ADDRESS PRESENTED TO HIS EXCELLENCY, PROF. YEMI OSINBAJO, SAN, GCON, ACTING PRESIDENT OF NIGERIA, BY LEADER, PAN NIGER DELTA FORUM, (PANDEF), CHIEF (DR.) EDWIN KIAGBODO CLARK, OFR, CON, AT THE STATE HOUSE, ABUJA, ON THURSDAY, 3RD AUGUST, 2017.
On behalf of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), representing all the peoples of the Coastal States of the Niger Delta, comprising Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, and Rivers State, I want to thank Your Excellency, most sincerely for affording us another opportunity to come and share our thoughts with you on various issues affecting our region.
- From the outset, let me express our solidarity with you, at this time when the awesome responsibility of steering the ship of this Nation is in your able hands, even as we pray earnestly for the speedy recovery, and return, of Mr. President to Nigeria. It is our hope, and prayer, that the good Lord will continue to guide you and imbue you with the needed wisdom, courage, and strength in the discharge of the duties of your Office.
- You will recall that precisely on November 1, 2016, I led a delegation of over 100 prominent Traditional Rulers, Elder Statesmen, Leaders of Thoughts, Professionals, Youth leaders, Women, and Activists from all the ethnic nationalities and states of the South-South, under the auspices of PANDEF where a Document containing the 16-point Dialogue Issues for the Development of the Niger Delta region known as “The 16-point Agenda” was presented to Mr. President. That meeting was very fruitful and gave us a lot of optimism and hope for an enduring beneficial relationship between our people and the Federal Government. More than that, we had hoped that a healthy and mutually beneficial dialogue would ensue, which would enable us find lasting solutions to the very difficult challenges of the region, and thereby usher in sustainable peace and development.
- I now think it is propitious to examine and evaluate what milestones have been achieved, if any, to enable us redirect our steps and efforts.
GENERAL OVERVIEW OF SITUATION IN THE NIGER DELTA
- As you will recall, following the intervention of PANDEF, and the unilateral declaration of ceasefire by the various agitating groups in the area, oil and gas production increased considerably. According to a recent report by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, and the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Dr. Maikanti Baru, we have moved from 800,000 barrels per day, to an all-time high of 2.2 Million barrels per day. What this means for our national economy is an increase in revenue to about 110 Million (US) Dollars, or about 33 Billion Naira, per day (at the approximate rate of N305/Dollar).
- We are truly pleased that the country is able, especially at this time of recession, to fully harness the benefits of the peace in the area, to positively impact on our national economy, both for the purpose of recovery, and the realization of the various programs of the government. We are, however, disappointed that this painstaking effort, which we undertook and has brought great relief to the country, has not been appropriately reciprocated by Government, in terms of any meaningful activity that is ongoing in the Region. Every week, we hear of decisions by the Federal Executive Council where billions of Naira, (obviously, the result of the new increase in Government earnings) being allocated for projects in other parts of the country, with virtually nothing coming to our zone.
- This kind of situation is not only unjust and inequitable, but has also started to spark a backlash of frustration and tension in the area. It is painting us the Leaders (who took up the gauntlet and the risk of going into the creeks to calm the various aggrieved groups to give peace a chance) in very bad light. Worse still, is the flood of direct numerous threats which have started to come to us severally and as a group. A few examples will suffice.
- On the 11th of July, I received an SMS with the following message “Good morning, we are aware of the PANDEF meeting today in Bayelsa. Our stand is simple, we have lost confidence in PANDEF to take the Niger Delta of the 21st century to the promise land thereby throwing our weight and support to the Niger Delta Young Leaders Stakeholders Round Table Meeting in Port Harcourt, on 8th July, 2017. PANDEF should stop speaking for the Niger Delta. Our stand will be made known tomorrow, in one of the daily newspapers. Thanks. …” In like manner, on Monday July 17, 2017, the Vanguard Newspaper published a correspondence from one of the agitating groups saying: “We have advised PANDEF to step down (from on-going talks with the Federal Government) so that we can take our future and that of our children in our hands. We the NDRC and the 21st century youths of the Niger Delta unequivocally state that there is nothing we will not give to unshackle our people from the chains of slavery. We will fight until the last drop of our blood, until justice and equity is enthroned on our land because we cannot afford to bequeath this type of society to our children. Peace without justice is not the same as justice before peace. We will not allow anybody to bequeath peace of the graveyard on us. Though, we appreciate their sacrifice and service over the years, it has not been able to unshackle our people from the chains of slavery. The sacrifices of Chief Clark at 90, HRM Alfred Diete-Spiff, Chief Victor Attah and a hand full of distinguished personalities of the PANDEF are well recognised, but we want to state that slave masters do not, and will never understand the language of platitude. The NDRC and the 21st century support the stance of the Niger Delta…on True Federalism and Resource Control.”
- This was further confirmed by a publication in the Monday July 31st 2017, edition of the Vanguard in which the NDRC stated that PANDEF, the NDDC and the Hon Minister of Niger Delta have failed the people of the area and threatened to resume attacks. These excerpts of communication coming to us in various ways and from various groups, are not just ominous, but portray an unfortunate drift which is avoidable. We all need to work, concertedly, to avert relapse to tension in the region.
THE QUESTION OF DIALOGUE
- Just before the return to civilian rule in the late 1990s and the escalation of crisis in the Niger Delta, the Federal Government under the leadership of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, then head of state, began a process of dialogue with the people of Niger Delta. Subsequently, the new civilian administration headed by Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo followed the same trend which eventually led to the setting up of both the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Office of the Advisor to the President on Niger Delta. In the same manner, the process of dialogue continued in earnest with late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua which culminated into the Presidential Amnesty Program in 2009. This was also followed through during the administration of President Goodluck Ebele Johnathan which had just ended.
- I had addressed this and other matters in a Press Statement which I issued on Monday, 31st July, 2017 (attached herewith).One of the main things which we appealed to Mr. President, to consider during the audience he granted us last year, was to open up a channel of dialogue on the issues contained in the 16-Point Agenda. This was to enable the two sides examine various strategies, as well as actions, to ensure that we do not find ourselves at where we were, by this time last year, or way back in 2009. Unfortunately, Government has not put together a team to dialogue with us for nine months. Your visit to the Niger Delta Region showed great commitment on the part of the Federal Government which we appreciated and commended in very clear terms. Sadly, some of the very laudable pronouncements which you made during these visits are being flouted with impunity.
- Let me remind Your Excellency on some specific policy statements and promises which you made during your visits to the Niger Delta States:
(i) The 16-Point Agenda and the Work of the Inter-agency Committee
- During your tour to the region, you pronounced clearly that the 16-Point Agenda which we had earlier referred to will form the basis for the Federal Government’s future engagement with the region. As you rightly identified at the various places during the visits, both the spirit and the letter of the 16-Point Agenda encapsulates the overall developmental expectations of the people of the Niger Delta. The 16-Point Agenda is omnibus and is holistic touching where it matters most to us.
- Our expectation is that this will form the basis of the direct dialogue in order to identify priorities and develop workplans in a thematic and coordinated manner.
- It therefore came as a surprise to us that shortly after your visit; our attention was drawn to the constituting of an inter-agency committee on the Niger Delta and the fact that the committee had already done substantial work. Even though this appeared like a top-to-bottom approach, we complied by sending six (6) representatives to attend meetings of the committee. It was sad however, to hear from our representatives that their role was merely to validate lists of projects and activities which had already been compiled.
- Of greater concern is the fact that the subsequent report of the work of the committee published under the theme “Strategic Implementation Work Plan (SIWP) for Development in the Niger Delta from 2017 to 2019” clearly states that its scope is limited to the activities of few MDAs as contained in the 2017 National Budget and rolled over to 2018 and 2019. What this essentially means is that, the document only lists what the Ministries in question (Ministry of Niger Delta, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Niger Delta Development Commission, and the Presidential Amnesty Office), intend to do under this specific budget. Indeed, it is most disingenuous that the Strategic Work Plan which we were told is a draft is already in the public space and the wrong impression being created of huge amounts claimed to be N2.2 trillion has been budgeted to tackle the problems of the Niger Delta. We find this most embarrassing and not in the spirit of the mutual trust which should exist between us and Government.
- Mr. Acting President, we have since replied the Minster of Niger Delta and we stated our observations and reservations about this very unhelpful approach which is unacceptable. The idea of isolating normal budgetary items which we are entitled to just like other parts of the country and representing it to us under the title “Strategic Implementation Work Plan” is totally misleading and unhelpful.
(ii). The Presidential Amnesty Program
We appreciate the fact that higher provisions made for funding the amnesty program has helped us in the past few years to sustain peace in the area. This in turn has brought substantial benefits to the entire country. It is regrettable however that information available to us through some of the beneficiaries of the scheme, indicate that staggered payment and that sufficient cash backing has not been provided to enable the government agency responsible keep up with its obligations to the beneficiaries and ensure coordinated reintegration process. In like manner, the inability of the Presidential Amnesty Office to follow through with its Quick Impact Projects (QIP) have made it different for even persons who have been trained under the programme to be meaningfully engaged.
This solution needs to be addressed immediately as we know that other government departments which are benefiting because of peace in the region being sustained by the Amnesty Programme are better funded. The goose that lays the golden egg should not be starved.
(iii.) Relocation of Oil Companies
- Our demand that after 60 years all oil companies (Especially the IOCs) show greater presence in their areas of operation by all standards, is reasonable and practicable. This will create a win-win situation, as the host communities will have greater opportunities of participation and partnership and also benefit from the economic benefits of having such companies in their midst. Presently, these oil companies continue to be seen and perceived as predators whose only interest is to fly in with helicopters, from Lagos or other locations, or operate from houseboats take the natural resources, pollute the environment, and leave the people in squalor.
- Your Excellency, it was God’s wisdom and your own sense of equity which guided your reasoning when you directed that oil companies should relocate their administrative and operational bases to the Oil Producing Areas of the States. After all, the international headquarters of Chevron and Texaco oil companies in San Roman, California while Exxon Mobil is in Irving, Texas and not Washington or New York. Eni/Agip is in Milan, not Rome, even as Total/Fina/B4 has its main head office in Courbevoie, France and not Paris.
When the IOCs came into the country, they were located in their areas of operation. It was the fear that the Nigerian Civil War could interrupt their operations that caused the then Federal Military Government to direct that they move their Headquarters from their operational base, for safety. The War ended over 40 years ago and it was expected that the same Federal Government should have immediately redirected the IOCs to return. It however, took the agitation of the people of the Region, for the Federal Government to recently direct the IOCs to go back. All the same, we are grateful to Your Excellency, for directing the IOCs to relocate to their original location. We, therefore, urge you to ensure that this directive is implemented,
We insist that this process starts from 1st of October with visible timelines and commitments by all involved, this is in line with your directive to the IOCs at Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. Without this it may be impossible to keep down the tension that is building.
- The Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko
During your visit to Delta State, you saw first-hand that the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko is good to go in terms of the structures already on ground. At your interaction with the people, you gave the necessary directives for the institution to commence operation in September 2017. It is regrettable however, that so far, no concrete action, including physical movement of management to the site, no release of funds, no advertisement for admission, no recruitment of academic and non-academic staff etc. This means that the September date of commencement of the institution remains illusionary. Even more troubling is the indication “take over Okerenkoko Maritime University and convert into a Petroleum Industry HND Institution” contained on Page 69 of the Strategic Implementation Work Plan released by the Ministry of Niger Delta. We consider this very insensitive and provocative given your earlier direction and assurance.
(v). The Question of Environmental Remediation and the Ogoni Clean-Up
- The background to the Ogoni clean-up saga is a subject that has already claimed the widest global attention. Its height was the killing of the environmental rights activist, Ken Saro Wiwa and the rest of the entire leadership of the Ogoni people. It has come to be recognised as the world’s most celebrated environment rights movement by all progressive forces and attracted the attention of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP). The extensive work done by the UNEP brought to the fore the fact that the environmental damage experienced by most parts of the Niger Delta in the past 60 years was much more alarming and much more devastating than initially conjectured and will require several decades of concerted work to remediate.
- The launching of the Ogoni clean-up by your esteem self on behalf of Mr. President in June 2016, thereby gave us great hope that at last, the environment of the Niger Delta which had become degraded and totally damaged as a result of oil and gas activities will begin to have a new lease of life. You again gave this assurance during your visit to Rivers State on13th February, 2017 in the course of your tour to the region. Again, these reassurances have not seen any effective action thereby creating more despair and feelings of disillusionment.
(vi). Completion of the East-West Road
Under the Strategic Implementation Work Plan earlier referred to, we have noticed some provision for “completion” of the East-West Road which has suffered incalculable neglect over 10 years. Another puzzling riddle is the fact that different government officials continue to bring up different amounts, as sums already spent on that project. However, it is obvious that the total amounts now being provided for the work are inadequate to fully tackle the construction of the road due to the difficult nature of the terrain which we know to be swampy. Even more worrisome is the fact that so far, not a single kobo has been released to any of the contractors to enable them return to site.
(vii). The Plight of Persons from the Bakassi Peninsula
- The recent news of the killing of our people from Bakassi Peninsula by Gendarme Forces only underscores our calls for immediate action in tackling the upshot of problems created as a result of the ceding of that territory to Cameroon. Today, the Bakassi people have become a prey to all kinds of deprivations, as well as lack of livelihood and statelessness. It stands to reason that the Bakassi issue which is the product of international treaty which Nigeria entered into cannot continue to be treated with total levity and unconcern.
- Thankfully, you had promised during your visit to Calabar on 1st June, 2017, that the problem will be addressed. But very regrettably, things are only getting worse by the day for these people. We demand a setting up of a special commission to deal with all aspects of the Bakassi issue, and urge the Federal Government to mobilize the international community especially the United Nations, the United States of America, Britain, France and Germany who were the guarantors of the Green Tree Agreement to show greater commitment to the Bakassi question which otherwise can escalate into an international crisis, engulfing the entire Gulf of Guinea.
(viii). Inclusive Participation in the Oil Industry/Ownership of Oil Blocks
Throughout your visit to the Niger Delta, the question of redressing the injustice of denying people from the region opportunities for participating effectively in the oil and gas industry were raised with a deep sense of frustration. As the figures clearly reveal, it is persons from other zones that own most of the oil blocks, marginal fields, and other aspects of the industry, including boards and personnel in the senior and middle position. For instance, on the 9-member reconstituted NNPC Board, only one person is from the South-South. Sadly too, is the fact that Chief Executives of almost all the subsidiaries of the NNPC are from other zones and states of the country that do not produce oil. This is most unacceptable and unjust. You promised to look into this matter but nothing seems to be happening and this remains a major sour point which should be addressed as soon as possible.
(ix). Licences for Modular Refineries
We were elated when the decision of Federal Government to grant licences and other incentives for the construction of modular refineries was announced to solve the twin problems of illegal/local refining activities and the attendant environmental damage occasioned by these activities. Despite the hopeful assurances, you gave during your tour to the effect that these will be done in partnership with local investors, host communities and other technical partners, the communication coming from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources in recent times has created great doubts as to whether this will be realized in a foreseeable future given all kinds of technical and administrative bottlenecks being mentioned.
(x). Gas and Power Development
In all the States, you visited the need to develop with greater vigour, the huge gas potential of the region standing at 186 Trillion Standard Cubic Feet for the overall interest of the country and to boost economic activities in the region were brought. As you can appreciate, developing our gas potentials will be of great benefits to petrochemicals and more especially, power supply in the country. Of particular significance, as was mentioned to you in Warri, is the Ogidigben Gas Revolution Industrial Park (Gas City) in Bayelsa, the LNG Project in Brass. It was pleasing that you had assured that both will be looked into amongst other potential gas projects. We are still waiting for some practical actions to follow this promise.
(xi). Increased Military Presence in the Area and Pipeline Surveillance
In every state in the region, our people decried the escalated military presence and asked that this be scaled down as early as possible. In the alternative, we re-echoed the demand for the youths or the oil producing communities to be given the responsibility for the surveillance and protection of oil and gas infrastructures. Sadly, both of these issues are being treated with very scant regard despite your promise of immediate action. Since your visit, therefore, several cases of military incursion into communities have been recorded.
(xii). Funding of Intervention Agencies and General Budget Outlook
- Even before Nigeria’s Independence, the colonial government specifically identified this area, under the Willink Commission Report on Minorities of 1958 just before Nigeria’s Independence as an area that requires conscious intervention. This led to the recommendation of that high-level commission for the designation of the Niger Delta as a special development zone due to its peculiar terrain and the subsequent setting up of the Niger Delta Development Board. This was at a time when oil, which is today the main stay of the national economy, was not even a major factor associated with the Niger Delta. What has changed since then is that, the developmental challenges of the area have remained compounded by the poorly regulated exploitation of oil resources and the removal of all mitigating incentives for the development of the area.
- As the Acting President will recall, the opportunity of your visit enabled our people to explain in a very graphic manner, the way we are being short-changed in the various budgetary allocations year after year for an area that even the colonial government considered as beset with peculiar developmental challenges and by twist of destiny, today produces all the wealth of the country. For example, in 2017,the data for capital projects in key Ministries such as Works, Power and Housing, Transport and Aviation, Agriculture and Rural Development, Education, Water Resources amongst others shows that the region is seriously short-changed relative to other zones.
- The situation with the Ministry of Niger Delta and the Niger Delta Development Commission even appears more pathetic. It makes no meaning whatsoever that these two agencies which were specifically formed to carter for the developmental needs of the region are not given adequate funds for their programs and activities. Yet, the wealth of this country comes from the area where they are expected to carter for.
xiii. Mr. Acting President, we have not come here to list item-by-item the contents of the 16-Point Agenda. But in response to your invitation we wish to remind you of some of the specific issues which came up
during your visit to the region and others which have continued to be re-echoed by Nigerians. An example is the question of restructuring the federation to bring about true federalism. This is a national issue echoing from all segments of the Nation and reaching a deafening crescendo. We in the Niger Delta, given the long history of injustice and deprivation that our people have been subject to, want to add our voice to this clarion call and state that “a stitch in time saves nine”. We strongly advise that the process for this restructuring be put in place as soon as possible.
xiv. We reiterate PANDEF’s commitment to cooperate with Government in ensuring peace and implementation of developmental programs. But we again, demand and remind you that direct DIALOGUE and interface hold the best promise of success rather than adhoc approaches. Time is running out.
I thank you for your kind attention.
Chief Dr. Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, OFR, CON,
National Leader, PANDEF