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Tension heightens as Niger Delta Avengers suspend ceasefire

By Kelvin Ebiri (South-South Bureau Chief), Seye Olumide (Lagos) and Julius Osahon (Yenagoa)
05 November 2017   |   4:35 am
Friday's suspension of ceasefire with the Federal Government, by the Niger Delta Avengers, and the possible resumption of attacks on oil installations has brought about...


• Momoh, Kokori, Mikko Call For Dialogue • 2018 Budget Endangered – Mitee
• Govt. Inertia Responsible For Cessation Of Ceasefire-IYC, UNDEDSS
• Govt. Against Restiveness, Always Open To Dialogue-Lai Muhammed

Friday’s suspension of ceasefire with the Federal Government, by the Niger Delta Avengers, and the possible resumption of attacks on oil installations has brought about heightened tension in the Niger Delta.

The NDA, at weekend, announced a suspension of its ceasefire via a statement by its spokesperson, Murdoch Agbinibo.

The group, which said it would renew hostilities, vowed that the fresh attacks would be worse than those of 2016, stressing, “We can assure you that every oil installation in our region will feel the warmth of the wrath of the Niger Delta Avengers.”

Before the cessation of hostilities last year, its activities made the country’s oil production to reach its lowest level in nearly 30 years.

Stakeholders in the region, who are worried about the adverse implications of the ceasefire on the 2018 budget, have, however, warned the Federal Government against dismissing the NDA’s threat with a wave of hand.

In the last 10 days, tension has spiked in the area after security operatives aborted the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) General Assembly meeting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

Sources in PANDEF, who pleaded anonymity distanced the group from the fresh threat by NDA, and blamed the desire of a minister from the region to hijack the peace process brokered by PANDEF, for heightened tension, which has now placed the peace initiative on life support.

NDA, while calling off the ceasefire on Friday, lampooned PANDEF for not allowing it to ruin the country’s economy, through total stoppage of crude oil production.

The Guardian gathered that NDA became totally disillusioned that one year after PANDEF met with President Muhammadu Buhari, and presented its 16-point agenda, none of the demands have been implemented by the Federal Government.

A source close to the militant group said NDA reached the decision to resume hostilities because some members of the Buhari’s cabinet from the region, who perceived that some PANDEF leaders were sympathetic to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) (in a bid to whittle down the influence of PANDEF), decided to sponsor the Pan-Niger Delta Congress, (PNDPC), led by former national chairman of Traditional Rulers of Oil Minerals Producing Communities of Nigeria, (TROMPCON) and king of Seimbiri Kingdom, Charles Ayemi-Botu.

“Absolutely, it was stupid to stop the PANDEF meeting because that was only going to cause trouble. I understand, the minister’s selfish motive, but you don’t stop a meeting of 200 people. It was for some selfish motives that some people in government, who want to control the peace process decided to stop the PANDEF meeting. The Rivers State government didn’t have a role in it; it was from Abuja that the message came down to the DSS that the meeting should be stopped. PANDEF has a lot of problems, but PNDPC has no base and no spread, they just got a political sponsor,” he said.

The sources maintained that it would be perilous for the Federal Government to ignore NDA’s threat because of its implication for the national economy.

A security source in one of the multinational oil companies told The Guardian that NDA’s threat was being taken seriously by oil majors, who suffered severe losses when the militants in 2016 shutdown oil production to an unprecedented low of level of 800,000bopd.

It would be recalled that PANDEF, led by Chief Edwin Clark, King Alfred Diete-Spiff, former Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) president, Ledum Mitee, and several others on November 1, 2016, met Buhari in Abuja, where they presented their 16-point agenda. This led to the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, setting up an inter-ministerial committee to look into the agenda, and how it should be implemented. Nothing has been done, not even the promised opening of the Maritime University last month.

PANDEF’s immediate past secretary, Ledum Mitee, warned that if the threat by NDA was carried out, it would have adverse effect on the 2018 budget projections and possible investments in the oil and gas sector by the international oil companies.

“Mine is to wish and make an appeal that it is not necessary at this stage. We are already in recession and every effort must be made to ensure that we regain needed revenue at this time. I still believe that there is still need for dialogue and we should always explore that opportunity. I will therefore, also call on the Federal Government to take opportunity of cases like this to do the needful. Look at the 2017 budget, for example, the amount voted for the East-West Road is not up to what was voted for Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, not to talk of what was voted for the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, or Kano-Maiduguri Road. I think government should also show that they can match action with words.”

Former Minister of Information and one of the founding fathers of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Prince Tony Momoh, has warned that cases like this still require dialogue that have been used in the past to address it as “any other approach to it would cause further crisis and the nation would lose economically, while the Niger Delta area too will not benefit.”

He further warned that no country or military might can win guerilla war, adding that, “If there is a disagreement between Niger Delta youths and their leaders, someone should intervene and bring peace instead of allowing the situation to escalate. There is the need to go back to the drawing board.”

Former Secretary General, Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Chief Frank Kokori, who dismissed the Niger Delta Avengers threat outright, described it as “absolutely irresponsible.”

According to him, “Blowing of pipeline and denigrations of the area by its youth would not help nor resolve any issue.”

He said leaders of the region should talk to their youths, particularly the Ijaw extraction, and if there are issues they should endeavour to resolve it. “They should bear in mind that no government would fold its arms and allow its wealth to be destroyed, and if the government should wade in as they have threatened to start hostilities, the consequences would be disastrous.”

Kokori, who claimed that government has done lot for Niger Delta youths, except that they were being shortchanged by their leaders, added, as an elder statesman, “I charge them not to resume any hostilities against this nation, not at this time. I plead with them.”

A former member of the House of Representatives from Rivers State, Bernard Mikko, said hostility against one’s nation is unpatriotic under whichever guise.

According to him, “The Nigerian society as a whole needs total re-orientation and attitudinal change. The legislature or government as a whole cannot reconstruct human lives because societies have long existed with customs and traditions without modern day social contract espoused in government. The change must be holistic beyond government.”

On her part, Executive Director of Academic Associates Peace Works, Dr. Judith Burdin Asuni, is calling for calm, just as she is appealing to the Federal Government to negotiate with the people of the region to avert fresh crisis in the region.

“The people of the region are rightly angry because government has not delivered on its promises. It set up a committee but nothing has happened after that,” she said.

National Coordinator of the Ijaw Media Action Initiative, and former spokesperson of the Ijaw National Congress (IYC), Victor Burubo, is of the view that the government must change its stance on the agitation for the restructuring of the Nigerian State.

He blamed NDA’s threat on the frustration felt by people of the region about their present situation.

President of the Ijaw Youth Council, (IYC), Eric Omare, says the Federal Government should be blamed if the NDA resumes hostilities as it lacks sincerity.

He, however, advised the militant group to still give dialogue a chance, as war may not be an alternative to peaceful resolution of the issues at stake.

Omare, said the decision by the militant group to resume hostilities was very unfortunate and worrisome because of the devastating effect the attacks had on the Nigerian economy the last time.

“However, the Federal Government has been most insincere in its response to the demands of the Niger Delta people. The last time the Avengers struck, it was the leaders that prevailed on them to stop. And this was with the understanding that the demands of the people would be addressed such as immediate take-off of the Maritime University, Okerenkoko, implementation of key developmental projects in the region, and above all, take steps towards restructuring Nigeria towards a true federal state.

In his reaction, the Paramount Ruler of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Delta State, His Royal Majesty, Oboro Gbaraun II, Aketekpe (Agadagba), said that the Federal government should be blamed if the militants resumed hostilities, warning that the APC-led Federal Government must not toy with the Avengers’ threat because the effects could be devastating to the nation’s economy.

The monarch, who spoke through the Secretary of the Traditional Council, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, said allowing the militants to resume attack on oil installations would only jeopardise the gains of the relative peace earlier put in place.

He said: “Avengers are not Internet-based fighters so their threats are frightening. And because Gbaramatu is worst hit in terms of military onslaught, we are always the first to call for dialogue and peace.

“Currently, we have very serious trouble in our hand, because the group has said both PANDEF and Tompolo who have been pleading with them to suspend hostility had failed to get the Federal Government to act.

“We admonish the Avengers to sheathe their swords. Whatever is making them angry is justifiable. Oil is the blood of the nation. Destroying oil and gas facilities will do us no good”, Gbenekama said.

Meanwhile, the United Niger Delta Energy Development Security (UNDEDSS), says Federal Government’s insincerity, inertia and blind belief of its self-serving players in the Presidency is responsible for the ceasefire suspension.

Rising from an emergency NEC meeting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, the coalition of civil society and community groups in the Niger Delta region, in a statement signed by the Secretary General, Tony Uranta, called on all agitated groups in the region not to lose faith in the power of negotiations.

The group also upbraided the Federal Government for what it termed its insensitivity and insincerity, as evidenced especially in it’s ignoring the nationally popular call for restructuring, and non-take-off of the maritime varsity.

“Nigerians have nobody to blame, but the Presidency, which has not shown good faith concerning the Niger Delta region, for the imminent negative impact on the national economy of this portentous suspension of a ceasefire that was not respected by the Federal Government ab initio anyway.”

The Federal Government has, however, appealed to Niger Delta youths against renewing hostilities in the area, saying it will neither be beneficial to both parties.

In a phone discussion with The Guardian, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said government has kept to all its promises and is ever committed to fulfilling whatever remains.

“We have not deviated and if there is any thing that is not clear to the youths, the government’s doors are always open for dialogue, instead of restiveness.”

He appealed that the country’s interest and that of the people of the Niger Delta area should be placed above individual interests.