The people of the Niger Delta, under the aegis of Pan-Niger Delta Forum, have submitted 16 conditions to President Muhammadu Buhari, which the federal government must meet for lasting peace in the oil-rich region.
But the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, has stated that the president has asked for time to enable him come up with permanent and lasting solutions to the demands of critical stakeholders of the region.
King Alfred Diete-Spiff, the Amanayabo of Brass and Chairman of the Traditional Rulers Council in Bayelsa State, who presented the 16-point request at the Niger Delta stakeholders’ meeting with Buhari held at the State House yesterday, later told correspondents that although the people of Niger Delta were going about their businesses with smiles, there was deep seated anger behind the smiles.
Also at the briefing, elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark, said the elders had the mandate of the whole Niger Delta people, including the militants and other agitators to discuss with the president.
They stated that all the bodies created by the federal government to ensure that the Niger Delta benefits from its huge resources had failed to deliver.
Fielding questions from journalists after the meeting with the president, Kachikwu said the dialogue with the militants was already yielding positive results.
“The reality is that as of today and this morning, we are producing at 2.1 million barrels per day. That is substantial. That would not have happened without efforts that went behind through the royal fathers and leaders, through to the militant leaders. A lot of behind-the-scenes engagements have taken place and will continue to take place,” he revealed.
He said part of the expectations by 2017 was to target zero attacks from militants, adding: “What that means is that it is going to be ongoing engagement. It will never finish.”
According to him, on a rolling basis, the Ministry of Petroleum would start quarterly meetings involving the oil companies.
The first meeting, he said, would take place in Uyo in December, adding that the venue of the meetings would move around from one state to another.
He said: “This afternoon, we had the privilege of having a meeting chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari. A meeting with Niger Delta stakeholders led by Chief Edwin Clark and Chief Alfred Diette Spiff.
“Five governors were in attendance – four in attendance, one represented. Some ministers were also in attendance. It was largely a courtesy call to bring to the front burner the issues of the Niger Delta and their concerns.
“And we spent time hearing from the Niger Delta leaders, in terms of their areas of concern and what they believe the federal government should do to bring down pressure and stress in the area and to reduce militancy to the barest minimum, if not completely eliminated.”
He described the meeting as a frank conversation. “It is the beginning of a process. We had over a hundred representatives. So it was a very well attended function.
“Opinions given were very honest, very frank and to the point. But I think at the end of the day, we exchanged enough thought processes to go back to the drawing board to begin a process of work,” he explained.
Chief Clark said the meeting was arranged by Kachikwu and was accepted by the elders.
He said that although there are many factions of militants, all of them agreed to meet and discuss the way forward.
“There are many factions. Some have their own built-up bases, 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 Diette Spiff, a former governor of old Rivers State, and a former governor of Akwa Ibom, Arc. Obong Victor Attah, as the chairmen of the Central Working Committee that we will organise the visit and we invited all the interest groups and they came and what we saw today is a combination of all interest groups.
“Mr. President received us very well. Today is November 1, a remarkable day. There were many of you, particularly the press, who tried to give the wrong impression that all was not well between the federal government and the Niger Delta people.
“So I am not surprised that you are now asking how the meeting fared. It went very well and all groups were represented. We discussed and presented a paper, which was presented by HRM Alfred Diette 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 forward to.
“That it was the disconnect that made the government unaware of what we were doing. It was clear that dialogue was key.
“The president will now set the ball rolling, with the minister assisting him. We presented 16 points, which we mentioned in our address, following which 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 the authority as their fathers to negotiate on their behalf on the 19th of August when we met at the PTI (Petroleum Training Institute), Warri.
“There is no doubt that many groups will spring up after this. Perhaps, one man will be in his house 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 youths and they are listening.
“One thing that gladdened our hearts today was when the minister was addressing the audience, he mentioned that the issue of the Maritime University had been settled. We now have it as the first goodwill from the government and we have a duty to react,” Clark stated.
Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa also called on the media to report the crisis in the Niger Delta correctly.
He said: ‘In the last two and a half months, I don’t think we have had any issues with the Niger Delta Avengers because I know that after the meeting in August, that was a stakeholders meeting led by Chief Clark and some of them, we have not had any real issues with them.
“It is important that we put this on paper and it is our hope that we will continue with the consultations and they have given the elders the mandate to speak on their behalf in the meeting that will follow through.”
He confirmed, however, that many copy-cat groups had sprung up in the region because they thought their interests were not being protected in the negotiations.
According to him, these groups were of the view that those in the creeks were getting some prominence.
He said: “Nobody has been given any prominence. The negotiation going on is not about money sharing. It is about talking about the future of the Niger Delta people and what we need to do in terms of development and empowerment, in terms of partnership, and in terms of the presence of the oil companies.
“So largely, the Niger Delta Avengers have sheathed their swords and things are moving on well. I can truly tell you that the security agencies are working very well with us to provide the best security, but this is going to take sometime.
“But the few incidents you have had and reading in the papers about the Green Landers, they are not the same with the Niger Delta Avengers. I think it’s a misconception that some ethnic groups have dominance, but from the representation, it is obvious that all the ethnic groups are involved.
“Even the Urhobo ethnics were largely represented with his HRM, the Oroje of Okpe, and some top persons from Urhobo nation. We will continue to deal with the issues as they arise.”
The 16 points presented, according to the Niger Delta representatives at the meeting, are quick wins that could be achieved and would restore hope and confidence in a region that has grown sceptical of dialogue and engagements that have hardly produced tangible results.
•The Presidential Amnesty Programme: The Niger Delta decried that of the five components of the disarmament and retrieval of weapons from the ex-militants, only the disarmament and demobilisation component was being implemented. Tension over the fate of the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme is as a result of the absence of a genuine exit strategy. The region wants the programme reviewed to reappraise its core mandate to provide a robust exit strategy, in order to transit recipients into jobs, effectively integrate them and wean them off dependency on stipends, so that their new-found skills would be of benefit to themselves and the larger community.
•Law and Justice: In view of the insecurity in the Niger Delta, a number of pending law and justice issues regarding some aggrieved groups and individuals are yet to be resolved. It is important to address these issues urgently as a step towards lasting peace.
•The effect of increased military presence in the Niger Delta: The increase in military presence has resulted in invasion of communities, displacement of persons, harassment and other forms of human rights abuses. The region wants government to halt the escalation of tension in the region.
•Plight of internally displaced persons: They want the relevant government agencies to take urgent measures to meet the immediate needs of those displaced by the upsurge of insecurity in the region.
•The Ogoni clean-up and environmental remediation: They want government to speed up the exercise. They want government to enforce the zero gas flare deadline. They want the devastating effects of coastal erosion and lack of an effective shoreline protection for the coastal communities tackled urgently. They ask the federal government to commission a region-wide credible assessment of the impact of crude oil pollution on the environment in the region and undertake to enforce environmental laws.
•The Maritime University: The region wants the prompt take-off of the Niger Delta University.
•Key regional critical infrastructure: They want the completion of the East-West Road and full implementation of the rail project that is designated to run through the Niger Delta region to Lagos.
•Security surveillance and protection of oil and gas infrastructure: They want pipeline surveillance contracts given to the communities rather than to individuals in a manner that is of some benefits to their responsibility. Communities would then see their responsibility over the pipelines as protection of what belongs to them.
•Relocation of the administrative and operational headquarters of the IOCs: The headquarters of most oil companies are not located in the Niger Delta region. As a result the region is denied of all the developmental and associated benefits that would have accrued to the region from their presence. It has therefore become imperative for the IOCs to relocate to their areas of operation. This move would create a mutually beneficial relationship with the host communities.
•Power Supply: The region advocated a power plan that strongly ties power supply in the region to gas supply, thereby giving all sides a stake in proved stability.
•Economic development and empowerment: The Niger Delta wants Brass LNG and a fertiliser plant, including the Train 7 of Nigeria LNG implemented; a review and update of the national gas master plan to integrate the economic interests and industrialisation of the region; the creation of a Niger Delta industrial corridor that would process some portions of the hydrocarbon natural resources; expedited work on the export processing zones; and the harnessing of the huge rain-fed agricultural potential of the area through the development of farm estates, fishery development projects and agro-allied industrial clusters, etc.
•Inclusive participation in oil industry and ownership of oil blocs: The region wants the federal government to enunciate policies and actions that will address the lack of participation, as well as the imbalance in the ownership of oil and gas assets.
•Restructuring and funding of the NDDC: The restructuring will ensure it is refocused as a true interventionist agency to respond swiftly to the yearnings of the grassroots of the Niger Delta. Communities must be able to have a say in what projects come to them and also want full implementation of the funding provisions of the NDDC Act.
•Strengthening the Niger Delta Ministry: It said the era of abysmal funding should end. The ministry should be adequately funded and strengthened to fulfill the purpose for which it was created.
•The Bakassi Question: The Niger Delta recommend a comprehensive resettlement plan, including development for the host communities and displaced population to reduce the risk of making them into stateless persons.
•Fiscal Federalism: The region supports the call for true federalism and urged that federal government treats the matter expeditiously.
The meeting had in attendance Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, Akwa Ibom State Governor Udom Emmanuel and his Bayelsa State counterpart, Seriake Dickson.
Also present were all the Niger Delta ministers in the federal cabinet, the service chiefs, the Inspector General of Police (IG), several traditional rulers and members of the civil society groups from the region.
However, militant groups from the region or their representatives were conspicuously absent.
Responding, the president said that he welcomed the 16-point request presented to him by the Niger Delta leaders.
A statement by his media aide, Mr Garba Shehu, said Buhari told the elders he was still expecting reports from government officials he had instructed to review the implementation of the Amnesty Programme to determine where government had fallen short so that amends could be made.
“The president, who did not read from a prepared speech, pitched a vision of unity and progress for the country in which peace reigns. He said peace, security, investment and prosperity are linked together, adding that ‘if we give peace a chance, investors will come here to invest. Nobody will invest in an insecure environment’.
“In a speech dripping with nationalist fervor, President Buhari said the problems his administration found on the ground were many, as illustrated in the collapse of oil prices, inability of 27 of the 36 states of the federation to pay salaries, absence of savings to fall back on, and having to deal with an elite that didn’t seem to care.
“All these, he said, made his government to conclude that ‘life as usual is no longer affordable’,” it said.
The statement said the president told the Niger Delta leaders that the service chiefs were putting together their own assessment of the militancy situation, 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.”
Buhari however cautioned the leaders of the Niger Delta that they had more to do than anyone else to bring peace to the region, given the influence they have on the militant groups.
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.
“We are determined to make life comfortable and affordable for all Nigerians. If anybody has a country to go to, let him go, we will stay here and salvage our country,” he said to his guests.
The president, who delivered his report card on the war against corruption and the efforts to secure the country, repeated his call to the Niger Delta leaders to join the administration in bringing peace to the troubled region.
The Niger Delta leaders reaffirmed their support for the federal government under the president and expressed total commitment to the unity, peace and stability of the country.