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South-South Leaders: Why we shunned Gen. Abubakar’s peace parley

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• We Lost Nothing By Staying Away – PANDEF
Last week, former military Head of State, General Abdusalami Abubakar called a peace parley of ‘stakeholders’ in the Nigerian State to discuss pressing national issues, prime among which was security. Novel as the initiative was, it suffered a setback as some key stakeholders dissented and boycotted the gathering.

Representatives of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), who had reportedly signified their intention to partake in the peace talks, were compelled to reject participation in a last-minute decision on discovering the inclusion of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) among those invited.

The leaders expressed displeasure at the inclusion of MACBAN, which they considered a mere trade association for cattle herders and whose members have been accused of various violations of human rights, including the right to life, across the country.

It was for the same reason that the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and some other notable groups in the South-south called off their participation.

PANDEF Secretary General, Dr. Alfred Mulade, said though the group was not averse to any effort geared at curbing increasing violence in the country, sitting on the same table with herdsmen traders association, the Miyetti Allah, which has been blamed for the violence in most parts of the country, was like walking through a minefield.

Mulade said, “How would Miyetti Allah, which is a trade association, be equated with socio-cultural organisations representing zones? It is good some people attended the meeting, but I am sure it has opened another vista of opportunity for the organisers to look inwards and strategise on how to segment the conversation.”

The position of PANDEF is that participating in the Minna meeting with groups like Miyetti Allah accused of culpability in the surge in violence sparked by herdsmen and farmers, would have confused the struggle of the people of the South-South for peace; security of life and property, true federalism, the unity of the country, safety and the comfort of everybody.

“It would have put us in a very tight corner. These are people that carry AK 47. They are the same people you say are from Mali or wherever. They are the ones government wants to do RUGA for. They are the people who say every Southerner must evacuate the North. They are the same people who are daring everybody. You will now bring them to a table to come and sit down and discuss with us? No!” Mulade stressed.

According to the secretary general, the people of the South-South lost nothing by staying away from the conference. For him, attempts by successive governments to address the inherent contradictions plaguing the country have often been ill-conceived, whereas most of the challenges were politically driven.

To resolve the challenges, Mulade advised that the government should be sincere and should implement the 2014 national conference recommendations.

He said that, for example, the issue of State police that will handle security should be given priority attention. “What we see today is that the State governments are only aware of what is happening but they are not involved. Whereas, a governor is the chief security officer, he cannot give order to a police constable. But if the security architecture is deregulated, you will put security in the hands of the federating units.”

“You can imagine killer cells being stationed in most of the bushes in the Southwest, people with AK 47. The governors are there but cannot do anything. They can only cry out. Even when you are crying out, the person in charge of security will be looking the other way. How many prosecutions have been recorded since people have being crying that herdsmen are carrying AK47 and killing people? Have you heard about it?” he queried.

On his part, a former President of Ijaw National Congress (INC) and leader of the Conference of Ethnic Nationalities of Niger Delta (CENND), Professor Kimse Okoko, said even if he could not ascertain whether General Abubakar was acting on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, the boycott of the meeting by PANDEF was in order.

He said, “PANDEF and others were right in taking that decision because you cannot invite those individuals who have been committing all kinds of criminal activities in the country to take part with these known ethnic nationality groups in a peace talk. No, it was not proper and I support what they did.”

Okoko regretted that politics and power in Nigeria were strongly influenced by the country’s ethnic and religious complexities. He lamented that as a result, the country keeps drifting, wondering why the Buhari government, which has shown penchant for proscription of groups such as the Islamic Movement of Nigeria and the Indigenous People of Biafra, and has flagrantly disobeyed several court orders to release the leader of the Shiites sect, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky from incarceration, should find it difficult to proscribe the Miyetti Allah, which has been mentioned as allegedly responsible for killings across the country.

Okoko argued that the country does not need any more conferences to proffer solutions to her challenges. He recommended that anyone interested in addressing the Nigerian question should urge the government to sincerely implement the recommendations of the 2014 national conference during which some far-reaching decisions were reached.

“Go to the 2014 national conference report. It is very comprehensive and decisions were reached on the basis of consensus. Let them implement these recommendations. Restructure the country and let us go back and practice true federalism. This unitary system was imposed on us by a fraudulent 1999 constitution and it is part of the problems of this country. It is one of the fundamental causes of the problemS we are facing,” he said.

A representative of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Legborsi Pyagbara, said while there was need to expand the space for dialogue about building peace and resolving conflict in the country, there was also a need to be circumspect, in order not to confer legitimacy on illegitimate groups.

Pyagbara blamed the festering insecurity in the country on government’s discriminatory approach to the issue, noting that a United Nations committee on racial discrimination had recommended that in a multi-ethnic state like Nigeria, its security agencies and armed forces composition ought to reflect her diversity.

“Now, how do you deal with a situation where heads of security and major armed forces of the country ARE led by one group. It completely goes against the diversity we have in this country, no matter any excuse you want to give to it. So, it brings us back to the need for all of us to sit and negotiate this country,” he said.

Niger Delta environmental and human rights activist, Ledum Mitee, however, differed in opinion. In his view, the conveners of the Minna meeting demonstrated remarkable boldness and vision amid the complexities of the country’s challenges, by attempting to offer a ray of hope for peace.

According to him, any effort to address underlying causes of conflict and pave the way for solutions ought to be embraced without any preconditions.

He said, “Any opportunity for dialogue is good because there is nothing that cannot be resolved through dialogue. I think that if Miyetti Allah was there, why can’t the Shiite also have had their delegation there so that people hear all the views across the spectrum. I think the Minna meeting was an opportunity for conversation. I was not part of the decision that led to the staying away, but my view is that an opportunity for dialogue should be embraced, especially looking at the state of things in this country.

“My own view is that there is always something to gain in every conversation even if you are able to see the faces of those on the other side. But one thing that is always the big element in the room is that government itself must find itself also to be humble enough to participate in the dialogue and not to have this mindset that government is always right and all powerful.”

Executive Director, African Network for Environment and Economic Justice, David Ugolor, observed that the Federal Government has been ineffective in dealing with the security challenges facing the country.

Ugolor stated that any peace meeting that its resolution would not be implemented would be a waste. He said that the regime needed to be proactive in tackling issues affecting the country. “Once government continues to lose legitimacy in the eyes of the people and trust continues to decline, the people will rise and take their destiny in their hands. The problem of Nigeria is a governance issue,” he said.


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