Does the Pan Niger Delta Elders Forum (PANDEF) actually think the federal government and the people of the Niger Delta are really taking them as seriously as they take themselves?
How does one reconcile that barely forty-eight hours after the elders forum issued the federal government a 90-day ultimatum to implement its 16-point demand for the region or lose its cooperation, they were taken in a closed door meeting with Acting President Yemi Osinbajo and the next thing we heard was that they had resolved to henceforth work together?
It was unbelievable that the PANDEF leader, Chief Edwin Clark, said:
“The meeting was excellent. We met with Mr. Acting President. He was very forthright, truthful. We were very satisfied. There is no ultimatum. We agreed on many things and we came in with our own address, presented it; the ministers presented their cases.
“Mr. Acting President rounded it off and we saw in him the genuineness, truthfulness and forthrightness. He’s a gentleman and we support him. We are satisfied. We did not use the word ultimatum. We only said we would withdraw. But we have agreed to work together. The message is that everybody should maintain peace.
“We have agreed to work together. MEND is here. MEND was in the meeting. Jomo Gbomo does not exist as a human being. That’s a ghost name. MEND was here. Other organisations were here. I’m the leader of Niger Delta and every leader you can think of from Cross River to Edo State was here.”
How could a meeting that was meant to extract a serious and honest commitment from the federal government over the region’s development end up addressing trivialities instead of the core issues?
What is not known to my people is that this PANDEF has achieved more extracting modular refinery licenses, crude oil lifting and other lucrative contracts for themselves from the presidency at the detriment of our collective interests. So can one expect the presidency to take them seriously and be honest with them?
Saying the group never issued an ultimatum to the federal government on the implementation of its 16-point agenda was cowardly and an outright dishonesty. These were Chief Clark’s exact words:
“I wish to urge the federal government to, as a matter of urgency, implement the pronouncements made by the acting president, His Excellency, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, GCON, during his fact-finding visits to the Niger Delta Region, and to set up, without delay, the federal government dialogue team to engage PANDEF, towards resolving the pending issues contained in the forum’s 16-point demands on behalf of the people of the Niger Delta region, by, or before, November 1, 2017 (one year anniversary of our meeting with His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari).
“We submitted a 16-point demand to Mr President on November 1, 2016, and we had expected that by its next anniversary, the 16-point agenda would have been comprehensively sorted out. Human endurance has a limit beyond which one cannot predict what the outcome will be.”
Turning around in less than 48 hours to deny this says a lot about the sincerity, integrity and the actual intentions of the leadership of PANDEF. Truth be told, what was even the 16-point agenda as presented to the Presidency by PANDEF? Let us even look at what the elders went to discuss that made them call off or rather deny their ultimatum to the government.
First, according to a release by the acting president’s spokesman, Laolu Akande, the Federal Government had commenced the process of replacing illegal refineries with modular refineries, including options on how to involve the communities as shareholders in the proposed modular refineries. Groundbreaking of the first set of such refineries are expected in the fourth quarter of the year. In its operations, government will supply crude oil to the local refineries at a reasonably considered price, as an incentive to stop the current practice whereby illegal refiners vandalize and steal the crude. Each Niger Delta state is expected to host 2 modular refineries each.
Secondly, the federal government has commenced the process for the opening of the Maritime University at Okerenkoko in Gbaramatu Kingdom, Delta State. Already, a 5-man inter-agency committee headed by the Minister of Education is in the final stages for the official opening of the university in the 2017/2018 academic session.
Finally, the federal government is stepping up the bill for the amnesty program with additional N35 billion bringing the total to N70 billion as reflected in the 2017 budget.
Looking closely at all the commitments extracted from the federal government at the closed-door meeting clearly shows that they centered on selfish interests rather than on our collective regional (Niger Delta-wide) interests. We need to ask these elders: since when did the establishment of the maritime university and modular refinery become the priority infrastructure development needs of the Niger Delta region?
Is it not curious that these people who pretend to be representing or rather fighting for our interests are using our collective destiny to line –up their pockets and better the fortunes of their own children?
A few kilometers from Okerenkoko, we have a government-approved privately-owned University on one flank and the Petroleum University (formerly PTI) on another flank. So tell me how this Okerenkoko maritime university has become a priority manpower development need of this area? Meanwhile, the ownership tussle between the Ijaws and the Itsekiris over the location of the proposed university is yet to be addressed.
Now, building two modular refineries in each of the Niger Delta states - how is that going to correct the development imbalances in these areas? The entire idea of modular plants was originally conceived as a panacea to the spate of crude oil stealing for “illegal refineries” across the region. It was originally meant to harvest these ‘boys’ that currently run the fleet of ‘kporfire’ refineries and train them to run modular plants instead. The question is: how many of these boys are currently involved in the PANDEF/federal government’s proposed modular refineries initiative? Does anybody even know who the illegal refinery operators are?
We may need to ask: who are the promoters of the modular plants to be established in each of the Niger Delta states? Are they former operators of illegal refineries or PANDEF representatives from each state? Who are the people bringing in and partnering with foreign investors to build these plants- are they not from PANDEF?
The truth of the whole matter is that we can never make head way with either PANDEF or whatever name that’s out there. They are simply after their pockets and bank alerts.
PANDEF is also pretending not to notice that the amnesty programme is still operating on the corrupt template that still pays ghost militants after it hoodwinked the government into believing in the fraud. A programme that has neglected the children of the dead freedom fighters and those in prison, and opted for those that never made any sacrifice is it not actually questionable?
Walai there is no need for the federal government to negotiate with any group; rather, the presidency should go back to the people in the host communities just the same way that the Acting President went around initially to seek their buy-in. After all, it was not PANDEF that secured peace in the region. PANDEF is just one of the many groups in the region and its decision cannot be binding on everybody.
Those who have ears, let them hear. God bless Nigeria!
Ifeanyi Izeze writes from Abuja. You can reach him at [email protected]