From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The leader of Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Edwin Clark, has disagreed with President Muhammedu Buhari’s claim that his administration has succeeded in improving upon peace in the North East and South-South, from what he inherited.
In an open letter to President Buhari, Chairman, Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, said instead security under the present administration is presently, in a state of near collapse.
Clark, while admitting that a good amount of peace has come to the Niger Delta in the past few years, said however, the President’s claim as having been the main architect that brought the peace, does not properly convey what transpired.
According to the elder statement, insecurity had gone down under Goodluck Jonathan’s administration but Buhari’s first term
witnessed the emergence of a new group, the Niger Delta Avengers, which virtually held his government hostage, oil production went down to as low as about 800,000 barrels per day.
“Your government adopted a military approach to quell the agitations, by deploying the so-called ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’ in August, 2016, which did not in any way solve the problem”, Clark said.
The elder statesman said when he tried to convene a meeting to address the issue through PANDEF, President Buhari, rather than face the situation engaged in prosecuting those from the Niger Delta region who served in Jonathan’s government, saying “I am a victim of such prosecution when my residence in Abuja was invaded on 4th September, 2018, by security men from the Tactical Squad, a Monitoring Team in the Office of the Inspector General of Police, who came in two vans, fully armed, to search my house with a Search Warrant obtained from a Magistrate Court in Abuja. The operation lasted for about two hours. I wrote to Your Excellency, through my lawyer, Dr. Kayode Ajulo, Esq. But Your Excellency never replied. Then, I was 91 years old. If this had happened to any of my contemporaries in the North, from Kano State, Katsina State, Sokoto State, Kaduna State, etc, Your Excellency’s attitude, I am sure, would have been different.”
The open letter read thus:
MY DISAGREEMENT WITH YOUR CLAIMS ON THE NIGER DELTA REGION
I hope this letter meets you well, as we have entered a New Year 2022, which is a watershed before the much-awaited year 2023, during which Nigerians expect your government will deliver credible and peaceful elections to our country.
I am writing to bring to recollection, Your Excellency’s recent statements regarding peace and security in the Niger Delta, amongst other parts of the country. Your Excellency was specifically quoted to have said that your government has succeeded in improving upon peace in the North East and South-South, from what you inherited. Your Excellency, I beg to, somewhat, disagree with you on the general state of insecurity in the country, which is presently, in a state of near collapse. Of more concern to me is your claims with respect to the Niger Delta or the South-South zone.
No doubt, a good amount of peace has come to the Niger Delta in the past few years. However, your claim as having been the main architect that brought the peace, does not properly convey what transpired. If you will recall, Your Excellency, before your government came on board, insecurity which had reduced substantially during the tenure of your predecessor, resumed in a very alarming rate. The period saw the emergence of a new group, the Niger Delta Avengers, which virtually held your government hostage, oil production went down to as low as about 800,000 barrels per day. Your government adopted a military approach to quell the agitations, by deploying the so-called ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’ in August, 2016, which did not in any way solve the problem.
I recall meeting the former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, rtd, at the Benin Airport, returning to Abuja, after he had launched the operation in Sapele, Delta State. I knew from that moment, that the operation will not succeed, as it will be the second time the Army was carrying out attack in the creeks of the Niger Delta.
In order to solve the problem in a pragmatic way, I convened a meeting of leaders and elders of the Niger Delta at the Conference Hall of the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI), Effurun, Delta State on Friday, 16th August, 2016, to seek for peaceful solutions to restore peace to the region where the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) was birthed, as the umbrella body of the Niger Delta region, comprising all leaders of the various people of the South-South geo-political zone. We arrived at peaceful methods of resolving the issues. Thereafter, we held series of meetings at my house in Abuja.
In our interactions during that period, one main complain of the people was the fear that Your Excellency’s government had adopted a cold attitude towards issues affecting the Niger Delta region, after the exit of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as President of the country, prosecuting those from the region who served in his government I am a victim of such prosecution when my residence in Abuja was invaded on 4th September, 2018, by security men from the Tactical Squad, a Monitoring Team in the Office of the Inspector General of Police, who came in two vans, fully armed, to search my house with a Search Warrant obtained from a Magistrate Court in Abuja. The operation lasted for about two hours. I wrote to Your Excellency, through my lawyer, Dr. Kayode Ajulo, Esq. But Your Excellency never replied. Then, I was 91 years old. If this had happened to any of my contemporaries in the North, from Kano State, Katsina State, Sokoto State, Kaduna State, etc, Your Excellency’s attitude, I am sure, would have been different. The reason given by the Nigeria Police Force was that it had information that a hilux van loaded with arms from the Niger Delta region, was being off-loaded into my residence.
The invasion attracted several reactions from various quarters in the country. Several persons and groups solidarised with me; some of them include former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, former Military President, Gen. Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, rtd., former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, former Governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso, a seven-man delegation from the Akwa Ibom State Government which comprised serving and past members of National Assembly and other dignitaries.
The Ijaw youths reacted in Port Harcourt, Yenagoa and Warri, demonstrated and protested the invasion. Their action, was instrumental to my quick acceptance of the apology tendered by the Inspector General of Police (IGP), through a delegation he sent to me led by Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Habila Joshak. Others were two Assistant Inspectors General of Police (AIG), and one Commissioner of Police.
Also, apart from the persecutions, there were also grave concerns about marginalisations and abandonment of ongoing projects in the region. Arising from these, the PANDEF, developed a 16-Point Agenda, to ensure inclusiveness of the region in the programmes and activities of your government. We also began to engage various agencies of the Federal Government.
Ultimately, on 1st November, 2016, the leadership of the people of the Niger Delta led by me, paid you a visit at the Presidential Villa. The visit was facilitated by the then Minister of State, Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachichukwu, included all the federal leaders, high office holders, key traditional leaders, religious, women and youth leaders. Just for the records, I reproduce here, the 16-Point Agenda, presented to Your Excellency:
1. PRESIDENTIAL AMNESTY PROGRAMME
2. LAW AND JUSTICE ISSUES
3. THE EFFECT OF INCREASED MILITARY PRESENCE IN THE NIGER DELTA
4. PLIGHT OF INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS
5. THE OGONI CLEAN-UP AND ENVIRONMENTAL REMEDIATION
6. THE MARITIME UNIVERSITY ISSUE
7. KEY REGIONAL CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE
8. SECURITY SURVEILLANCE AND PROTECTION OF OIL AND GAS INFRASTRUCTURE
9. RELOCATION OF ADMINISTRATIVE AND OPERATIONAL HEADQUARTERS OF IOCS
10. POWER SUPPLY
11. ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND EMPOWERMENT
12. INCLUSIVE PARTICIPATION IN OIL & GAS INDUSTRY AND OWNERSHIP OF OIL BLOCKS.
13. RESTRUCTURING AND FUNDING OF NIGER DELTA DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION
14. STRENGTHENING THE NIGER DELTA MINISTRY
15. THE BAKASSI QUESTION
16. FISCAL FEDERALISM
Similar to our visit to Your Excellency, the Niger Delta people, under my leadership, also visited the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, as Acting President, on 3rd August, 2017, on his invitation, to discuss issues of the region.
Arising from the discussions we had with the Vice President, we called a general meeting in Port Harcourt to brief members on the outcome of the meeting, and to hold further discussions, to be held at the Atlantic Hall of the Hotel Presidential. Surprisingly, to our dismay, security forces made up of officials of the Department of State Security (DSS) and the Nigeria Police Force, stormed the venue of the proposed meeting, cordoning it off, as early as 6am, thus preventing members of the organization, PANDEF, from holding the meeting. I immediately contacted the Director of Operations of the DSS, who informed me that there is nothing they can do, because the order is from above. The meeting was aborted, and over 400 members of the organization from all over the region, who were to attend the meeting had to return to their homes. Till date, we have not been told our offence.
At both meetings with you and the Vice President referred to above, we were reassured that serious and prompt actions will be taken to address our concerns, which you yourself agreed with us, are genuine, mentioning the sacrifices which we continue to make and the sufferings we continue to bear as the goose that lays the golden egg in this country. As a follow up to our visit, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, as Acting President, undertook a tour of the Niger Delta region, to see things for himself.
Unfortunately, sadly and disappointedly, the promises Your Excellency and the Vice President, as Acting President, made, are far from being looked into, not to talk about considering and executing them. For example, the East-West Road project, the major road connecting the region with other regions, remains uncompleted, nearly 20 years since commencement, despite the fact that a substantial portion of the revenue of the country’s earnings, which finances the nation’s budget running into trillions of naira, is derived from this region.
Today, another environmental pollution is threatening the life span of the people of the region, and that is the sooth, said to emit from the activities of illegal refineries. This is what could have been avoided if the Federal Government’s continuous promises of building modular refineries did not remain a mirage, a pipe dream, an empty promise. At the different State capitals and towns, Prof. Osinbajo visited during his tour, he promised that modular refineries will be built to replace the local refining the people are doing. While one is not in support of these youths, but they have to survive, since nothing has been done, almost after five years, the youths have to survive and so continued with the artisanal refining despite its health hazard to them and others.
Related to the above failed promise, is also the failed promise of relocation of the operational headquarters of the oil companies to the Niger Delta.
Yet again, is the failed or lackadaisical attitude of the Federal Government at the snail pace with no substantial work done concerning the Ogoni clean-up. What about the oil pollutions, which still take place every day, and is being poorly regulated? The recent case of oil spillage at the Santa Barbara in Nembe, Bayelsa State, which went on without been stopped for 38 days, with more than 100,000 (one hundred thousand) barrels of crude released into the environment is still fresh in our memories.
Since the other issues raised are already listed above, I need not take them one by one. But they are all self-evident that the people of the Niger Delta region are being treated very badly and shabbily.
Let me raise another issue, which is still very current, and that is the question of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA). Before the Niger Delta crisis in the early 2000, we had warned the government to stop the outright neglect of the environment and the damage it is causing our eco-system with the reckless operational activities of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), and the oil companies. These warnings were not heeded to, until crisis erupted and all manners of agitations surfaced.
Recently, both the Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbanjo, the Governor of Delta State, represented by his Deputy, Barr. Kingsley Otuaro who also hails from one of the oil producing host communities, the Minister of State, Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva, made statements about plans for intervention in reply to concerns of our youths about marginalisations, while recently protesting against the neglect and oil pollution in their area, where there is no development, particularly drinking water, whereas they sit on top of the water. Fishes are being killed as a result of the pollution.
Mr. President, may I make it very clear to you that the area is sitting on a keg of gunpowder, and any attempt to scrap the amnesty program may produce unpleasant consequences to all.
Our people are very conscious of the developments that your government is carrying out in other areas of the country with monies derived from oil exploration in their area.
We repeat, our agitation against the use of money looted from our area by the late Gen. Sani Abacha, which was recovered from the United States of America, exclusively for the construction of the so-called mega projects by the Federal Government, and the illegal confiscation of 2.4 million pounds from the British government as loot recovered from the former Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, under the flimsy excuse by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN, that it was the Federal Government, which as a nation, negotiated with the British government. And that it was an agreement between the two governments that the money should be used for federal projects. This is not true.
Meanwhile, federal roads in the Niger Delta region have mostly collapsed and applying these funds to rehabilitate these collapsed roads, would have gone a long way to solve some of our problems.
Please Mr. President, I respectfully wish to state that your claim of bringing peace to the South-South geo-political zone, is untenable, untrue and without foundation. The deliberate neglect of the South-South, can lead to the explosion of the keg of gunpowder upon which we are sitting in the Niger Delta.
I will soon be 95 years old, and I am on my way out. God may soon give me my delayed boarding pass, but the coastal Niger Delta will remain forever as part of Nigeria.
I strongly advise you to listen and heed to the various open letters I have written to you.
Long live the Niger Delta Region
Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria