‘Youths are agitated by military presence’
By JULIANA TAIWO-OBALONYE
About a hundred stakeholders comprising leaders of the Niger Delta, governors, their predecessors, youth leaders, members of the civil society, ministers and heads of security agencies met with President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House, Abuja, on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. The day was later described by Chief Edwin Clark as “a remarkable day”.
The meeting could best be described as fence-mending, part of measures to bring an end to the militancy in the region and increase oil production amid the nation’s dwindling resources .
The stakeholders, on the platform of the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, emerged from the buses that conveyed them to the forecourt of the Villa with smiles.
The attitude inside the Council Chambers, venue of the meeting, was convivial at the beginning of the meeting but in the end most of them came out frowning, with some even refusing to join the picture session with the President.
Before the journalists were excluded from the meeting shortly before the President’s arrival, there was a bit of drama, from those who did not like where they were sitting to political enemies pretending to be friends. For some, it didn’t matter if you were a traditional ruler, or an elder, or even a governor, as far as the meeting was concerned, they were all equal.
It was, therefore, not surprising when one governor was verbally attacked by his people while granting an interview to journalists shortly after the photo session with the President.
One of the men told him, “You are the governor of all. Why would you speak like that at the meeting? That was not fair at all.” Though the governor ignored him and continued with the interview, he was later seen walking to the Coaster bus that was about conveying them out of the Villa, trying to explain his position and appealing for understanding.
At the end of the meeting, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, Mr. Ibe Kachikwu, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, who brokered the meeting, Mr. Usani Uguru, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, the Amanyanabo of Twon Brass, Bayelsa State, King Alfred Diete-Spiff, Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark, and retired Justice Francis Tabai spoke to journalists about the outcome.
Kachikwu described the meeting as a “fairly civilised dialogue,” “frank conversation,” “a beginning of a process” during which there was exchange of ideas with which stakeholders can go back and begin further negotiation
According to him, the President was very happy the meeting took place. “He was very quick to point out that he did not want a quick solution, he needed to go to the roots of why this problem has persisted through all the various governments,” the minister said.
Kachikwu, who disclosed that the engagements with the stakeholders would now be quarterly, said the fact that crude oil production has risen to as high as 2.1 million barrels per day was largely as a result of preliminary negotiations and scaling down of hostilities by militants in the Niger Delta.
“The reality is that as of today and this morning, we are at 2.1 million barrels production. That’s substantial. That would not have happened without efforts that went behind through the royal fathers and leaders, through the militant leaders. A lot of behind-the-scene engagements had taken place and will continue to take place.
“If you look at Seven Big Wins that we set up (penultimate week), part of the expectations by 2017 is to target a zero shutdown as a result of militancy. What that means is that it is going to be an ongoing engagement. It will never finish. The Ministry of Petroleum is continuing a quarterly meeting involving the oil companies who were fairly beaten up a little bit today and the governors and the stakeholders, which will happen once every three months. The first one is going to happen in Uyo in December and we are going to rotate that between the states so that we will have a platform irrespective of the negotiation that is going on, to deal with the issues and continue”.
The 16 demands
The stakeholders, led by Chief Edwin Clark and King Alfred Diete-Spiff, presented a 16-point demand that included a request for Niger Delta indigenes to be allotted lucrative oil bloccks so as to grant them inclusive participation in oil the industry, halt to militarisation of the region, review of the Amnesty Programme, proper funding of the Niger Delta Development Commission, stopping gas flaring, returning oil companies’ headquarters to the region in order to stop the denial of all the developmental and associated benefits that would have accrued to the region from their presence.
Other demands were the approval of Maritime University, strengthening the Niger Delta Ministry, resuscitation of key regional infrastructures, the resettlement of Bakassi indigenes as they are under threat of being stateless, the introduction of fiscal federalism, economic development and empowerment of Niger Delta people, improvement of power supply, security surveillance and protection of oil and gas infrastructure, meeting the immediate needs of the Internally Displaced Persons, reducing the effects of increased military presence in the Niger Delta and the Ogoni clean-up and environmental remediation.
Spiff, who presented the demands on behalf of the stakeholders, stated that with the 16 points “quick wins can be achieved and can restore hope and confidence in a region that has grown sceptical of dialogue and engagements that have hardly produced tangible results”.
Why key militants were absent
According to Clark, “The meeting was arranged by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and we accepted it. And I will say that it was when he approached us that he had been discussing with the President about a way forward. We also accepted and agreed that we should meet. There were many factions. Some had their own built-up base, hotels and so on. But it was agreed that we should meet to galvanise, collapse all the agitations, all the interest groups into one and this is what we did. So, we formed a central body known as Pan-Niger Delta Forum with me as the leader and HRM Diete-Spiff, former governor of old Rivers State and former governor of Akwa Ibom, Obong Victor Attah, as co-chairmen of the Central Working Committee.
“Mr. President received us very well. There were many of you, particularly the press, who tried to give a wrong impression that all was not well between the federal government and the Niger Delta people. So, I am not surprised that you are asking how did the meeting go. It went on very well and all groups were represented. We discussed and presented a paper which was presented by HRM, Alfred Diete-Spiff and Mr. President said he has noted everything that was there and that he would see that it is studied and that is what we have been looking for. That it is the disconnect that makes the government not to know what we are doing.
“It was clear that dialogue was key. The President will now set the ball rolling with the Minister assisting him. We have 16 points. We mentioned them in our address. Then we will appoint a very capable team of experts to negotiate on our behalf.
“But let me say this, you mentioned the Niger Delta Avengers. They were not supposed to be here. They gave us authority as their fathers to negotiate on their behalf on the 19th of August when we met at the PTI, Warri. There is no doubt many groups will spring up. One man will be in his room and say we are 20 and you will publish it. But we will continue to appeal to them. We have no other country but Nigeria. We cannot continue to destroy the assets of this country and at the same time destroy the ecosystem of our own region. So, we are appealing to the youth and they are listening.
“One thing that gladdens our minds today when the Minister was addressing the audience, he mentioned that the issue of Maritime University has been settled. We now have it, first goodwill from the government and we have a duty to react.”
Throwing more light on their demands, Spiff said, “The 16 points raised include, “Relocation of the oil companies. One of those things that we pointed out is that these IOCs have their headquarters somewhere in Lekki or Abuja. Even their operational headquarters are not in their area of operation. So, they are very divorced from the whole activity. This is not right because even the pay as you earn tax is not coming to the region. The workers, nobody is engaged locally there. They just come and harvest and go away. In fact, one of the French companies, there fly in people from abroad and the next crew goes on board the next flight going out. It’s as serious as that. Since it’s a federal government-controlled thing, we cannot do very much, so we have to appeal to government to see that this thing is stopped.
“The presence of the military, of course, you know has been agitating the boys. That too we said should be reversed. We don’t want to see the place militarised.
“Then you have the university issue, which has been resolved. Oron has been there in the last 18 years, it’s going to be made a degree awarding institution. You also have situations where most of our ports, the estuaries are silted. You know Koko, for instance, ships can’t get in there. Escravoes has been silted. You have Burutu, Warri, and all those ports. So, they need to be dredged and kept passable.
We also have situations where the youths who have dropped their arms and demilitarised are now being sent on training and they come back and they have no jobs. What are you pushing them to? To use their new skills and go back to the creeks? No. So, the engagement is to make sure that they either form cooperatives to do farming or fishing or something gainful. We really need to engage the youths who have been trained by the amnesty programme.
“And, water supply is very essential because the United Nations Environment Programme has declared that the water is unfit for human consumption. So, all these are things add up to what makes the people of the Niger Delta. Although they laugh and act and smile, beneath that they are wearing a frown. So, that is the situation. They are really feeling cheated and shortchanged. The federal government should bring out a team to go there, have a look see, confirm all that we are saying and see that things are addressed. And they are minor issues that can be done just by the pen of the President.
“The minister has got to help in pushing this process. This is why we are here. He has done that much, to see that this has come to pass”.
President Buhari, in a statement released after the meeting by the Presidency, said that peace was critical to the development in the Niger Delta. He called for a collective approach in solving the issue of militancy in the region.
According to him, it was imperative for the leaders to unite and seek ways of ending militancy and the sabotage of oil infrastructure in the zone.
He, however, stated that anyone who had another country apart from Nigeria was free to leave the country.
He expressed the determination of his administration to stay focused on its key campaign promises of securing the country, fighting corruption and creating jobs through the improvement of the economy.
Buhari, according to the statement by Garba Shehu, presidential spokesman, said, “If we give peace a chance, investors will come here to invest. Nobody will invest in an insecure environment.
“We are determined to make life comfortable and affordable to all Nigerians. If anybody has a country to go to, let him go, we will stay here and salvage our country.”
The President, who welcomed the 16-point request presented for negotiation by the Niger Delta leaders, said he was still expecting reports from officials he had instructed to review the implementation of the Amnesty Programme to determine where government fell short so that amends can be made
He also said the service chiefs were putting together their own assessment of the militancy, saying “when I have these reports, including this one (just presented), we will revisit the situation (in the region) to ensure that we succeed this time.”
He however cautioned the leaders of the Delta that they had more to do than anyone else to bring peace to the region, given the influence they have on militant groups.
“Please Your Excellencies, Your Majesties, Distinguished ladies and gentlemen; we all have our individual constituencies.
Let us try to pacify our constituencies. Let us first recover our country, secure the country and let us invite people who will invest. Let us create jobs for our people and let us be accountable to our people where we are sitting on treasuries, whether it is local government, state or the center.
We should ensure that we rebuild this country. Nobody wants to fail. So, the only way out is, if people understand and believe that we are doing our best at all levels, then we will have some peace. But it they have reason to doubt our performance and sincerity, then we will have problem”, he said.
We are not satisfied –National President, Ijaw Youth Congress, IYC, Udengs Eradiri
I won’t tell you a lie. We are not satisfied. Personally, I am not satisfied because there were no specifics to say these are the steps that we are going to take. But as the president said, he’s going to study the report that was presented and so, let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that when he comes back with government position, they will be things to pick out from. The presentation was done properly by our people. All the issues were captured and like I said let us hope.
The discontent you see in the face of those who came out is the same discontent you see on my face. But like I said, let’s keep our fingers crossed believing that when the president studies the report, he will come back to us.