Peterside: Only sincerity on part of government can bring peace
Dr. Sofiri Peterside is a political analyst, researcher and Senior Lecturer in Department of Sociology, University of Port Harcourt. He spoke with ANN GODWIN in Port Harcourt, on the impact of the visit of the Acting President to Niger Delta region.
What is your take on the visit of the Acting President to the Niger Delta region?
The visit of the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo to the Niger Delta region should be commended because we believe that the various town hall meetings the Acting President held will go a long way in addressing the urgent needs and challenges of the Niger Delta region. In Rivers State, it appears that some groups felt slighted that the Acting President did not visit their communities.
Yes, there are groups that have already issued press statements, like the Soku people. They felt that that visit was designed to visit the oil producing communities. Remember in Soku , there has been subsisting dispute between the Soku people and some communities in Bayelsa State, so they thought that that would have been an opportunity for the Acting President to visit the Soku gas projects and also see the environmental degradation in their area. But the Acting President stopped in the city, without having first hand information of how the area looks like. Also, in Ogba/Egbeme/Ndoni Local Council where you have more gasses and more oil wells, they issued a press statement that they were not consulted and that Prof. Osinbajo did not visit their area, so they did not have the opportunity to inform him what their problems are. But nevertheless, the visit was not a bad one, but we want to urge the Acting President that Minister of State for Petroleum and others planning similar visits to the region, so the Federal Government can direct them to visit these areas and address their challenges.
The Acting President made a lot of promises during the visit. Can the government be trusted to deliver on these promises?
Well, I would say that the people of the Niger Delta already have what we call consultation fatigue, because there have been several consultations, several stakeholders meetings and decisions were arrived at. Recall, that there is also the technical Committee report on the region, yet nothing seems to have happened. So, the only way the government can change the mindset of the people is to make sure that those promises are translated into action. That is the only way to make the people believe that government is not only interested in all the talks, but that the government is also interested in the action, particularly, the promise of modular refinery to replace illegal refining.
Would you agree that the visit has doused the tension in Niger Delta region?
Well, I will say that whatever peace we have now is the peace of the graveyard. Now, if the underlining issues, which actually necessitated or threw up what emerged, as militancy is not fundamentally addressed, we will return to status quo. So, until the issue of environmental degradation is addressed to the extent that the people have access to resources generated from their environment, and of course, the extent to which food is put on the table of the people, it is to that extent, there will be peace in this region. Otherwise, drawing from past experience, the peace we have now is the peace of the graveyard. Of course, there is this question of amnesty that is on, there are people who are saying that they are not incorporated into the process, though Niger Delta Avengers seem to be calm, it is also highly possible that another militant group might emerge to occupy the space, which these people have left. That’s why I think that a holistic approach to the issues, which necessitated the emergence of militancy in the Niger Delta needs to be addressed and addressed properly.