Niger Delta leaders from different parts of the region yesterday warned the presidency to be concerned about the growing impatience in Nigeria’s crude oil belt as a result of delay in the proposed dialogue between government and regional stakeholders.
The leaders were at Kiagbodo, hometown of Ijaw leader, Chief E.K Clark in Delta State to reflect on recent developments, especially the long-awaited negotiation with the Federal Government that would bring peace to the troubled region.
The meeting is coming at a time of relative peace in the region following the ceasefire by militants. The delay by the Federal Government in firming up a peace deal with the leaders could reverse the gains of this ceasefire. Top among these is the return of militancy that would jeopardise the oil sector and dim the hope of the nation’s recovery from its current recession since the economy is oil-dependent.
Already the daily crude production projection of 2.1 million barrels per day (mbd) upon which the 2017 budget is predicated is down to 1.5 million as a result of the trouble in the region
At the extended meeting of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) chaired by former military governor of Akwa Ibom State, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (rtd) were also former Minister of Police Affairs, Alowei Broderick Bozimo; Chief Power Aginighan; Senator Stella Omu; Daniel Reineju, member representing Warri Federal Constituency at the House of Representatives; and former managing director of Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC), Chief Wellington Okrika.
Before reporters were asked to leave the meeting, Chief Edwin Clark had expressed the frustration of the region, urging President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately set up a committee to dialogue with PANDEF. He noted that since the group met the president in November 2016, nothing had happened.
Clark was particularly miffed that Buhari’s senior media aide, Femi Adesina allegedly said recently on television that the proposed negotiation with the region was stalled because there were no credible people to talk to. Clark described the comment as an insult.
“When Mr. President gave his New Year message, he was particular about the Niger Delta. He said he was ready to dialogue with the Niger Delta leaders. We commend him for agreeing that dialogue is the right thing to do. But there should be no impression that the presidency has not seen credible people to discuss with.
“We are appealing to the president that we have been waiting and we are tired of waiting. Our youths whom they call militants have accepted ceasefire and have stopped destroying oil facilities and have been waiting for the president to discuss with their leaders. Now they are getting impatient.”
According to Clark, the Niger Delta has credible leaders and groups just like the Arewa, Ohanaeze and Afenifere that the Federal Government should negotiate with. He explained that in November 2015, a large number of Niger Delta leaders, women and youths met with the president but that nothing seemed to have happened since then.
He urged Buhari to set up a team to negotiate with the leaders of the Niger Delta whom he said were becoming inpatient.
In a statement issued at the end of the meeting, the forum criticised “the orchestrated assault on the family of former President Goodluck Jonathan”, saying the intention was to humiliate him. The leaders found the alleged silence of President Buhari on the issue disturbing.
They observed that after over two months of meeting, the president has not constituted the dialogue team for the speedy resolution of the various issues in the region. They took exception to the statement credited to Adesina that the president was still in search of credible leaders of the Niger Delta.
Also, the forum demanded the urgent release of the over N1 trillion Federal Government under-contribution to the funds of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), just as it urged the government to direct the immediate takeoff of the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, Delta State.
The PANDEF reiterated its earlier position on the urgent need for the restructuring of the Nigerian federation along the lines of fiscal federalism as the only sustainable solution to the Nigerian crisis.