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Saturday, 14 January 2017

N’Delta: Who is advising President Buhari?


President Muhammadu Buhari is privy to information on many issues concerning the country from varied sources, which no ordinary Nigerian is privileged. Therefore, the way he sees and comprehends matters are expectedly to be pertinent.

One of the most key issues before the President at the moment is the Niger Delta catch-22 vis a vis the militants, who have chosen the objectionable path of bombing oil installations to draw attention to the supposed neglect of the region by government.

Since Buhari is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the country, the buck logically stops on his table, but the quality of advice he gets and who are advising him matter in the resolution of the problem, which could either define or ruin the country, as oil that flows from the region is the stronghold of the nation’s economy.


The President has a Minister of Niger Delta, who runs the Ministry of Niger Delta, specially created by the former President, late Umaru Yar’Adua administration, Special Adviser on Niger Delta and Co-ordinator, Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, and coterie of other advisers to counsel him. The service chiefs and heads of other security agencies also give him briefs on the region.
Buhari and Clark

He directed them, last year, to identify the militant groups in the region, their leaders and locations and some advised him to go all out against the militants, while a few cautioned him to employ a carrot and stick approach.

Recommendations to Buhari

However, events in recent times have brought to question the worth of recommendation the President is getting on the Niger Delta crisis. Is he getting the right advice, Is he disposed or not disposed to the guidance? What is the way out of the sticky situation?

At a time, last year, it was thought that the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, who from nowhere, endeared himself to the people with his practical ideals to the problematic, had the matter already figured out, but after the visit of PANDEF to the President Buhari, last year, in Abuja, it was not clear what happened to his template. Sources said it was either that those bigger than him dumped his template or they kept it in view.

Troublesome development

The most worrisome development in the region, during the week, was the decision of two militant groups, Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, and Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders, NDRC, which had ceased bombing of oil installations to announced their intention to restart hostilities. Others are also spoiling for a showdown.

NDA through its spokesperson, self-styled Brig General Mudoch Agbinibo, concurrently declared “Operations Walls of Jericho” and “Hurricane Joshua” , last Saturday, to finally knock out oil operations in the country, while NDRC’s spokesperson, W O I Izon-Ebi, on Monday, voiced its plan to recommence bombing with the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, as a principal target.

The reason for the sudden turn was the failure of the Federal Government to begin to address the immediate problems of the area especially after the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, a body of monarchs, leaders and stakeholders of the coastal states of the Niger Delta region, formed last year, to chart a new course for the region succeeded in getting the militants to stop vandalising oil installations and piplines.

The Avengers and all other militant groups that were on rampage in the region, except the Niger Delta Greendland Justice Mandate, NDGJM, hearkened to the voice of the leaders in August, 2016, to suspend hostilities.

Presidency cancels visit

The immediate knock-on effect of the fresh declarations by NDA and NDRC was renewal of tension in the combustible region and the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, who was to lead a Federal Government team to the Niger Delta on Tuesday, January 10, aborted the confidence-building tour three days after the Avengers threatened.
Avengers

Tompolo’s stamping ground

The appraisal tour put in place by government after it sidelined PANDEF, has, however, been rescheduled for Monday, January 16. So, barring any other interference, Osinbajo and his team will storm Gbaramatu Kingdom, the home base of runaway ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, for first hand information on the troubles of the region. His team will stop over at other parts of the region during the visit.

Cause of disagreement

What really sparked off the latest confusion between the Federal Government and PANDEF, led by former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark, was the comment by the Special Adviser to the President on Media, Mr. Femi Adesina that the Presidency was still searching for credible leaders of region with control over the militants, two months after President Buhari met with the forum, November 1, 2016, at Abuja.

Mr. Femi Adesina, who spoke in an interview monitored on AIT, while responding to insinuations of a disconnect between the President and the Niger Delta, asserted: “The President told the Niger Delta elders that visited him that it was important to get these militants under one umbrella because after you might have talked to this group, another group would come up.

With this kind of arrangement, you won’t get to know the real people. This is why the President has given an assignment to certain people to determine how many these groups exist. They should speak with the leadership and ascertain what they want and how government can meet with them. The President has given out that assignment.”

“Do not forget that there was a major meeting with Niger Delta elders and leaders, traditional rulers and the second day after that meeting, there was sabotage of pipeline. Now, if the leaders had a meeting with Mr. President today and pipeline was sabotaged the following day, it shows something is wrong. And that is why Mr. President said everybody needs to come together under one umbrella and it is very critical and very important that they come under one umbrella so as to move these issues forward,” he said.

The new position of the Presidency, related by Adesina, came as a shock to PANDEF and its promoters, who had taken upon themselves to organize the region and call the militants to order following the severe loss to the economy.

To insiders, who knew how difficult it was for PANDEF leaders to get Avengers and other militant groups to listen to the voice of their fathers, it was quite hurting. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, which did not initially want to submit to the leaders of the region later bowed. It was only the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate that refused to submit to PANDEF until date, and for elemental reason.

“Chief Clark spoke to leaders of many militant groups in his search for peace and spent his money to win them over, so you can imagine his consternation at such a statement from the Presidency,” a source familiar with the matter told Saturday Vanguard.

“Even the NDGJM, which refused PANDEF’s plea to cease hostilities, Clark sent emissaries to speak with their leaders, at one moment, they said they would stop bombing and give the leaders the chance to dialogue with government,” the source added.

PANDEF made us stop bombing- Avengers

Debunking the claim that PANDEF did not have control over militants, the Avengers said: “Since, the declaration of cessation of hostilities in the region by all fighters and affiliates, it has been evidently clear that the Nigerian state is not ready for any form of dialogue and negotiation with our people to address the issues sustaining the unending sufferings and deprivation of the people of the Niger Delta.

The world is aware that, after listening to calls from our royal fathers, community leaders, stakeholders and members of the comity of nations especially the governments of the United States of America, Great Britain and the European Union, we halted all actions.”

We deferred to PANDEF- NDRC

The group stated: “We have confidence in the convener/leader of PANDEF, former Federal Commissioner of Information, Chief Edwin Clark, former military governor of Old Rivers state, HRM King Alfred Diete Spiff, former governor of Akwa-Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, both co-chairmen of PANDEF and other leaders of the group, contrary to the claim of the Presidency that the group lacked credible leaders.
 
Greenland differs with NDA, NDRC

Disagreeing, NDJM in a statement by self-styled Gen Aldo Agbalaja said: “For once, the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate will like to commend the boldness of the federal government to face reality and say the truth. Now this government is coming to terms with our warning that the so-called PANDEF and its leaders are the same crop of people, who have used our region, land and people as their exchange currency over the years, thereby deepening our problems and feathering their own nests.”

Aversion to PANDEF

Findings by Saturday Vanguard, however, showed that President Buhari was not comfortable dealing with PANDEF, especially Chief Clark and few others. A member of the forum, who attended the November 1, 2016 meeting of President Buhari and Niger Delta leaders, said the president did not give deserved attention to Clark, who led the delegation.

“He spoke to us as if we were nobodies; mouthing things like that we should guarantee they would be no bombing in the region before we come to make demands and all that. But the fact is that even the President cannot guarantee that Boko Haram cannot strike tomorrow in the northern part of the country with all his security agencies at his disposal. We got the boys to cease hostilities and he is talking about a random attack, as if we came to Abuja to beg him for contracts,” one of the furious leaders said.

It was the loathing for PANDEF that made the Presidency to liaise with other stakeholders of the region to visit some of the flash-point areas independently for the on-the-spot information. Vice President Osinbajo is leading the team.

Fresh determination

A source close to Chief Clark, however, said the insinuations against him were unfounded, adding: “These lies about him have made him more determined to fight and ensure that Niger Delta region is not treated as conquered territory and the people like slaves by the Federal Government.”
He said: “PANDEF was not set up merely to dialogue with the Federal Government; it happened that it is one of the critical issues at the moment, but the objective is that PANDEF will be to the region what the Afenifere is to the people of South-West, Ohaneze to the South-East and Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, to the North.”

Despite the faceoff with the federal government, leader of Gbaramatu kingdom told Saturday Vanguard: “We are all part of PANDEF, when the Vice President comes here on Monday, he will find out that PANDEF is on ground here in Gbaramatu and other parts of Niger Delta region. It is the monarchs, leaders and stakeholders of the region that put the forum in place and whatever discussion they are holding with them.

Support for Osinbajo visit

Speaking for PANDEF, which described the statement by the Presidency that it was searching for credible leaders of the region, outside the forum, as insulting, a member of its Central Working Committee, CWC, Dr. Alfred Mulade, asserted: “Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) wishes to appeal to all agitators and stakeholders in the region to exercise restraint and remain calm so as to sustain the relative peace enjoyed in the region, as it will enable PANDEF deepen its engagement process with the Federal Government. Peace remains the primary factor that can usher in sustainable development.”

PANDEF team

It wondered why the Presidency could be searching for credible leaders in a group that parades in its ranks notable Niger Delta monarchs as the pioneer military governor of old Rivers state, former Chairman Bayelsa State Council of Traditional Rulers, and co-chairman, Central Working Committee (CWC), PANDEF; HRM King Alfred Diete-Spiff, Amayanabo of Twon-Brass, Olu of Warri, HRM Ogiame Ikenwoli 1, Obong of Calabar, His Eminence, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi-Otu V, Orodje of Okpe, HRM Major-Gen. Felix Mujakperuo (retd.) and paramount ruler of Seimbiri Kingdom, Delta state and former national chairman, TROPCOM, HRM Pere Charles Ayemi-Botu, JP.

Others include the Amayanabo of Opobo, Rivers State; HRM Dandison Jaja V, Amayanabo of Kalabari Kingdom, Rivers State, HRM (Prof) TJT Princewill, Ibenanawei of Bomo Kingdom, Bayelsa State, HRM King HRM King WS. Joshua Igbugburu,JP, CON, Eze Ekpeye Logbo II of Ekpeye Land, Rivers State, HRM Eze Robinson O. Robinson, Head of Ukong Clan, Akwa Ibom State, HRM Obong Edet Okon Isemin, , paramount Ruler of Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom state, HRM Edidem Ntuk Obom XXII.

Among the notable personalities were former military governor of Akwa Ibom state, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (retd.) former governor of Akwa Ibom state, Obong Victor Attah, former military administrator of old Bendel state, Gen. John Yeri, SAN, former governor of Edo State, Prof Oserheimen Osunbor, former deputy governor of Delta State, Prof Amos Agbe Utuama, SAN, former Nigerian Ambassador to Sweden, former federal permanent secretary, former SSG, Bayelsa state, Godknows Igali, former Nigerian ambassador to Ethopia, and former member, Federal House of Representatives, Nkoyo Toyo, Senators Hellen Esuene, Aniete Okon, Stella Omu, Nimi Barigha-Amange, Lee Maeba, . James Manager, Florence Ita-Giwa, Roland Owie and Bassey Ewa-Henshaw

How we secured militants’ mandate

Giving an insight into how the leaders got militants to give the federal government a reprieve, Dr. Mulade said: “At a meeting of 19th August, 2016, when the monarchs, leaders and other notable stakeholders of the Niger Delta met at the Petroleum Training Institute, Effurun, Delta State, to seek a peaceful solution to insecurity in the region, the inaugural meeting resolved to prevail on the armed agitators to halt further attacks on oil installations in the region. The groups heeded the call, and a unilateral ceasefire was declared.”

“PANDEF is today, the umbrella body of monarchs, leaders and stakeholders of the Niger Delta region without regard to political affiliation, ethnic bias, religious beliefs and ideological persuasions. Since the birth of PANDEF, the Forum has been working assiduously to ensure the sustenance of peace and enthronement of development in the region, while guiding the ceasefire deal entered into by the agitators.

Meeting with Buhari

“The highpoint of our engagement was the invitation extended to it by President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, through the Honourable Minister of State for Petroleum Resources Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu. The historic audience with Mr. President took place at the Presidential Villa, on November 1, 2016. The array of eminent and patriotic delegates drawn from various sections of the ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta region attested to the wide acceptability and primacy of PANDEF to dialogue with the Federal Government on behalf of the region,” he said.

His words: “PANDEF wishes to recall that at that landmark interactive session with the President, PANDEF presented a well-articulated 16-item address that highlighted some of the core issues relating to the resolution of the Niger Delta conflict. In particular, PANDEF urged President Buhari to expeditiously name the Government Negotiating Team to engage PANDEF representatives.”

Our worry

“We are worried that this has not happened. Consequently, there is growing unease and frustration among the various agitating groups and stakeholders that gave PANDEF the mandate to mediate on behalf of the Niger Delta.

“The core demands contained in PANDEF address are already in the public domain.

If the militants listen to PANDEF this time around and remain calm, perhaps, the tension over fresh resumption of hostilities in the region will ease out and consolidate the dialogue process, but if otherwise, breaking of the truce is clearly unwarranted, as the federal government has not put forward any reason it should not dialogue with the group, which, comprises leaders of the region, who, unquestionably have the mandate of the militants to dialogue on their behalf.

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