By Tony Iwuoma
Chairman, Niger Delta Nationalities Forum in Lagos, Mr. Seigha Manager has lauded the Federal Government’s decision to dialogue with leaders of Niger Delta region to find solution to the crisis in the region, describing it as the best option for the country.
In this interview with the Daily Sun, he takes a look at the recent dialogue, the issues that have always led to militancy in the region and what the president should do to bring about lasting peace to the region among others.
President Muhammadu Buhari recently dialogued with the Niger Delta leaders with a view to finding a lasting solution to the re-emergence of militancy in the region. What is your take on the president’s recent move to embrace dialogue as against the earlier anticipated military option?
The dialogue is extremely necessary and even overdue. President Buhari is right in dialoguing with the leaders but for not doing this since 2015, I feel very strongly that he is overwhelmed by the undue pressure and misinformation from either his party or overzealous folks, otherwise as a former head of state, he should be the most qualified, most guided and most experienced leader to handle the Niger Delta crisis with utmost care. There is no doubt that crisis in the Niger Delta, no matter how minute it may be, will negatively affect the nation’s economy. It is unlike the Boko Haram activities, which affect mainly the northeast and largely the people of northern Nigeria. The president is today doing what he should have been done since last year; just like what Obasanjo did in 1999 as well as Yar’Adua in 2007. In any case, it is better late than never.
In your opinion, what are the expectations of the Niger Delta people from the president?
The people of Niger Delta require from Mr. President due respect as stakeholders in Nigeria without discrimination. We refuse to accept the second-class citizenship status, which others try to bestow on us. That attitude is visible everywhere from the attitude of the major tribes. They do to us what they would not accept from others. They parade their languages, as if we don’t have ours. Instead of appreciating and respecting us our contributions to nation building, they rather castigate us as restive, wasteful, overbearing and, sometimes, not significant in national inputs. This is why, sometimes, when our youths blow up pipelines, some of the leaders don’t care or buckle. If we are not more important than others, we are certainly as important as others.
You said your people are treated as second-class citizens in a country where they are, unarguably, the goose that lays the golden egg. Can you give, at least, one or two instances to support your allegation?
Yes, one major example is the allocation of oil blocs and wells to Nigerians without recourse to the Niger Delta people. The richest woman in Nigeria cum Africa is from the southwest and her source of wealth is oil. The richest man in Nigeria cum Africa is from the northwest and his wealth is largely tied to oil exploit. The second richest man in Nigeria and fifth in Africa is from the northeast and he is simply an oil magnate. Again, the third richest man in Nigeria and eighth in Africa is still from the northeast and he is also another oil magnate. Oil bloc allocation is the prerogative of the president of Nigeria at any point in time and when he allocates, until law changes such allocation, it remains so. We are grateful to the late General Sani Abacha, who created Bayelsa State and allocated oil blocs to three deserving Nigerian citizens from the Southeast, Northeast and South-south (Niger Delta). These three oil blocs are OPL 244, OPL 245 and OPL 246. OPL 245 was allocated to a Niger Delta citizen and the only one I know to be so. While the other two have enjoyed peace and tranquility in the hands of their owners; that of the Niger Delta citizen, OPL 245, is akin to a bird standing on a tiny rope. Neither the bird nor the rope has seen peace till date. It is the only oil bloc that every passing regime has poked into simply because the allottee is a Niger Deltan. It is the only oil bloc that has been allocated, cancelled, later returned to the allottee and then is under probe at any given time. All of this is happening because the allottee is from the Niger Delta, yet the owner does not fall in the bracket of rich persons in Nigeria, not to talk of Africa. There are other issues like that.
Recall that Senator Ita Enang once stated on the floor of the Senate how about 85 per cent of oil blocs were allocated to northerners and others to the exclusion of Niger Deltans. He had said: “I am not aware if that situation has changed. Yet, it is the only oil bloc allocated to a Niger Deltan that has become a source of dispute and sought after by others. That is the height of injustice against the Niger Delta people. This is not only wicked but also evil and shameful. President Buhari as a man of integrity must intervene in this matter.”
The fact that a Niger Deltan is involved and for once in the allocation of oil bloc, should have been enough reason for all the people who have interest in the same oil bloc to desist but because we are looked upon as second-class citizens, they are all angling for that singular oil bloc. Even when these oil blocs are domiciled in our backyard where the oil exploration and exploitation activities affect our people, other Nigerians do not think we deserve to own anything relating to oil in the Niger Delta. These are the things that bring restiveness to the Niger Delta. Therefore, I am appealing to Mr. President and even the national assembly members, whom we know that as at today, have constituted committees again and again to probe this particular oil bloc, to please sympathize with us in the Niger Delta and allow us to have some peace. Let the Niger Deltan who owns the oil bloc own it for good, while the president looks into other issues. But, in all of this, we are watching the role of our legislators.
So, what should the president do to solve the militancy problem in the Niger Delta?
The president should look into the issue of amnesty programme and give it everything he can. He should bring in more restive youths into it and pay them their stipend as and when due. Although we talk of the infrastructural development and all sorts of development in Niger Delta, the one that is immediate and can affect the lives of the youth is the amnesty, which is the only successful interventionist programme in Niger Delta. The president should ensure that they are not only trained but also counseled at the end of the amnesty programme to be able to fit into the civil society.
As for other interventionist agencies like the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Niger Delta Ministry, the president should make up his mind either to fund them properly or scrap them completely. If he is unable for whatever reason to fund the agencies properly, he should scrap them rather than create the impression that there are so many interventionist agencies in the region and that the government has done so much for them even when they are not properly funded.