• The alarm at Presidential Villa
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, Niger Delta
THERE was conspicuous alarm at the nation’s seat of power, Presidential Villa, in Abuja when a gang of militants, operating under the streamer of Network for Niger Delta Republic Fighters, NNDRF, threatened to declare a sovereign Niger Delta Republic on June 1.
The threat, coming in the thick of the preparations for the May 29 inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari for second term and the implication of its actualization, coupled with the Boko Haram menace, was not lost on the Presidency.
Buhari, according to sources, immediately summoned his service chiefs to a meeting where they extensively discussed the threat.
The President, it was learnt, issued a stern directive to the service chiefs to not only prevent the militants or whatever they called themselves from making such a declaration, but also track them down.
Though there was a suggestion that the militants who issued the threat were not in the position to actualize it, a top government official said, “Government did not rule out the possibility and the directive was that service chiefs should take all necessary precautions”.
The group of militants had, in a statement by its ‘Director of Information’, Maxwell Dan, stated that the killings, kidnappings and banditry all over the country were a clear sign that the Muhammadu Buhari administration had failed the nation and incapable of protecting Nigerians.
It (group) accused Buhari and the Presidency of selective maltreatment of leaders from the region, alleging that the Federal Government had not inaugurated a single project in the Niger Delta in the last four years, despite the region providing the revenue the nation depends on.
“It is quite unfortunate that the story has not changed till today, and we are standing on that declaration; we are standing on the declaration of the sovereign state of Niger Delta and we will declare the Niger Delta Republic on June 1, 2019”, the statement said.
“It is a common fact that Nigeria has completely derailed from the path of peace, justice and progress as proclaimed by its founding fathers.
“They removed a Niger Delta son, Mr Mathew Seiyeifa, the most qualified Director of DSS without due process. Not satisfied with their cruel and selective onslaught against the Niger Delta people, they plotted again and removed our son, Justice Walter Onnoghen, from office on frivolous allegations without due process, neither was he given an opportunity of fair hearing.
“It is also unfortunate that after four years of this administration, there is no single viable project executed by the Federal Government in the Niger Delta despite the billions of naira accruing to the government from the resources of the Niger Delta as a result of the ceasefire in the region.
“The spilling of the blood of innocent citizens is becoming alarming and it is clear that the government cannot protect the citizens.
“Instead, they continue to make unguarded statements without recourse to the safety of the people. “It is a common fact the country is under siege and we cannot allow it to consume us”.
The statement also linked the militants’ anger to the invasion of the residence of elder statesman and Niger Delta leader, Chief Edwin Clark, by the police last year.
Barely a week after the statement hit the public domain and just two days to the May 29 inauguration, Buhari met behind closed doors with South-South Traditional Rulers at the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Curiously, the President did not invite the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, the umbrella body of monarchs, leaders and stakeholders of the coastal states of Niger Delta, which brokered ceasefire between government and militants in the region in 2016 and which had consistently called for engagement between the people of the oil-rich region and the Federal Government.
A former military administrator of Akwa Ibom State, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (ret.), is the current national chair of the body while Clark is the national leader.
PANDEF, which submitted the demands of the region to the President, expressed dissatisfaction with the manner the Buhari administration ran the country during the President’s first term. However, some of the royal fathers who attended the meeting and are members of the South-South Monarchs Forum, SSMF, are also PANDEF sympathizers.
King Edmund Daukoru, Mingi XII, the Amanyanabo of Nembe Kingdom, led the royal fathers to the meeting with Buhari on May 27.
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Chief Femi Adesina, in a statement, said Buhari told the leaders that destruction of oil facilities by vandals was hurting host communities, the majority of the people and the environment more than government.
The President, according to the spokesperson, appealed to the monarchs to do more to end pipeline vandalism in their respective communities.
Buhari, the statement said, informed the traditional rulers, “who came to congratulate him on his re-election and discuss issues of specific relevance to the zone”, that they were culturally and traditionally positioned to complement government efforts on enhancing security in the Niger Delta.
He, therefore, charged them to educate youths on the dangers such nefarious activities posed to the environment and the economy.
He said, “You need to educate the people that the destruction of installations is hurting the majority of the people.
“If pipelines are blown and the waters are polluted, it affects both the fishermen and farmers. Even the fishes in the sea are affected.
“These people who blow up the installations are hurting the people more than they are hurting government”.
He also decried the spate of kidnapping in the area, urging the royal fathers not to relent in their support to security agencies to contain the negative trend.
Speaking at the occasion, Daukoru said among other things: “In exercise of our role as traditional rulers, we plead with all those who are unhappy with the imperfections of our electoral process to graciously transcend their grievances and to join the immense task we all face of building a secure and prosperous Nigeria.”
A prepared text presented by the royal father on behalf of the visitors raised the issue of Niger Delta security, economic development, infrastructure and environment, and oil sector matters.
On oil sector matters, the Amanyanabo said: “Mr President, we think it is time to hold operators accountable for their lack of transparency in community development programmes.”
The traditional ruler accused the operators, among other things, of “polarizing communities and bypassing traditional authority by pandering to the interest of bully boys and their local militia.”
The traditional rulers, it was learnt, returned from the meeting with the President to make contacts with the militants who had threatened to declare ‘Niger Delta Republic’, through emissaries, to shelve the declaration.
Anxiety in the creeks
Sunday Vanguard gathered that some of the royal fathers contacted Clark to assist by using his influence to prevail on the militants not to carry out their threat.
A source close to Clark said the PANDEF leader was even more worried that some of the militants had not comprehended the fact that violence was not the way out of the Niger Delta crisis.
Our source said the former Federal Commissioner for Information was not happy that supposed agitators had turned the issuing of threats to the Federal Government to a huge joke, thus making the region a laughing stock whenever they bark these days.
Some PANDEF leaders also reportedly saw the threat by NNDRF as an avenue by government to clamp down on some targeted Niger Delta leaders.
Meanwhile, the NNDRF threat has continued to create ripples among militants and ex-militant groups as some of them accused NNDRF of taking a unilateral decision to declare Niger Delta Republic.
The first sign of division among the agitators came three days after the NNDRF threat when another group, the 21st Century Youths of the Niger Delta and Agitators with Conscience, openly condemned and disassociated itself “from the call by the so-called Niger Delta Republic Fighters to declare Niger Delta Republic come 1st of June 2019.”
Leader of the group, self-styled ‘General’ Izon Ebi, who had earlier vowed to frustrate oil exploration in the region as from May 29, said it was clear that “fifth columnists and some people in government are trying to blackmail some distinguished leaders of the region and rubbish our genuine struggle for equity and justice.”
He went on, “We are repudiating and condemning their threat so as not to endanger our people and leaders we claim to be agitating for. “After all, the Federal Government and then-Inspector General of Police apologized to Pa Clark, and he accepted, and leaders of Niger Delta are handling other matters.
“Our struggle is real and just and it is all about restructuring, true federalism, devolution of powers, state police and resource control.
“We believe that majority of the people in the Niger Delta share the same ideals and notion, and, therefore, cannot allow politically sponsored adventures and fifth columnists to derail our collective aspirations and destiny.
“We, therefore, use this opportunity to advise the Federal Government to immediately start the process of implementing true federalism, which is required to put back this great nation on track to achieve the dreams of our founding fathers.
“That our fathers in the Niger Delta accepted and tolerated the infractions all the while while does not mean that it is acceptable and will be tolerated by this generation”.
The militant leader urged leaders and elders of the region not to worry over the threat, adding that the statement by NNDRF “is not a collective agreement of agitators but a plan by some sponsored political buccaneers to clamp down on our distinguished, outspoken and fearless leaders in the Niger Delta.”
In a twist to the issue, the Reformed Niger Delta Avengers, RNDA, led by self-appointed ‘Major General’ Johnmark Ezon-ebi, aka Obama, reportedly met with his field commanders and nine other militant groups across the Niger Delta at the Bini River in Delta State to deliberate on the ‘Republic of Niger Delta’ declaration threat among other national issues.
After the meeting, the group, in a statement, disagreed with NNDRF and called on Buhari and security agencies “to ignore the purported sponsored threat statement made by the self- acclaimed Niger Delta Republic Freedom Fighters that they will declare Niger Delta Republic on June 1.”
The RNDA statement added, “Nobody should take them serious because they lack the power and momentum to declare such as they claim on the pages of newspapers”.
The group, which signed a ceasefire agreement with the Federal Government in August 2016, said, “The threat statement was sponsored by some disgruntled leaders of a political party in the region, who failed in the just concluded general elections and are facing corruption charges under the Buhari-led APC Federal Government.
“The threat, which came from the self -acclaimed Niger Delta Republic Freedom Fighters, is just another ploy by this corrupt group of persons to gain political recognition and relevance from the Federal Government.”
The militant group warned the militant leaders under the aegis of NNDRF and their “paymasters purportedly known for their business as usual in the Niger Delta not to cause unnecessary tension in the country,” adding that the threat, predicated on under development of the region and the raid on Clark’s home by security agents, was “baseless.”
“This is because nobody is above the law of the land and, for the record, President Buhari is not the cause of the challenges facing the region. They should channel their grievances to the past leaders from the region, including former President Goodluck Jonathan, who failed woefully to develop the region during his six wasted years in office,” the group said.
RNDA wondered where NNDRF was when Jonathan was President and Commander –in- Chief for six years.
It stated, ‘Enough is enough, as the region cannot continue to be threatened by fugitive ex-militants and their pay masters, who have no value for lives and property after collecting huge amounts of money from a presidential candidate and lost.
“The region is tired of the selfish ex-militant leaders and their cronies who use the agitation to make money to the detriment of the people of the region.
“We assure that the current peace in the region will be sustained while the Buhari government continues to confront the challenges facing the region as he has demonstrated genuine commitment to the practical development of the Niger Delta.
“We are aware of the approval of 13 billion naira to dredge the Warri Sea Port to enable bigger vessels to berth and boost economic activities in the region. The Ogoni clean-up exercise is ongoing. The Bonny/Bodo Creek Road project worth N120 billion and the Warri- Aladja – Ajaokuta rail project, among several others by the Federal Government are also progressing”.
The group said it was ready to help security agencies to fish out criminals, ex-militants and their “paymasters” in the habit of heating up the polity to get money from their hiding places.
“We will not fold our hands and allow criminals to destroy the Niger Delta in the name of agitation and will continue to stand by President Muhammadu Buhari,” it added.
What broke the camel’s back
Sunday Vanguard learned that the rebuttal of the planned June 1 proclamation by other militant groups and the counter-threat to lead security agents to the hideout of NNDRF caused enormous estrangement among militants in the region.
It became clear that there was a serious division on the issue.
Security agencies also laid siege to Gbaramatu Kingdom, the ancestral home of ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo alias Tompolo, and other parts of the Niger Delta.
Tompolo has been underground for the past three years after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, declared him wanted for alleged money laundering. Gbaramatu Council of Chiefs, through one of the kingdom’s leaders, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, said the security agents who laid siege to the area were harassing and intimidating indigenes.
Therefore, it was not surprising when June 1 eventually came and the NNDRF was in disarray and unable to proclaim a sovereign Niger Delta Republic.
And despite the disowning of NNDRF by the 21st Century Youths of Niger Delta and RNDA, Buhari’s refusal to assent to the Bill on the establishment of the Nigerian Maritime University, NMU, Okerenkoko, Delta State seemed to aggravate the situation.
RNDA, which admitted that Buhari’s action actually triggered fresh tension, held another meeting, calling on elders, leaders and genuine agitating militant groups in the region to remain calm in the wake of the development.
The group said the lack of presidential assent would not lead to the closure of the university, citing the cases of educational institutions which operated for years before legalization through the signing of enabling bills into law.
It, however, reminded Buhari that the non-takeoff of the university was one of the reasons for the formation of the dreaded but now defunct Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, which was the precursor of RNDA.
The group noted that the President did not adduce the reason for his action, saying, however, that its investigation showed that Buhari was not comfortable with certain ambiguous sections in the bill.
RNDA stressed that if not properly managed, the refusal to sign the bill might lead to other things in the region.
It, therefore, urged Mr. President to revisit the signing of the bill in order not to create room for violence in the Niger Delta.
The militant group said the same National Assembly that passed the North-East Development Commission Bill, which Mr. President signed without observing any clause, also passed the NMU Okerenkoko Bill, advising that “Mr President should not treat the issue of Maritime University, Okerenkoko with disdain.”
It went on, “At this juncture, RNDA calls on the leadership of the South- South Traditional Rulers Forum, led by HRM King Edmund Daukoru, the Amayanabo of Twon Brass, HRM King Diete Spiff, the leadership of HOSTCOM, and the leadership of Oil and Gas Producing Communities of Nigeria to urgently meet with President Buhari to have a rethink on the NMU Okerenkoko Bill”.
The group further pleaded with the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, the ruling party at the federal level, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole; business mogul, Captain Hosa Okunbor; Chief Francis Inegbiniki, among other stakeholders in the region, to join the campaign.
‘Why they failed’
On the reason the NNDRF averted its Niger Delta Republic proclamation, RNDA said: “They failed woefully because their game is up, the people of the region are not with them and, if they try anything against the wish of the people, we will not hesitate to lead security agents to their hideout and smoke them out.
“Also, the people of Niger Delta have so much confidence in the Buhari government because they know that the President has their interests at heart and is willing to develop the region”.