By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South South & Perez Brisibe
FORTY-ONE days after the coastal states of Niger Delta under the auspices of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, led by former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark, met with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, the people are still unsure of Mr. President’s frame of mind.
Though the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, had consistently re-assured that the President was ready to tackle the issues raised by the stakeholders from the oil region but was disturbed if they were capable of reining in the boys still bombing pipelines as of the date of meeting, PANDEF remained uncomfortable many weeks after with the apparent game of wits.
A top member of PANDEF told Sunday Vanguard in Asaba at the weekend: “Recently, we heard that the Federal Government was proposing a former Chief of Army Staff, General Theophilus Danjuma (retd), to head its Negotiating Team. We also heard that the security chiefs and some ministers were meeting over the matter. We do not really know what the stand of the government is on this matter.”
The prickly situation PANDEF found itself was not helped by the hostile response that trailed the meeting with Mr. President. There was jostling before and after the meeting on representation from different interest groups. Since the November 1 meeting, some ethnic nationalities have grumbled about the activities of PANDEF.
The third General Assembly of PANDEF, held December 9 in Asaba, capital of Delta State, provided the right ambience for stakeholders to appraise the meeting with Buhari, recent developments in the region and overall prevailing political and economic situations in the country.
Clark, whose address was adopted as a working paper by the assembly, explained that Co-chairman of the Central Working Committee, CWC, of PANDEF and former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, and Secretary, CWC, Ledum Mitee, were unavoidably absent because of their participation in the session by the Senate on the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB.
He stated that even though the region had not heard from the President on the way forward, the November 1 meeting with him in Abuja was a success, as it broke the ice.
Diete-Spiff clears the air
The presence of the CWC Co-chairman, HRM King Alfred Diete Spiff, who led a separate Niger Delta delegation to visit Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, and made fresh demands after PANDEF had met with Buhari, assuaged the fears of many.
Diete Spiff, who briefed the assembly on the meeting with the President, explained that there was no split in PANDEF under the leadership of Clark, pointing out that the meeting with the Vice President had been previously arranged and the demands presented by the group were not different from these PANDEF presented to Buhari. He said the group was not a new body outside PANDEF and had no name. He restated his commitment to PANDEF, which, he said, was incontrovertible.
Those who attended
The assembly was attended by about 200 delegates from the various ethnic nationalities in the region, including, academician and scholar, Prof B I C Ijomah, a former military governor of Akwa Ibom State, Air Commodore Ndogesit (retd.) Nkanga, Ambassador Godknows Igali, and a former National Chairman of Traditional Rulers of Oil Minerals Producing Communities of Nigeria, TROMPCON, HRM Charles Ayemi-Botu.
Others at the meeting were the Ovie of Uvwie Kingdom in Delta State, His Royal Majesty Emmanuel Sideso, Ibenanaowei of Bomo kingdom Bayelsa state, HRM King Joshua Igbugburu, HRM Anthony Ogbogbo of Ozoro Kingdom, Delta state, HRM Joesph Timighaan of Ogulagha kingdom, Delta state, paramount ruler of Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom state, HRM, Edidem Udo Ntuk Obom and Col Paul Ogbebor (retd.) from Edo state.
Also there were Senator Stella Omu, Senator Aniete Okon, chairman of Bayelsa State Council of Elders, Chief Francis Doukpolagha and Dr. Monday Okony (Rivers state). Delta state governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, who accepted to host the meeting at the eleventh hour, was represented by one of his commissioners, Mr. Henry Sakpra.
‘On dialogue we stand’
In a communiqué, jointly signed by Clark and Diete Spiff after the meeting, PANDEF reiterated its avowed resolve and commitment to dialogue as the preferred means of resolution of the crisis in the Niger Delta region and expressed its deepest concern that the Federal Government has not shown enough readiness to embrace such dialogue through the setting up of its own Negotiating Team.
PANDEF, therefore, called on the Federal Government to as a matter of urgency, set up its team to negotiate with PANDEF.
It restated its belief that “military operations cannot be the means to resolving the lingering issues stemming from age-old neglect and injustice in the Niger Delta region,” and worry that ‘Operation Crocodile Smile, Operation Python Dance,’ etc. “can only exacerbate the agitations, human right abuses and overall insecurity in the region and calls for the immediate halt to such activities.”
The group said it received reports of the escalating military buildup and indiscriminate military operations in the Niger Delta region and “condemns the recent military raids in several Niger Delta communities, including the reported indiscriminate shooting, mass arrest of youths and destruction of properties of innocent villagers in Yeghe community, in Ogoni, Rivers State on the 15th November, 2016; Okosugbene fishing Camp aka 9000, Burutu local government and Sandfield II, Warri Corner in Warri South local government, both of Delta State, on the 24th of November, 2016.”
PANDEF called on all Niger Deltans, especially the youths, not to be provoked into taking any action that could disrupt the exiting peace, , which has helped to raise the crude oil production in Nigeria from 900bopd to the present 2.2mbopd as recently confirmed by the Minister of State Petroleum Resources, in spite of these unfortunate developments.
The group further urged the Federal Government to direct the immediate takeoff of the Nigerian Maritime University Okerenkoko, Delta state, as a follow-up to its recent policy statement on the issue during the visit of PANDEF to Mr. President on the 1st of November 2016, saying: “This will give enormous credibility and commitment to the proposed dialogue process.”
It thanked Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, for the warm hospitality accorded its delegates from across the region and for providing a convivial atmosphere for the meeting.
FG and its dialogue contention
The Federal Government’s argument all the while for the delay in appointing a Negotiation Team was that Niger Delta was not ready because the militants were still bombing. Buhari capitalized on it during his meeting with PANDEF when he told the group that he would want to discuss with people who could guarantee that the boys would not be bombing while talks were on.
In the past few weeks, there had been respite in the region. Speaking on the matter at the Asaba meeting, Clark said: “Unfortunately, as I speak, we have not heard from the Federal Government. Tension is rising again.” He explained that the present peace in the region and rise in oil production were as a result of the intervention of the leaders and not due to military operations as some persons claimed.
Clark fires back at critics
The jab at the meeting was the courageous manner Clark took on those accusing PANDEF of misleading the region and accusing him of instigating and sponsoring militants. He also upbraided the youths in the habit of addressing elders without respect.
He also took governors allegedly spending 13 per cent Derivation Fund at their whims and caprices to the cleaners and tongue-lashed South-South governors for quarreling among themselves, while governors from other regions were meeting and discussing issues of common development.
On the allegation that he is the father of militants, he said: “I am going to be 90 years old and I do not think it will be fair for anyone to accuse me of instigating or sponsoring pipeline vandalisation or militancy. I did not do such thing as a young man, and I will not do it now that I am in the departure lounge, waiting for my boarding pass.”
The PANDEF leader told those insinuating that PANDEF is an Ijaw group: “I want to use this medium to educate people who are making mischievous statements that PANDEF is a group that belongs to one ethnic group in the region, or made up of a group of corrupt politicians, who are also the instigators of the crisis, that the claim is very untrue, unpatriotic and vicious.”
“It is one of the tactics of people who would want to create division in the region; I plead with all to put hands together to save our region, which is highly endangered. We may have our differences at home, but national issues affecting our destiny, must naturally too, bring us together.”
Itsekiri leaders’ diatribe
Few days to the PANDEF meeting, the Itsekiri Leaders of Thought, ILoT, in a letter to Buhari, entitled: ‘Chief E. K. Clark-led PANDEF 16-Point Demand: The Stand of Itsekiri Leaders of Thought’ and signed by the Chairman, J. O. S. Ayomike and 10 others, literally tore Clark and his group to shreds. However, Itsekiri leaders like Chief Isaac Jemide and Prof Lucky Akaruese are members of PANDEF.
The group said: “We have watched with keen interest the emergence of Pan-Niger-Delta Forum (PANDEF) under the leadership of Chief E.K Clark in the wake of the militancy in the Niger Delta. The militancy has left in its wake criminal vandalisation of oil and gas pipelines in the Niger Delta, especially in Warri area, (Itsekiri home-land). Itsekiri have been part of the Niger Delta from time out of memory. The territory comprises several ethnic nationalities- not only Ijaw – but Ibibio, Efik, Ikwerre, Oron, Urhobo, Itsekiri, Benin, Isoko and Ilaje etc.
“Since June 2016, the Warri Study Group, a sister body, had loudly and clearly drawn the attention of the Federal Government, and warned Nigerians of the emergence of some elders and politicians, who were coalescing into different groups – all pretending to be peace – ambassadors or mediators or seeking the resolution of the Niger Delta crisis. The Warri Study Group’s position (which we adopt) was anchored on the fact that some of the elders and stakeholders, who have become professional peace-makers, were the same people who not only sold the so-called Niger Delta peace dummy to the Yar’Adua/Jonathan administration and benefited immensely from it and are therefore not genuine mediators and cannot be trusted again.
“Also, some of these elders and stakeholders are known cronies of the militants, and they gave support to ljaw leadership that, not long ago, had renamed half of Niger Delta as Toru-Ibe state and forcibly annexed Itsekiri home-land and parts of Benin and Ilaje lands. Are they now masquerading under a dormant Toru-Ibe state?”
Commenting on the November 1 PANDEF meeting with Buhari in Abuja, ILoT said: “The attendees were hurriedly assembled by Chief E.K Clark and the Minister of State (Petroleum) Dr. Ibe Kachikwu. At the meeting, a 16-point demand was presented by the group through HRM Diete-Spiff. The so-called 16-point demand, which was Ijaw-oriented, included the selfish request for oil blocs and withdrawal of the military from their communities in the Niger Delta.
“Realizing the folly of the demand and the public outcry that followed it, on Tuesday, November 15, 2016, HRM Diete-Spiff led another delegation to the presidency for fresh demands under the auspices of Niger Delta People’s Congress (NDPC). The reason for the apparent split, according to Mr. Hendrik Opukeme, member of both PANDEF & NDPC, in the Vanguard of 17/11/2016 at page 13 was that “…expired persons… took over PANDEF.
“Perhaps for the reason given above, the Urhobo Leaders of Thought from Delta state, led by Chief Tuesday Onoge, also on Tuesday, November 22, 2016, led another delegation to meet the Vice-President with their demands. All these factors only show lack of confidence by the people of Niger Delta in PANDEF and non-cohesion among Deltans.
“The Itsekiri Leaders of Thought have reflected on the on-going vandalisation and the demands by both PANDEF and NDPC and note:
‘The under-development of the Niger Delta did not start with the present administration of President Buhari. Neither is the issue of Fiscal Federalism and principle of derivation or resource control new in the Nigerian political lexicon. “
Its words: “When president Jonathan, an Ijaw from the Niger Delta was at the helm of affairs in this country, the Clarks, Diete-Spiff and their co-travelers now making these demands were around and silent.”
“Equally the misguided youths and those aiding and abetting the vandalizion of oil installations were around and silent. The big question is: Why did they not raise these issues when their “son” was the president of this country; and we had the ministries of Petroleum, Niger Delta, the Amnesty program, NIMASA etc. in the pockets of Niger Deltans?
No to military withdrawal
Proposing a way forward, the Itsekiri leaders asserted: “Federal Government must be awake to its constitutional responsibility of protection of lives and properties. It is not negotiable and that is why we condemn the call by PANDEF for the withdrawal of the military from communities in the Niger Delta where the criminal vandalisation is taking place.”
“The presence of security force is to enforce law and order, to therefore ask for its withdrawal is an invitation to anarchy. Acts of criminality must be separated from genuine effort to develop the region. We maintain that unless the full force of law is brought on the criminals vandalizing oil & gas installations there will be no end to it.
“Apart from the damage to our economy, our environment today is in ruins due to the senseless and criminal activities of some misguided youth, aided and abetted by some elders and politicians. There must be peace before development can take place in any society. Therefore the issue of security must be addressed first by the Federal Government. Boko Haram is an instant case where vandals have to be dislodged,” the group said.
Our problem is mismanagement of funds
On infrastructural development of the region, they said: “We agree that so little has been done physically to develop the Niger Delta. The region is neglected compared to its contribution to the nation’s economy. Many intervention agencies have been created – NDDC, Niger Delta Ministry, Amnesty, 13% derivation (from which states like Delta, Edo, Ondo etc have created DESOPADEC, EDOSAPADEC, OSOPADEC etc) and others. Billions of dollars have been sunk. All the agencies have sons/daughters from the region as heads and members of boards, yet there is nothing to show for all these huge investments.”
“The problem is with the management of funds meant for development of the region. It has been mismanaged over the years with the agencies producing billionaires while the communities are impoverished and going into extinction. The problem with agencies is not necessarily lack of sufficient funds but management of same.
“The Federal Government should look into the management of these agencies and ensure that they are transparently run. There are still politicians and their cronies from the region hiding billions/trillions of naira meant for the development of the region in their gigantic houses,” they said.
Okah faults FG’s letter to South Africa
In a goodwill message to PANDEF at the Asaba meeting, leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, MEND, Henry Emomotimi Okah, serving term at Kokstand Prison in Kwazulu-Natal Province, South Africa, said he was proud of the sterling efforts of Chief Clark and the entire PANDEF to address the root issues of and causes that led MEND in 2005 to pick up the gauntlet.
He urged the militant groups to exercise patience with the present government and reiterated his commitment to the peace process.
Okah, however, drew the attention of PANDEF to a letter written by the government of President Buhari to the South African Government “regarding the recent affirmation of my conviction by the South African Supreme Court (the equivalent of our own Court of Appeal),” adding: “I believe the letter was hasty and prejudicial to the ongoing Niger Delta peace process in Nigeria and equally prejudicial to my quest to appeal to the South African Constitutional Court (the equivalent of our own Supreme Court.)
‘Furthermore, the letter was also prejudicial to the ongoing trials of my brother, Charles, Edmund Ebiware and others in Nigeria. These are judicial matters, which I believe, are trumped up charges.
“I also wish to draw attention of PANDEF and the Federal Government the lopsided and non-inclusive nature of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, which excluded certain interest groups in the Niger Delta.
“Finally, I call for unity among and between all the ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta region, for without unity, we shall have a divided house,” he asserted.