet to gain traction with many leaders in the country.

Olonisakin had declared in Lagos, last  week: “There are better ways to air their grievances than the way they go about it. The right way is to get necessary permit and protest. If they are violent, we will not take it lightly with them.”

The Niger Delta elders, however, did not see any justification for the self-proclaimed outlaws, whose chief objective is to cripple oil production in the country to zero and, thereafter, declare a Republic of Niger Delta with its sovereign government, currency and flag in October – some four months away.

From First Republic Information Minister and S/South elder, Chief Edwin Clark, to the immediate past Delta State governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, former Minister of Police Affairs, Alaowei Brodrick Bozimo, former Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Pastor Power Ziakede Aginighan, Secretary-General of the United Niger Delta Economic Development Security Strategy (UNDEDSS), Mr. Tony Uranta, Col. Dedis Abel (retd.), Chief of Staff to the Special Adviser to President Buhari on the Presidential Amnesty Programme, Gen Paul Boroh (retd), Dr. Chris Ekiyor and Ann Kio Briggs, these leaders expressed views that could assist in providing a solution to the problems of  militancy  in the region.

Employ Yar’Adua /Jonathan approach – E. K. Clark

MILITANTS-buhariClark  counselled President Buhari to emulate his predecessors, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, and former President Goodluck Jonathan, by dialoguing with the Niger Delta militants whose activities were threatening the peace, stability and possible existence of Nigeria.

According to him, both Yar’Adua and Jonathan brought ex-militants to the negotiation table, which led to positive effect on the nation’s economy.

Clark, who is the chairman, Board of Trustees, Ijaw National Council, told Sunday Vanguard at the weekend: “In my many years of leadership at various levels in this country, I know that any resort to violence and insecurity only leaves a trail of tension, neglect, pain and wanton violence in the areas concerned.

“Even when security forces move in with the intention of restoring law and order, it is innocent villagers, in particular, women, children, and the old who suffer most.

“The Niger Delta is yet to recover from the season of violence which we experienced between 2005 and 2009.

“I, again, make the same call and appeal, today, this time in a more shrill voice! Though the perceptions have not changed on the evolving kaleidoscope of national political administration, I remain firmly convinced that the destruction of our national economic golden goose is not a viable option.”

Dialogue, engagement – Uduaghan

Uduaghan, a key participant in the official pardon of ex-militants, who productively managed the wanted Tompolo at that time, advised the Federal Government to consider engagement and dialogue as an option in arresting the upsurge of militancy in the region.

Uduaghan, speaking to Sunday Vanguard, emphasised: “I want to advise the Federal Government to take the issue of dialogue very seriously because I believe that is the solution to the current crisis.

“The leaders of the Niger Delta should come together and engage each other to find solution to the problem.”

He also advised his successor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, to step up dialogue, engagement and improve on intelligence gathering to assist the Federal Government in dealing with the situation.

The former governor, however, cautioned those behind the attacks to rethink their action because of the economic challenges posed to the nation and ecological destruction to the region.

Govt should pay attention – Bozimo

Bozimo, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard on the sidelines of a summit by the Ijaw Youths Council, said: “Nobody likes bombing and even the youths too do not like it. However, what they are saying is that something is responsible for this kind of uprising in bombings and that the federal government should address the problems of the region.

“Once this is done, the bombings would diffuse automatically as there would be no oxygen to propel this kind of thing that is happening. Personally, I do not believe in bombings. We have better brains than what is happening. We must think strategically as Ijaw people and that is the advice we have given to our boys”.

He went on: “They (Buhari government) should listen and borrow a leaf from the Yaradua/Jonathan programmes and not behave like a bull in a China shop, as you would just break everything and yourself in the process. That is what they are saying.

“Every single Ijaw person believes that the government should not terminate the Nigeria Maritime University in Okerenkoko. That is about the only solid institution the Ijaws have. The university has to stay; otherwise, you cannot touch the heart of the Ijaw people.

“I am not an APC member, but one thing that the Buhari government has tried to do, is the Lagos-Calabar railway line, that project is dear to Ijaw people and they have to carry on with that.

“The Amnesty programme must be maintained. You know you cannot change nor tamper with a winning arrangement. The Amnesty Programme is a winning arrangement and everybody knows that as it has calmed nerves in the Niger Delta. I think what they should do is to perfect it.

“As much as you want to do change, your change must not truncate the good things that the previous administration has done, you improve on it and people would clap for you. It is wrong to think that governance is not a continuous process but I think the present administration knows that and there’s the need to try to improve on what you met and not to dismantle it”.

Emergency stakeholders’ summit – Aginighan

E. K. Clark
E. K. Clark

Aginighan, advised President Muhammadu Buhari to act as a political leader and convoke an emergency stakeholders’ summit on the road map to peace in the Niger Delta region.

He urged Buhari to “reject the counsel of sycophants and jesters around him, who are proposing genocide on defenseless Niger-Delta citizens.”

The All Progressives Congress, APC, chieftain expressed disappointment that the Nigerian state and its various agencies of government have not utilized the window of peace provided by the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, to address the infrastructure deficit in the Niger Delta.

The Niger Delta community advocate, who called on the Niger Delta Avengers to cease any further attacks on oil and gas facilities, said:”Military action cannot bring peace to Niger Delta; what will bring peace is development action.  And as long as those that bear the debilitating burden of shouldering the national budget are excluded from the benefits of modern  civilization, there cannot be an end to the breeding of more Isaac Boros, more Tompolos, more Boyloafs and more Ateke Toms in the Niger Delta.

“I wish to reiterate that neither the blood of Nigerian soldiers nor that of Niger Delta youths is required to develop the Nigeria”.

Jaw-jaw – Ayemi- Botu

A former National Chairman of Association of Traditional Rulers of Oil and Mineral Producing Communities of Nigeria, ATROMPCON, and Pere of Seimbiri Kingdom in Delta State, HRM Charles Ayemi-Botu, called on Buhari to exchange ideas with the militants and see the region as part of his primary constituency.

No to violence – Uranta

Uranta insisted that Isaac Boro and Ken Saro Wiwa died fighting for the emancipation of the Niger Delta, later we had Asari-Dokubo, Tompolo and others. However, because Tompolo was taken out, new faces have come up.

“As for the Niger Delta Avengers, I do not know who they are and I have never supported criminality or going against the law; but there is a known saying that those who refuse to give peace a chance, automatically create opportunity for conflict”, he stated.

“This is just a symptomatic response to the problems and challenges of the region. I think if these issues are not properly addressed, there is a possibility of a repetition of this kind of groups or vigilante, whatever you might call them, carrying out extralegal activities.

“Whether they are right or wrong, the fact remains that the atmosphere and environment for their existence has been created, it is now up to the nation both as citizenry and the government to work together to look for a way of resolving this issue outside of violence.

“I would quote Mr. P. Hammond, the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he came for the Regional Security Conference at Abuja, last week, that if the Nigerian government persists in employing only violence in attempting to resolve this issue, it can only end in disaster”.

Fiscal federalism is way out – Briggs

Niger Delta woman activist, Ann Kio Briggs, said: “I am not part of the people who are blowing up pipelines, but I’m part of those who are talking that something must change in the Niger Delta. We have been having this thing for a very long time and unless the issues are resolved, they will carry on; we need a resolution of the Niger Delta issue. And what are these issues, they are equity and justice.

“The way forward, simply put, is fiscal federalism. You have a constitution that takes everything from a particular region and gives it to everybody, that is empty Niger Delta. You have a constitution that recognises that there are natural resources, but that same constitution claims that the natural resources belongs to me, but if it is oil and gas and any other natural resources, it does not belong to me anymore, the federal government becomes the owner.

“So you have a situation where the Kaduna State governor is able to say he would bring in people to explore for gold, but yet, the governor of Rivers State cannot do same for the oil and gas deposits in his state. That is injustice.”

Confidence, dialogue – Ekiyor

Ekiyor, a former National President of the Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, and Secretary, Delta State Advocacy Committee on Oil Facility Vandalism, who was one of those who coordinated the interface between the Federal Government and militants that led to the acceptance of amnesty, warned that the invasion of the creeks by soldiers was not the solution to the current bombings.

He said: “No Avenger will blow up a pipeline and sit in the community and wait for you. Therefore, government needs to reorganise its military to reflect a people-friendly military. Gather intelligence and prosecute the right people. Experience has also shown that the network of pipelines in the Niger Delta cannot be policed by these gunboat approach; it has to be policed by a diplomatic method and it requires committed understanding by a people, who are ready to do it as a family.”

On the impression in some quarters that former militant leader Tompolo is behind the crisis, Ekiyor said, “People thought Tompolo is behind this, but if he was behind it he will put a face to it. He will not be cowardly enough to hide under pseudo names and his media show will be different from this.

“I knew when he was in-charge of MEND, they will actually tell you the time and date they will hit a facility and they will tell the JTF to go and wait for them, yet they will hit the facility.

“They were that organized. That was seven years back. For those of us who understand the terrain, Tompolo may necessary not be involved in what is happening, but aggrieved persons could be responsible. Those persons are unknown to us and that is why we went to the creeks.

“We were basically struggling to win confidence of these elements and asking government to create a platform for discussion. Nobody knew MEND until we confronted them in the creeks and when they found out that we were genuine, they came out in their numbers and surrendered their weapons.

“But I believe that if government allows and create an enabling environment for trust, which is the core issue that does not exist, whoever are these Avengers will come out. Then, government should engage them and whatever is their demand, accept or not. On this issue, trust is the key, government should retrace its steps”.

Military action not the only option- Abel

Abel believed military action was just an option open to the Federal Government even though there are other options.

“But negotiation is the catch word and that is ongoing between stakeholders, the Amnesty office and the Presidency. A meeting took place last (penultimate) Wednesday, but unfortunately, I am not privy to the communiqué signed at the end of that meeting,” he said.

Abel allayed fears on the Amnesty Programme, saying: “There is no need for fears anywhere on the Presidential Amnesty Programme. The programme is not out to be stopped abruptly for reasons that cannot be accounted for.

“Actually, the programme is going to take care of all the 30, 000 placements we have. Those who have received training are now being empowered while those who are being empowered are now documented properly and that would continue until all those on board the programme are taken care of. So, there is no fear that some would be left home and dry without proper training and empowerment.”

Militarization‘ll worsen matters- Azaiye, NDPM, SNDG

Prominent Gbaramatu youth leader, Piniki Azaiye, said Buhari could stop Niger Delta Avengers by developing the region and not listening to those using a faceless ethnic group to instigate a fresh crisis between the Ijaw and Itsekiri by pushing government to militarise Gbaramatu.

President, Niger Delta Peace Movement, NDPM, Mr. Tonfa Cyprian, urged Buhari to tread carefully and not entangle himself with the policy of militarisation of the Niger Delta. He warned: “The engagement of Nigerian forces in combat against the Niger Delta Avengers would not only escalate the destruction of oil facilities, but cause a total collapse of the Nigerian economy by their pattern of operations.”

The Save Niger Delta Group , SNDG, led by Jacob Abai, also kicked against military option, saying, “The deployment of highly sophisticated military weaponry and arsenal to engage hapless villages and towns in aerial and amphibious bombardment in a scale never ever witnessed even during the civil war is callous, inhuman, dastardly, barbaric and insensitive. We condemn this unprovoked attack and invasion in the strongest term possible. It is not the way to stop the Avengers.”

Economy under  crushing weight

The consequences of the bombing of oil installations by the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, in the Niger Delta, are palpable not just on the economy of the country, but also the streets of Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Enugu, Warri, Port-Harcourt and pockets of Nigerians.

Incidentally, while government and the people hemorrhage, the outlaws, who have caused the disaster, say that nothing gives them joy than seeing the nation lose.

The price of everything has skyrocketed in the market; the entire country is practically in darkness because militants have bombed the gas pipelines, while the country’s crude oil production has drastically plunged.

Oil companies are jittery and both the military and militants have recorded casualties, while the prospect of the attacks ending soon is not in the horizon.

However, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, made light of the situation when he said, recently, that Nigeria’s crude oil production has climbed to 1.6 million barrels per day (mbpd) from the 1.4 million mbpd plunge in May. He said the exploit followed repairs on some of the oil and gas installations damaged by militant groups.

But the situation is far from normal.

The attacks by the militant group have also pushed Nigeria’s crude oil production to the lowest in 20 years, as Chevron is said to have shut-in about 90,000 barrels a day of output because of the impact on a joint-venture offshore platform that serves as a gathering point for production from several fields.

Niger Delta Avengers in the last five days blew up Nigeria Agip Oil Company, NAOC, and Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, facilities in Delta and Bayelsa States for ignoring its demand against carrying out repairs on their damaged pipelines until Buhari deemed it necessary to address their demands. Chevron Nigeria Limited got the first “reprisal” for a similar defiance.

 Nigeria drops to third spot in Africa

Nigeria’s current oil output has knocked her from being Africa’s number one oil producer and 13th in the world, to third in Africa behind Angola and Algeria while maintaining a likely 19th position in the world.

Fears for 2016 Budget

Giving details of the financial lose, official sources indicate that at $50 per barrel and N197 per dollar for crude oil price and official exchange rate, the average of 800, 000 barrels lost would amount to at least N165.5bn in earnings in 21 days to June 5.

This has become a clog in the wheel of the country’s 2016 Budget, signed into law with a projection of 2.2 million bpd of oil production at $38 per barrel.

What this implies is that with the continued drop in oil output, despite the increase in international oil price, implementation of the 2016 Budget is gradually becoming uncertain.

Stakeholders smell sabotage

Stakeholders in the oil and gas sector of the economy have described the recent attacks as a huge sabotage of the nation’s economy and reputation in the international community.

Lamenting the loss to the economy, a pipeline-welding contractor, Mr. Fadims Ojogu said: “Repair works have already started on some of the damaged oil facilities and this is a set back for the Nigerian economy. With a minimum of N200 billion revenue and even with the completion of repairs, it will take time before some of these facilities would resume functionality.”

N14bn spent on pipeline repairs February

Notwithstanding the austere economic situation in the country, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, according to data from the latest financials, spent about N14.023 billion on pipeline repairs and management in February 2016.

The report stated that the NNPC recorded some 293 pipeline breaks in February alone, which meant that the Corporation spent an average of N47.86 million to repair each of the line breaks.

On the damage on the Forcados Oil Terminal, FOT, Export line, (a 48-inch circumference export line that was vandalised in February 2016), the corporation in the report explained that the situation led to the declaration of force majeure by Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, occasioned by production shut-in of about 300,000 barrels of oil per day. NNPC reportedly lost about N20 billion revenue in February according to the report.

Power supply drops to 2, 500MW

On the other hand, the attacks on oil installations with the twin-attacks on Chevron’s oil and gas facilities in the Escravos area of Delta State have unarguably led to a sweeping drop in power generation.

According to the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, while briefing reporters recently on the economic effects of the attacks, power generation had dropped to 2,500MW due to the attacks on the Chevron facilities.

“Which country has instances of vandalism on its oil installations like Nigeria? This is economic sabotage, but we will have to evolve a new strategy to deal with this problem. We shall attack it head on,” he said.

Findings showed that the nation’s five largest export streams have also been affected by the activities of the militants with Chevron being worst-hit following damage it recorded on its Okan platform, affecting about 35,000 bpd of its net crude production, or about 15 per cent of its output in the country.

On its part, ExxonMobil had to declare force majeure on shipments of Qua Iboe after a drilling platform ran aground and damaged the pipeline it jointly owns with the NNPC while Italian oil major, Eni, had to declare force majeure on exports of its Brass River grade after a pipeline fire, though it lifted the suspension days later.

In the case of the country’s largest crude oil stream, Qua Iboe exports usually amount to more than 300,000 bpd, but it too is still licking its wounds as a result of the activities of the militants after it declared force majeure, following an attack on a key pipeline at the Brass Rivers terminal.

 

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