Okorotie: Government’s failure to fulfill promises fuelling agitations
• PANDEF Has Not Failed, Its Federal Government That Has
• Govt. Always Waiting For Trouble Before Acting
Elder statesman and chieftain of Pan Niger Delta Elders’ Forum (PANDEF), Chief Thomas Okorotie, told JULIUS OSAHON, that the Federal Government should be held responsible for the growing agitations in the Niger Delta. He also spoke on the threats by the Niger Delta Avengers, to resume attacks on oil installations, and the botched PANDEF meeting in Port Harcourt.
What do you make of the aborted Port Harcourt PANDEF meeting, and what is the way forward for the forum?
FIRST of all, let me correct the impression that PANDEF meeting was aborted. We aborted the attempted abortion because all the principal actors had come in the previous day and we were all inside Hotel Presidential. As chairman of the Coordination Committee to PANDEF in Bayelsa State, I am not quoting anybody because I was there being a key player in the set up. Our leader, Chief Edwin K. Clark, and all other leaders were also there, except some persons, who were absent, including Ledum Mitte, who said he was resigning.
However, it is important to say that the only thing that happened that was not in our plan was the inconvenience those who were coming for the event that day went through, since it was supposed to be a massive event. From Edo State, came a delegation of 18 people, and 21 persons came from Akwa Ibom State.
As if we knew what was going to happen, the leadership were already in the hotel having arrived earlier to prepare ahead of commencement, just as it is with other meetings.
It is important to state that we accomplished our planned programme, that is, we presented the constitution that we had been working on and some amendments were made and the constitution was passed. We also set up an electoral body, as well as, set up the zoning committee. Offices have also been zoned and we addressed the press. All indicate that that the meeting was not aborted.
In other words you are not of the view that PANDEF has failed?
I am putting it to you that PANDEF has not failed. This is an organisation that intervened, went into the creeks and appealed to the Niger Delta Avengers to halt the destruction that was at the highest level, and the boys listened to us, the result of which was the ceasefire. How can you say such an organisation has failed? Now crude oil production has risen from 800, 000 per barrels per day to over 2, 000, 000 because of PANDEF’s effort. Again, I ask, how can such an organisation fail?
After doing that, we presented our 16-point agenda to the Federal Government, and met with the President Muhammadu Buhari, and we are looking forward to the implementation of the agenda. If anybody has failed, it is the Federal Government and not PANDEF because we have done our part. It’s the Federal Government that should come up and fulfill its promises because this is what is causing agitations all over the place.
Other ethnic nationalities appear not to be carried along in the group dominated by Ijaw. Is this true?
That is not true and PANDEF never did such a thing. I am sorry to say that the Ijaw Nation, the South South, and the other ethnic groups in the South South found themselves in this condition because when there is a viable group that appears to be strong, there are those who don’t want that strength, and who would plan to neutralise it. That is what is happening, but they are unable to kill it because we are in charge, PANDEF is in charge. We have gone ahead to further establish a proper organisation because what was there was just an ad hoc body, and in the past three months, we have worked on the constitution so that the various levels, or organs of administration of the organisation will be established. Now, we have a board of trustees, we have an advisory board, and we have the national committee and formations in the states.
All ethnic groups in the South South are well represented in PANDEF- the Urhobo are there, so also the Itsekiri, the Edo, the Ibibio, and Arogbo in Ondo State are there just to mention a few.
With the present arrangement that we are working with, an Akwa Ibom will become the chairman, and other offices have been zoned to other parts.
However, if you look at the issue properly, you will see that the Ijaw do the fighting, while the others share in the booty. But it is wrong to say they are not carried along. E. K. Clark, though an Ijaw man, is also an Urhobo man, do you know that? Don’t they understand and see the positivity of that?
Don’t they recognise that as a balancing force?
It appears PANDEF is reluctant to talk to the NDA, which is threatening to begin hostilities
There’s no reluctance on our part, except that it will be more difficult than the first time that we got them to agree to a ceasefire. Will you blame them? No? That’s what I said earlier about breaching agreements. One year after we submitted a 16-point agenda, the government says it is still working on it. What we need in these areas are bulldozers that will go in there and start the process of bringing about development. Once this happens, everybody will keep quiet. Negligence will incite the boys again, but we are still appealing to them to please allow peace to reign. I don’t know why a government should wait for trouble before doing what it ought to do. We have made tons and tons of recommendations on how to develop the Niger Delta, and our recommendations are not too much. The minister that is there we don’t know what he’s doing because when he says one thing, he does another. The only man to my mind that works so positively towards the progress of the Niger Delta is Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, who sees our problems in the proper form. And am not surprised that lately, they are facing him. I don’t know what they want to do with him, but I know what we need is the help of the ministers. Let them make sure that things are happening.