N DELTA have what they will tell Buhari – Edwin Clark

MANY persons, both within and outside the Niger Delta, have apparently misconstrued the November 1 meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, led by former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark, as the intended summit between the Federal Government and the region, and practically raised the roof in the last few days. However, the parley between PANDEF, a coalition of leaders, monarchs, stakeholders and groups from the ethnic nationalities of the six coastal states of Niger Delta, and government, is just a preface to appraise President Muhammed Buhari on what the leaders did to get the militants to agree to a 90-day ceasefire and what they expect him to do as the father of the nation to sustain the ceasefire. It is not the dialogue/negotiation itself. As of Thursday, the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate, NDGJM, based in Delta State, had not yielded to the call to cease hostilities because of some unsettled issues, but the most popular of the militant groups, Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, has since given the leaders the authority to discuss on their behalf. Their strike on Chevron export line in Delta State, few days ago, was a warning to the International Oil Companies, IOCs, to discontinue repairs of blown pipelines pending the summit, hastily packaged last September 26 and 27 by the Office of the Vice President, but postponed because of alleged poor planning and rejection by Niger Delta leaders and stakeholders. The November 1 meeting, originally fixed for October 29, but moved to October 31 and now, November 1, was facilitated by the Minister of State (Petroleum), Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, following the request of Niger Delta leaders after their meeting at Effurun, near Warri, Delta State, August 19. But it took a while, almost three months after, to hold because of many commitments of Mr. President, who, at the outset, stated his willingness to receive the leaders at any time through his officials, and urged Kachikwu and the governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, at the time to handle the process. A former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, and, former governor of the old Rivers State, His Majesty, Alfred Diette-Spiff, are co-Chairmen of the Central Working Committee, CWC, of PANDEF with social activist, lawyer and environmentalist, Ledum Mitee, as Secretary. The broad-based group, including the leaders earlier invited by the Minister of Transportation, Rt Hon Chibuike Amaechi, for meeting in Abuja, last month, is the most satisfactory the region can boast of at the moment. Because of his age, Clark had stated, two months ago, that he would not be able to lead a Niger Delta delegation to the summit, but that, given the import of the November 1 interface with Buhari, he decided to make a sacrifice at the expense of his physical condition to drum home the expectations of the people to him. At the time of this report, PANDEF had not taken a final position on what it would tell Buhari, but Sunday Vanguard learned that a sub-committee was set up to look at the matter and come up with ideas that will be tabled. Jarring tones However, the Urhobo Common Cause, UCC, an Urhobo group in Delta State, led by Henry Tafri, has rejected PANDEF, saying the group was festering ‘internal colonialism’ on the people of the region with the lop-sided membership in favour of Ijaw ethnic group. The Reformed Niger Delta Avengers, RNDA, and Niger Delta Peoples Professional Volunteer Force, NDPPVF, in a joint open letter to the leader of PANDEF, Clark, on Tuesday, by Cythia Wyhte and Dr. Parkinson George-Amabo, urged him to include their nominee, Secretary of disbanded Aaron Team 2, Timipa Okponipere, as a member of the forum’s delegation to Buhari, warning: “We shall accordingly withdraw our support of Chief Edwin Clark and resume passive hostility if we are not represented at PANDEF.” Responding to what it termed alleged desperation of some groups and persons to be part of the PANDEF delegation, the Niger Delta Security Watch Organization, NDSWON, headed by Dickson Bekederemo, asserted: “We are in shock as to the activities of certain group of people from the Niger Delta region in their desperate move to be included in the dialogue team. “These groups of people appear not to appreciate the enormous responsibility of dialoguing with a section of this country opposed to restructuring. The responsibility placed on the shoulders of who that may be in the dialogue team can be likened to the situation the biblical Daniel faced. It is, therefore, not something one ought to be enthusiastic about.” Similarly, the Ijaw Human Rights Monitor, led by Mr. Fred Brisibe, said: “It is appalling and quite disturbing how, all of a sudden, every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to be member of the Pan-Niger Delta Forum to dialogue with the Federal Government. It gives cause for suspicion. One is left with no option than to believe strongly that there is something other than the reason of negotiating on behalf of the region. “We cannot remember any day youths of the Niger Delta from all ethnic nationalities came together, the way they did recently, to articulate and defend a common position on the current agitation. It is preposterous for them to pursue the selfish object of their own inclusion of the dialogue team when better concerns should be the quality of our demands and the resilience of our representatives. An ambition to be part of the team rather than direct its focus is a flagrant misplacement of priorities. “We are also aware of some persons, who did all forms of desperate lobbying to be members of the group. We will not hesitate to expose them and call for their immediate withdrawal the moment we notice traces of betrayal, interest in gratification and seeking for personal gains. The platform is not an avenue to negotiate appointments, contracts and or any favour. The success of the Niger Delta people’s clamour for political and economic restructuring lies in the tenacity of our representatives.” A new dimension On their part, the Ijaw People’s Development Initiative (IPDI), led by Comrade Austin Ozobo, and Foundation for Human Rights and Anti-corruption Crusade (FHRACC), coordinated by Alaowei Cleric, are miffed that PANDEF “is holding a meeting outside the Niger Delta region to discuss issues that border on the region.” In a joint statement in Warri, the groups said: “Such gathering is nothing better than a political jamboree because it cannot discuss critical issues that concern the collective will of the people. Those calling for Niger Delta meetings in far away Abuja or elsewhere are not doing so for the good of the region. To us, they are doing that just for their personal interest, ostensibly to curry favour from the powers that be.” We’re not going for dialogue- Mitee Meanwhile, PANDEF Secretary, Mitee, who noted the divergent opinions, told Sunday Vanguard that the meeting with Buhari was not the much-awaited dialogue between the Federal Government and Niger Delta people, but a prelude to the dialogue. Mitee said: “My personal expectation is that the meeting will prepare the grounds for the dialogue, which should bring the IOCs, our governors and others to the table. I also want to see a clear process and time-frame for the dialogue.” No long list of demands – Clark Clark, who also spoke to Sunday Vanguard on phone, said: ‘We are going to see Mr. President; he is our President and the father of the nation. What we are asking for in Niger Delta is not different from what other people have been asking for. We are going to ask for justice, fairness and equity.” He clarified, just like Mitee, that the meeting with Buhari was not the planned dialogue with the Federal Government, saying: “We are going to tell him that he should dialogue with the people of the Niger Delta and that the use of force is not and cannot be a solution to the Niger Delta crisis. “He is our President. We will pledge our loyalty to him. We will congratulate him on his election because this is the first time we are seeing him as a people since he won. We are not going to be submitting any long list of demands to him. But we will let him know the need for him to carry the people of Niger Delta along in his government, they should take us as people, who are not part of Nigeria. We are not separating from Nigeria, but it is obvious that the country requires true federalism to move forward. We will tell him that and that is the same thing other parts of the country are asking for. “If there is true federalism, we will not have a case of states not being able to pay salaries or maintain themselves, those who cannot stand on their own will join others. Of course, we are going to talk to him about the need to develop Niger Delta, the problem is not lack of ideas of what should be done, the Mitee Technical Committee Report on Niger Delta in 2009 and others are there, the problem is lack of political will to develop the region.” Clark said some critical and urgent issues would be raised, but the region would talk to the Federal Government at the appropriate time when a proper dialogue was convened.

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