Engage PANDEF on Niger Delta, now!
Worried by the lack of progress in tackling the myriad of intractable problems plaguing the Niger Delta region, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF)the other day accused the Federal Government of reneging on its planned dialogue with the group to chart the way forward for the oil-rich but underdeveloped region.
According to reports, PANDEF has been particularly incensed that the consultations the Federal Government promised the Niger Delta stakeholders have not materialized since its meeting with the president who promised the deal. There is a gap that needs to be filled.
Instead of engaging the elders in meaningful discourse on the way forward, the government appears to engage in a monologue, which is fuelling the current agitation. This development, PANDEF fears, could re-ignite restiveness in the region with adverse consequences. The militants, it should be noted, are still undeterred. They are only scotched snakes, not killed.
In November 2016,President Buhari met with some leaders and stakeholders from the Niger Delta with the aim of finding a lasting solution to the crises plaguing the oil-rich region.
Though, the meeting with PANDEF leaders at the State House, Abuja, marked a positive step towards addressing the contentious issues plaguing the region, the demands presented appeared elitist, as this newspaper had then noted.
The leaders had then presented a 16-point demand, which they claimed were aimed at halting militancy in the area.
Among the old demands were the granting of oil blocks; need to enforce zero gas flaring deadline; approval of takeoff of the maritime university; award of pipeline surveillance contracts to the communities and relocation of the administrative headquarters of the International Oil Companies (IOCs) to the Niger Delta.
Besides, the leaders demanded the resolution of pending law and justice issues of some aggrieved groups; restructuring and robust funding of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Ministry of the Niger Delta Affairs and a comprehensive resettlement plan to reduce the risk of making the region a stateless people.
On economic development and empowerment, they also wanted the Brass Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and the fertilizer project included in the Train 7, with a view to updating the national gas master plan; creation of a Niger Delta industrial corridor; expediting work on the export processing zones; harvesting the huge rain-fed agriculture and reducing military occupation of the communities in the region, which they claimed was responsible for youth militancy.
Prior to the meeting, restiveness and militancy pervaded the Niger Delta. PANDEF reportedly intervened and the Federal Government made promises with regard to modular refineries and relocating the oil companies to the region.
Earlier, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had visited the area and set the tone for the peace process when he pleaded with the people to embrace peace, assuring that the present administration was committed to the development of the region.
Osinbanjo, who disclosed that no fewer than 20,000 people had died in the region following pipeline vandalism and other hazards pledged that Niger Delta as a special zone for the nation would be so treated by the Federal Government.
There has been no doubt that these interventions made the militants cease some fire, which has given enough room for uninterrupted oil exploitation. Daily production increased from about 1.5 million at the peak of the militancy to the present over 2 million barrels per day.
It is important, at this juncture, to emphasise that the issues of the Niger Delta region have gone beyond stakeholder’ access to and ownership of oil blocks. What about the dearth of infrastructure and severe environmental degradation in the area, which were not mentioned? These are weightier governance and legacy matters that should be the focal points of demand.
There is a need to pacify the Niger Delta people. Government should show sincerity in all its dealings with the people who should be strategic in managing priorities too.
For instance, the issue of Ogoni cleanup, which has been dragging must be stepped up. There is also the issue of modular refineries, which need to be structured and integrated into the fuel supply chain, instead of demonsing the local dealers in the model.
President Buhari should not recant on the issue of transfer of oil company offices to the Niger Delta. The House of Representatives recently recanted when the lawmakers rejected a proposal seeking the relocation of the operational and administrative offices of the oil companies to the Niger Delta. The executive branch should be more resourceful about relocation of oil firms’ relocation. It is not a core function of the legislature, after all.
In this regard, we would like to appeal to the local oil institutions to take the lead. And the starting point would be for both the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the state oil firm and the regulator, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) to move to the Niger Delta area. DPR is in Lagos while the NNPC is in the nation’ capital, Abuja at the moment.If they remain outside the Niger Delta area, the international oil firms may feel unprotected alone in the area.
While the demand for oil companies that left in the wake of the militancy to return is not out of place, there must be peace for that to happen. That is why the people must embrace peace, more especially, as little has been gained from militancy.
On the whole, the time has come for the government to show commitment towards mitigating the infrastructure and environmental decadence in the region. It will therefore be a tragedy if the deal with PANDEF falters again. There is no need for government to be singing different tunes at different times. That would make people lose confidence in government.
The people should be constructively engaged in continuous dialogue. That way, discontent and restiveness would be minimised and the right atmosphere would be created for development. Behold, government should not continue to be notorious for breaking promises to various stakeholders who keep disrupting production and productivity at all times.
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