Prominent South-south leaders yesterday rose from a meeting with a plea for an end to the current spate of sabotage of oil and gas facilities by militants and threat by them to pull the Niger Delta out of the rest of Nigeria by October 1, 2016.
The leaders, including frontline Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark; Governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa; former Minister of Police Affairs, Alaowei Broderick Bozimo; former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Chief Timi Alaibe; Niger Delta activist, Tony Uranta; publisher of the Thisday newspaper, Chief Nduka Obaigbena, and royal fathers, advised the militants to heed calls by traditional rulers, elders and leaders of the region for cessation of bombings forthwith.
The leaders convened an emergency meeting at the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) Conference Centre in Warri, Delta State against the backdrop of the secession threat by the militants.
They leaders pleaded with the agitators and aggrieved groups to “hearken to the appeal of the traditional rulers, elders, and leaders of thought to stop further attacks on oil and gas facilities and give room for dialogue”.
The Niger Delta Avengers, which is at the forefront of a wave of bombings in the region, has vowed not to negotiate with the federal government despite repeated pleas from prominent persons in the Niger Delta, including former President Goodluck Jonathan, to drop their violent agitations and embrace dialogue.
But the meeting, hosted by Chief Clark, a former Federal Commissioner of Information, also urged the Federal Government to “stop further deployment of military hardware and resources in the region”.
He said halting the deployment of military hardware and resources would ensure the confidence of the people and enhance the opportunity for peace and order.
In a communiqué at the end of the deliberation, the Niger Delta leaders noted that the continued deployment of the military in a bid to nip the militancy in the bud has so far inflicted untold hardship and dislocation on life and living of innocent people.
The government, they added, should rather heed calls for the restructuring of the nation as the first step in healing the country.
They also resolved to establish a pan-Niger Delta Platform to “speak for and negotiate on behalf of the region. The meeting further resolved to set up the said platform with effect from August 19.
“Any platform for dialogue and negotiation should be all-embracing, involving all the ethnic nationalities and interest groups in the region to holistically address the problems.
“The meeting also resolved to support the popular demand for the restructuring of the nation’s political system as recommended by the 2014 National Conference. The practice of equitable fiscal federalism is a precondition for sustainable peace and development of our country.
“Without prejudice to efforts made so far, the Federal Government should demonstrate seriousness by reaching out to the authentic representatives of the region to discuss peace and the way forward”.
Addressing participants earlier, Governor Okowa charged leaders of the Niger Delta to take up the challenge of stopping the degradation of the region’s environment by prevailing on their angry sons to desist from attacks on oil and gas facilities
Okowa, who was the only state governor to attend the meeting in person, noted that though expressing grievances over perceived injustice was not out of place, doing more damage than what causes the anger, is absurd.
He also charged the leaders of the region to ensure that the Niger Delta has a credible face to represent it when approaching the federal government to register the discontent of their people, adding violent protest would only rob the people of the region the desired development.
“Agitation is very important, yes you may be making a point, we have been crying that the oil companies have been destroying our land over time. They have harmed our land, harmed our water and things are getting very bad, but unfortunately we are even taking actions that destroy the land and destroy our water far more than what the oil companies are doing. These are things that the people may not understand that in anger we have done more than what the oil companies have done.
“Our traditional rulers and our leaders should let the youths know that they should stop violence, with a firm assurance that the elders will speak for us; we know that fiscal federalism, restructuring of the country are important but, we should look at what we can benefit from President Buhari’s administration as a people.
“We should be peaceful, please let us give peace a chance, we need to create the enabling environment, we need to be ready to accommodate investors because the gas revolution project will cost in excess of 15 billion dollars and the process of dredging the Escravos bar is part of the bargain”, he said.
Also speaking, Clark said the answer to most of the crises currently bedeviling the country is in the report of the 2014 National Conference, adding that restructuring of the Nigerian system has become an issue in the face of all myriad of challenges facing the country.
“I posit that the answers to many, if not all, of these issues, are contained in the report of the 2014 National Conference. I salute well-meaning persons who have supported the call for restructuring the country.
“We must find a permanent solution to the various problems we are facing in this country including the youth revolt in the Niger Delta, Fulani herdsmen, Boko Haram, Biafra agitation, kidnapping and recently, the inability of the various states to pay their workers’ salaries and pension.
“My strong belief is that only a genuine restructuring of the political administration of the country will remove most of these problems in the country. With such, the issues that lead some of us to take up arms will be resolved”, he said.
While commending President Muhammadu Buhari for indicating a willingness to open line of dialogue with the aggrieved Niger Delta youths, Chief Clark stated such discussion should be channeled through genuine leaders from the region.