CLARK CAUTIONS VICE PRESIDENT, PROF YEMI OSINBAJO, TO TREAD CAREFULLY ON NIGER DELTA REGION AND NOT ANTAGONIZE LEADERS AND STAKEHOLDERS OF THE REGION
I have read with very serious concern reports of the meeting of Mr. Vice President, Professor Yemi Osibanjo, SAN, with the Minister of State Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva, and the Deputy Governor of Delta State, Barrister Kingsley Otuaro, at the State House, Abuja, few days ago, over heightened concerns in the Niger Delta region.
This was in particular reference to the recent developments in Delta State; where some Communities and groups i.e. Ijaws of Gbaramatu and Ogulagha, Itsekiris, Urhobos, Ukwanis, Isokos, etc. issued ultimatums and threats to disrupt oil and gas operations in their areas, due to Federal Government’s continued apathetic attitude towards the Region.
I have been inaundated with countless calls since the news of that supposed meeting from various quarters, including the media, and many have expressed serious exception to the fact that critical stakeholders of the region were not consulted or involved.
The action, whatever the intentions were, is not only thoughtless but is also a betrayal of trust to say the least, and likely to stir up unnecessary tension in the region. This again shows the creepy attitude of this administration, and its practice of exclusion, and non-committal to issues of the Niger Delta.
It is sad that this government has continued to behave in this manner, and sadly, with support of some of our people.
Unfortunately, in spite of the gains arising from the subsisting peace in the region, and the conciliatory gesture of the Niger Delta people, the Federal Government has continued to demonstrate indifference to issues affecting the Niger Delta Region.
Majority of the laudable pronouncements and promises made by the Acting President during his visit to the region, and subsequent engagements with the flagship, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), have remained, largely, mere wishful assertions.
PANDEF noted at the time that the patience of the youths and other critical stakeholders in the Region was running out.
However, when there were threats by the boys, in November 2017, to resume hostilities in the region, PANDEF appealed to them to sheathe their swords in the various National Newspapers and through active and spirited engagements.
An issue that easily comes to mind is this Administration’s abandonment of the Export Processing Zone (EPZ)/Gas Revolution Industrial Park Project at Ogidigben in Itsekiri and Gbaramatu in Ijaw, in favour of building of AKK Gas Pipeline in Ajaokuta to Abuja, Kaduna and Kano for about 2.8 Billion Dollars. Sadly the name of the project, AKK Gas Pipeline, even ignores the name of Escravos from where the gas and the pipeline starts.
This is very unfortunate; I consider it part of the deliberate attempts to undermine the efforts of the people of the region and the leadership of PANDEF. It is capable of causing disaffection and unnecessary tension in the region.
The Minister of State Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva, in fairness to him, was not part of our past conversations on some of these issues, so he may not be blamed for this new action.
Niger Delta Leaders are particularly disappointed at the steps being taken by the Vice President of Nigeria and the impact it may have on impending crisis in the Niger Delta six coastal States.
It would be recalled that in early 2016, various militant groups in the name of Niger Delta Avengers were vandalising and destroying oil pipelines, which resulted in drastic reduction of crude oil production from 2,000,000 Barrels per day to about 700,000 Barrels per day. At the time, even though the Nigeria Army, in the name of “Operation Crocodile Smile”, invaded the area, vandalisation continued.
So the Leaders led by me, convened an emergency meeting which was attended by over 500 persons from the Niger Delta region, from all walks of life, at the P.T.I. in Effurun, Delta State.
Our beloved Son, the Governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa was also in attendance at that meeting. We then appealed to the youths to cease fire, and give peace a chance.
It was after that meeting that I led a delegation of over 100 Leaders of the Niger Delta to the Presidential Villa to see Mr. President, Muhammadu Buhari on 1st November, 2016. The 100 strong powerful delegation included First Class Traditional Rulers, Eminent Statesmen, Technocrats, and Professionals of all spheres, Right Activists, Politicians, Community Leaders, Youth and Women Leaders. At the meeting, we presented a 16-Point Agenda, summarizing our broad issues.
That 16-Point Agenda was presented by the then co-Chairmen of PANDEF, HRM King Alfred Diette-Spiff, Amayanabo of Twon Brass and former Governor of old Rivers State, and His Excellency, Obong Victor Attah, former Governor of Akwa Ibom State. The document was personally received by President Buhari and he promised to study it and revert back to us.
Unfortunately, the President later left for London on Medical Vacation, and the Vice President acted for a long period of time.
During the period, when Professor Osibanjo was the Acting President, he decided to take a tour or visit to the Niger Delta, starting on the 16th of January 2017, and met the various Communities including the Youths and the Women Leaders.
At various venues, and in all the Town Hall meetings, during the visit, the Acting President recognised PANDEF’s role. His first port of call was Delta State, to a place known as Gbaramatu, where he said he was disappointed at the level of underdevelopment. He had thought that these oil producing areas were like Dubai, but met the people living in abject squalor, not even potable water to drink. He later returned to Warri to meet Leaders under my Chairmanship, and later, made series of purposeful visits, holding Town Hall Meetings in the various States.
In Bayelsa State, he specifically stated and promised the people, that the Federal Government will replace the existing illegal refineries located all over the Niger Delta with modular refineries, where the Communities will have a stake in the investments. Indeed, he made these same promises when he visited Rivers and Akwa Ibom States, where he categorically stated again that the Federal Government will direct the International Oil Companies (IOCs) to relocate their operational headquarters to their areas of operation in the Niger Delta. As he clearly argued on that occasion, this was to reduce the frequent misunderstandings and crisis, between the communities and the International Oil Companies (IOCs). This is because, at present, the IOCs operate from Lagos and Abuja except for SPDC which has relocated its operational headquarters to Port Harcourt.
The then Acting President also visited Edo State. Thereafter, he visited Imo, Abia and Ondo States which are also Oil Producing States; he ended his tour on 1st of June, 2017 in Cross River State.
After this extensive tour, for which we are grateful, and the promises made at every stop, PANDEF was invited to a meeting with him on August 3rd, 2017, (exactly three years today, 3rd August, 2020).
At the meeting with Prof. Osibanjo, it was further agreed that the Federal Government will hold dialogue with us, PANDEF, on the 16-Point Agenda earlier submitted to Mr. President, Muhammadu Buhari.
It is as result of the nonchalant attitude of the Federal Government and blatant disregard for the people of the Niger Delta region, who live in abject poverty and seriously deprived of participating in their God given resources, oil and gas in their area, and with the NNPC completely taken over by a section of Nigerians outside the Niger Delta, that has started to heighten tension in the area again.
I should add that since the return of Mr. President to his office, from his medical vacation in London, the progress which seemed to have been made by the Acting President was totally ignored. This is very sad indeed.
The Leaders of the Niger Delta under the auspices of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) gave a warning that they would continue to support the youths in the oil producing Communities, particularly in Delta State where the Ijaws, Itsekiris, Urhobos, Isokos, Ukwanis and Ogulaghas, where oil is produced in large quantity and the Forcados Terminal is also situated; Amatu in Bayelsa State were the large oil producing Bonga Oil field is situated as well as Bilabri, Letugbene, Peretorugbene Ekeni, Ogbetubo, Nun River, and other oil producing Communities in the State. Other cases are the Oil producing Communities in Rivers State and the recent threat given by the Omoku and Egbema against AGIP Operations, the oil producing Communities in Akwa Ibom State and the Bakassi boys in Cross River State.
This is the very reason why the youths in the various places mentioned above have given various ultimatums to the Federal Government, to address the iniquities, which are now reducing us to second class citizens.
From recent revelations, we see that some politicians and other operators loot our resources to their areas, outside the Niger Delta region, shamefully assisted by some unscrupulous corrupt and unpatriotic persons from the region.
Can you imagine a situation where a Legislator from Ondo North, where a single drop of oil is not produced, will in the name of Chairmanship of House Committee on NDDC; dictate to the NDDC to award road contracts, worth about 10 Billion Naira in 2018 and 2019 to his Constituency. Whereas my beloved daughter from River State, from a core oil producing area, was very much agitated, when Senator Akpabio, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs was trying to expose some of the contracts awarded to Members of the National Assembly. She obviously seems totally uninformed of this fact of the alleged attitude of her Committee Chairman. Unknown to many members of NASS, their Chairman attracted such number of roads to Akoko North East, North West and South in Ondo State where he comes from. This was in 2018, when he was not even a Member of the House Committee until 2019, where he awarded 11 contracts, influencing the implementation of the same contracts earlier awarded to Ondo State.
Whereas in Kula, in the Kalabari Kingdom of Rivers State, where my daughter in question represents two Local Governments Areas in the House of Representatives, and which produces large quantity of oil and gas, there are no such gigantic projects.
When the Minister of State Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, the GMD of NNPC Melee Kyari, the Presidential Adviser on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Ita Enang, and Amb. Godknows Igali, who represented me, recently visited Kula, they saw for themselves that the only Primary School in a community was dilapidated with no seats, and the only source of water, produces saline water.
While not exonerating the States and Local Governments of the oil producing areas, it is the very ungodly treatment, the Federal Government, in collaboration with the Oil Companies gives to our people that is most unjust and provocative.
This is unacceptable and it will not continue.
It is therefore a betrayal of trust, after the recent ultimatums given by the various oil producing communities in Delta State, for the same Vice President to hold a meeting with the Minister of State Petroleum and the Deputy Governor of Delta State, widely reported, especially in Vanguard Newspaper of July 31st, 2020 at page 37. Instead of the Vice President reverting to the Leadership of PANDEF, he now holds meeting with the Minister of State Petroleum Timipre Sylva and the Deputy Governor of Delta State, Kingsley Otuaro to the exclusion of the leaders with whom he has been working.
Disappointedly, the Deputy Governor of Delta State representing his Governor, had even discussed this matters with me earlier, after the visit of the GMD of NNPC, Mele Kyari and Prince Nduka Obiagbena to my resident in Abuja.
At this juncture, may I use this medium to quote the Archbishop Elect of the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province of the Anglican Communion, Rev. Dr. David Onuoha in Imo State, where he said in the Church that he has been having sleepless nights since he read of the rot in the NDDC, and the neglect of the Niger Delta people. You can, therefore, imagine the number of sleepless nights, we, the Niger Delta Leaders led by me, have been having.
We, the entire leaders, often feel like hiding ourselves in shame, and a sense of condemnation, for allowing our God given resources to be looted by a few of our corrupt sons, in conspiracy with some unscrupulous politicians from other parts of Nigeria.
Finally, it may be necessary to emphasize our ungodly deplorable plight where we have being treated as second class citizens or colonial territories being exploited by politicians and the Federal Government, which makes us one of the most undeveloped regions of Nigeria, despite our God given resources.
Before I conclude, let me go back a little to state that in order to develop our difficult and swampy terrain, as far back as 1958, the Willinks Commission was set up by the Colonial Government to look into the problems of the minorities of the Niger Delta. Our leaders at the time, appeared before the Commission and made presentations.
At the end, the Commission made very favourable recommendation based on the facts presented and what they verified. The Commission stated that the deplorable areas of the Niger Delta are not being understood by the Federal Government.
For this reason, the Commission made a recommendation for the setting up of the Niger Delta Development Board in 1960. This was entrenched in the Independence Constitution of Nigeria in 1960 and the Republican Constitution in 1963.
I made this point to underscore the fact that the developmental needs of our area, despite the ravaging effects of oil have been historic.
Now with all the oil which we produce, we are still being reduced to suffer grave injustices and exclusion. Most of the communities where the oil comes from are not connected to the national grid, thus no electricity, and the roads are deplorable; the East-West Road has been under construction for the past 10 years and has remained uncompleted.
We have suffered and endured enough, hence today, the Leaders of the Niger Delta have become a laughing stock. This situation, we will not accept from the Federal Government, the State Government and the politicians.
Mr. Vice President, therefore, take heed over these secret meetings, in which you want to isolate our leaders. We would have thought that your greater concern should be after how to put into action your various promises, most of which are not being implemented.
Let me make it clear that we are prepared to take our destiny in our own hands, no matter the consequence that will follow suit. Enough is Enough.
Chief (Dr.) E.K. Clark, OFR, CON
Leader, South – South