By Emma Amaize, Egufe Yafugborhi & Perez Brisibe
EFFURUN—THE Pan Niger Delta Conference, PANDEF, yesterday, told the Federal Government that the Niger Delta region would not abandon the fight for equity and economic justice, notwithstanding government’s regular deployment of military forces to frighten the people.
PANDEF, led by former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark, who received a vote of confidence from the members, took the resolution at an emergency general assembly in Effurun, Delta State.
The group defied the threat by a militant group, Reformed Niger Delta Avengers, RNDA, to hold yesterday’s meeting. The group had earlier threatened to disrupt the meeting, but unlike the October 26 assembly interrupted by the Police and DSS in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the Police and Army provided security for the Effurun meeting.
Leaders of the group also confirmed that the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, which, early this month, threatened to resume hostilities, had granted the Federal Government a three-month stay of execution, following the intervention of PANDEF.
Chief Clark, former Military Administrator of Akwa Ibom State, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (retd); former Minister of Aviation, Alabo Tonye Graham-Douglas; former Minister of Police Affairs, Alaowei Broderick Bozimo; former Minister of Lands and Housing, Dr. Nduese Essien, were among the over 400 delegates that attended the meeting.
Former Chief of Staff, Delta State, Prof. G.G. Darah; representative of Olu of Warri, Olorogun Olivia Agbajoh; Secretary-General of TROMPCON, Col Tony Nyiam (retd); HRM Oba Obayemi Ogbaro; former Coordinator of Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress, PNDPC, Chief Mike Loyibo; Dr. Mike Asemota; Dr. Ejiofor Onyia; Mrs. Doris Mokobia and IYC President, Pereotubo Oweilaemi, also attended the meeting.
The emergency general assembly reviewed the condition that led to the formation of PANDEF and discussed in details the security situation in the Niger Delta region and the urgent need to sustain the prevailing peace.
Though the meeting commended the Federal Government for giving the go-ahead for the commencement of academic activities at the Nigeria Maritime University, Okerenkoko, one of its 16-point programme, it said the government has largely forsaken the programme.
It observed in a communiqué: “However, the Federal Government is yet to address the other 15 items in the 16-point agenda presented to it since the 1st of November 2016. We urge the Federal Government to rethink and jettison the use of violence through military repression of the region. We also urge the Federal Government to embrace the dialogue initiated by PANDEF by creating the framework to discuss the 16-point agenda now submitted for over a year.
“The act of military intimidation on people of the region into abandoning the struggle for equity and economic justice will be an exercise in futility; we urge the youths of the region to remain and maintain peace as PANDEF continues to mediate and bring sustainable peace to the region.”
The delegates urged the Federal Government to show commitment in the development of the Niger Delta with particular reference to the non-completion East-West Road and other abandoned projects in the region.
They called on the Federal Government to, “as soon as possible ensure the take-off of the modular refineries, the relocation of the headquarters of oil companies to the Niger Delta and the take-off of the other Maritime University at Oron in Akwa Ibom state.”
Delegates also commended and congratulated the members of the Pan-Niger Delta People’s Congress (PNDPC) for returning to the PANDEF fold, emphasizing the need for cohesion and singular sense of mission.
The forum also resolved to see “PANDEF as a formidable platform for all the states and ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta.”
They noted PANDEF’s activities brought peace to the region and subsequent improvement in oil production that has enabled the country’s exit from recession.
On the commotion that trailed its last meeting, the body called on the Federal Government “to investigate the circumstances that led to the disruption of its 4th general assembly in Port Harcourt and offer an explanation.”
It accepted the reports of its Zoning Committee on the zoning of offices and its Electoral Committee, and resolved “nominations to fill such positions be brought forward at its next general assembly.”
One minute silence for Ekwueme
Delegates observed a minute silence in honour of the departed Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, GCON, and extolled his virtue as an iconic statesman,
They also expressed appreciation to the government of Delta State for the warm welcome and hospitality extended to delegates.
Earlier in his address, Clark said: “We have agreed to come together and work together. Once this is done, Operation Crocodile Smile cannot do anything. Operation Crocodile Smile II came to the Niger Delta, while they were here; the Niger Delta Avengers came out to say they are coming back again, was the crocodile able to smile again?
“It is not enough to fly over Bennet Island in Warri, you are only punishing and intimidating school children in the area, but you would never find Niger Delta Avengers or any other group.”
Speaking on the agitation, he said: “In the prevailing circumstances, where agitations for better treatment are met with dastardly killings, it looks like we the people of the Niger Delta region are under a siege.
“It became obvious that the second movement/deployment of Operation Crocodile Smile to the Niger Delta did not deter the NDA from announcing the end of the ceasefire which they have granted over a year ago.
“This should tell the Federal Government that the crisis in the Niger Delta region is a far cry for the development of the area, therefore, it will be very difficult, if not impossible to use military force to cow the people to submission.”
Earlier in his welcome address, chairman of the Local Organizing Committee of the assembly, Prof. Goddini Darah, explained that the purpose of the assembly was to deliberate on the current insecurity situation in the region.
According to Darah, who is chairman of PANDEF in Delta state, “Fear and tension have replaced the fragile peace in many oil-producing communities in the riverine areas of the region, particularly in Delta State.”
“In barely one year since its founding, PANDEF has contributed to the sustenance of peace and tranquility in the Niger Delta.
“With lean resources, the forum has worked tirelessly to win the trust and confidence of aggrieved groups and neglected host communities,” he said.
In their respective comments, former Minister for Culture and Tourism, Alabo Tonye Graham -Douglas, Former Minister for Police Affairs, Alawoie Brodrick Bozimo, Nduese Essien and Col Tony Nyiam, adumbrated the virtues of Chief Clark, saying he was a blessing to the region.