By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Jimitota Onoyume, Sam Oyadongha, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Joseph Erunke, Egufe Yafugborhi, Godwin Oghre, Perez Brisibe and Chioma Onuegbu.
…ask FG to resume talks without delay
•Presidency, military keep mum
•PANDEF swings into consultations
LEADERS of the Niger Delta and activists have rejected the threat by a militant group, Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, to restart bombing of oil and gas installations in the region, saying it was unreasonable and uncalled for.
Some Niger Delta campaigners, however, blamed the Federal Government for the threat of the militants and lambasted feuding leaders and groups in the region for playing into the hands of government.
The campaingers said they were not surprised that the Avengers group issued the notice of recommencement of its suspended Operation Red Economy.
Sunday Vanguard learned that the convener of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Chief E.K. Clark, was consulting with other leaders across the region, last night, and the consensus was that there was no need for hostilities by Niger Delta youths.
The NDA had, while announcing resumption of hostilities in the oil-rich region, on Friday, blamed the Federal Government for not keeping to its promise to redress the situation of the Niger Delta through the consideration of a 16-point demand submitted by PANDEF..
It also attacked the leaders of PANDEF for not holding government to its promise that facilitated the cessation of hostilities.
The militant group had stated: “To the leaders of the Niger Delta, PANDEF, we warned you against the antics of the Nigerian government, yet you requested a chance to broker a new vision for our people. We told you and the rest of the world that the Nigerian government is only interested in our oil wells and not our well being, yet you told us the signs are different this time around.
“Instead of allowing us to continue our quest to bring the Nigerian economy to our targeted zero daily production, which recorded huge success, you threatened us with Tompolo to stop the struggle. Out of respect for elders and not to the threat of Tompolo, we adhered to the call and halted our strike actions hoping that you (PANDEF) would keep your own side of the bargain.
“Tompolo and PANDEF should tell us what progress they made since we heeded your retrogressive call, to whose benefit is the move by Tompolo and the Niger Delta elders to impede a mission sanctioned by our ancestors and the Almighty?”.
The NDA had ceased hostilities in August last year. The action led to meetings between the Federal Government and PANDEF, and the submission of the 16-point demand to government. Not much has happened on the demand since then.
Bombing not the solution – Ayemi-Botu PNDPC leader
The national leader of Pan Niger Delta People Congress, PNDPC, and paramount ruler of Seimbiri Kingdom, Delta State, His Majesty Charles Ayemi-Botu, who spoke on phone from New York, United States, said he did not see any need for the NDA, the Reformed Niger Delta Avengers, RNDA, or any other militant group to return to bombing of oil facilities.
The monarch said, “If they recommence attack on oil facilities in the region, the reaction of the Federal Government will be to send soldiers and other security operatives to the creeks of the region. As had been the case in the past, the security agents may not see the boys, but they will see innocent villagers, who know nothing about the bombing.
“As they say, when two elephants fight, the grass will suffer. The grass this time are the women, men, youths and children in the creeks, who have nowhere to hide and, before you know it, there will be food crisis and humanitarian problem. We do not want that again”.
According to him, two wrongs do not make a right. “If anything has gone wrong on the part of government and the dialogue groups, the solution is not going back to the creeks. I do not subscribe to the claim of the NDA that dialogue is not yielding result. We have made some degree of progress”, Ayemi-Bolu said.
“Dialogue remains the best option; the Federal Government should be open to more discussions with the leaders of the region and implement agreements reached. It should hearken to the demands of the people and execute them. President Muhammadu Buhari met with Niger Delta leaders about a year ago. I was among the leaders that met with him and since then nothing has happened.
“That the boys accepted ceasefire on August 21, last year, does not mean that government should go to sleep. We know the conditions that they gave for dialogue”.
Govt should resume talks with PANDEF- Nkanga, ex-military governor
A former military governor of Akwa Ibom State and PANDEF leader, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (retd), attributed the threat by Avengers to the failure of the Federal Government to keep to its promise to meet the demands of the Niger Delta.
He said, “It is unfortunate because it is like we are going back to the starting point. This is where we were about this time last year, and that was how concerned elders came together under PANDEF. It was that intervention that made them to cease hostilities and oil production went up from 800,000 barrels per day to over 2million. I think recently we have relaxed on the need to continue on the peace initiative.
“So I believe that if the Federal Government continues the discussion with PANDEF and starts doing meaningful things in the area, those things in the 16-point agenda, at least, will get the people to realize that government cares for them in the Niger Delta. We are not saying do all those things at the same time.”
The former governor added, “I am worried as a member of PANDEF. I am worried as somebody from the Niger Delta, because, in the final analysis, if they start breaking pipelines, the effect on the environment is going to be on us here. That is why we wanted another way of achieving peace in the region.”
No to resumption of hostilities- HRM Diongoli, Brisibe
The Ibedaowei of Opokuma Kingdom, King Okpoitari Diongoli, said the threat was a troubling development with huge potentials to reverse the wheel of progress in the oil-rich region. “However, I call for caution from all stakeholders as dialogue remains the most potent weapon for the peaceful resolution of the impasse”, he said.
“In my view, the Federal Government needs to show genuine commitment and sincerity of purpose in addressing the Niger Delta issues. You recall that this is about one year after Vice-president Yemi Osinbajo toured the Niger Delta region where promises were made by the government, but, till date, no concrete action has been taken to translate the promises into reality or assuage the ill-feelings of the people of the Niger Delta.
“The issues of review of ownership of oil blocks, the modular refineries, restructuring, devolution of powers and true federalism have been on the front burner for over 50 years and have not been addressed by the authorities which has further fuelled renewed tension in the Niger Delta.
“ While I appeal to the Niger Delta agitators to stay action, it is imperative to call on the Federal Government to expedite action by opening dialogue with stakeholders in the Niger Delta”.
Speaking to one of our reporters, a former member of the House of Representatives and Chief of Staff to the Delta State Government, Hon Tam Brisibe, pleaded with the NDA to maintain the peace because whatever issues the group has could not be resolved with violence. “If they go back and start destroying the oil facilities, all of us would suffer and there is no doubt about that as even their people would suffer. I advise them to allow dialogue to continue”, Brisibe said.
Embrace dialogue –Ambakederimo
Convener, South- South Reawakening Group, Comrade Ambakederimo, asked the militant group not be hasty to take decisions that will portray the Niger Delta as blackmailing government.
“There are better ways to ventilate grievances rather than the crude method we always use which causes collateral damage. We should always toe the part of constant dialogue with a united front and that is the only way to go,” he said.
In fighting should stop – Asuni
Founder/Executive Director, Academic Associates PeaceWorks (AAPeaceWorks), Mrs. Judith Asuni, alias Mama Niger Delta, said the threat was unnecessary though she observed, “PANDEF presented a 16- point demand to the Federal Government, one year after, none of the points raised has been addressed.”
She added: “I do not blame the people of the region for being angry as one year has gone without a work-plan from the Federal Government and the Niger Delta Avengers is threatening attacks because it sees that nothing has happened. This shows the lack of political will on the part of government.”
We don’t blame Avengers —Ann-Kio Briggs, Ozobo
Environmental and human rights activist, Ann-Kio Briggs, said she was not surprised that the NDA had said government was never sincere. “The policy that the government is operating is not a policy that favours the Niger Delta”, the activist stated. That is why even when former President Goodluck Jonathan was in power; it was not possible for him to do what we expected of him. The fact that for over a year, PANDEF has not been able to achieve even one point of the 16-point agenda given to the government shows clearly that government is not sincere and, because of this, PANDEF is not able to achieve anything. I have been of the opinion that you do not negotiate with the Federal Government because it is insincere, hence no matter what you do or say, you would be embarrassed because, at the end of the day, they would make a mess of you and that is what is happening now”.
National President of Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative, IPDI, Austin Ozobo, who shared Ann-Kio Briggs position stated: “We blame President Buhari for the return of the NDA and the suspension of PANDEF activities. Buhari trivialized Niger Delta demands and that is the cause of the return of Niger Delta Avengers, so the international community and other well-meaning persons should hold Buhari responsible for any crisis in the region”.
Gbaramatu Ijaw leader, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, who spoke for the Gbaramatu monarch, admonished the NDA to sheathe its sword. “Whatever is making them angry is justifiable. Oil is the blood of the nation, and destroying oil and gas facilities will do us no good.”
“It is one year and two days since PANDEF submitted the 16-point agenda to the President after pleading with the Avengers. So why will they not be angry? Perhaps the threat from the Avengers will wake up the Federal Government. They should remember that the Avengers are not laptop criminals, but real agitators. The Federal Government should take the threat seriously”. The paramount ruler of Gbaramatu, however, pleaded with the militants to hold their fire. “The militants should give Buhari the benefit of the doubt,” he added.
PANDEF, PNDPC have failed – Omare
Factional President, Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) Worldwide, Eric Omare, said the decision by the NDA to resume hostilities was very unfortunate and worrisome. “It is worrisome because of the devastating effect the attacks had on the Nigerian economy the last time”, Omare said.
On the justification for the planned resumption of attacks, he stated, “I do not support attacks and would instead support dialogue. However, the Federal Government has been most insincere in its response to the demands of the Niger Delta people. The last time the Avengers struck and leaders prevailed on them to stop, it was with the understanding that the demands of the people such as the immediate take-off of the maritime university, Okerenkoko, the implementation of key developmental projects in the region and, above all, take steps towards restructuring Nigeria towards a true federal state.”
“However, none of these promises has been fulfilled. Even the two billion naira earmarked for the take-off of the maritime university which Vice President Yemi Osinbajo claimed had been released, has not been released.
“In summary, Federal Government’s lack of sincerity is to be blamed for whatever resumption of hostilities. However, I would advise that the Avengers should still give dialogue a chance. There is no alternative to peaceful resolution of grievances.
“On PANDEF and PNDPC, I have no advice for them. PANDEF unfortunately because of politics has not achieved any of the aims for which it was formed. Therefore, I think Niger Deltans need to go back to the drawing board on how to engage government”.
No comment – Presidency, military
The Presidency and the military, yesterday, refrained from commenting on the NDA threat.
When contacted, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, referred Sunday Vanguard to the Amnesty Office.
“Reach Gen. Boroh of Amnesty Office”, he said.
On his part, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garbo Shehu, said he had not been briefed.
“I have not been briefed on this”, Shehu said.
The spokesperson for the Defence Headquarters (DHQ), Major General John Enenche, could not be reached for comments.
The spokesperson for the Army, Brigadier General Sani Usman, also did not pick Sunday Vanguard telephone calls.
However, in his response to a text message, Usman referred our correspondent to the Operation Delta Safe, OPDS, currently keeping the peace in the Niger Delta, for comments on the NDA threat.
When Sunday Vanguard contacted the spokesman for OPDS, Major Ibrahim Abdullah, he promised to get back.
However, as at the time of going to press late last night, no response was received.