Contrary to the thinking that the last Thursday meeting between the Federal Government and the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, in Abuja, was going to be stormy, given the ultimatum, days earlier, by the regional body to the Presidency to accede to a dialogue before November 1, or it pulls out of further engagements with it on the Niger Delta peace process, the three-hour meeting ended with both sides smiling.
The Minister of State (Petroleum), Dr Ibe Kachikwu, who spoke to journalists after the meeting, said: “It (meeting) was very exhaustive; we looked at the 16-point agenda, how far we have gone. The meeting’s environment was peaceful, calm, there was friendliness and mutual dialoguing of issues so that they (Niger Delta leaders) will understand where we are coming from and some of the most pressing concerns they have.”
Also speaking to reporters, the Convener of PANDEF, Chief E.K. Clark, who led the body’s delegation to the talks with Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, said: “PANDEF is satisfied with the meeting and I am sure the Federal Government is satisfied too. The Acting President was honest, forthright and straightforward with us and we saw his sincerity.”
The PANDEF Convener pointed out that the group never really issued an ultimatum to the government, as reported, saying it only expressed its worry that government was not open to dialogue with it, and gave a time frame within which it would pull out of further discussions if government was not prepared for dialogue.
A co-chairman of PANDEF Central Working Committee, CWC, and former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, led the state’s delegation to the parley that included Chief Donald Etiebet and Senator Aniete Okon. Another CWC co-chairman, His Royal Majesty, King Alfred Diete-Spiff, headed the Bayelsa team, while a former minister, Alabo Graham-Douglas, led the Rivers State delegation, Senator Bassey Henshaw- Cross River, Prof G G Darah and Senator Stella Omu- Delta, while Col Paul Ogbebor (retd.) and Captain Hosa Okunbo led the Edo team.
Sources at the meeting told Sunday Vanguard that Clark was enamoured by the understanding and attention given to the Niger Delta by the Acting President after he briefed PANDEF. The PANDEF Convener was later to confirm that the attention the Acting President showed on matters concerning the region convinced the group that he is a forthright leader.
I hold meetings on N’Delta matters every week- Osinbajo
The Acting President, who spoke on Buhari’s new vision for the Niger Delta, said: “We are fully committed and thankful for your (PANDEF) contributions and feedback. We are working on this day by day. From the beginning, we took the 16-point demand very seriously and we also developed our own plan mostly based on those demands.”
“Personally, I believe the issues of the Niger Delta must be addressed. When I undertook the visit to the Niger Delta region, my sole intention for participating in this process is that we need forthrightness and a hands-on approach. There is no week that has passed that I have not held one meeting or the other on the Niger Delta issue. I have spent quality time looking at how we can implement this (new vision)
“It can’t be done overnight. We are also looking at the integrity of the process so we can meet our targets. We are not out of line. Everything is on course the way we set it out. We have got to do it right,” he said.
Acting President impressed us – Clark
Speaking to Sunday Vanguard on phone, yesterday, on the meeting, Clark: “The meeting was successful, we saw in Osinbajo an honest man, we saw his commitment to the development of the region as he spoke, we had a very long discussion on the 16-point demand and we restated that we want dialogue.
“And I am sure that very soon, government will look into it, I must say that we were very impressed with the Acting President’s explanation on the issues raised.
“Take the relocation of the International Oil Companies, IOCs to their operational centers, he told us there was no going back on it and that the directive was given to create confidence among the people.
“On the modular refinery, he agreed with us that what we said the purpose should be to create opportunities for the communities, youths and the illegal refinery operators. We told him that we hope that it is not for commercial purpose only, that the people have to be involved to reap the benefits.
“We discussed many things, including the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, how it should be funded for better result, ensuring that the products are able to get job.
“We also discussed the Nigeria Maritime University, NMU, Okerenkoko, Delta State and he told us that it was possible for it to start this year, disclosing that he has been meeting with principal officers of the university and there were things to be cleared concerning the master plan, some buildings that have to be readjusted and all that.
“We also discussed Bakassi, in fact, we touched on almost all the problems and we told him that we do not accept the two-year Strategic Implementation Work Plan, SWIP. He promised that PANDEF will be fully participating in future meetings of the inter-ministerial committee.”
We told Osinbajo that dialogue is must – CWC member
A member of PANDEF CWC, who attended the meeting, corroborated Clark in a separate interview with Sunday Vanguard, yesterday. He stated: “We presented our demands for dialogue and implementation of the promises by the Acting President. All the demands were discussed and we strongly emphasized our stand on dialoguing on them.
“From our discussions, there was the consensus that there must be dialogue and the need for continuous engagement of the people of Niger Delta. The relocation of IOCs was discussed and the Acting President said he was going to set up a machinery for the movement. There is a process for relocation and he said it has to be followed”.
On the issue of modular refinery, he said: “PANDEF told Osinbajo that the purpose of setting up the grop is not and should not be for commercial purpose, but to solve the unemployment problem and involvement of our people in illegal oil refining. He agreed with us and said government would work along that line.
“The Acting President also assured on proper funding of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, NDDC and the East-West Road.
“Clearly, he applauded PANDEF for its peace efforts and said he would relate with the group more closely, gave his firm promise on dialogue having understood the perspective the group was insisting on it.
“On the N6 billion needed for the take-off of NMU, Okerenkoko, he said the money will not be a problem and that government will source for it and they are committed to its take-off.”
Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the Acting President, Laolu Akande, in a statement on the meeting, said: “In a renewed effort to further propel the Buhari administration new vision for the overall development of the Niger Delta, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, will now be joining the Federal Government’s Inter-Ministerial Group tasked with the implementation of the vision.
“Speaking earlier today (Thursday) in Abuja at the meeting of the Federal Government with Niger Delta leaders under the aegis of PANDEF, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, while welcoming PANDEF’s offer to fully join the inter-ministerial group, reiterated the full commitment of the Federal Government to realize a new and prosperous Niger Delta, developed through forthright partnerships between Federal Government, State Governments, private sector and local communities.
“The inter-ministerial group, consisting of all relevant ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs of the FG, with the involvement of relevant State governments led by the Acting President, meets regularly to drive the different initiatives and ensure effective and on-going implementation of the FG Niger Delta new vision.
“Prof. Osinbajo further stated that the Federal Government was committed to the Amnesty Programme, the establishment of the Maritime University, the clean-up of Ogoni and the general development of the Niger Delta region.”