PANDEF: People in government disrupted our General Assembly meeting in Port Harcourt
• Says Chief Edwin K. Clark
On Sunday, November 5, 2017, I started receiving calls as early as 10 a.m. First to call was self-styled General John Mark of the Renewed Niger Delta Avengers (RNDA), followed some hours later by that of HRM Pere Charles Ayemi-Botu, Paramount Ruler of Siembiri Kingdom, who said he was calling from Maryland in the U.S. At exactly 14 hours later, Chief E.K. Clark’s call came through.
Chief Clark said: “I have been going through your Palace Watch for some Sundays now. I discovered that in your attempt to balance your stories, you have not actually towed the line of neutrality, as you are beginning to emphasise what does not exist in your reports about the RNDA.”
Palace Watch: Chief, why do you harbour this type of feeling? Do you have any information or evidence suggesting that I have been compromised?
Chief Clark: “Well, I have no evidence to show that you have been compromised. But the way and manner you have been slanting your report in favour of RNDA made me think so. You have not been fair to us. Anyhow, the original Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) has, today, said it has withdrawn from the ceasefire that had been reached, as the members are not ready again to cooperate with the Federal Government because of the shabby manner we were treated in Port Harcourt. That I am sure you are not going to reflect in your report.
By the way, who gave RNDA the right to say it has withdrawn the supposed powers it earlier gave us to negotiate on its behalf? Gabriel, you know me relatively well. I gave you, alongside other students scholarship in the early 70s, when I was the Commissioner for Education in the old Midwestern State, when you just left secondary school. Not only that, I personally contributed to bringing The Guardian Newspaper into existence. So, when you now attempt to rubbish me on pages of the newspaper because of some unknown people, people who do not exist, it becomes very annoying.
About three days ago, you must have heard that the original NDA is saying it is withdrawing from the ceasefire arrangement because the Federal Government disrupted our meeting in Port Harcourt and is deliberately sponsoring the Renewed Niger Delta Avengers to work against collective interest of people of Niger Delta Region. When things are the way they are now, you do not support people or a group that does not exist.
“I know for a fact that you do not have a stake in all these things. But my quarrel with you is that you have refused to do proper investigations to establish that the people you are dealing with do not exist. One man can’t be sitting in one corner of a room armed with a laptop and begin to abuse and accuse a man like me of looting, that I go from one oil company to another to collect money and that we did not pay for the hall at Hotel Presidential in Port Harcourt, which was supposed to be used for the botched meeting. These allegations are irresponsible, and they can’t even substantiate them, if they are called upon to do so.
“Now let me tell you this, for record purposes. I am over 90 years. I am not talking as an Ijaw man or a man from Niger Delta Region alone. If we are talking about Ijaw ethnic nationality, which I physically belong to, I challenge anybody, dead or alive, who has contributed towards those areas’ development more than me. I have helped in the development of Ijaw people physically. When I was the Commissioner for Education in the old Mid-west, there was only one Grammar school, known as St Bendel College in Bomadi in the whole of Ijaw land. The Catholic Church ran that school then. I was the one that made the school a Government College and developed it. Thereafter, I established 10 more Grammar schools in Ijaw nation. I went ahead and awarded scholarships to every Ijaw lady then in tertiary institutions. I did the same for the boys. It was in my time that hospitals were built in Ojobo, Burutu, Patani and Bomadi. It was also during my time as Commissioner in Mid-west that the road from Warri to Patani was built. This was the beginning of East-West Road. I did not take money from anybody to do all these for my people.
“Pere Ayemi-Botu, who is now talking was an ordinary recruit in the Army. He was later dismissed as a sergeant from the Nigerian Army. It hurts, when I sit down and hear the rubbish these boys are saying, that I never did anything to develop Ijaw land. I shake my head and ask God to forgive them. I was never part of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s government. If Jonathan’s government failed as they are alleging, that has nothing to do with me. There were even instances, when I openly criticised ex-President Jonathan for lack of performance. In a gathering in Warri, I once told him: “Do not give to us what will compound our problems and hurt us later.” It was published in almost all the national dallies. I still have those newspapers. So, when I look at these boys, who now take it as a fulltime job to abuse me every day in the newspapers and radio, I just feel sad. When we met with Ohanaeze, Afenifere, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), it was on equal footing. PANDEF is not and will never be part of any political organisation. For a group of boys, who claim to belong to an organisation that does not exist to come and be making all manner of allegations that we are looters is unfortunate. I, hereby, challenge them to make public the evidence they have. Let them name the oil company or companies I have ever spoken to, let alone collect money from.
“Before this botched meeting in Port Harcourt, Anabs Sara-Igbe came to me to say one young man from his area of Niger Delta is one of those involved in oil company operations and that he is also a member of PANDEF. He said since we are going to hold our meeting in Port Harcourt, he was prepared to pay for Atlantic Hall in Hotel Presidential, which we were supposed to use for the General Assembly, and that he was also prepared to give the delegates lunch. These were the things that young man promised. We did not go to another oil company to solicit for help. It was PANDEF that asked NDDC for assistance in the area of accommodation during the meeting. As a result of this request, NDDC gave us N15m on the day we were to hold the meeting. They brought the N15m to pay for accommodation in various hotels in Port Harcourt. This money I did not see or touch. By the way, what is N15m to someone like me?
“Not only that, I was the one that wrote a personal letter to Governor Nyesom Wike to host us. The governor then called to inform me that he was going to America to pick an award, and from there he would be going to Chatham House in London to give a lecture, and as such, he was not going to be available, so we should postpone the meeting. I told him it was too late to cancel the meeting, as delegates were beginning to arrive venue of the meeting in Port Harcourt. This was on Tuesday and Wednesday of that week. I told him that, if he wanted to host us again after this meeting, we would be ready for him. The Governor told me that was okay by him. I was therefore surprised, when I was told it was the governor of Rivers State that stopped the meeting. I called the governor and he denied. The impression we had was that, because NDDC gave us money to pay for hotel accommodation, that the gesture was done through Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi to undermine him, Wike, as governor. When we decided to probe further, we discovered it was Rotimi Amaechi, Timipre Sylva, former governor of Bayelsa State, alongside Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Abba Kyari, who really stopped the meeting. They instructed the Director-General of DSS to stop the meeting. They felt that Dr. Ibe Kachuwu, Minister of State for Petroleum, gave us money and that he also instructed some oil companies to give us money to finance the meeting they aborted to defend him – the Minister of State – in his face-off with the GMD of NNPC.
“I had cause to ask Dr. Bassey, Director of Operations at DSS Headquarters in Abuja, why they were doing that to us and who gave him the order to stop our meeting. He could not give me sufficient and convincing explanations. He said they were told that militants would come and blow up the hall we were supposed to hold our meeting. I told him it was some of the youths accused of vandalising oil pipelines that supported us in the formation of PANDEF. So, why would these boys do what they are trying to accuse them of? Why would these same youths come and blow up the venue of our meeting to discuss issues that will benefit them and the people of Niger Delta generally? I, therefore, decided to call General Dambazzau (rtd), Minister of Interior, who said he was somewhere in Europe. I asked him to speak with the D.G. of DSS on the matter. He promised to do just that. It was after this that I called the Vice President, but I could not get through to him. I therefore decided to send him a text message.
“In that message, I told the VP: “We are friends of your government. We recently held a meeting with you on November 3, 2017. When did we become the enemy of your government? Why would you people now decide to sabotage our meeting?” I did not get an answer from Vice President Osinbajo. As we speak, we are still insisting on knowing why the Federal Government would disrupt our meeting. And we are ready to go to any length under legal process to find out why the Federal Government decided to stop our meeting. If we allow this to just go unchallenged, they would do it again and again. How many times have they done a thing like this to Afenifere? The Yoruba nation has more than one regional organisation. Ohanaeze exists, even though people like Professor Nwabueze say they do not belong to the body. ACF also exits and we still have Arewa Elders Forum (AEF), the body led by the late Maitama Sule, before Paul Unogo took over after Sule’s demise. We again have the Arewa Technical Council under Tanko Yakasai. How many times has the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari stopped these regional bodies’ meetings?
“Why would PANDEF not be allowed to hold meeting? The flimsy excuse given… is that enough to stop us from holding our meeting? Enough is enough. We are not ready to take this type of action from the Nigerian government any longer. We are all Nigerians, and no Nigerian is superior to another. Is it a crime to come from an area where crude oil is found and produced? Some people from the North think and believe that our existence as people from the Niger Delta Area stops them from collecting proceeds from oil, which is wrong and a bane of our co-existence as members of one nation. Therefore, we must be resettled elsewhere.
“Out of 15 principal appointments in NNPC, 10 goes to the North that does not produce crude oil, while three of those appointments go to the South-West, with the remaining two given to people of the South-South, where crude oil is produced. Does something not tell these people what they are doing is wrong? What type of country are we in? Out of 55 appointments, 32 are given to the North, which does not produce oil. About 17 or 19 of the appointments are grudgingly given to the South, where crude oil is produced. Do we still have conscience in this country called Nigeria? And some people are still saying appointments are not lopsided. This is sad!
“Finally, I say, if Ayemi-Botu and his co-travellers are true and sincere to themselves, why are they now worried and pleading with the original Niger Delta Avengers not to resume hostilities, if truly the Renewed Niger Delta Avengers does exist?
When Palace Watch contacted HRM Pere Charles Ayemi-Botu in the U.S. to state his own side, he said though he was a soldier before becoming king, but contrary to Chief Clark’s submissions, at no time in his career in the army was he dismissed.
He said: “People should stop crying over spilt milk. If truly the Nigerian government still has confidence in Chief Clark and his followers’ ability to negotiate on behalf of the agitators and people of the region, the government would not have stopped PANDEF’s meeting in Port Harcourt. The organisation that I lead, the Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress is (PANDPC), is focused on how to develop the entire region. If Federal Government decides to collaborate with us, we will assist in bringing about lasting peace in the region, and ensuring massive development of the place.
The same Clark was the one who alleged that PANDPC under my leadership and other groups were being used by Muhammadu Buhari’s government to distract PANDEF, thus requesting all of us to return to the body. This, we have deliberately ignored, as we are focused on what we are doing and where we are going.
I am not a spokesperson for RNDA. Its members will reach out to you; they are not faceless. In fact, they are presently in charge of all activities in the Creeks in the whole of Niger Delta Region.
At exactly 11.53 a.m. on November 6, 2017, my phone rang. The self-acclaimed General John Mark was again on the line. I told him Chief Clark said there is no such body as the Renewed Niger Delta Avengers, and that they are a faceless organisation working hard to blackmail people and foment trouble in the Niger Delta region.
But General John Mark insisted that his body, RNDA truly exists, a fact he stressed Chief Clark and most of his followers in PANDEF know.
He said: “We are not criminals and we are not into criminality. We are not attacking vessels. We are not kidnapping. We are not into any negative acts. We are in the Creeks because over the years, people of this region have been pushed to the wall by our leaders. This act of recklessness on the part of our leaders is what we are working very hard to stop. We are here to see to our organisation’s growth, so that the usual Federal authority’s developmental efforts are no longer hijacked by a few selfish and greedy individuals, who call themselves our elders and leaders. We are determined to ensure these people who see developmental efforts in the Niger Delta Region as a family business no longer do that and prevent them from taking over whatever the Buhari government intends to do for the people of our region.
If you read recent address by Vice President Osinbajo carefully, you will see that the man was very thorough. If you read that speech, you see that when ex-President Jonathan, who is from this region, was in power, the price of crude in the international market then was almost $100 to $150 per barrel. If you take your time and calculate the tons of money we made as a country then, as our daily production of oil was about 2.4m barrels a day. During this period, trillions of Naira and dollars were moving out of the country unaccounted for. There was no single infrastructure to justify the huge sums of money made.
The East-West Road was never completed, and there is nothing to point at in the whole of Niger Delta Region. So many other projects were abandoned across the region. Yet, every year, government was budgeting money for projects, which never saw the light of the day.
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