Militants and other interest groups in Niger Delta have said that the breakdown of talks between the Federal Government and Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, after the regional body successfully prevailed on agitators to cease hostilities in 2016 , was counterproductive and a huge threat to peace in the oil-rich region.
They accused the Federal Government of hypocrisy in abandoning the 16-point agenda, which it publicly announced to have adopted it as a working document.
National Chairman of PANDEF, AVM Idongesit Nkanga (retd), had confirmed to newsmen, recently, that contrary to the promises made by Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, there was no longer dialogue with the group, as the Presidency had moved from “monologue to no louge.”
PANDEF had in the height of militancy attacks that crippled the nation’s economy, negotiated and extracted a ceasefire pledge from the dreaded Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, and other militant groups to enable it discuss the grievances of the region with the Federal Government.
In pursuit of the ceasefire accord, former Federal Commissioner for Information and Chairman, Board of Trustees of PANDEF, Senator Edwin Clark, led royal fathers and opinion leaders to present a 16-point agenda to President Muhamadu Buhari, November 1, 2016.
AVM Nkagna grumbled in the interview: “Only less than one of the 16-point demand has been achieved by the federal government. It is not something that was supposed to have been abandoned because when we submitted it then, the President said that he will use it as a working paper and the Vice President even toured the South-South at that time and made pronouncement bothering on those issues in some many places. “
His words, “Then, they said they are setting up Strategic Work Implementation Plan, SWIP, PANDEF was not consulted and that was the end. So, we do not know what has happened, because we told them very clearly that the first thing is to have a dialogue, which we started with only for it to become a monologue and today it is no logue at all.”
Responding to the abandonment of talks, yesterday, the 21st Century Youths for Niger Delta and Agitators with Conscience, one of the groups that ceased hostilities, following PANDEF’s intervention, said, “It will be wrong and counterproductive to stop talks on the implementation of PANDEF’s 16-point Agenda. The intervention of PANDEF is what brought the fragile peace we are currently enjoying in the Niger Delta.”
Leader of the group, self-styled “General” Izon Ebi, told newsmen, “It put a temporary to pipeline vandalization and brought increase in oil production, which lifted the country out of recession.”
“The 21st Century Youths of the Niger Delta and Agitators with Conscience is putting it directly to the Federal Government that if it abort the talks that gave hope to youths and people of the Niger Delta, then, it does not mean well for the impoverished and patient people of the Niger Delta and will never be trusted again.
“The plight of youths and people of Niger Delta is now capitalized upon by the evil forces, our youths do not only kill, but behead their victims. People hoodwink them to be enemies of their people and the region by engaging in kidnapping, robbery, sea piracy to further destroy the already polluted environment.
“We believe that it is time for the likes of the Minister for Petroleum (State), Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Deputy Senate President and the newly elected Governor of Bayelsa state to approach the federal government for the needed peace and development of the Niger Delta.
“We want this distinguished leaders to join hand with PANDEF because they understand the struggle and the plight of the Niger Delta people to truly bring the promises and agreement that led to the 16- point agenda designed to ensure lasting peace and development in the region.
“Our position is that the Federal Government should for once appreciate the benevolence and sacrifice of the good people of the Niger Delta,” the group added.
An Akwa Ibom ex-militant leader, Prince James Ukpong, expressed disappointment over cessation talks between Federal Government and PANDEF, saying, “At the beginning, we were happy and believed that for the first time, something good was going to happen to the people of Niger Delta, but we have long lost that hope and we are not happy that the16-point agenda has not been implemented.”
Ukpong, who is the National Organising Secretary of Leadership, Peace and Cultural Development Initiative, said: “Personally, I have lost confidence in that talks between Federal Government and PANDEF. But we are saying that the federal government should be fair to the Niger Delta by looking at the agenda and try to implement them.”
However, efforts to reach out to some other leaders failed as they did not take calls made to their GSM phones. Several calls and text message to a leader of the former agitators, Uwem Okoko were not answered as at the time of filling this report.
An ex-warlord, who spoke on condition of anonymity, accused the federal of double standard, wondering why the government established a Nigerian Maritime University, NMU, in Delta state, while the Maritime University in Oron was crying for adequate funding.
“The federal government is not sincere with the Niger Delta people. It’s a sad commentary that apart from the establishment of the maritime University in Delta, it has not implemented other aspects of the agreement. We are waiting for our leaders in the region to speak”, he said.
National president of Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative, IPDI, Mr. Austin Ozobo, told newsmen, “President Buhari’s attitude towards Niger Delta dialogue is a big threat to peace in the region.”
He stated, “The region is angry again and you know what it means for Niger Delta to be angry. It is a fact that Buhari was never interested in a real dialogue with Niger Delta region since the onset when he announces his bogus readiness to dialogue with the region to save the country’s economy that was bleeding then.”
“Buhari never sees the need to dialogue on the 16-point agenda presented by PANDEF on November 1, 2016. He sees the PANDDEF demands as not favourable to the section of the country where he hails from. And he knew that if this 16-point demand are implemented, Niger Delta region will be better off These were some of the reasons why he failed to dialogue with the region.
“The government was terrifying in its approach, it is only interested on who were behind Avengers and other militants groups. Buhari was buying time to investigate Niger Delta leaders, who called themselves PANDEF and their relationship with Avengers in order to tactically put heat on them and use them use them to prevail on the boys in the creeks.
“PANDEF was blackmailed by APC stalwarts that it was made up of PDP party members, and truly, Buhari held onto that assertion due to his hatred for PDP and Niger Delta, as he received the least support from them during his 2015 election. The President sees PANDEF as people possibly behind militants that were bombing oil facilities.
“Again, they went and disclosed their identities before State House security agents and media apparatus during the Nov 1, 2016 meeting. So since Buhari had known them, he refused to take them serious, and changed tactics with them. He tricked them to prevail on the militants and threatened to hold leaders responsible if things went wrong again.
“While the leaders since their identities were exposed in the public during the Abuja meeting did all their best to avoid the wrath of Buhari, the President knowing that he had succeeded in inducing fear in the region’s leaders and stakeholders, saw no need for dialogue with anybody and that was the reason things fell apart.
“Equally, militant groups, which did not want to risk the lives of their elders decided to give peace a chance.
“PANDEF vowed to withdraw if by Nov 1, 2017 the President refused to commence dialogue, but despite that the President refused to dialogue, PANDEF did not made any official statement on its withdrawal.
“The implication of the failed dialogue is that the government of Buhari has proved that it is not reliable. It shows that the government was deceptive in it approach to the Niger Delta dialogue and in turn, it is a great threat to peace in the region.
“Apart from that, he that fights and run away live to fight again. If a dialogue was to put in place to address Niger Delta marginalization and the dialogue failed, it invariably means the trouble has not been addressed and that there is tendency that the problem may escalate. That is the situation of Buhari’s action.
“The agitations continue whether visible or invisible as delay is not denial. He has just created room for any aggrieved person to attack the economy of the region. And the person will have justification citing the problem of neglect and marginalization of the region,” the IPDI leader said.
His words, “The way forward is that Buhari should commence the long awaited dialogue and be serious with the 16-point agenda and stop postponing the evil day. Whether he likes it or not, dialogue will favour the government than the gunboat diplomacy. Except the core issues causing bombing of oil facilities are addressed, there is tendency of further crisis in the region in time to come.”
An ex-agitator, who spoke to one of our reporters in Bayelsa state, Mohammad Gbafade, asserted, “The implication of PANDEF pulling out of talks with the Federal Government has again brought to the fore the fear that the government was not sincere in its acclaimed determination to address the age- long neglect and underdevelopment of the Niger Delta, which crude oil and gas had been the livewire of the nation’s economy.”
“We are advising that the Federal Government take advantage of this unique opportunity to prove wrong all doubting Thomases of its preparedness to change the fortunes of the region by wooing PANDEF back to the negotiation table. Both sides should return to dialogue to find a lasting solution to the myriad of problems confronting the region,” he said.
The 16-point demand include fast tracking development of the region, especially key regional critical infrastructure projects like the East-West Road and full implementation of the rail project that is designated to run through the Niger Delta region to Lagos.
Implementation of the Brass LNG and Fertilizer Plant project, including the NLNG Train 7 in Bonny, and a review and update of the National Gas Master Plan to integrate the economic interests and industrialization of the region amongst others.
The other issues were increased military presence in the Niger Delta, which has resulted in the invasion of communities, displacement of persons, harassment and other forms of human rights abuse.
They demanded the prompt take-off of Nigerian Maritime University, NMU, Okerenkoko, which has been achieved and proposed that contracts for the security surveillance and protection of oil and gas infrastructure should be handled by communities rather than individuals.
PANDEF also called for increase, restructuring and funding of the Niger Delta Development Commission and the strengthening of the Niger Delta Ministry.
The leaders also supported the call for fiscal federalism and urged that federal government to treat the matter expeditiously.
They further demanded relocation of the administrative and operational headquarters of major International Oil Companies (IOCs) to the Niger Delta region, clean-up of communities affected by spill, besides Ogoniland, review of the amnesty programme’s core mandate and providing a robust exit strategy to ensure that those trained have jobs to return to or are given stipends.
One of self-styled Niger Delta freedom fighters from Rivers state, Precious Yoyo, aka PlayBoy, said: “Federal Government has nothing to offer us. We are going to face them again as far as I am. I have not had the time for federal government for now because we want to sanitize our waterways.”
“I am telling every man woman and woman in our land, our target at the point is to liberate our brothers and sisters, who are doing businesses in the river.
“See pirates and armed robbers have taken over everywhere, bad groups have taken over our land and sea. I have taken this decision to fight and chase this criminals out of our land and rivers.
“PANDEF having disagreement with the government is their own business, but this will create a lot of problem in the creeks and the region. When we will start to execute our plan, they will know that they have cheated on us for too long. This will backfire on them,” he added.
A former militant in Edo State, Mr Godestime Ogidigba, urged the federal government to revisit the issues raised by PANDEF for sustainable peace in the region.
He said: “Our position is for the federal government to look into the 16-point agenda that PANDEF presented to it, the conditions for peace to reign because it is the intervention of PANDEF that has made us to be calm.”
“Therefore, if the federal government is breaking down communication, it means they are pushing us beyond our patience and this will not help the situation because our people are beginning to get angry that all discussions PANDEF and the federal government had for peace in the Niger Delta, nothing has been implemented and we are still watching.
“We are waiting for the federal government to do the needful because this thing is not going down well with Niger Delta agitators. We are not happy, we want peace, we have given room for peace and the federal government on its part is not meeting up with the conditions, it is not going down well with us and it can degenerate into any level.
“So we call on the federal government to ensure they look into the agreements the 16-point agenda. The points that PANDEF raised should be followed, if the federal government cannot implement all, it should start from somewhere; these things can be done in bit, but just wishing everything away is a threat to peace in the Niger Delta,” he added.