Tongues were, again, set wagging last Monday after the convener of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief Edwin Clark, at a press conference in Abuja, gave the Federal Government till November 1, 2017 to show more commitment to the implementation of the 16-point demands. Although the ultimatum had been withdrawn during the week, EBENEZER ADUROKIYA and AUSTIN EBIPADE examine what informed the threat, how realistic the demands are, implications of resumption hostilities in the Niger Delta and the general mood stakeholders in the region.
LEADERS of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), led by elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark, on Thursday night, met with the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo at the Aso Rock Villa, over the uneasy calm pervading the Niger Delta as a result of the delay in the implementation of the 16-point demand forwarded to the Presidency on November 1, 2016 in Abuja.
Clark had, last weekend of July, alerted the Federal Government and, indeed, the world to possibility of militants returning to the trenches, given the avalanche of anonymous messages he and other leaders of the group had received from militants, who, he said, were poising for a showdown to press home their demands.
Clark, on behalf of PANDEF at the press conference in Abuja, gave the Federal Goverment November 1,2017 deadline to accede to the demands or the body would hands off further pacification of the agitators who had also issued a number of threats in the media to resume hostilities on critical oil and gas facilities in the region.
Respite, however, came as news filtered in, after the closed-door meeting Osinbajo held with PANDEF leaders, that the November 1 ultimatum given the FG had been put on hold. Details of the meeting and what government had promised to do in the shortest possible time were not made public as of the time of filing this report.
But with the precarious and fragile state of the region, nay the entire country, the question on the lips of observers and stakeholders from the region is whether PANDEF’s declaration of ceasefire on Thursday will stand the test of time to assuage the militants who, apparently have become impatient.
When Osinbajo visited the Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State on January 16, 2016, on a fact-finding mission, he promised the people, who listened with rapt attention, that most of the issues contained in the 16-point demands would be attended to. Impressed by what he saw, he gave his word that academic activities for 2017/2018 session would resume at the controversial Maritime University, Okerenkoko. He also gave a nod to the idea of establishing modular refineries and a pronouncement that oil multinationals should relocate their headquarters to the region. His assurances were soothing, reassuring and a balm on the frayed nerves of the people of the region.
Osinbajo had said: “The Niger Delta that we see today is an area of poor infrastructure, few schools and hospitals and severe pollution.
“The Niger Delta of today is one of daily pipeline vandalism. In 2014 alone, there were over 3,700 incidents of pipeline vandalism; from January to June 2016, there were over 1,447 incidents of pipeline vandalism, and between 1998 and 2015, over 20,000 persons have died from fire incidents arising from vandalism of pipelines.
“My message to you today is that it is time to prepare for the future; our future is not a future of environmental degradation; it’s not a future of poor infrastructure; it’s not a future of no roads; not a future of harassment and locking up; our future is a future of progress and of development.
“There’s no time because the future is already here, the future is not more than today and to prepare for a great and promising future.”
The professor also made similar remarks when he visited other states of the Niger Delta, including Benin City, the Edo State capital, where his emotional strength was tested by rampaging Ijaw youths at a town hall meeting.
The people of the area said it was sad that eight months after the promises were made, most of the demands remain at the realm of wishful thinking while lull and inaction envelop the region.
Eight months after, a visit to the Maritime University at Okerenkoko Eight showed that only menial work was ongoing at the site and this was being handled by the natives. Yet, academic activities are expected to commence October 2017.
The proposed modular refineries, the Ogoni clean-up kicked off almost two years ago and other aspects contained in the 16-point demands are still waiting for the presidency’s attention or going to be trashed, as some critics have alleged.
It, therefore, appears to youths of the region that perhaps, the only language the Federal Government always appears to understand is that of threats of violence from aggrieved Nigerians before embarking on the needful.
What are the PANDEF 16-point demands?
It will be recalled that on November 1, 2016, a delegation of eminent leaders from PANDEF led by Clark, visited President Muhammadu Buhari in Aso Rock and submitted a document containing the 16-point demands to lay to rest the age-long Niger Delta question. The demands were carefully sorted from the pool of demands from several aggrieved militant groups in the region which had held the oil economy of the nation by the jugular in the wake of the resumption of hostilities and attacks on oil and gas assets in the region in the better part of 2016.
Three months after the presentation of the demands to the presidency, uneasy calm and uncertainties pervaded the region once again as the militants began to express lack of sincerity on the part of the FG to bring to fruition the demands.
Top on the 16-point demand included reinstatement of the Maritime University, Okerenkoko, relocation of headquarters of all International and Indigenous Oil Companies to the region to foster speedy infrastructural and economic development latest October 1, 2017, commencement of the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) project comprising the Gas City Project at Ogidigben and the Deep Seaport Dockyard and Shipyard in Gbaramatu, completion of the East – West road and upward review of derivation fund.
Others include a comprehensive programme for the surveillance of oil pipelines and facilities to be handled by youths of each community in oil producing areas of the region and the resolution of the age long refugees crisis of the Bakassi Peninsula by setting up a federal government resettlement and equitable implementation of Green Tree Agreement signed by Nigeria and Cameroon as well as the actual commencement of the Ogoni clean-up.
Efforts to make FG act futile
Several reminders were forwarded to the Federal Government after the November 1,2016 submission of the 16-point demands. The Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC) and other human rights organisations as well as the leadership of PANDEF made several press releases and held many conferences to alert the Federal Government to the need to set up a team as promised to begin negotiations with stakeholders from the region. PANDEF in June, after condemning the quit notice issued by a coalition of Arewa Youths issued to Igbo living in the North, still reminded the presidency of the need to commence the implementation of the demands before things got out of hands.
What prompted PANDEF’s 90-day ultimatum
The threat issued by the Ijaw national leader, Chief Clark, on behalf of PANDEF, allegedly emerged from a barrage of text messages and emails the elder statesman claimed he received from several militant groups and youth agitators over what they called “loss of confidence” in the leadership of the group and the need to return to the trenches since the Federal Government appears obstinate and unready to meet the demands.
Corroborating the fears of the militants, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, the Benemowei of Gbaramatu kingdom and acting secretary of the Traditional Council, told the Sunday Tribune that not a single item out of the 16-point demand had had been met by the FG since November. Gbenekama said all the people of the region had been treated to is mere media hype of promises not met. According to him, no work is going on at the Maritime University, Okerenkoko, except the ones being carried out by the people and yet the Federal Government had boasted that 2017/2018 academic session would commence October. He regretted that the Ogoni clean-up has not commenced, the lingering Bakassi IDPs crisis that is receiving unimpressive attention and other seemingly dashed hopes.
Clark recounts threat messages
Fed up with the delay, the militants were said to have inundated Clark and former military governor of old Rivers State, King Alfred Diete-Spiff, and former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, to put on hold all engagements on the region’s peace process with the Federal Government, adding that they had lost confidence in PANDEF.
As reported in a national daily last Sunday, the aggrieved militants and youths in the region told the leaders of the group to take a leave while they resume hostilities against oil installations.
Clark was specifically reported to have disclosed that: “I do not know who gave them (militants) my telephone numbers and email. I receive calls and messages every day that they are tired, that they gave us 60-day window to discuss with the Federal Government, now almost a year after, they are tired.
“My telephones are filled up with text messages and threats. The last PANDEF meeting we held in Yenagoa, they sent me a message that they learned that we were having a meeting and that I should know they had lost confidence in us.
“They said some youths would be having a meeting in Port Harcourt and they would identify with the youth and publish it in the newspaper, warning that they had lost confidence in us.
“They mentioned me particularly and King Diete Spiff and Victor Attah, that we allowed ourselves to be used by these people, that they will not listen to us and that they will take their destiny in their own hands. So, they have been threatening, saying that they are tired of waiting.”
Clark, according to the report, added that the militants claimed that himself and other PANDEF leaders had been compromised, blaming themselves for handing over their mandate to the group.
In an electronic mail allegedly sent to Chief Clark by Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders (NDRC), the group was quoted as claiming that, “we honestly advise our eminent royal fathers and distinguished personalities in PANDEF to stop all engagements on behalf of the people and resources of the Niger Delta.
“Though we appreciate their sacrifice and service over the years, they have not been able to unshackle our people from the chain of slavery.
“We acknowledge the sacrifice of Chief E.K. Clark at 90 as well as the sacrifice of HRM Alfred Diete Spiff, His Excellency Victor Attah and all distinguished personalities of the PANDEF.
“But we want to state that slave masters do not and would never understand the language of platitude. We suspect collusion between them and the slave masters to further their personal interests.”
Recent developments as motivating factor?
If anything, the recent developments in some parts of the country might have woken up the sleeping dog. Resource control, subsumed under fiscal federalism, ranks one of the demands of PANDEF on behalf of stakeholders in the Niger Delta region. The secession agitation advanced by Mr Nnamdi Kanu and his co-travelers has gained more momentum since his bail from detention. As the group inches towards the realisation of their dreams, it has suddenly become an inspiration for other aggrieved sections of the country to forward their demands arising from the defective structural arrangement of the country.
Groups and individuals from the Western Nigeria, the Middle Belt or North Central have also risen vociferously to demand restructuring of the polity or nothing becomes of the contraption. With more voices in support of restructuring or secession, as the case may be, the hitherto calm agitators in the Niger Delta, who already had pending demands with the Federal Government, had to join the fray.
Similarly, last Monday in Warri, activist Annkio Briggs spoke in support of secession agitations and structural imbalance in the country, positing that the National Assembly killed the devolution of powers bill and what was next was to call for a referendum on whether the country should remain as one or not.
She denounced the call by militants for dialogue, saying the Federal Government was not ready to discuss with the people of the Niger Delta, but only interested in exploiting the region of its oil and gas to develop other regions of the country, reiterating that the main concerns of the Niger Delta region was total resource control and monthly payment of royalty to the Federal Government.
Briggs, who hails from Rivers State, however, warned the militants against blowing up of oil and gas pipelines, saying “if you’re blowing up pipelines, they (FG) don’t care you are blowing pipelines because they are able to access the oil and gas,” she said.
Some of the militants and indeed other stakeholders in the region believe that some respite has come the way of the Federal Government after the Niger Delta agitators laid down their arms late 2016, with Professor Osinbajo announcing in March that crude oil production had gone up from 800mbpd to about 2.1mbpd. States of the federation are already basking in the euphoria of an improved monthly Federal Government Allocation. And as of last Monday, oil prices hit a two-month high as a result of a tightening US crude market and the threat of sanctions against OPEC member, Venezuela.
Given the above reasons and more, the militants in the creeks appear to see no other opportune moment than now to alert the world that when hostilities and economic sabotages commence, they should not be held responsible.
How realistic are the 16-point demands?
It is believed in some quarters that the demands, may, after all, not be realistic for the Federal Government to accomplish, given the not-yet-buoyant state of the economy. But some stakeholders from the Niger Delta would not buy into this argument.
Speaking to Sunday Tribune on the realistic nature of the demands, the Head of the Department of Mass Communication, Delta State University (DELSU), Dr Emmanuel Ofuophu-Biri, said, “The demands are very realistic. They represent the interest of the people of the region. The demands are veritable representation of best international practice. Acceding to the demands will bring peace and development not only to region but the entire country.”
Two youth activists from the region, Alaowei Cleric and Comrade Austin Ozobo both national presidents of the Foundation for Human Rights and Anti-Crusade (FHRACC) and the Ijaw People Development Initiative (IPDI) respectively, also posited that the demands could be met.
Ozobo, speaking with Sunday Tribune, said «The demands are realistic, except that the Nigerian government is wicked and callous. It is realistic in the sense that such demands are not of secession. The issues of fiscal federalism or devolution of powers and others could be done through a presidential fiat, or by a national confab, just like the 2014 confab.
Cleric, on his part, also believes that the demands are realistic if there is sincerity of purpose on the part of government. According to him, «If Nigerians, especially from the northern part, see the way others see Nigeria, then the demands have no reason to be questioned. These are Niger Delta people’s economic right just as agricultural produce were used to sustain the producing regions in the 60s.”
Cleric, further rhetorically queried: “What is too much to give the states greater economic power or access to control what they are producing? What is unrealistic for the Niger Delta people to ask for 50 per cent of the resources tapped in their lands? Can the government of Nigeria compensate the people for the years of environmental degradations and despoliation?”
The advent of militancy
The advent of renewed militancy in the Niger Delta region could be traced to the declaration of the Ijaw people/nation in 1998, in Kaiama community in Kolokuma/Opokuma in Bayelsa State. The declaration popularly referred to as the famous Kaiama Declaration, where the Ijaw people issued hundred points communiqué for want of urgent redress to the Federal Government.
In summary the communiqué seeks the abrogation of the Land Use Act, resource control, true federalism, exploration and exploitation of the Ijaw nation and the region by oil multi-nationals and its federal partners and the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC).
To say the least, these were same issues that the doyen of the Ijaw struggle for total emancipation, politically and economically on the path of true federalism, Late Major, Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro, fought for but was denied by the loopsided and imbalance federal government administration in the country.
The Ijaw nation balkanised into six states of Akwa Ibom, Edo, Ondo, Cross Rivers, Rivers and Delta with Bayelsa, the homogenous Ijaw state as the headquarters and the epicenter of all Ijaw activities where far-reaching decisions about the wellbeing of the Niger Delta is taken, have continued to experience fragile peace over the inability of the Federal Government to actualise the promises made in response to legitimate demands by the Ijaw people.
Militancy sprang up in response to tribalism, nepotism, deprivation, marginalisation, defiant to call for true federalism and the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) for components states to determine their continued existence in Nigeria.
These posers are yet to get convincing and satisfactory response from the Nigerian state. Rather, the Federal Government has been accused of paying lip service to the Ijaw nation.
Uneasy calm pervades N/Delta
The region is, at present, experiencing an uneasy calm or what Dr Ufuophu-Biri described as ‘precarious.’ “The mood is precarious. They are very ready for deadly actions as could be deduced from their recent press statements. These guys hardly issue empty threats. This recent threat should be taken seriously and government should find a peaceful and justly means to handle it,” the don, who doubles as secretary of ASUU, DELSU chapter warned.
The current mood of the militants in the region, as regards, the demands could also be described as pensive and unpredictable. But as it was in the past, the boys might just be oiling their swords in preparation to returning to the trenches. From information pieced across the creeks, a comeback attacks on economic assets may be lethal and devastating to the survival of a county already treading the precipice.
An Ijaw activist, Ozobo, who frequents the creeks, disclosed that “You don’t need a soothsayer to tell you their current position; they have told you in their previous reports that they have started oiling their swords for a comeback. And you know, not all threats are empty.
“The government is expected to take an urgent step to curb this fresh hostility. You know what they are up to. It is not the right time to underrate them. We all could bear witness to what they did to the economy of Nigeria government recently.
“You know the recent rejection of the bill for restructuring and devolution of powers which has emboldened the militants and other stakeholders to lose confidence in the government. And this is not in tandem with the promises made by the acting president when he visited Niger Delta which subsided tension in the region,” Ozobo noted.
As it is now, no one may possess the crystal ball to accurately predict exactly what will happen next. Some militant groups are already chanting war songs of a possible final showdown and the rhythm may not be pleasant to dance to.
According Cleric, the timely advice is that the government should halt the obsession of taking reactionary steps in addressing issues of this nature, adding that “the window is still open for the government to fulfill its promises.”
There’s no doubt that the Federal Government is battling with a barrage of agitations and issues across the country. Unfortunately, the menace of Boko Haram Nigerians thought had gone under has recently reared its ugly head, dealing more devastating blow on the country’s already feeble feet. To add the ‘madness’ of militants from the Niger Delta to this fragility may not be pleasant.
A militant group vowed that its members would “fight till the last drop of our blood until justice and equity is enthroned in our land because we cannot afford to bequeath this type of society to our children. Peace without justice is not the same as justice before peace. We would not allow anybody to bequeath peace of the graveyard on us.”
The group also hinted how a renewed hostility will take its toll on the 2019 general election, saying “We are also aware of a section of the political north to ramp up bombings and insecurity in the North-East to use it as a bulwark to capture political power in 2019, just as they did in 2015. We advise them to thread with caution.
“What worked in 2015 would not necessarily work in 2019.”
Speaking in the same vein, Comrade Ozobo said the threats of the militants, if unheeded, “pose a great danger to the polity and economy of this country so long the country’s economy base remains in Niger Delta region.”
“It is capable of crippling the government and economic activities in the country. That is why the government should act fast, because now there is a feeling of distrust and insincerity among Niger Deltans. Every confidence built by the Acting President Yemi Osibanjo is now lost.
“That means what happened to our economy in the recent times will resurface. We will undergo another era of recession, fuel scarcity and economy hardship. The unity and survival of the country will also be put on the brink,” he noted.
Meanwhile, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), while announcing two days after Clark’s press conference in Abuja that it had withdrawn its representatives from PANDEF, accused the forum of being the brain behind the threats issued to the Federal Government by what it described as ‘Internet-based’ militant groups.
Spokesman of MEND, Jomo Gbomo, in the statement, accused the leaders of PANDEF of insincerity, lampooning the leaders and stakeholders of the forum for keeping sealed lips during what he tagged the “wasted” years of former President Goodluck Jonathan, while wondering how they had suddenly regained their voice.
Gbomo derided another leader of the forum, His Royal Highness, King Alfred Diette -Spiff, of lacking the moral justification to give the FG an ultimatum they never gave Jonathan while in power for six wasted years.
However, the trio of Dr Ufuophu-Biri, Chief Gbenekama, Comrade Ozobo and Cleric described the accusation against PANDEF as sponsoring militants to threaten the FG as baseless and unfortunate.
“PANDEF members, to the best of my knowledge, do not work hand in hand with the militants. The PANDEF members are elder statesmen, technocrats, academics, traditional rulers among others.
“They represent the intellectual and political arm of the struggle against the oppression of the South-South region. On the other hand, the militants are largely anonymous arm-bearing elements whose identities are unknown to PANDEF. The notion of collaboration is a mirage,” Dr Ufuophuo-Biri posited.
Two-time governor of Akwa Ibom State and co-chairman of PANDEF, Obong Victor Attah, in an interview with Sunday Tribune, re-echoed the the remedy to the current imbroglio in the polity. According to the elder statesman, the government should lay a new foundation of true federalism through the creation of a brand new constitution that will reflect the wishes and aspirations of all tribes and tongues as righty contained in the PANDEF 16-point demands.
If the country won’t return to square one…
Ibe Kachukwu, Minister of State for Petroleum, after the meeting of leaders of PANDEF with Acting President Osinbajo last Thursday, told journalists that several issues relating to the Maritime University, Amnesty Programme, NDDC operations and general related issues were trashed during the closed-door meeting. He described the withdrawn ultimatum of PANDEF as a warning bell of urgency to address the ongoing frustration and boredom caused by perceived inaction on the part of the Federal Government.
The average Niger Deltan regards the militants as heroes of the eternal struggle and PANDEF as the voice of wisdom and the diplomatic arm of the struggle. As the world is watching what unfolds next, analysts call on all stakeholders in the Niger Delta to exercise some patience while they keenly wait for the Federal Government to be more proactive walk its talk.
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