- 16-Point PANDEF Agenda On The Card •Osinbajo: We Need To Act Quickly, Raises Hopes On Maritime Varsity •To Revive N/Delta Ports
After years of restiveness in the Niger Delta, peace appears to be in the offing as ongoing initiatives of the Muhammadu Buhari administration to restore peace in the troubled area may be yielding fruits.
This a fallout of last Monday’s peace mission of the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo to the r area which was a follow-up to an earlier peace meeting by President Muhammadu Buhari with leaders of the area as well as stakeholders.
Despite the bombing of oil pipelines in the area barely 24 hours after Vice President Osinbajo, there are high expectations that the era of peace may have dawned.
Already, there have been diverse opinions over the possibility of return of peace to the area since the Vice President’s Visit.
Among those who have expressed strong opinions are former
Former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa and former Minister of State for Education, Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi.
Osinbajo was very conciliatory during the visit, saying: “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…”
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.”
Osinbajo 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.
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.
And 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.
Though President Buhari has the final say on all of the Niger Delta problems, Osinbajo seemed highly convinced by the facts that confronted him. It is expected that as a first step, the government should 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”, an indication that the peace deal may work after all.
However, no matter the success garnered in less than seven hours of the visit of Prof. Osinbajo, the decision as to what to do with those facts still remains the prerogative of President Buhari.
From the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo, through the late Yar’Adua to Jonathan and till date, many top government functionaries had visited the Niger Delta on fact-finding missions, including representatives of foreign governments, as well as international organizations. Thus, Vice-President Osinbanjo’s visit was not the first of such fact-finding trips 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?
Former Governor Attah commended the efforts of President Buhari in meeting representatives of the young men that have reasons to feel cheated and are going about the solution in what “we considered the wrong way by destroying national assets. And as soon as the President sets up his dialogue team, we, from PANDEF representing the stakeholders in the Niger Delta, are ever quite ready to dialogue with him”. But Attah was quick to add that the action being taken after the dialogue by the presidency that will determine the results.
Attah, who is the co-chairman of the central working committee of PANDEF, said the committee would meet with Chief Edwin Clark in his village on the matter, adding: “Situations don’t just happen. Nothing happens overnight. You know what I mean. The people have had their grievances and have talked to us. But sincerely… one has to admit that since that incident, there have been no more bombings. So, to use that incident to discredit the leadership of PANDEF or to say that PANDEF is not a true representation of the stakeholders of the Niger Delta, to me, is wrong.” He stressed that the only way to solve this matter is dialogue, adding: “If dialogue breaks down, then everybody will see that dialogue has broken down. But at least, let us have dialogue”.
On claims that the Buhari administration is anti-south-south, he said: “That to me is nonsense… I listened the day that the Minister for Niger Delta had his thanksgiving in Calabar. Governor Ayade said that Cross River had never had it so good. He named the minister, he named the chairman of NDDC and many others. And in this state, I remember the day Ita Enang talked on the radio; he told us about the minister we have, the Managing Director of NDDC and others, including himself as the Senior Special Assistant to President on National Assembly Matters. Plus other things that the President has done in the South-South!”
However, Gbagi, the former minister, was quoted to have dismissed the benefits of the visit, maintaining that the Urhobo ethnic nationality was taken for granted during the stakeholders’ meeting.
Dissatisfied with Gbagi’s outburst, Okowa in a statement issued by his Chief Press Secretary, Charles Aniagwu, expressed disappointment in Gbagi.
According to him, Gbagi failed as a notable son of the state, who had the privilege of serving as a federal minister, by dismissing the laudable objectives of the fact-finding mission of the vice-president.
“Reading through the statement credited to Gbagi, I found it very disturbing that someone who should be much more concerned about how we can build more bridges of unity rooted in equity, fairness and ethnic harmony, could descend to the arena to fan the embers of ethnic disunity and hatred; how could anybody imagine that as a governor, he will take steps that will undermine the revered stool of our royal fathers.”
Since the crisis started, billions of dollars have been lost in revenue due to bombings by militants while many companies have relocated out of the Niger Delta sequel to heavy losses.
It would be recalled that Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), started the exodus from Delta State when, in the aftermath of the Warri crisis, it relocated to Port Harcourt. With its movement out of the state, all oil-related companies relying on SPDC also left the state, a situation which negatively impacted on the internally generated revenue of the government which hitherto benefited from the taxes paid by the exited companies and the state economy generally.
Prior to this, the Delta Steel Company, Ovwian-Aladja had closed down for nearly a decade, almost at the same period when the former largest timber factory in Africa, the African Timber & Plywood (AT&P) Company, Sapele also stopped operations.