No matter the volume of facts he succeeded in gathering in less than seven hours, the visit of the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo SAN, to Delta State recently in furtherance of the roadmap to peace in the Niger Delta, the decision as to what to do with those facts still remains the prerogative of President, Muhammadu Buhari.
From the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo, through late Yar’Adua to Jonathan and till date, many top government functionaries had visited the Niger Delta on fact-finding missions even including representatives of foreign governments, as well as international organizations. Thus, Vice-President Osibajo’s recent visit was not the first of such fact-findings to the Niger Delta. So, what has been the problem? Is it that the fact they found were not convincing enough or they did not just reflect the true situation in the region? The quickest answer to these posers seems to be found in the brief but incisive speech delivered by the Vice President, at the PTI Conference centre, Effurun on his arrival from Gbaramatu kingdom, Warri South West Local Government Area, after a six hours visit to the area.
Said he: “It is not time to negotiate anything. We know the problem. We know the issues. It is time to act. We can negotiate from now till all of us are hundred years old and we will still be arguing. But to me the issues are very clear. The issues of infrastructure are clear, the issues of the environment are clear, the issues of under-representation are clear. We need to act quickly. That is my submission. It is no time to keep going round and round..”
If this submission of the Vice President is anything to go by, it means that even his visit to the Niger Delta at this time for a fact-finding mission is a waste of time because the issues, as he said, are known to all even before now. And to further buttress this fact, the VP recalled the substance of the Willinks Commission Report, saying “All these many years we have all realized that the Niger Delta region has a peculiar challenge of health and environment. That is why the Willinks Commission had already suggested that this region should be a special development zone and I agree entirely with that.” The Vice President, in the course of his speech, also referred to the 16-point position paper presented by members of the Pan Delta Forum (PANDEF) led by Chief E.K. Clark to the President on November 1, 2016, stressing that it was a working document which, according to him, summarizes all that is required in the Niger Delta. The visit of the Vice President also took him to the site of the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko. It would be recalled that on assumption of office as Minister of Transport, Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, under whose ministry the university was expected to operate not only condemn the siting of the University in the area, but strongly recommended to the President that it should be scrapped and, if possible, relocated elsewhere in the North. It was obvious that when the Niger Delta Avengers went into the creeks to start bombing and destroying oil facilities, Amaechi’s proposed scrapping of the university was one of their agitation issues. But all that seem to have translated to a piece of good news for the entire Niger Delta when the Vice President announced that the Nigerian Maritime University project was a done-deal.
Said he: “The Maritime University, Mr. President has already directed the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to be the point Ministry for that university. I was there earlier today to look at the facilities. The Bill is at its second reading and we expect that the National Assembly will fast-track the Bill for the establishment of the Maritime University. There is no need for us to talk about the Maritime University, it is a done-deal. We must do it, there is no question at all.”
The Vice President also spoke about the government’s readiness to revive and resuscitate the Koko Port and other idle ports in the Niger Delta area, adding that there was no need to begin to plead for the revival of such facilities since they are revenue-generating ports.
As he was leaving for Abuja on Monday January 16, after the six hours tour of the creeks, he took along a deluge of position papers presented by various oil-producing ethnic nationalities in the state, including the Urhobos, the Itsekiris, the Ijaws, the Isokos and the Ndokwas – all containing special demands from the communities.
As has been observed earlier, Mr. President has the final say on all of the Niger Delta problems. Osinbajo may have been highly convinced by the facts that confronted him. To him, any further agitation for dialogue would amounts to a delay of action programme of development of the Niger Delta, but can he convince Mr. President to take immediate action to demonstrate the seriousness of his government? As a first step, can the government direct the immediate opening of the Maritime University for academic work? As one prominent traditional chief said, “The immediate opening of the Maritime University and the withdrawal of heavy military presence from the creeks will be reciprocated with calm and peace by the boys.”