President Muhammadu Buhari’s crucial meeting with Niger Delta Stakeholders
A crucial meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and Niger Delta stakeholders took place in Abuja last week, at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, the meeting paraded the crème de la crème in the Niger Delta region consisting of 9 States namely Ondo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Edo, Cross Rivers, Imo, Akwa Ibom and Abia. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as well as governors of Bayelsa, Delta, Imo, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Cross River are in attendance. Also, the secretary to Government of the Federation, SGF, Engr. Lawal Babachair and a handful of other cabinet members were present. The Service Chiefs as well as a critical bunch from the National Assembly were also present. Amongst the stakeholders from Niger Delta included Chief Edwin Clarke, His Royal Majesty, Chief Diette Spiff, former governor of Cross River, Donald Duke, former governor of Akwa Ibom, Obong Victor Atta, Ankio Briggs, Alabo Graham Douglas, Timi Alaibe, Mr. Nduka Ogbegbena and a host of others. However, former President Goodluck Jonathan, a frontline stakeholder from the region was not present at the meeting, so also Mujahid Dokubo-Asari and Tompolo. However, it was not known whether they were invited to the meeting. It will be recalled that Niger Delta region had been in rife with untoward activities of militants which had greatly affected oil production, unarguably the mainstay of the nation’s economy.
President Muhammadu Buhari and some prominent leaders and stakeholders in the Niger Delta began to find lasting solutions to the crises in the oil-rich region. As part of the move, President Buhari hosted the leaders at the Presidential Villa where they demanded that they be considered in the allocation and ownership of oil wells. The Niger Delta leaders specifically outlined a 16-point agenda which they presented to Buhari towards halting militancy in their area. Among those present at the meeting were traditional rulers, other prominent elders, service chiefs and ministers appointed from the region. Addressing State House Correspondents after the meeting, former Military Administrator of old Rivers State, King Diete-Spiff, the Amanayabo of Twon-Brass said: “We want the Federal Government to enunciate policies and actions that will address the lack of participation as well as imbalance in the ownership of oil and gas assets.”
Joined at the briefing by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachukwu, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State and former Minister of Information and elder statesman Chief Edwin Clark, Diete-Spiff said other demands contained in the document presented to President Buhari were the need for the enforcement of the zero gas flaring deadline, approval for the takeoff of the maritime university in Delta State and award of pipeline surveillance contracts to the communities. The leaders also demanded the immediate relocation of the administrative and operational headquarters of the International Oil Companies (IOCs) to the Niger Delta. Other demands include the resolution of a number of pending laws and justice issues regarding some aggrieved groups and individuals, restructuring and funding of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs to ensure they refocus as true interventionist organizations as well as the implementation of a comprehensive resettlement plan to reduce the risk of making the region a stateless people. The Niger Delta leaders said government must improve power supply in the region hence the need for a power plan.
On economic development and empowerment, they want the Brass Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and the fertilizer plant project, including the Train 7 reviewed with a view to updating the national gas master plan to integrate the economic interests and industrialization of the region. According to Diete-Spiff, leaders also want the Federal Government to create a Niger Delta industrial corridor that would process some portions of the hydrocarbon natural resources, expediting work on the export processing zones and harnessing the huge rain-fed agricultural potential of the area through the development of farm estates, fishery development projects and agro-allied industrial clusters. Also critical in the 16-point demand is the need to reduce military occupation of communities in the region which, according to the leaders, was responsible for the frequent agitation among the youths. According to Kachikwu, President Buhari assured that his government would study carefully all demands in the document presented by the Niger Delta leaders so as to aid the administration in taking the right steps.
Some of the demands are achievable and realistic, while others are completely utopian and unrealistic, it is a good development that the federal government has agreed to study the demands and get back to the Niger Delta stakeholders. However, one thing is very clear in all of this, no matter the agitation of any group in the country, definitely, violent and destruction of public properties and sets is not the answer to any misunderstanding or grievances. It is important that these stakeholders check the excesses of the Niger Delta Avengers and other violent groups in the region. Development does not occur in the framework of a political style that essentially institutionalizes warfare.
It is however imperative to underscore the fact that, never before in the history of Nigeria has any government shown uncommon courage and determination in fight corruption. Corruption is largely responsible for the development of underdevelopment in the polity, in the past in the country, stealing was said not to be corruption, but now the present government is saying that, graft is the worst kind of human rights violation, moreover, the government insists that if corruption is not tackled and exterminated; then corruption will kill Nigeria. This has been the basis on which the philosophical foundation of the present administration is premised, which is in tandem with the overall interest of the Nigerian state, with this new found verve and resolve, it is apparent that the country has a very bright and rewarding future. However, if the truth must be told those that were dislodged from government; from atrocious and voracious misappropriation of funds are very sad and are violently fighting back; trying hard to frustrate the government’s efforts and render it comatose. It is for this reason that the government must act very fast and decisively by taking this group to the cleaners and routing out their sponsors as well as make them face legal prosecution. More than anything else, this explains why the so-called Niger Delta miscreants are wreaking havoc and causing mayhem in the country, from the looks of things, they have extended their tentacles beyond the south-south zone to the south-west social milieu. And, it was even Dr. Ngozi Nkonjo-Iweala, who said that, when you fight corruption, when you touch the pocket of the people stealing money, they do not keep quiet; and this exactly what is going on and playing out in the country.
Therefore, the government must equally rise to the occasion and do what it has to do, which is to ensure the welfare and security of the citizens according to the 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria. If the group is not promptly and effectively checkmated, it would embolden other such groups to spring up with warped motives and logic, it is important to note that, Nigeria is greater than any individual or group of individuals, no individual or groups can therefore, take laws into theirs hands, there are legal and civilized channels through which people can ventilate their grievances and not crude and violent methods, this is because in the final analysis, disagreements or agitations are not resolved on the battlefield but on the roundtable, in the spirit of give and take. Nigeria cannot be dragged back by a group of desperados and hate-seekers, the country has a lot of catching up to do, as it lags far behind amongst the comity of nations in global affairs. Instead of blowing up oil and gas the pipelines, and destroying strategic economic interests of the Nigerian state, they ought to cooperate with the government of Nigeria under the leadership of PMB to fish out culprits that looted the funds meant for the growth and development of the south-south region, so that, such people can refund stolen funds which they have used to corruptly enriched themselves and their families, such funded would be methodically deployed to areas that will add far-reaching values to the lives and wellbeing of the people of the area. To all intents and purposes, the Niger Delta avengers are trouble makers, fanning the embers of disintegration as well as ethnic discord and animosity. There is no doubt that, they are doing the bidding of some grumpy politicians who are desperate to continue to do what they are used to, using states funds and resources to feather their rapacious nests and gormandizing their insatiable appetites, as they get richer, the vast majority of the people of the region gets poorer. Perhaps, the avengers have not considered the fact that, whereas the children of their sponsors are enjoying themselves in different parts of the globe, but the avengers are armed to cause mayhem and kill themselves for no noble cause. Hence, the PMB led government must act fast and deal decisively with this new wave of violence in our midst and restore peace and order to the south-south, for proper economic activities to start in the overriding interest of the Nigerian state.
From their activities and demands, it is logical and commonsensical to conclude that, since the person presiding over the affairs of the country at this material time is not from the Niger Delta region, this group was put in place by political traducers from that region, who were not favoured by the outcome of the 2015 general elections to make governance cumbersome and even impossible for the present occupiers of political office, perhaps, if they achieve their inordinate goals, they can maybe return to power somehow. But the question to ask is that, is PMB and his government the real problem of the Niger Delta region? The so-called Niger Delta avengers should asked themselves, what and whom are they really avenging for and for what reasons or purposes? If they are not sponsored, they ought to have entered into constructive engagement with government or seek redress in local or even international courts or look for some other peaceful and constitution means to vent their spleen, instead of resorting to violence right from the onset. The group should also have pondered and ask what President Goodluck Jonathan did for the region for all the years he was in power, in terms of fundamentally addressing the diverse environmental issues in the region? They should have asked all the governors that presided over the affairs of the region since 1999 how they expended their annual budgets and 13 per cent derivation fund? They should ask the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) officials since its creation, what they did with all the huge budgetary allocations given to them? They should have asked the traditional rulers and community leaders in the region what they did with monies paid to oil producing communities by oil companies over the years. Again, when the former governor of Delta state, James Ibori was jailed for massive looting and embezzlement of public funds in the United Kingdom, what did they do? When the late governor of Balyelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was discovered to have misappropriated state funds and even disguised like a woman to escape the long hands of the law, what did they do? They supported him to go to the senate before death aborted his plan. When the former governor of Edo State, Lucky Igbinedion did plea bargaining to escape jail term for glaring case of looting and corruption, what did they do? When the former governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili went to court to seek a court injunction to perpetually halt any prosecution against his alleged acts of looting, corruption and misappropriation of public funds, what did they do? These are just a tip of the iceberg as the list is seemingly endless, even the former minister for Niger Delta ministry, Elder Peter Godsday Orubebe is presently facing corruption charges from EFCC, so what happened to all the funds that were allocated to the Niger Delta ministry? It is also germane to note that Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) before NDDC was liquidated because of fraud by people of south-south origin. The avengers cannot answer these questions; hence the purpose for their existence has been defeated even right from the beginning.
Since the governors are the chief security officers of their respective, it behooves on them therefore to ensure peace and security in their domain, in this regard; the president should talk to the governors of Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta states to live up to their responsibilities in ensuring tranquility and order in their enclaves, failure to do this within the next three months, a state of emergency will be declared in their states for one year in the first instance, the governors will be temporarily suspended for the duration and military sole administrators will be appointed to take charge to restore hope, security and peace to the states in question. This is perhaps the only way to restore normalcy to the situation in the country, we as a people and country can ill-afford to have people that will destroy and disorganize things that took years of hard work to build. Governors and indeed political office holders cannot just occupy offices for the sake of occupying it, they have to justify the reason for which they were appointed or elected as the case maybe. Nigeria cannot be an exception to the rules on international best practices in the conduct of democratic governance. Insecurity in any part of the country is a threat to peace in every part of the country, and peace is a condition for development, therefore, the government must as a matter of responsibility create or put in place conditions that would guarantee peace not only for business and investment to thrive but peace for people to live harmoniously without let or hindrance of any sort, to be able to achieve their goals in life.