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Again, Niger Delta on the brink

By Kelvin Ebiri (South-South Bureau Chief)
12 November 2017   |   4:21 am
There is simmering tension in the Niger Delta between the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and the Pan Niger Delta Peoples Congress (PNDPC) that now threatens to impede the peace process and spark fresh violence in the region.

Niger Delta Avengers

As Govt Fails To Sustain Peace Efforts

There is simmering tension in the Niger Delta between the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and the Pan Niger Delta Peoples Congress (PNDPC) that now threatens to impede the peace process and spark fresh violence in the region.

Sharp differences in opinion, and distrust among some prominent leaders of PANDEF has led to a break up of this broad alliance of leaders of thought from the Niger Delta, and this is gradually pushing the peace talk between the Federal Government and militants to the brink, a development that has further deepened the crisis in the region.

The disruption of PANDEF meeting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State by security operatives in October, and the subsequent threat afterwards by the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) to resume the total destruction of oil installations, are pointers that the simmering tension and anger in the region might burst soon.

Within PANDEF, a wide range of issues are responsible for the cracks. They range from the fear of Ijaw ethnic domination, to perception that some prominent leaders of the group being sympathetic to the Peoples Democratic Party, as well as the alleged overbearing influence of elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark.

There are fears too that the All Progressives Congress government from the zone are in a frenzy to take over the soul of PANDEF.

Taken aback by the furious resumption of attacks on critical oil and gas installations by the NDA in early 2016 that reduced oil production to about 800,000 barrels per day, the Presidency set up a committee comprising of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, and National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General Babagana Monguno, to liaise with leaders across the Niger Delta, under the aegis of PANDEF, to mediate between citizens and government, in a bid to end hostilities and restore peace.

PANDEF’s intervention and intense negotiation with NDA, stemmed attacks on oil installations, and lead to increase in crude oil production. This feat led to the November 1, 2016 meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari, in Abuja and PANDEF leadership comprising of Clark, former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, King Alfred Diete Spiff, former MOSOP president, Ledum Mitee among others, where a 16-point agenda titled, “Solving Niger Delta Issues by Dialogue,” was presented to the Federal Government.

In response to the 16-point demands, the Federal Government set up an inter-ministerial committee comprising of directors from a range of federal ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) – the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs; Ministry of Petroleum Resources; Ministry of Environment; Ministry of Power, Works and Housing; NDDC and the Presidential Amnesty Programme, to take a critical look at the demands and recommend how it should be implemented.
Furthermore, the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo initiated a series of high-level political engagements with a number of government and non-government leaders across Niger Delta states.

Following consistent complaints of inaction by PANDEF, the inter-ministerial committee in July 2017, produced the Strategic Implementation Work Plan (SIWP), which focused on the strategic objectives raised in the Federal Government’s 20-Point Agenda and PANDEF’s 16-Point Agenda.

According to the government, SIWP is a strategic framework for coordination of investments into development and stabilisation interventions in the Niger Delta that is expected to gulp a whooping N2, 065, 140, 035, 959 expenditure on 457 projects.

While the Federal Government is yet to commence the implementation of SIWP with core business focus on the petroleum industry; creation of about 100,000 jobs across each state over the next five years; investments in gas and power; massive civil infrastructure initiatives; environmental remediation and cleanup; Niger Delta Development Fund; state amnesty programmes; youth businesses; community-based policing among others, cracks are already emerging in PANDEF.

A source in the group told The Guardian that before now, efforts were made to manage perceived differences in the group, but shortly after the SIWP draft report was released, dissension arose sharply.

According to him, an aspect of the larger strategy to whittle down PANDEF’s influence was efforts made by some political actors from the Niger Delta, who are serving in the Federal Government.

It was amid the glaring dissension that powerful political forces in the region got into the mix and capitalised on the situation, and the development led to the emergence of Pan Niger Delta Peoples Congress (PNDPC), led by former National Chairman of the Traditional Rulers of Oil Producing Communities of Nigeria, TROMPCON, Charles Ayemi-Botu, and a new militant group, the Reformed Niger Delta Avengers (RNDA) also came into being.

RNDA, which NDA spokesman, Murdoch Agbinibo, has described as “non-existent,” had promptly accused Clark and PANDEF of contributing to the underdevelopment of the Niger Delta, hence, lacking the credibility to negotiate and speak for the people of the oil-rich region.

RNDA spokesperson, Johnmark Ezonbi, further said the so-called 16-point agenda that PANDEF submitted to President Buhari was drafted at Clark’s Abuja house, and does not reflect the wishes of the people of the region because they never went round the various ethnic groups in the region or/and visited the creeks to meet with the people before it was drafted.

Similarly, the PNDPC through its national coordinator, Mike Loyibo, had earlier urged the Federal Government not to negotiate with PANDEF because it is just one of the many groups in the region.

According to him, any agreement reached with PANDEF can never be binding on everybody in the region.

“There is no need for the Federal Government to negotiate with any group, rather, the Presidency should go back to the people in their respective communities, just the same way that the Acting President went round to seek their buy- in. After all, it was not PANDEF that secured peace in the region.

They have consulted widely and a road map has already been fashioned out. The Federal Government should not allow any group to slow it down, rather immediate action should be taken to tackle already identified issues,” he said.

But spokesperson of the NDA, Agbinibo, who castigated PANDEF for ignoring its warning against the antics of the government is insisting that there was no militant group going by the name, “Reformed Niger Delta Avengers” in the Niger Delta.

“The Intelligence Unit of the NDA has gathered from our sources in the Nigerian government that operatives of the said Reformed Niger Delta Avengers are some fraudsters from the Niger Delta region working with government functionaries in offices like that of the Director General of Department of State Services (DSS), Office of the National Security Adviser, and office of the Minister of Transport,” he said.

Attempts by PANDEF to hold its general assembly in Port Harcourt last month, where it would have received and ratified its draft constitution, was aborted by a combined team of the Police and DSS operatives.

The PNDPC on that occasion had justified the action of security operatives based on warnings by RNDA to attack the meeting.

Some of those that security operatives prevented from meeting included Clark, Diete-Spiff, former military governor of Akwa Ibom State, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (rtd), former military administrator of Kwara State, Col Peter A.M. Ogar (rtd), first military administrator of Abia State, AVM Frank Ajobena; representative of Edo State governor, Alabo Tonye Graham-Douglas, and Sara –Igbe, amongst other dignitaries.

Clark, who reacted to the botched meeting had observed that the attempts by agencies of the Federal Government to forcefully stop such a high-level gathering of leaders of the Niger Delta region was a flagrant denigration of the country’s constitutional guarantees on the right of peaceful assembly and free movement.

He explained that the aborted meeting was targeted at fostering peaceful coexistence, inter-ethnic harmony and understanding, as well as the use of lawful and non-violent means for justice and equity for people of the Niger Delta, their progeny.

PANDEF said it considers the Federal Government’s action as insensitive because at the height of resumed militancy in the Niger Delta in 2016, and its negative impact on the national economy, it was the timely intervention of PANDEF that ensured the return to peace and stability.

“This brought about a surge in production of oil to the present level of 2.35million bpd, and the free flow of gas to our power plants and industries. This, at present price brings in over USD115 million (about 36 billion naira) daily.”

Though crossed by the action of affected government agencies, PANDEF had implored the people of the Niger Delta, in particular, the youths, to remain law abiding and maintain calm despite the acts of intimidation and provocation.

It was only eight days after the Port Harcourt clampdown on PANDEF, that NDA spokesperson, declared that halt on “Operation Red Economy” was officially over, adding that it has lost faith in former Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta Commander, Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo, and PANDEF, and vowed never to heed any such retrogressive calls, or advise from them in the future.

Agbinibo stated that the recent disruption of the PANDEF’s 1st National Assembly, by the Nigerian government was the final evidence NDA needed to conclude that the Federal Government reserves not an iota of respect for Tompolo and Niger Delta elders under the aegis of PANDEF.

Agbinibo, who said NDA was tracking and monitoring when Egina FPSO built in South Korea, by Samsung, to be operated by Total Nigeria would arrive oil fields of the Niger Delta, vowed that militants would not allow the oil facility to operate.

“Our next line of operation will not be like the 2016 campaign, which we operated successfully without any casualties; this outing will be brutish, brutal and bloody, as we shall crush everything we meet on our path to completely put off the fires that burn to flair gas in our communities and cut every pipe that moves crude away from our region. We can assure you that every oil installation in our region will feel the warmth of the wrath of the Niger Delta Avengers,” he said.

While PANDEF and PNDPC engage in a war of attrition, the 16-point agenda, which included the demand for the commencement of activities at the Maritime University, Okerenkoko, has been almost abandoned. Even the peace talk between the government and the militants brokered by PANDEF is on life support.