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PANDEF Crisis: Young Turks form parallel group to topple leadership


Edwin Kiagbodo Clark

For some time now, some traditional rulers in the Niger Delta area have intensified efforts to effect a change in the leadership of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF). And over time, the struggle has become quite unhealthy.

Precisely, these traditional rulers want some PANDEF officials removed, notably Chief Edwin K. Clark, one of the most prominent Ijaw leaders, who is the convener of PANDEF, alongside other such South-South leaders as Obong Victor Attah, former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, and King Alfred Diete-Spiff, the Amanyanabo of Brass, a former military administrator in Rivers State, who are the co-conveners of PANDEF.

PANDEF, as presently constituted, is the only body mandated to speak and negotiate on behalf of agitators and South-south people.

Two weeks ago, a group of traditional rulers led by the paramount ruler of Seibiri Kingdom in Delta State, Chief Charles Ayemi-Botu, met in Warri alongside some agitators drawn mainly from Delta and Bayelsa States to deliberate on what they termed: ‘Matters of urgent national importance.’

They rose from the meeting after about four hours, with a declaration that Chief E.K. Clark, King Alfred Diete-Spiff and other PANDEF leaders have been replaced by a new executive, and as such, should no longer represent or act on their behalf in any matter.

In place of Chief Clark and others, the new group appointed Chief Charles Ayemi-Botu and Chief Mike Loyibo as coordinators, while His Royal Majesty Okpoitari Diongoli the Ibedaowei of Okpokuma Kingdom was named chairman, Strategic Committee of the new body, which is now to be known as the Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress (PANDPC).

The agitators said Chief Clark and others have failed to provide the type of leadership they require, as they have failed to meet the yearnings and aspirations of the people of South-south region as a whole. Hence, the urgent need for a change of executives and name of the body.

According to the new group, the inauguration of Chief Botu-led committee two weeks ago in Warri has effectively brought to an end the era of Chief E.K. Clark and other committee members of PANDEF.

When Palace Watch contacted King Alfred Diete-Spiff on this matter, he said: “I am honestly tired of being insulted daily by people, who desperately want power and positions. As far as I know, public service is about service. It is only the people that call upon the people they want to serve them; and not people forcing themselves on people to serve, whether they like it or not.

“As far as I know, PANDEF and its executives are still in place. PANDEF Constitution has been drafted and will be presented for delibration sometime in September or early October this year. Please ignore the uninformed statements from Charles Ayemi-Botu and his men.”

Not done yet, Palace Watch contacted Chief Edwin K. Clark, who took his time to explain the exact situation of things.

He said: “When young men and women from the Niger Delta Region, who now go by the name of agitators or militants, were in the creeks vandalising oil and gas pipelines alongside its platforms, as to be expected, Nigerian government moved against them and started to attack them in what was then known as operation ‘Crocodile Tears.’

“In a deliberate effort to halt the ensuing carnage, I decided alongside some youths to form the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF). Before formation of PANDEF, I called a meeting, which was well-publicised and attended at the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) in Warri. At that particular meeting, I invited well over 600 people via the newspapers and other news media. Surprisingly, the PTI venue was filled to capacity. The publisher of ThisDay, Nduka Obaigbena, Timi Alaibe and a host of other dignitaries too numerous to mention, alongside the governor of Delta State were all present at that meeting.

“Before this particular meeting, so many organisations had been formed by various persons and interest groups. Even the present Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, had his own group then. The situation in Niger Delta was so bad, that even an expatriate decided to exploit the situation and formed his own militant group then. It was at that PTI meeting that I urged that we should collapse all these groups into one formidable body. That was how PANDEF came into being.

“On November 1, 2016, I led a delegation of over 100 First Class and other traditional rulers, alongside politicians, former ministers and senators, to Aso Villa, where we met with President Muhammadu Buhari.

“The gathering was non-partisan, as we had members of the ruling party APC, PDP and members of other political parties in the delegation. The president granted us audience and at that meeting, we presented to him for consideration a 16-point agenda.

“The agenda included the modular refineries issue, movement of IOC headquarters to Niger Delta – I mean oil and gas companies’ headquarters to relocate to the Niger Delta Region. In the submitted agenda, we insisted, for example, that Mobil headquarters should be moved to Eket in Akwa Ibom State, while Shell should be moved to Port Harcourt in Rivers State, Agip should move to Yenagoa in Bayelsa State, while Chevron should also be moved to Warri in Delta State. This was so that the people in these areas can benefit from the activities and operations of oil companies.

“The issue of Bakassi was also discussed, just like that of the Maritime University that is about to open now. Also, we specifically requested that the modular refineries should be established to mop up activities of present-day illegal refineries that are being operated by various communities in the oil-producing areas of Niger Delta.

“If I must say, this was what prompted Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, when he was Acting President to go round Niger Delta Region to see things for himself. And he was well-received everywhere he went, and was able to dialogue with the people and brought good result.

“And in view of this, on August 3, a 25-man PANDEF committee again met with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in an inter-ministerial council meeting. At that meeting, we had very useful results. Surprisingly, a group of people who felt they were not invited became offended. It was at this point I told them that PANDEF is not an Ijaw affair.

“I made it very clear to them that what we are dealing with are issues concerning the entire South-South Region and that I would not want to be pigeonholed. I told them that I wouldn’t be a party to an organisation that promotes only the interest and aspirations of Ijaw people. Sadly, the people fomenting all these trouble are a few Ijaw people, who are upstarts in every sense of the word.

“The traditional ruler leading this pack, Charles Ayemi-Botu, is a known confusion-monger, who wants to be recognised at all costs, even though he has little or no education, and therefore does not have the capacity for leadership.

“In their desperation to be part of our group, Mike Loyibo, one of the leaders or promoters of the Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress (PANDPC), went to meet with General Boro, the Presidential Adviser on Niger Delta Affairs. General Boro, we were told, warned Loyibo and asked him, “Why do you want to destroy a well-conceived body like PANDEF?” General Boro asked him to leave, that he was going to plead with me to accommodate him (Loyibo) in the scheme of whatsoever we were doing.

“Last week Friday, General Boro came to see me with some other people and pleaded with me to forgive members of this group, especially their leaders. And I told the General that as far as I was concerned, there were no hard feelings; that I had already forgiven them. With this, I had thought this matter had been put to rest. I have asked Alawi Bozimo, the former Minister of Police Affairs, to take care of them, since all the people causing these troubles are all Ijaw boys.”

On the allegations that he and other executive members of PANDEF have been replaced, Chief Clerk said: “Please ignore them; they do not know what they are doing. As I speak with you, some top members of PADEF are presently in Akure with the Minister of Niger Delta. These people, alongside the Special Adviser to President on Niger Delta, are holding meetings on how to develop the Niger Delta. The Vice-President will join this group in Akure on September 12, 2017.”

On the allegation that Chief Clark and King Spiff misappropriated N500m given to PANDEF by government, Chief Clark simply asked: “Is it possible for a man like President Buhari to bribe anybody with N500m? It is known to everyone that I am not a friend of APC and President Buhari’s government. How on earth would such a government want to bribe me or any organisation that I lead? These people are simply crazy and out of their minds.”

On his part, His Royal Majesty Okpoitari Diongoli, the Ibedaowei of Okpokuma Kingdom, who is the chairman, Strategic and Contact Committee of the new body known as the Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress (PANDPC), said: “what has been happening over time with regard to the out-gone executive of PANDEF, Chief E.K Clark and his co-chairmen, is that there have been a disconnect between the leadership and people of the Niger Delta Region. The agitators have become dissatisfied, because there have not been any feedback mechanism.

“When you represent a people, it is only just, fair and appropriate that you give them feedback. So over time, the agitators became worried. There are issues bordering on diversion of funds meant for the body. Funds meant for the agitators did not get to the agitators. A few persons had cornered the money and made away with it.

“Unfortunately, the way the system works, when you are going to sign for the money meant for a group of people, there must be one or two other persons who are within the office areas or chain where this money is to be signed for. These people within that system might be friends or relations of one or two agitators or people who are not agitators. So, if one thought that the information about such money will never get to a third person, such a person is making a big mistake, because somehow, someday the information will finally get to the people.

“It is also possible that the approving authorities might also want to blackmail such people, by leaking such information through a different channel. So, if anybody had thought that after collecting such money, they could be silent, die or do away with such money without letting the people it was meant for know, they are making a big mistake.

“This present crisis has, therefore, arisen because of lack of confidence in the Chief E.K. Clark executive of PANDEF. So, there is a crisis of confidence. The agitators are no longer happy and satisfied with Chief Clark and others. It was the agitators, who gave the mandate to Chief Clark and others to speak on their behalf, and they have now decided to withdraw that mandate, and begin afresh.

“As we speak, I have never met with any of the agitators. I was just nominated to take up this position alongside others in the new executive of the Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress. I had cause to say during our inaugural meeting in Warri: ‘Though the agitators have given us their mandate, but I also want to hear from them directly.’

“I stressed that I would want to know what their issues are, particularly those they have with the government, as well as the demands they are making. I would also want to hear from them on the issues they had with the former leadership of PANDEF. But the response I got was that they claimed they couldn’t come out in the open for now to meet either with me or any other member of the new executive. They insisted that they have already given us their mandate, and that all we need do is to go about carrying out their mandate.

“That is on one hand. Chief Clark is 90 years plus. So, in the area of health, he is no longer fit. I was also told he is on the wheel chair. There is what we call mentorship. For a man of 94, 95 years, I would have thought that, even if you have a company, or you are running a private company, by this time he should have begun to groom one of his children to take over leadership from him. Sadly, Chief Clark has refused to relinquish leadership of Ijaw people. Is he trying to say there is no young intelligent Ijaw man or woman who could effectively take over from him, especially when he is no longer able to do so many things? I personally think it’s about time for Chief Clark and King Spiff to retire honourably.”

In his response, Chief Clark said he is still in the struggle for the betterment of Ijaw land and South-south, based on what an Ijaw chief came to do in his house at No. 20 Hitler Road, Apapa in Lagos many years back.

He narrated: “One day, very early in the morning, the late Oweikedi, an Ijaw chief came to my house and asked whether I had a bottle of dry gin in the house? I was shocked and surprised – very early in the morning, when nobody had had breakfast. I told him, yes I had. The late Oweikedi took the bottle of gin from me, walked straight to the gate of my house, opened it and began to pray, shouting all over the place, ‘E.K. Clark will not die, until he struggles to liberate the Ijaw people. Clark will never see death, until he liberates the Ijaw people.’

“Surprisingly, this man died of accident in his house three weeks after this particular incident. Ever since, I had to rededicate myself to all that will make the Ijaw, the Niger Delta and South-south people great. I have no personal gains in this entire thing.”

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