From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Can the All Progressive Congress (APC) make a substantial inroad in the Niger Delta region to contribute significantly to the electoral fortunes of the party in the battle for the 2023 Presidential elections? This is a question APC leaders would readily answer in the affirmative but current realities suggest that the party would need to do more to build on the tangible gains recorded in the 2019 Presidential election to boost its chances ahead of the presidential election.
By political tradition since the return to democracy in 1999, the Niger Delta region has been a voting bloc for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Awka- Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers states have been in the grip of the party. This however changed in 2008 when the Judiciary handed Edo State to the Labour Party with then Adams Oshiomhole as governor.
Since then, the fortunes of PDP had suffered political fluctuations giving room for the opposition to reap from the misfortunes of the PDP. From getting more than the required 25 percent only in Edo State in the 2015 Presidential election, the APC took its tally to three states in the 2019 election getting more than the required 25 percent in three states. In Edo, it polled 47.17 percent of the votes, Bayelsa, 36.93 percent and Akwa- Ibom, 3o percent. It even won Senatorial and House of Representatives seats in Edo, Delta and Bayelsa states.
Ahead of the 2023 elections, the APC would need to boost its chances by putting its house in order and also convince the people of the region that it has good plans for them. Speaking on the chances of the party in the South- South region, the National Vice- Chairman, Chief Victor Gaidom speaking after a trouble-shooting mission in Bayelsa to close the ranks of party members, expressed optimism about the victory of the party in 2023. “We have very strong chances to win in the South- South” Giadom said after a meeting with stakeholders in Bayelsa State.
South- South leaders of the party in a meeting shortly after the emergence of Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the presidential candidate have also declared that they would do everything legitimate to ensure the party wins the presidential election in 2023.
“The party is determined and will do whatever it takes to ensure that Asiwaju successfully takes over from President Muhammadu Buhari after the 2023 general election,” South-South stakeholders stated in a communiqué.
Findings indicated that the multi- billion naira pipeline contracts awarded to ex-militant leaders, Government Ekpemupolo aka Tompolo, Chief Kojo Sam and three other companies with vested interests of Niger Deltans was one of the ways the APC led Federal Government has quietly made inroads in the Niger Delta region. The contract has excited influential Niger Delta youths such that they are rooting for the APC government.
At a meeting convened by Tompolo in Oporoza, a youth leader who attended the meeting said the body language of the ex-militant indicated that he is in for the APC government. It was gathered that Tompolo’s point man in Bayelsa, Chief Joshua Maciver who had left the APC back to the PDP is now back to the APC. He was among prominent stakeholders recognised at the last Bayelsa APC stakeholders meeting.
The gains made by the APC with the pipeline surveillance contract notwithstanding, such gains are being eroded with the handling of the plans to shut down the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP). The PAP which was established by the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua in 2009 has the backing of top commanders of the now defunct Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and several other militant leaders who surrendered their arms and embraced amnesty. The programme has contributed considerably to the stability of the Niger Delta region. However, recent steps being taken to shut down the programme by the end of the year would injure the political aspirations of the APC in the Niger Delta region.
Checks indicated that in September, some stakeholders and ex-militant leaders led by Chief Pere Agbeinfa held a strategic meeting with Tinubu where it was decided that if elected, Tinubu would continue with the programme in exchange for support.
“As a visionary, Asiwaju Tinubu has also pledged not to terminate the Presidential Amnesty Programme that have benefitted millions of Niger Delta families and have maintained the peace in the region for the smooth exploration of oil and gas from the region. Tinubu promised to work with the ex-militant leaders and well meaning Nigerians for the sustained funding of such a strategic programme” Agbeinfa said on the outcome of the meeting.
But going by recent development, support for a Tinubu presidency among beneficiaries of the amnesty programme is about to evaporate. About 3,548 beneficiaries from top ex- commanders of MEND including Tompolo, Victor Ben Ebikabowei and King Ateke Tom were affected. Also pencilled down to have their names removed from the programme are beneficiaries from Eris Paul (aka Ogunboss) and Pastor Rueben. Incidentally, Pastor Rueben is the South- South coordinator of Asiwaju Support Group and he has been traversing the South- South region drumming support for Tinubu.
On the implication of shutting down the programme, Agbeinfa did not mince words, “The hasty scrapping of the programme has several security implications and disruption of economic activities. The closure of the programme will lead to an unimaginable crisis that may lead to the disruption of the coming 2023 general elections,” he said.
Another stakeholder, Chief Maxwell Ayamabele stated that scrapping the programme which benefits millions of families in the Niger Delta region is bad news for the APC led government.
“Ndiomu should not allow himself to be used by the Fulani- Kanuri oligarchy against his own people to perform an impossible dead –on-arrival plan. All Ex-militant and stakeholders across the region will use every means necessary to resist the Presidency’s plan during the remaining few months of the administration”
The failure of the APC led government to constitute a substantive board for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has portrayed it as a party not really interested in the development of the region. This may cost it dearly in the 2023 elections.
Constant shift of the goal post on the composition of the board and use of musical chairs for the leadership change in the Commission has attracted rebuke from stakeholders who see the APC led government as being insensitive to the plight of the people.
In a speech to mark the Isaac Boro Day celebration, the spokesman of the Ijaw Youth Council( IYC), Mr Ebilade Erekefe declared that the youths of the region would not support candidates that do not prioritise the interest of the region.
“We will not be cowed and will not stop reminding President Muhammadu Buhari, his anti- Niger Delta collaborators, that the region remained unshaken by our resolve for restructuring, true federalism, immediate establishment of the NDDC board. We will not support any presidential candidate who will not prioritise the issues of Niger Delta region nor vote for those candidates from South- South in the current administration who have colluded with the government to under-develop our region.”
The Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG) led by Asu Beks has warned that the people would not allow the APC campaign in the Niger Delta region if the NDDC board is not inaugurated.
“We will stone any campaign train of that ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) that is coming to the Niger Delta. So, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the party, should arrange a meeting with the Minister of Petroleum and other Niger Delta stakeholders to dialogue with President Muhammadu Buhari and make sure that this issue is resolved immediately, otherwise, we will stone any campaign train coming to the Niger Delta region” he declared.
The Niger Delta Rescue Movement (NDRM) in a statement by its coordinator, Jonathan Okwa threatened that it would mobilise the people against the APC in 2023 if the NDDC Board is not inaugurated.
“We shall not back the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2023 elections following the delay to inaugurate a substantive board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Following the prolonged delay of President Buhari to give the Niger Delta people what is rightfully theirs, in accordance with the law, the NDDC Act, the group would ensure the mobilisation of the people of Niger Delta region to vote against the APC in the 2023 presidential and general elections if the board is not inaugurated,” Okwa stated.
Similarly, a group of Concerned APC members in a letter to the new Minister of Niger Delta, Chief Umana Umana has warned that the delay in the inauguration of the NDDC will jeopardise the chances of the APC in the 2023 elections.
The letter signed by Ebibomo Akpoebide, Menegbo Nwinuamene, and Itam Edem indicated that the voting population are not happy with the APC-led government.
“The deliberate acts of subterfuge in NDDC are antithetical in advancing the interests of the people of our region, not to talk of the damage the delay in the inauguration of the commission’s substantive board has done to the Federal Government, President Buhari’s reputation and the All Progressives Congress (APC) among the people, especially the voting population”.
In the final analysis, how the APC-led Federal Government decides the fate of the amnesty programme and address the delay in the inauguration of the board of the NDDC will go a long way to seal its fate in the 2023 elections in the Niger Delta region.