Why we removed Clark, others as PANDEF leaders
HRM Pere Dr. Charles Ayemi-Botu, JP, OFR Paramount
Ruler Of Ancient Seibiri Kingdom In Burutu LGA, Delta State
It was exactly 6.15 a.m., on Tuesday morning of September 19, when my phone rang. On the other end was a sharp, penetrating voice.
“Are you Gabriel Omonhinmin, the man who anchors The Palace Watch for The Guardian newspaper on Sundays,” asked the stentorian voice. “Yes,” I replied. “What can I do for you, Sir?”
There was a moment of silence, after which the voice continued. “Do you know that you disappointed and offended me and the entire people of Seibiri Kingdom in Delta State with your recent piece?”
Palace Watch: Who is this? May I know how I disappointed you and your people?
Pere Ayemi-Botu: Well, my name is His Royal Majesty Pere Dr. Charles Ayemi-Botu, JP, OFR aka The Lion Of The Niger And Paramount Ruler Of The Ancient Seibiri Kingdom in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State. In your Palace Watch edition of Sunday September 17, 2017, entitled: “PANDEF CRISIS: Young Turks Form Parallel Group To Topple Leadership,” you addressed me all through as Chief Ayami-Botu. For your information, I am not a Chief. I am the Paramount Ruler of a Kingdom that has been in existence for well over 367 years. Chief E.K. Clark you interviewed in that article is from a place that is part of my kingdom.
Palace Watch: Your observation, Your Majesty, is noted. We will endeavour to correct these mistakes, when next we have something to do with your Kingdom.
Pere Ayemi-Botu: I carefully read through your piece. I must confess that I was very disappointed that Chief Clark referred to me and my group as uneducated and upstarts. This is a cheap and insulting stereotype that has no place in this day and age. Me, uneducated and an upstart? Incredible and disappointing! Not only that, the old man deliberately distorted facts to suit his whims and caprices. All this, if you allow me, I would want to correct for record purposes. Now hear the background to all the drama that led us to render Chief Clark and other former leaders of PANDEF defunct.
As the first elected National Executive Chairman of the Traditional Rulers Committee of Oil, Mineral and Gas Producing States (TROMPCOM) comprising nine states, I had the rare privilege of running the affairs of this body for four consecutive years. This, to a certain extent, gave me a lot of visibility in the affairs of the Niger Delta, alongside the South-South Region. Well, as you are already aware, I am presently the National leader of the Pan Niger Delta Peoples Congress (PANDPC.)
Palace Watch: Could you please let us into how you became the National leader of PANDPC? And what has happened to Chief E.K. Clark and other leaders of PANDEF?
Pere Ayemi-Botu: Good question. I was nominated and unanimously adopted as the leader of PANDPC at the inaugural meeting we held in Warri. Honestly, we had no elections; I was called upon to assume leadership of the new body. I was unanimously adopted as the new body’s leader. As I speak with you, I am yet to formally meet with the agitators that want Chief Clark and the others removed as PANDEF leaders. It is also this same group of agitators that insisted that others and I should take up the new body’s mantle of leadership.
On August 18, 2017, at about 7.30 p.m., the Regional Editor of one of the national newspapers called me on phone and said: “Your Majesty, are you aware that you have been nominated by a group of agitators in the Niger Delta Region to be the National Leader of a new body called the Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress (PANDPC)?” I said, No. I am not aware. I immediately wondered aloud, but why should the agitators nominate me without first finding it convenient to consult with me? I said to myself, ‘They shouldn’t shave my head in my absence.’ It was at this point the reporter told me, ‘Well, this is the situation of things. It is one self-styled General John Mark who is the leader of the agitators, whose group is known as the Reformed Niger Delta Avengers (RNDA) that is the person that nominated you for the position.’
I don’t know if you are aware, it was the former Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) that tormented the entire Niger Delta Creek and Region in 2016 and brought oil production of the country from 2.4 million barrels a day down to 700, 000 bpd. Their action began on January 12, 2016, when they first blew up the Jones Creek 20-inch pipeline. While all this madness was going on, some of us could not remain passive. We had to make several moves to ensure that the situation did not get out of control, and for the agitators to see reason as to why they must stop their actions right away. It was at this point that Alaowei Broderick Bozimo, myself and a few other persons met and decided to find a way out of the quagmire.
If you would recall, on January 12, 2016, Nigerians woke up to witness the blowing up of major oil facilities in Delta State. The first place to be hit by the agitators was the 20-inch pipeline in the Jones Creek. This action by the NDA quickly spread to other facilities, such as the Chevron Nigeria Limited installation in Escravos and the Shell facility in Forcados flow-line.
Exactly four days after this ugly incident, on January 16, 2016, the Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Niger Delta, who also doubles as Coordinator, Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), Brigadier-General Paul Boroh (Rtd), put a call through to me, saying: ‘There is trouble and I will be coming to meet with some traditional rulers in Warri.’ I told him that I was already on my way to my kingdom for a security meeting, that it would have been better, if he had given us some days before coming. But if he could not wait, I asked him to meet with the Pere of Kabowei, who was the then TROMPCOM chairman, Delta State chapter, so that he, Pere of Kabowei could immediately summon a meeting of all traditional rulers of oil producing areas in Delta State, so that the issue at stake could be discussed exhaustively, to see if it could be resolved immediately.
We were, however, not too surprised, when Federal Government deployed troops to Gbaramatu in Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State on May 8, 2016. From the arsenal deployed, it was clear that the Nigerian government was not joking. They brought in 100 gunboats, three jet fighters and two warships. This, by any standard, was quite intimidating. Anyhow on May 15, 2016, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo visited Forcados Terminal to assess things for himself.
This was the situation of things, when I, alongside Chief Wellington Okirika and some youths, including Hendricks Opukeme, Chief Dan Ekpebide, Kennedy Orubebe and Ari Sly came together to see what we could do to put the situation under control. We met and decided to visit Bayelsa State governor, Seriake Dickson on June 9, 2016 in Yenagoa. Some boys from the Creek accompanied us on that visit, but unfortunately, Alaowei Bozimo was not on the trip.
Governor Dickson was so excited over the meeting that he decided to put a call through to Vice President Yemi Osibanjo in our presence, telling him that he had with him in his office traditional rulers, chiefs, youths, leaders and some agitators who are at the heart of the crisis in Delta State.
Palace Watch: But how come, without any pre-knowledge, the agitators nominated you to head a body you did not know anything about?
Pere Ayami-Botu: Well, this is the truth about my nomination. You know how you reporters work. It is obvious so many of the reporters in this region have a lot of links with the agitators. The agitators reach them via emails and other electronic devices before even getting to us. So, the reporters get most of the information about their activities before such information reaches us.
Before I decided to take up this new role as PANDPC leader, it took me well over 10 days of intensive consultations with youths in the region and other stakeholders, before I decided to accept the nomination and the new position. The general consensus was that I, alongside other leaders from the South-South geo-political zone, who were nominated, should endeavour to give the new assignment a trial first, as we are expected to formulate new policies that will give better direction to the new body, so that the desire, yeaning and aspiration of our people could be met.
We are also expected to constructively direct PANDPC’s affairs and put in place structures, so that PANDPC will act effectively as the umbrella body that will articulate and speak for the people of South-South geo-political Region, just as the Afenifere is doing in the Southwest, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) in the North and Ohanaeze Ndigbo in the Southeast.
While the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachukwu, was desperately doing all within his powers to bring this ugly situation under control, my brother, the Ebenanaowei of Ogulagha, HRM Elder (Captain) Joseph Timiyan, Alaowei Broderick Bozimo and Chief Wellington Okirika, some youths, such as Hendricks Opukeme, Chief Dan Ekpebide, Kennedy Orubebe and Ari Sly decided to form a syndicate of two monarchs. This Pere from Forcados Town Farm is popularly known as the man from the oil kingdom. The five communities in this domain are all oil bearing. It was this group of persons that initiated the peace process that invariably gave birth to PANDEF. Chief Clark was nowhere in the picture, when we were making frantic efforts to bring about peace in the region at this particular time. He was hiding in Abuja.
The straw that finally broke the camel’s back was when some of the Niger Delta governors donated N15m toward our hosting of the enlarged meeting that held in the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) in Effurun Warri. That money was given to Chief Clark to administer. Surprisingly, the agitators who wanted to return to the creeks after this meeting obviously needed money for their transport fare. But they ran into a stonewall, when Chief Clark would not listen or give them money to go back home.
After lot of effort, they were initially given N300, 000 by Chief Clark. They came to me to complain and I had to accompany them to meet with Chief Clark in his house. After lots of argument, Chief Clark added another N200, 000, thus bringing the total sum to N500, 000. The agitators went back to their various places dejected.
The incident that finally put most people off Chief E. K. Clark and others as PANDEF leaders happened on November 1, 2016, when Chief Clark led us to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari. In that meeting, the President reluctantly met with us as a delegation. And when he came into the hall of the meeting, he said he had a written speech, but he wouldn’t bother reading it. The President now rhetorically asked whom he was expected to deal with that will bring about meaningful results: the elders or the youths? We left the venue of that meeting with our tails between our legs. It was the Oroje of Okpe and others who rallied round and gave N200, 000 each to some traditional rulers as transport fare back home.
It was at this instance we made it clear that Chief Clark has not got the moral right to lead PANDEF, if we ever expect to get the attention of Nigerian Government under President Buhari; that the Nigerian government will never listen to PANDEF, not after all the atrocities Chief Clark committed, when he was the adopted father of Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. It was people like Alaowei Bozimo who suggested that we make Chief E.K. Clark the arrowhead of the PANDEF.
Now, Chief Clark is using PANDEF as an avenue to launder his bad image, as nobody in government will listen to him, if he does not claim to be acting on behalf of the Niger Delta agitators. But these agitators are saying they no longer want him.
Palace Watch reached out to Alaowei Bozimo to ask what he was doing to pacify the aggrieved group Chief Clark had asked him to meet. Was it true that he was one of the persons that suggested that Chief Clark be made the arrowhead of PANDEF?
Alaowei Bozimo said the decision to make Chief Clark PANDEF arrowhead was a collective decision, as Chief Clark was considered to be the only person who has the clout to lead a body like PANDEF.Bozimo said: “We, therefore, agreed that it should revolve around him, if we are expected to get the desired results.” He stressed that as far as he was concerned, the authentic body to deal with when it comes to matters concerning the South-South zone is PANDEF, as it is the only recognised body.
He cautioned that the press should stop granting interviews to the aggrieved groups, as such interviews and press statements were the oxygen with which the crises fester. He explained that since Clark gave him the mandate to reach out to the aggrieved group, he has been working round the clock, meeting with the aggrieved group almost on a daily basis. He believes that with time, the matter will be resolved amicably.