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HOPE RISES FOR PEACE IN NIGER-DELTA, AS REGION’S LEADERS URGE BUHARI TO ACCELERATE DIALOGUE PROCESS

David Diai

pandef2The third General Assembly of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, held on December 9, 2016 in Asaba, capital of Delta State and provided the platform for stakeholders to appraise the ground-breaking meeting which the group held with President Muhammadu Buhari on Nov 1, 2016, as well as review recent developments in the region and the overall prevailing political and economic situations in the country.

Following the meeting of the coastal states of Niger Delta under the auspices of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Co-chaired by former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark and former Rivers state MILAD and now Amanyanabo of Twon Brass, HRM King Alfred Diette-Spiff, to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, the people are still unsure of Mr. President’s frame of mind, but one emerging and encouraging situation continues to unfold as each day passes by; the hitherto frequency of bombings and vandalization of pipelines in the region by alleged militants have seemingly stopped completely in the last two months after that meeting.

The option of the agitators to continue to take on the military frontally, especially in the familiar terrain of the creeks has always been very enticing to the resurgent militants, but the recent siege-like influx of the military into the communities of the region, coupled with the human and material collateral damage, the widely reported incidences of occupation mentality, as well as the existential whiplash on innocent, long suffering, already deprived indigenes of the communities.

Without doubt, the formation of PANDEF ostensibly coincided with the launch of operation crocodile tears military operation in the Niger Delta by the Federal Government, many Niger Delta watchers believe that the former, rather than the latter may have been responsible for the recent truce and palpable quiet in the region’s creeks, especially in consideration of the fact that most of the existing major groups and ethnic interests, including the youths, operating independently prior to the meeting, may have opted to align with PANDEF and key into the obvious influence and goodwill, which both Chief Clark and King Diette-Spiff enjoy with President Buhari and the drivers of the Niger Delta peace initiative.

Again the very commendable interventions and rhetoric of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, recanting some of the potentially combustible statements of some of his colleagues and assuring that President Buhari was ready to tackle the issues raised by the stakeholders from the oil region, has gone quite a ways in tempering the escalating situation in the region and, in-spite of his political cleavages and the speculated covert gains which his excellent profile, pedigree and presence will attract to the ruling party in future calculations, has endeared him to both the Federal government and the Niger Delta constituency.

However, while these positive signals have encouraged the Niger Delta leaders to forge on with their peace efforts, PANDEF, as a group has left no one in doubt about its genuine objective of rallying all interests into a consolidated and credible forum for the articulation and representation of the fundamental desires of the Niger Delta, even as it has kept a sharp ear on the seemingly unclear notes emanating from the Federal government in terms of defining the nature of a negotiating team, as well as the mid to long term policy of the military in the Niger Delta.

pandef3The first indication that these were the weighty issues that would task the PANDEF 3rd General Assembly discussions in Asaba, was laid down, when the Co-chairman of the Forum. King Alfred Diette-Spiff, the Amanyanabo of Twon Brass, told the gathered delegates from most of the Niger-Delta states that “There was no split in PANDEF and we are all still speaking with one voice”, adding that those who were raising discordant vpices over the meeting with President Buhari, were just rabble rousers and attention seekers whose intent to distract PANDEF from its course has already failed, with the convening of the Asaba meeting.

King Alfred Diete Spiff, who spoke against the backdrop of the fact that he had led a separate Niger Delta delegation to visit Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and made additional demands to the Federal government after PANDEF had met with Buhari, assuaged the fears of many, by assuring that the meeting with the Vice President had been previously arranged and the demands presented by the group were not different from these PANDEF presented to Buhari. Even as he added that the group he led was not a new body outside PANDEF and had no name.

While calling on those who were nursing some level of disenchantment to be rest assured of the transparency and collective mandate of PANDEF under the leadership of Clark, and restating his commitment to PANDEF, which, he said, was incontrovertible, King Spiff also expressed his own disenchantment over the activities of the military in the Niger Delta, with particular reference to ‘operation crocodile tears’ and other such manouvres, which he said were sending the wrong signals to the people about the honest intentions of the Federal Government to negotiate, even as he urged President Buhari to remain faithful and steadfast to his address to the Niger Delta leaders during their ground breaking parley at the presidency.

The seminal and very comprehensive keynote address presented by Chief E.K Clark, whose imperious presence and influence, as the Co-chairman of PANDEF, which was promptly adopted as the main working paper by the assembly and one critical point the paper emphasized was that though the region had not heard from the President on the way forward, the November 1 meeting with him in Abuja was a success, as it not only accomplished the burning desire of the Niger Delta region leaders to meet face to face with President Buhari, after several agonizing months of dealing with surrogates, but equally provided the platform to present their key demands to the President and hear his response directly from his own mouth.

Chief Clark said that the absence of Co-chairman of the Central Working Committee, CWC, of PANDEF and former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, and Secretary, CWC, Ledum Mitee, was because of their participation in the session by the Senate on the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, even as he stated that the argument that the militants were still bombing, which President Buhari harped on as reason for delay in setting up an FG negotiating no longer exists since in the past few weeks, there had been respite in the region.

pandef5Drawing attention to President Buhari’s admonition that he would want to discuss with people who could guarantee a ceasefire by the militants while talks were on, Chief Clark said: “Unfortunately, as I speak, we have not heard from the Federal Government. Tension is rising again,” even as he further re-iterated that the present peace in the region and rise in oil production were as a result of the intervention of the leaders and not due to military operations as some persons claimed and called on the Federal Government to quickly seize the opportunity and fast track the dialogue process in the interest of all.

Chief Clark also flayed those insinuating that PANDEF is an Ijaw group thus: “I want to use this medium to educate people who are making mischievous statements that PANDEF is a group that belongs to one ethnic group in the region, or made up of a group of corrupt politicians, who are also the instigators of the crisis, that the claim is very untrue, unpatriotic and vicious.”

According to him, “It is one of the tactics of people who would want to create division in the region; I plead with all to put hands together to save our region, which is highly endangered. We may have our differences at home, but national issues affecting our destiny must naturally too, bring us together.”

Making particular reference to the Itsekiri Ethnic nationality leaders and the letter written by the Itsekiri Leaders of Thought, ILoT to President Buhari, just few days to the PANDEF meeting, Chief Clark noted that while the letter entitled: ‘Chief E. K. Clark-led PANDEF 16-Point Demand: The Stand of Itsekiri Leaders of Thought’ and signed by the Chairman, J. O. S. Ayomike and 10 others, went to great lengths to discredit him and PANDEF, as well as create the impression that the Itsekiris were not and would never be part of what they allegedly described as a selfish ‘Ijaw group’, other prominent and notable Itsekiri leaders like Chief Isaac Jemide and Prof Lucky Akaruese were however members of PANDEF, who have expressed confidence and faith in the line of advocacy defined and pursued by the group.

The veteran Niger Delta leader and elder statesman also took a swipe at those accusing PANDEF of misleading the region and labeling him as the chief instigator and sponsor militants. He was also quick and very harsh with some youths, who attempted to cast aspersions on his seeming domineering attitude and alleged appropriation of PANDEF as his own creation, educating them on the historical antecedents and various battles which he had either initiated or supported in the interest of the Niger Delta region, over the years and admonishing them to imbibe the habit of addressing elders without respect.

He also took a swipe at the governors of the region for allegedly spending 13 per cent Derivation Fund at their whims and caprices and chastised the South-South governors for quarreling among themselves as a result of political party differences and allegiances, while governors from other regions were meeting and discussing issues of common development.

On the allegation that he is the father of militants, Clark said: “I am going to be 90 years old and I do not think it will be fair for anyone to accuse me of instigating or sponsoring pipeline vandalisation or militancy. I did not do such thing as a young man, and I will not do it now that I am in the departure lounge, waiting for my boarding pass,” he concluded.

pandef6Chief (Dr.) Wellington Okirika, the Bolowei of Gbaramatu kingdom in Delta state and pioneer chairman of the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, DESOPADEC, not only echoed the discontent of Chief Clark with the Governors of the Niger Delta region, but went ahead to propose a panacea for addressing some of the problems in the region.

In a particular section titled ‘NEED FOR GOVERNORS OF THE 6 OIL PRODUCING STATES TO SHOW ACCOUNTABILITY FOR THE 13% DERIVATION, of the paper he presented to the meeting, Chief Okirika noted that, “Another worrisome issue is the manner that the six Governors of the oil producing states are spending the 13% Derivation Funds under section 162 (95) of the 1999 constitution, without adequate regard to the producing communities nor are they accountable to anyone.”

According to Chief Okirika, who had earlier led a contact team of traditional rulers to meet with Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachiku, and lay the foundation for the ground breaking meeting of PANDEF with President Buhari, “Out of the six oil producing States, it is only 3 that have constituted a Commission or Body to manage these funds. They are Delta, Edo and Ondo States. I understand that 50% of the amount paid by the Federal Government is released to these Commissions while the remaining 50% is retained by the Governors for their own expenditure at will. This money is also not budgeted for in the state coffers. Unfortunately, the Governors of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa and Rivers in particular, have refused to set up such commissions to manage the 13% Derivation monies collected under the guise that every local government in these states produces oil and gas. This reason is unacceptable”, he stated categorically.

Chief Okirika, who is popularly referred to as ‘Mr. 13%’ for his unparalleled role in the agitation to achieve 13% derivation from the Federal government for oil producing communities, noted that there were 18 oil producing communities along the Atlantic Ocean, spread across two of the Niger Delta states, who produce over 630 barrels of oil per day, and these communities petitioned the Federal Government in 2012 and threatened to shut down the flow stations in their Communities, on the grounds of non-development in these areas, despite the allocation coming to the states on their behalf.

His intervention in the matter, compelled the NDDC to include some development projects for the communities in their 2013 and 2014 budgets respectively, but Chief Okirika was very firm about the need for the State and Federal Government s to do more for the communities instead of intimidating the indigenes with arrests and other forms of harassments whenever they agitated in peaceful demonstrations.

He said: “I think that it is high time that we as the leaders and the youths of this region to not only hold the Federal Government responsible, but also the State Governors responsible for the neglect and underdevelopment of our region. We need to know what is happening in our State coffers. We will no longer accept a situation where State will intimidate and harass people who they swore to protect and care for”, he warned.

pandef7Other individual contributors at the PANDEF General Assembly meeting in Asaba, included Chief Iduh Amadhe (Ajuwawa), National President of Isoko Development Union, IDU, who harped on the need for the Federal government to accelerate the composition of a negotiating team, Chief Stella Omu, who expressed her dissatisfaction with the recently conducted Police screening exercise for employment into the Nigeria Police in the region, as well as the S/South Youth leader of PANDEF, who emphasized the historical role and importance of youths in the struggle and pledged to take the message of the PANDEF meeting back to the youths in the creeks.

pandef8There was also a goodwill message to PANDEF at the Asaba meeting, from the leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, MEND, Henry Emomotimi Okah, serving term at Kokstand Prison in Kwazulu-Natal Province, South Africa, in which he said he was proud of the sterling efforts of Chief Clark and the entire PANDEF to address the root issues of and causes that led MEND to commence articulated armed agitation in 2005, even as he reiterated his commitment to the peace process and urged the militant groups to exercise patience with the present government and

Okah also drew the attention of PANDEF to a letter written by the Nigerian government to the South African Government, with regard to the recent affirmation of his conviction by the South African Supreme Court, saying: “I believe the letter was hasty and prejudicial to the ongoing Niger Delta peace process in Nigeria and equally prejudicial to my quest to appeal to the South African Constitutional Court (the equivalent of our own Supreme Court.)

“Furthermore, the letter was also prejudicial to the ongoing trials of my brother, Charles, Edmund Ebiware and others in Nigeria. These are judicial matters, which I believe, are trumped up charges. “I also wish to draw attention of PANDEF and the Federal Government the lopsided and non-inclusive nature of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, which excluded certain interest groups in the Niger Delta. “Finally, I call for unity among and between all the ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta region, for without unity, we shall have a divided house,” he noted.

Delta state governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, who accepted to host the meeting at the eleventh hour, was represented by the Delta Commissioner for Special Duties, Government House, Hon.Henry Sakpra, who gave a passionate speech, pledging the full support of the Delta State government to the efforts of Chief E.K Clark and all the respected leaders of PANDEF for their genuine and legitimate efforts to seek a peaceful resolution to the crisis in the Niger Delta region, which when achieved, would not only establish peace in the area, but indeed create a conducive environment to attract more national and foreign investors to the region and shore up the revenue of the region and the country.

pandef1The other germane issues raised in the Chief E.K Clarks’s paper were then summed up in a communiqué jointly signed by Clark and Diete Spiff and delivered at the end of the meeting of the forum.

In the communiqué, PANDEF emphasized its total commitment to dialogue as the preferred means of resolution of the crisis in the Niger Delta region and while expressing discomfort over the delay by the Federal government define its true position in the dialogue question, called on President Buhari to address the matter with the urgency it deserves and set up its team to negotiate with PANDEF.

The communiqué also stated categorically that “military operations cannot be the means to resolving the lingering issues stemming from age-old neglect and injustice in the Niger Delta region,” and while expressing dissatisfaction and concern over such military activities like ‘Operation Crocodile Smile, Operation Python Dance,’ amongst others, noted that these actions and manouvres, “can only exacerbate the agitations, human right abuses and overall insecurity in the region and calls for the immediate halt to such activities.”

PANDEF also noted in the communique that it received reports of the escalating military buildup and indiscriminate military operations in the Niger Delta region and “condemns the recent military raids in several Niger Delta communities, including the reported indiscriminate shooting, mass arrest of youths and destruction of properties of innocent villagers in Yeghe community, in Ogoni, Rivers State on the 15th November, 2016; Okosugbene fishing Camp aka 9000, Burutu local government and Sandfield II, Warri Corner in Warri South local government, both of Delta State, on the 24th of November, 2016.”

The group then called on all Niger Deltans, especially the youths, not to be provoked into taking any action that could disrupt the exiting peace, , which has helped to raise the crude oil production in Nigeria from 900bpd to the present 2.2mbpd as recently confirmed by the Minister of State Petroleum Resources, in spite of these unfortunate developments, even as it further urged the Federal Government to direct the immediate take-off of the Nigerian Maritime University Okerenkoko, Delta state, as a follow-up to its recent policy statement on the issue during the visit of PANDEF to Mr. President on the 1st of November 2016. “This will give enormous credibility and commitment to the proposed dialogue process”, the communiqué stated.

pandef4PANDEF also thanked Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, for the warm hospitality accorded its delegates from across the region and for providing a convivial atmosphere for the meeting, despite the short notice given to the governor, which was occasioned by the refusal of a particular state governor to honour their request to meet in his state, as well as the re-scheduled re-run legislative elections in Rivers state, which had obviously prevented Governor Nyesom Wike from hosting the meeting as had earlier been concluded.

The 3rd General Assembly meeting of PANDEF, held at Orchid Hotel, in Asaba, assembly was attended by about 200 delegates from the various ethnic nationalities in the region, including, top traditional rulers like HRM Charles Ayemi-Botu, Pre of seimbri kingdom and a former National Chairman of Traditional Rulers of Oil Minerals Producing Communities of Nigeria, TROMPCON, His Royal Majesty Emmanuel Sideso, the Ovie of Uvwie Kingdom in Delta State, HRM King Joshua Igbugburu, Ibenanaowei of Bomo kingdom Bayelsa state, HRM Anthony Ogbogbo of Ozoro Kingdom, Delta state, HRM Joesph Timighaan of Ogulagha kingdom, Delta state, paramount ruler of Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom state, HRM, Edidem Udo Ntuk Obom and Alabo( Prof) Dagogo Fubara, Head Chief, Dapa-Ye- Amakiri Polo, of Opobo Kingdom, Rivers State.

pandefOthers at the meeting were top academician and scholar, Prof B I C Ijomah, a former military governor of Akwa Ibom State, Air Commodore Ndogesit (retd.) Nkanga, Ambassador Godknows Igali, Col. Paul Ogbebor (retd.) from Edo state, as well as Senator Stella Omu, Senator Aniete Okon, chairman of Bayelsa State Council of Elders, Chief Francis Doukpolagha and Dr. Monday Okony (Rivers state), amongst others.

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