***It’s long overdue — Asuni, Briggs, Uranta, Beks
***Fresh crisis looms as Avengers break truce
By Emma Amaize & Perez Brisibe
WEEKS after it wrote off the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, umbrella body of monarchs, leaders and stakeholders of the coastal states of Niger Delta, the Presidency has constituted a fact-finding team, headed by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, to traverse the beleaguered area and obtain first-hand information from the people on the problems and reasons for the frequent conflicts between the region and government.
The team will start its job at Oporoza, traditional headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Delta State and home base of ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, which is the heartbeat of the current agitation.
PANDEF, convened and led by former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark, had, November 1, last year, submitted a 16-point dialogue issues to President Muhammadu Buhari at a meeting in Abuja, but barely two months after the ice-breaking parley, the Presidency indicated its unwillingness to discuss with the group, saying it was searching for credible leaders of the region.
Home base of ex-militant leader
A source told NDV: “The Osinbajo team is not the much-expected Federal Government dialogue team, but a body put in place to go round the communities in the region to ascertain and assess what actually happened. The Federal Government wants to know exactly what the problems are from the horse’s mouth, after which it will determine the way forward; probably a dialogue team can now be set up and all that.
“For now, the Federal Government is in the dark about the real issues at stake, that is the reason for travelling around.”
Besides, the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate, NDGJM, which is still opposed to PANDEF, the most fearsome militant groups in the region, Niger Delta Avengers, NDA; Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND; Reformed Egbesu Boys; Adaka Boro Avengers and Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders, NDRC, gave PANDEF the mandate to dialogue with the Federal Government.
Professor Osinbajo’s team was supposed to have commenced the tour in the first week of this month, but it was shifted to today, January 10. However, at press time, NDV gathered that the date has been rescheduled again.
Looming trouble: However, the Federal Government’s decision to sidetrack PANDEF in the dialogue process could be tricky, as Avengers, which gave the body the mandate to negotiate with government last August, announced resumption of hostilities, last Saturday, on account of government’s bungling of the dialogue process by refusing to dialogue with Niger Delta leaders.
Other militant groups, which also ceased bombing, are likely to join soon, a development that could possibly hinder the assessment tour by Osinbajo and his team.
Welcome development: Executive Director of Academic Peace Associates Peace Works and facilitator of Niger Delta Dialogue Contact Group, NDDCG, Chief (Dr.) Judith Burdin Asuni, aka Mama Niger Delta, told NDV: “We have been waiting for senior government officials to come to the Niger Delta for one and a half years. We welcome such a visit and hope that it is a sign of genuine political will.
“On June 29, 2016, HRM King Alfred Diete-Spiff, Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo and I met with President Muhammadu Buhari to present the report of our June 10 Niger Delta Dialogue. The President ordered the Chief of Staff to set up a team to study and implement the report. We heard nothing further.
“On November 1, 2016, another team, PANDEF, met with the President, who again said that government would look into the issues of the Niger Delta. We hope that the government is now ready to engage the people of the Niger Delta in genuine dialogue and mutual efforts at addressing the issues. We all need to get out of this recession and seek peace and security.”
FG can’t decide forN’Delta leaders
Environmental and human rights activist, Ann-Kio Briggs on his part, asserted: “He is the Vice President of this country, as such he is free to go wherever he wants and needs to go to, Oporoza, being one of such places in the Niger Delta region.
“It amazes me when Nigerian officials talk about peace in the Niger Delta; there is no war in the Niger Delta. Rather, what we have in the Niger Delta is reaction to over 50 years of abuse, neglect, disrespect, environmental devastation, injustice and oppression of the people and region of the Niger Delta.
“It is, therefore, a wrong impression bordering on deceit or lies to say the Federal Government is seeking for peace. As a stakeholder, I expect the Federal Government to accept the responsibility it owes Nigeria and the Niger Delta region and people by listening to our long-term demands for justice and equity.
“I started with leaders as far back 1958: late Harold Dappa Biriye, Adaka Boro, Ken Saro-wiwa, to the Kaiama Declaration, Ogoni, Itsekiris, Urhobo, Ibibio, etc bill of rights, the demands made by MEND in 2004/2005 before Tompolo, Dokubo-Asari, Boyloaf, Ateke Tom, Fara, John Togo, Shoot at Sight, etc, accepted amnesty as then offered by the late President Yar’Adua.
“It is rather unfortunate and insincere for the Federal Government to say it is looking for credible leaders. It is another way of running away from the reality it must face. Niger Delta is made up of over 30 different nationalities and it is these nationalities and only they that have the sole rights to determine who is a credible leader to them, from their nationalities.
“For instance, in Rivers State we have different nationalities from all the six Niger Delta States (South-South geo-political zone). Every state has different nationalities, except in Bayelsa where all are Ijaw. Therefore, in Delta for instance, will the Ijaw man speak for the Isoko man? Will the Urhobo man speak for the Itsekiri man? In my own beloved Rivers State, will the Ijaw man speak for the Ikwerre man, or will the Ogoni man speak for the Egi man.
Demands for equity and justice
“The question is if the Federal Government is credible or sincere in its quest to finding a solution to the Niger Delta peoples demands for equity and justice or it is just attempting its usual deceit so they can access oil and gas quickly to fund its budgets?
“As a stakeholder, we can only listen and watch the government and the people they want to discuss with. If it is what we want, we the people will say yes. If it is not, we will say no.”
Divide and rule tactics: Secretary General of the United Niger Delta Energy Development Security Strategy, UNDEDSS, Mr. Tony Uranta, told NDV: “I laugh; who does the Vice President believe he will be holding any talks with? Maybe he will visit Okrika, Eket and Kalabari next.
“Personally, I believe this visit by the Vice President will just create good optics for him and the Presidency, whilst adding even less value to the development, security or peace processes regarding the Niger Delta than did the same Vice President’s farcical flagging-off, over eight months ago, of the environmental remediation of Ogoniland, which the whole world knows has not been followed up on till date. It is a shame that this administration is more intent on show than on substance.
“This is nothing more than a puerile attempt to institutionalise the divide-and-conquer tactics that have dominated feudal-style politics and created more motion than movement.
“All citizens of Gbaramatu Kingdom are part of PANDEF, so PANDEF will be present when the VP arrives, but I can foresee that the reception may not be as pleasant as the Villa may have been misled into thinking it will be.
“The VP has the right to visit any part of the country, but the continuing attempt by the Federal Government to ignore the urgent need to announce its team and sincerely commence dialogue with the Niger Delta as represented by PANDEF, as evinced by all this empty show-boating for photo-ops will soon backfire to the chagrin of all Nigerians.”
Time for change: President, South-South Media Professionals, Elder Asu Beks, who spoke to our reporter, said: “We need to replace this set of commercial activists, who themselves, have become part of the problem in the region. They have nothing to offer except their selfish interests and greed.
“All of them have failed to realise that the music has changed and so there should be new dance steps. Our problems in the region are profoundly huge and cannot be tied to the payment of hand outs to former armed agitators. Where is the Niger Delta master plan? Where’s the Mitee report? Where are the cottage industries?
“Where are the model cities? How has the 13 per cent derivation to the oil bearing communities been managed? How do we remove the NDDC from being a cash cow of the Presidency? How do we ensure that the Federal Character Commission does not give out our places in job recruitment? How do we stop gas flaring? How do we commence the clean-up of our region?
“All these are questions begging for answers, which our current commercial activists are not interested in asking. The time for a new rhetoric in the region is now.”
Osinbajo should travel by boat
Chief of Staff to the Delta State Government, Tam Brisibe, asserted: “It is definitely a welcome development that the Vice President is visiting Oporoza and I hope he would travel by boat from Warri, so he can get a feel of how the people live. The demands of the Ijaw are straightforward; a sense of understanding of their plight by the Federal Government.
“I am not too sure it is the responsibility of the Federal Government to determine who should negotiate for us; they should be prepared to dialogue with anybody we send. As far as I can tell, everyone we send is a credible leader.”
President of the Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, Udengs Eradiri, vowed: “They (Vice President and his men) are moving round circles. Oporoza visit is not the issue: the Nigerian Maritime University, NMU, Okerenkoko, resumption date does not require visits or meetings.”
Better to jaw jaw
Member representing Patani constituency in the Delta State House of Assembly, Hon Timi Tonye, said: “It is a step in the right direction. What is needed in the agitations coming out of the Niger Delta is jaw-jaw and not war-war. Dialogue as an instrument of resolving conflict in a democracy cannot be over emphasised. I support this over-delayed movement.
Speaking on the proposed visit, President, Niger Delta Security Watch Organisation of Nigeria, NDSWON, Dickson Bekederemo, said: “The Vice President coming to Niger Delta region is a good omen to the most neglected and economically-battered region. We have been wailing that the Presidency should come and see the conditions of the inhabitants of the environment that is feeding the rest of country for it to appreciate the circumstances and issues that always triggered violent agitation.
“His coming will, therefore, create a window for the Presidency to appreciate the yearnings of the people and the need to return to the people their God-given resources in order to enable them develop their region at their own pace. It is also my expectation that the needless and unjustifiable pursuit of some persons whose only sin is a valid contractual relationship they executed with Federal Government, will be addressed.”
Declare state of emergency: Environmental activist, Morris Alagoa, also declared: “While the move is a welcome development, it is not new. Jonathan did go to the creeks as Vice President too before amnesty was eventually offered, as recommended by the Ledum Mitee-led Technical Committee on the Niger Delta.
“If it is another move to treat the Niger Delta problematic as a movie, then it would be too bad and most unfortunate. There is practically nothing new to be suggested to the FG as there are reports with far-reaching recommendations about the Niger Delta just gathering dust in the drawers of the FG.
“It would be fine if the Vice President would be able and sincerely convince those he will meet in the creeks that the Federal Government has the political will and ready to squarely address the issues of development and environmental degradation in the region.
“For instance, there is need to apologise to the people of Gbaramatu/Oporoza and restore damages done to property and pay for lives lost. Then, the Federal Government should declare a state of emergency to develop the Niger Delta. “The issue of true federalism is very important, and he should tell stakeholders why Nigeria is running a unitary system instead of a federal one.”