The leadership of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Wednesday, urged governors of the Niger Delta region, particularly of the South-South states, not to allow themselves to be used by the Federal Government to truncate genuine agitations and aspirations of oil-producing communities and ethnic nationalities the region.
National Chairman of PANDEF and former military administrator of Akwa Ibom State, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (retd), made the call after a virtual meeting with some critical stakeholders of the region.
Quoting Nkanga, national publicity secretary of the group, Hon Ken Robinson, asserted: “The call became necessary following the disturbing way and manner the Delta State government has been conducting itself over recent developments in the state – where some oil-producing communities and groups, i.e Ijaws of Gbaramatu and Ogulagha, Itsekiris, Urhobos, Ukwanis, Isokos, and Ndokwas, issued ultimatums and threats to disrupt oil and gas operations in their areas, due to federal government’s continued indifference towards the development of the region.”
“Recall that PANDEF had endorsed the demands by the oil and gas-producing communities and ethnic groups, and any consequential, legitimate, action or process, the groups may take to secure equity, justice, and economic betterment for their people. We did that because the issues raised by the Groups, are the same issues we have been talking about all these years,” he said.
But in a sharp reaction to the allegation, Deputy Governor of Delta State, Deacon Kingsley Otuaro, said: “Senator Ifeanyi Okowa government is a people-oriented government that holds very strongly to the phenomenon of dialogue and anything that affects our people.”
“We are not antithetical to anybody raising his voice on matters that affect us, but we think that we can have a win-win situation in creating a platform for our people to dialogue with the Federal Government on their concerns.
“We respect the leadership of PANDEF because it constitutes critical stakeholders of Niger Delta and they are senior citizens of this region. We have no problem whatsoever with PANDEF.
“But as I said, we felt that given the way the agitation was going, we have to dialogue with the federal government. This is the position of the Okowa-led government of the state,” he added.
Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, Mr. Olisa Ifejika, also debunked the allegation that the state stopped oil communities from carrying out protest, saying: “The state government did not stop the protest by the oil communities. I am not aware that the state did that and it is not true.”
He stated: “The agitation for development by the oil communities is in the interest of the state, but the government only intervened to ensure that the noble intention of the communities was not misplaced by other persons.”
Ifejika said the state government wants peace to reign in the state, even as the oil community’s demand for development.
A government source said: “It is an open secret that the deputy governor, Deacon Kingsley Otuaro, met with the Vice President and he assured that the federal government was with PANDEF, which picked ax with Governor Okowa’s style, said: “It is, therefore, rather unfortunate that the Governor of Delta State, and Chairman of the South-South Governors’ Forum, our dear, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, who has been part and parcel of our conservations and efforts to stabilize and sustain the relative peace in the region, particularly in Delta State, would use his position to dissuade the people from insisting on their rightful demands, and thereby trying to weaken the resolve of the people. “
“And we think this is as a result of the recent meeting, which he sent his Deputy, Barrister Kingsley Otuaro, to represent him, with the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osibanjo, SAN, and the Minister of State Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva, at the State House, Abuja, following the ultimatums given by various oil-producing communities.
“It is important to further note that our National Leader and Elder statesman, Chief E. K. Clark, had written to the Vice President to express the concerns and objections to the fact that critical stakeholders and leaders of the region were not consulted or involved in the supposed meeting. And condemned the subsequent surreptitious attempts by the government to scuttle the efforts of the people.
“Regrettably, in spite of PANDEF’s position on the matter, the Deputy Governor of Delta State, apparently at the behest of the governor, is continuing with the mission, mobilizing traditional rulers and others, urging them to appeal to their people to stop the agitations and give the federal government more time. More time, how? How long do they want our people to suffer this untold neglect and hardship?
“The degradation of the hitherto luxurious ecosystem of the Niger Delta region, and the damage of the people’s means of livelihood, due to the adverse effects of oil exploration in the region, with little, if any improvement in their standard of living, and the federal government’s continued demonstration of callous indifference to issues of the region, should be of concern to all. Most of the communities where the oil comes from are not connected to the national grid, thus, no electricity; roads are deplorable; and without adequate social amenities and institutions.
“While we acknowledge that state governors have a responsibility to ensure that peaceful agitations do not snowball into situations that would threaten the peace and security of their states, they should endeavor to remain sensitive to the yearnings of their people and the shared interests of the region, at all instances. And not become yes-men to the federal government in any way.
“The conduct of the Delta State government on this matter, whatever the intentions may be, is completely unacceptable. We consider it a calculated attempt to undermine the efforts of the people of the region, and the leadership of PANDEF. We are particularly concerned about the impact it may have on future situations in the six coastal States of the Region. PANDEF is, therefore, dissociating itself from whatever any group or State government is doing or would do, on behalf of the Federal Government, in the emerging situations in the Region.
“It is a well-known fact that PANDEF submitted a 16-Point Demand, which encapsulates critical concerns and interests of the People of the entire Niger Delta Region, to the Federal Government since November 2016. Following which the Vice President as acting president, in 2017, visited the whole of the Niger Delta. During the course of his visits, the Acting President expressed disappointment at the level of underdevelopment of the region and made far-reaching pronouncements on some of the vexing issues.
“Including the establishment of modular refineries in the Region to replace the artisanal refineries being operated by some youths, and in which the Communities will have a stake; the directive to International Oil Companies (IOCs) to relocate their operational headquarters to the Niger Delta Region; and expedite work on Critical Infrastructure across the Region, amongst others.
“After the extensive tour, PANDEF had further engagements with the Vice President. And it was again agreed that the Federal Government will hold dialogue with PANDEF, on the 16-Point Demand earlier submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari. PANDEF was also invited to join some inter-ministerial committees, and we sent people to participate.
“Sadly, the 16-Point Demand has remained unattended to by the Buhari administration, except the establishment of the Nigeria Maritime University, Okerenkoko, Delta State, and the launch of Ogoni Clean-Up, whose status is unclear to us. The laudable pronouncements and promises made by the Acting President during his visit to the region, and subsequent engagements with PANDEF, have remained, largely, mere assertions. With several policy somersaults; the Modular refineries, which were to replace the artisanal refineries in the Region, have been commercialized.
“The feeling of marginalization, neglect, discrimination, and injustice against the people by the federal government is growing in the Region. So let it be known to all that PANDEF shall continue to advance and support all legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Niger Delta people, whether demands of Oil Producing Communities in any of the States, issues of Environmental Remediation, and Clean-up, or the plight of Bakassi people in Cross River State.
“It is irksome that the Presidential Amnesty Programme is in disarray, like other interventionist agencies of the region, and is now being controlled by “northerners” to the exclusion of the Niger Delta people for which it was established. And worsened by the recent widely reported recommendation of the so-called Committee that the Programme should be scraped.
“The abandonment of the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) and Gas Revolution Industrial Park Project at Ogidigben in Delta State, in favor of the AKK Gas Pipeline from Ajaokuta to Abuja, Kaduna and Kano; the relocation of the Floating Dock; and the callous exclusion of Oil Producing Communities from participation in the Oil and Gas Industry, including the Ownership of Oil Marginal Fields and Blocks, are issues that cannot be swept under the carpet.
‘The East-West Road has been under construction for the past 10 years and has remained uncompleted. The Calabar-Itu Road is in an appalling state of disrepair. And if we may ask, what is the status of the US $333m Bodo-Bonny Road, a project expected to open up opportunities for rapid socio-economic development of the areas, even with a reported contribution of US $167m by the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Limited?
“PANDEF listened to the discussion that took place in Government House, Port Harcourt, as was reported by a section of the media on Friday, 21st August 2020, when the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Board led by the Minister of State Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva, visited the Governor of Rivers State, Chief Barrister Nyesom Wike.
“During which the Honorable Minister of State said International Oil Companies (IOCs) will move their operational headquarters to the Niger Delta Region when the security of the region improves. Governor Wike disagreed with him, and we agree with the Governor of Rivers State that perhaps the seeming insecurity in the region is caused by the oil companies themselves; so they would have an excuse to continue to situate their headquarters outside the Niger Delta.
“They work and evacuate millions of barrels of Oil, and Gas, every day from the region without mention of insecurity but they present the excuse of insecurity when it comes to the relocation of their operational headquarters to the Region.
“We would have, therefore, thought a greater concern of the Governor of Delta State and Chairman of the South-South Governors’ Forum should have been some of the above issues, and more importantly, how he would get the governors of the region together, to quickly establish a Joint Security Initiative for the region, like their counterparts in the other regions.
“As well as reinvigorate the BRACED Commission to stimulate socio-economic cooperation and growth in the Niger Delta. Niger Deltans are not happy that our governors are not meeting as often as they should, to discuss the problems of the region.
“Niger Delta is not inferior to any other region in the country. They should, therefore, not delay any longer; whatever that is needed, should be done to ensure that a regional security outfit is established, to complement the efforts of the nation’s security agencies, and enhance the safety and security of lives and property of not only our people but all Nigerians who reside or do business in the region.,” he said