Government to raise team for dialogue with militants
• Monarchs give terms for peace, seek return of golden sword, others
• Ibe Kachikwu wants probe of $40 billion spent on Niger Delta
The Federal Government will soon raise a team of officials to dialogue with militants in the Niger Delta, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, said yesterday.
The minister who spoke when he received traditional rulers from the Niger Delta in Abuja yesterday noted that some fundamentals must be in place before peace and development could take place in the oil-rich region.
The Bolowei of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Dr. Wellington Okirika, who articulated the position of the monarchs, requested the urgent constitution of a Federal Government dialogue team, release of 10 school children arrested by the Nigerian Army in Oporoza and others in detention camps.
The traditional rulers also requested the return of the golden sword that is the symbol of authority of the Gbaramatu traditional institution, return of the three traditional council speed boats in the custody of the Nigerian Army, cessation of hostilities by the military and a quick declaration of the Federal Government’s intention for the reopening of the Maritime University in Okerenkoko, Delta State.
In response, the minister said: “I will take your position to the president in terms of the speed that is required. We will make every effort we can to set up a team that would begin to engage and begin to find out the basis upon which these engagements would happen and see what can be done.”
Kachikwu noted that over $40 billion had been spent by various government entities as well as oil companies in the Niger Delta without any meaningful development in the last 10 years.
His words: “The amount of money that has been put into the Niger Delta development over the last 10 years is over $40 billion. This comes from the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), derivation fund and investments by the oil companies. As I go to the creeks, I see no infrastructure that justifies the massive investments. What this means is that the Niger Deltans must begin to do soul-searching by asking themselves: where did the money go? Who took it? What was it applied to? And what were the roles of our own people and other people as well in examining how the money was spent?
“Unless we solve the governance and transparency issues surrounding how the money was spent, it does not matter how much money is put into the place, we will be heading to square one.”
The minister lamented that two days after the Niger Delta Avengers issued a statement that it had declared a ceasefire, there was an attack on an Agip facility in Nembe creeks in the Niboro area where 150,000 barrels of crude oil per day were lost on Monday this week.
Denying plans by the Federal Government to militarise the Niger Delta, Kachikwu said: “To the best of my knowledge, President Muhammadu Buhari has shown a lot of patience, and has so far not ordered anyone to go in massively in a military fashion. He recognises that there is a need to continue to engage communities towards finding peace. That is his first model on how to solve the current problems and he has been consistent with that.”
To him, the solution to the Niger Delta crisis is not in the use of force of arms by both the militants and the Federal Government. “The first is to engage, but engagement can only take place when the environment is conducive enough.
“I think that because the Niger Delta issue has gone on for so long, it has led to the citadel of brutality of militancy. The region must go to the negotiation table with the same aggressiveness that has been applied by the militancy in the creeks. Once a platform for engagement has been provided, everyone must key into that platform for meaningful engagement.”
Kachikwu challenged the traditional rulers and other leaders of the Niger Delta to embark on fact-finding on how $40 billion spent within 10 years failed to engender development of the area.
While he agreed that the demands by the traditional rulers are desirable, Kachikwu insisted that what is needed immediately is a developmental process that is agreed for the Niger Delta community which is long-serving and in which money can be put.
Meanwhile, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) has denied an allegation by the military that it killed soldiers in Nembe, Bayelsa State.
The militants claimed that those paraded as killers of the soldiers and alleged to be members of the NDA are well known followers of a former governor of the state.
The NDA in its latest statement wondered why the Nigerian military always link crimes in the southern part of the country to the fighters.
The militants also alleged that troops of Operation Delta Safe are behind the sustained illicit trade in crude oil in the region.