AHEAD of their meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, tomorrow, strong indications emerged, yesterday, that elders, leaders and stakeholders of the Niger Delta Region have rejected the Federal Government’s move to launch a $10 billion (N4 trillion) infrastructural rebirth investment programme in the area.
The multi-trillion naira programme is part of the Short and Medium Term Priorities to Grow Nigeria’s Oil and Gas Industry (2015 to 2019), tagged the ‘7 BigWins’, a new initiative of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.
Dismissing the proposal as a blackmail since there is no money to fund it, the Niger-Delta leaders said it is imperative to tell President Buhari that they are rejecting the move because it is private sector-driven with the aim of dragging the government into it.
“At the end of the day, other Nigerians will say why complain when you have $10 billion and the money is not there in the first place. If the companies have such money, they should pay the money owed the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, rather than blackmail the region with such money,” they said.
These are part of the issues that would be raised with President Buhari tomorrow. These were also some of the resolutions at the end of a meeting held at the residence of the convener, Chief Edwin Clark at his 43, Haile Selassie Street, Asokoro, Abuja in the wee hours of Saturday.
Clark, a former Federal Commissioner for Information and South-South leader, will lead about 46 traditional rulers, elders and leaders drawn from the academia, civil society, freedom fighters and ethnic nationalities of the six South-South states to meet President Buhari tomorrow.
The leaders said it would be blackmail for the people of the Niger Delta as they were not consulted before the decision was taken and announced, adding that the people should have been carried along and their inputs obtained because they know the problems of the region.
Canvassing a bottoms-up approach instead of a top-bottom strategy, the leaders noted that the people of the region are suffering from oil exploitation, while mining is going on in the North without anyone harassing the people.
The elders also urged President Buhari to jettison moves to change the Maritime University, Okerenkoko, Gbaramatu, Delta State to a polytechnic, against the backdrop that the government did not consult with the people of the region.
The region is also seeking for a special Marshal plan for the Niger Delta, review of the amnesty programme and the need to have a ministerial department that will always be a platform for discussion by the people of the region.
Expected at the parley are the Olu of Warri, His Royal Majesty, Ogiame Ikenwoli; Obong of Calabar, Ekpo Abasi – Otu V; Orodje of Okpe Kingdom, His Royal Majesty, Major-General Felix Mujakperuo, retd; first Military Governor of old Rivers State and Amanyanabo of Twon-Brass, King Alfred Papapreye Diete-Spiff; and His Royal Majesty, Pere Charles Ayemi-Botu among others.
Also to attend tomorrow’s meeting are former Akwa Ibom governor, Obong Victor Attah; Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, Professor G.G. Darah, Chief Timi Alaibe, Ambassador Godknows Igali, Alabo Tonye Graham-Douglas, Alaowei Broderick Bozimo, Chief TKO Okorotie, Hon. Justice Francis Tabai, High Chief Mike Ekayama Loyibo, T.K. Ogoriba, High Chief Wellington Okirika, Chief Justice CET Ayama (retd), Dr. Alfred Mulade, Professor Oserheimen Osunbor, MOSOP leader, Ledum Mitee, former Cross River State governor, Donald Duke; Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo; Brigadier Gen. Idada Ikponmwen, Senator Rowland Owie, Tony Uranta, Chief Dan Ikpebide and Senator Bassey Henshaw among others.
The elders and leaders at the meeting will engage the President on the need for Justice, equity, fairness, confidence-building and consultations with Niger-Delta people prior to taking decisions on their problems.
Other issues to be raised at the parley include the need for restructuring the country and the zone; implementation of the 2014 National Conference report, the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, appointments of board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC where membership must reflect oil producing areas, and the need to perfect the protocol of memorandum of understanding, MOU on the ceding of Bakassi, because if not addressed, the people of the area stand the risk of not having a country. The problem in Gbaramatu with military allegedly harassing the people would also be presented before the President. After tomorrow’s meeting, the elders and leaders will ask for an executive session with the President where meaningful discussions would take place.
In his remark at the meeting, Chief Clark, who noted that the issue of not having representatives to negotiate with government for Niger Delta people was gone, saying the people are ready for negotiation. He said if there were issues, the meeting will not be the last, adding that the people are one family, though they are from different communities.
The elder statesman, who stressed the need for unity of purpose, said the people were not fighting the President but wanted government to carry them along.
His words: “We are going to ask for justice, fairness and equity. We are going to tell him that he should dialogue with the people of the Niger Delta and that the use of force is not and cannot be a solution to the Niger Delta crisis.
“He is our President. We will pledge our loyalty to him. We will congratulate him on his election because this is the first time we are seeing him as a people since he won. We are not going to be submitting any long list of demands to him, but we will let him know the need for him to carry the people of Niger Delta along in his government. They should take us as a people who are part of Nigeria. We are not separating from Nigeria.
“It is obvious that the country requires true federalism to move forward. We will tell him that and that is the same thing other parts of the country are asking for. If there is true federalism, we will not have a case of states not being able to pay salaries or maintain themselves. Those (states) that cannot stand on their own will join others.
“Of course, we are going to talk to him about the need to develop Niger Delta. The problem is not lack of ideas on what should be done, the Mitee Technical Committee Report on Niger Delta in 2009 and others are there; the problem is lack of political will to develop the region.”