By Samuel Oyadongha
Restructuring: South-South leaders and elders under the aegis of Pan Niger-Delta Elders Forum, PANDEF, will converge on Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, “the Jerusalem of Ijaw nation” for a mega rally to chorus their campaign for the restructuring of the polity.
The twisting theme of tomorrow’s rally aptly reflects the desperation and expectation of of South-South political leaders.
The rally has as theme, Fellow Nigerians, let’s restructure now, tomorrow may be too late. A restructured Nigeria will guarantee unity, fairness, peace and progress for all, irrespective of religion, creed, region and state.”
The rally is scheduled to hold at the Grand Pavilion and Boat Club, Oxbow Lake, which overlooks the alluring Ikole Creek, in the Swali suburb of the state capital.
The rally being championed by the Pan Niger-Delta Forum, PANDEF, under the leadership of Chief Edwin Clark, is expected to attract all the South-South governors, political big wigs, youths, women groups and captains of industry from the geopolitical zone. It will afford the leaders the opportunity to take stock of the geopolitical zone’s sojourn in the Nigerian state and to chart a roadmap for its development.
The decision to organise the mega rally in Yenagoa, the epicentre of the Niger-Delta agitation for equity and justice within a united Nigerian federation, was taken at the last consultative meeting of the group at Kiagbodo, Delta State, residence of elder statesman and leader of PANDEF, Chief Edwin Clark.
The rally, Vanguard learnt, which promises to deliver a major message from the Niger-Delta, is expected not only to awaken old passions and pains but also ignite fresh hopes for a region whose resources had over the years been the driving force of the national economy.
It is expected to highlight issues bordering on crude oil exploration and exploitation as it affects the blighted region and its excluded population, an issue that has been on the front burner in recent times.
The theme of the rally, Restructuring the Nigerian Federation, is apt as it is believed to be the panacea to the causes of the crisis in the once peaceful environment, which is today described as a volatile region. The gathering will also attempt, to not only enlighten the people about the historical factors (the plight of the vulnerable populations of the backwaters of Nigeria) but on the continuous struggle of the people to live beyond the fringes of subsistence and its attendant socio-economic implication for the country as expressed in youth militancy.
Though several palliative measures had been put in place by past administrations in the country to assuage the plight of the people, but not much has been achieved, a development that is responsible for the renewed agitation for restructuring of the country along the line of true federalism with a view to allowing the region have a degree of control over the resources of the region as practised in other countries that operate a federal system.
PANDEF which is still expecting the Federal Government to match words with action on its 16-point demand, will want the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government to, as a deliberate policy, get the Niger-Delta people actively involved in defining their own development, which is perhaps the only way it could guarantee sustainable stability in the South-South region.
The group which has since its formation adopted a dovish stance in its approach to extracting commitment from the central government in tackling the developmental challenges facing the region as opposed to violence being espoused by the radicalised youth groups in the region, may be running out of patience due to pressures from the latter.
According to Senibo Dauebi, an elder from the zone, “This, indeed, is the way to go, because dialogue, as opposed to violence, remains the most enduring way of resolving whatever differences. No reason can justify the violence in the Niger-Delta where innocent people and national infrastructure have become victims of mindless attacks.”
PANDEF will also use the rally to re-echo and commend various groups in the country, who have continued to bring up the question of restructuring to the centre stage in national discourse as well as reaffirmed the position that restructuring of the country is all about the survival of the Nigerian nation.
A source who spoke on condition of anonymity said “the rally will no doubt bring to the fore the legitimate demand of the zone for the restructuring of the Nigerian federation, as well as review how far the government had gone ahead with the fulfilment of the PANDEF 16-point agenda raised during Vice- President Yemi Osinbajo’s tour of the region.
“The elders have done their best to rein in the agitated youths by calling for patience. The government, on its part, should hurry up with its promise to fast-track all ongoing projects in the zone such as the completion of the East-West road that straddled the zone. The take-off of the Maritime University, Okerenkoko and other things the government has promised. Our people are getting worried and tired and therefore wants to see positive actions on all the items promised,” he said.
He, however, noted with concern the continued refusal of the oil multinationals to relocate their headquarters to the Niger-Delta region and urged PANDEF to see this as a slap in the face of the region. The issue, he said, must be addressed.
“We had expected that the oil majors would relocate their headquarters to the region according to the Vice-President’s pronouncement, but the reverse appears to be the case. Enforcing compliance is in the best interest of the region as the companies, and the country will accelerate development in the region, create job opportunities for the army of jobless youths.” He, therefore, urged PANDEF to remind the Federal Government on this.
Though the rally is an important step in actualising the dream, the road towards peace in the zone is long and vague.
It, however, remains to be seen whether the Federal Government will bow to pressure to restructure the country along the line of true federalism where every region will have control over their resources and pay agreed tax to the central government.
Personalities expected at the mega rally are Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, Delta State; Governor Emmanuel Udom, Akwa Ibom; Governor Ayade, Cross River; Nyesom Wike, Rivers State and Governor Obaseki, Edo State. Others include HRM King Alfred Diete-Spiff, the Amayanabo of Twon Brass and one-time military governor of old Rivers State; Obong Victor Attah, former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Alabo Graham Douglas, former ministers, members of the National Assembly and a host of others.