ELDERS from the Niger Delta region, on Tuesday, presented sixteen (16) points demand to the Federal Government as lasting solution to the lingering crisis and degradation of the environment in the oil rich region.
Niger Delta elders under the auspices of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), led by a former Information Minister, Chief Edwin Clark, met with President Muhammadu Buhari and other officials of government in the ongoing negotiation efforts to restore peace to the region.
Militants and other interest groups in the region had been skeptical of dialogue and engagements with the Federal Government, saying previous interactions hardly produced tangible results.
The 16 points demand are: Presidential Amnesty Programme, law and justice, the effect of increased military presence in the Niger Delta, plights of internally displaced persons, the Ogoni clean-up and environmental remediation, the Maritime University issue, and key regional critical infrastructure.
Others are: Security surveillance and protection of oil and gas infrastructure, relocation of Administrative and Operational Headquarters of IOCs, power supply, economic development and empowerment, inclusive participation in oil industry and ownership of oil blocs, restructuring and funding of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), strengthening of the Niger Delta Ministry, Bakassi question and fiscal federalism.
Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachukwu, told State House Correspondents at the end of the meeting that the parley was a frank conversation on how to end the crisis in the Niger Delta region.
He said: “We had a privilege of having a meeting chaired by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari. A meeting with Niger Delta Stakeholders led by Chief Edwin Clark and HRM, Chief Alfred Diette Spiff. Five governors were in attendance. Four in attendance, one represented.
“Series of ministers were also in attendance. It was largely a courtesy call to bring to the front burner the issues of the Niger Delta and the concerns and we spent time hearing from the Niger Delta leaders in terms of their areas of concern and what they believe the Federal Government should do to bring down pressure and stress in the area and to bring down militancy to the barest minimum if not eliminated.
“It was fairly good, fairly civilised dialogue between all the parties. I did make a speech in terms of what the Federal Government direction should be. The President gave his ideas in terms of what his thought processes were. I think it is a frank conversation. It is the beginning of a process.
“We had over a hundred representatives. So, it was a very well attended function. Opinions given were very honest, very frank to the point. But I think at the end of the day, we exchanged enough thought processes to go back to the drawing board to begin a process of work,” he said.
He noted that ceasefire declared by the militants as a result of the commitment of the Federal Government to dialogue has yielded positive result, saying “we are at 2.1 million barrels production.
“That’s substantial. That would not have happened without efforts that went behind through the royal fathers and leaders, through the militant leaders. A lot of behind-the-scene engagements had taken place and will continue to take place,” he said.
Ibe Kachukwu, said the President Buhari was happy to receive the stakeholders from the region, saying Mr President also told them that there may not be immediate solution to the problems in the region, adding “he will want to dig into the root causes of the problem in order to find a lasting solution.”
He explained that the oil companies’ representatives were not at the meeting because it was a meeting of the leaders from the region.
Edwin Clark, in his remark, disclosed that the meeting was organised by Kachukwu and the elders who have had the authority of the militants and various interest groups to negotiate for them accepted the invitation to meet with President Buhari.
Clark said although there were many factions of interest groups in the region, these were collapsed into a group called the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) which he now chairs.
“We invited all the interest groups, so what you see today is a combination of all the interest groups,” he said.
Clark said though some media organisations have given the impression that all is not well between the Niger Delta leaders and the Federal Government, such reports were untrue.
According to him, the meeting with Mr President went well.
“We presented our paper through his Royal Highness and Mr President said he is going to look into our demands,” he said.
The meeting also had Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in attendance.
The traditional ruler of Amayanabo of Twon-Brass in Bayelsa State, King Alfred Diete-Spiff, disclosed that PANDEF presented a 16-point document to President Buhari.
King Alfred was flanked by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr Ibe Kachikwu; Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State; Elder-statesman Edwin Clark; Minister of Niger Delta, Pastor Usani Uguru, among others.
The traditional ruler said it is disheartening that the headquarters of most oil companies are not located in the Niger Delta region.
As a result, the region is denied all development” and associated benefits that would have accrued to the region from their presence.
“It has therefore become imperative for the international oil companies (IOCs) to relocate to their areas of operation. This move would create a mutually beneficial relationship with the host communities,” he said.
The king, who presented the document to President Buhari on behalf of the stakeholders, said these demands are among 16 others requiring the president’s action.
On the amnesty programme, the elders decried that out of the five components of the disarmament and retrieval of weapons from the ex-militants, only the disarmament and demobilization component is being implemented.
They noted that tensions over the fate of the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme was as a result of lack of genuine exit strategy.
They wanted the Programme reviewed to reappraise its core mandate to provide a robust exist strategy, in order to transit recipients into jobs, effectively integrate them and few the of dependency on stipends, so that their new-found skills would be of benefit to themselves and larger community.
On the issue of law and justice, the elders from the Niger Delta said in view of the insecurity situation in the Niger delta, a number of pending law and justice issues regarding some aggrieved groups and individuals are yet to be resolved. They noted that it was important to address these issues urgently as a step towards lasting peace.
According to them, increased in military presence has resulted in invasion of communities, displacement of persons, harassment and other firms of human rights abuse and demanded that government to halt the the escalation of tension in the region.
The elders also wanted relevant government agencies to take urgent measures to meet their immediate needs of those displaced by upsurge of insecurity in the region.
On the Ogoni clean-up and environmental remediation, they wanted government to speed up the exercise and urged the government to enforce zero gas flare deadline.
They also wanted the devastating effects of coastal erosion and lack of an effective shoreline protection for the coastal communities tackled urgently, while asking Federal Government to commission a region-wide credible assessment of the impacts of crude oil pollution of the environment in the region and undertake to enforce environmental laws.
The elders urged the Federal Government to ensure prompt take off of the Niger Delta Maritime University and completion of of East-West road, full implementation of the rail project that is designated to run through the Niger Delta region to Lagos.
On the issue of security surveillance and protection of oil and gas infrastructure, the elders demanded that pipeline surveillance contracts given to the communities rather than individuals in a manner that is some benefits to their responsibility.
They noted that communities would see it as their responsibility over the pipelines as protection of what belongs to them.
The Niger Delta also advocated a power plan that strongly ties power supply in the region to gas supplies, thereby giving all sides a stake in proved stability.
On economic development and empowerment, the elders demanded that Brass LNG and fertiliser plant project including the Train 7 implemented, reviewing and updating the national gas master plan to integrate the economic interests and industrialisation of the region, creating a Niger Delta industrial corridor that would process some portions of the bat hydrocarbon natural resources, expediting work on the export processing zones, harnessing the huge rain-fed agricultural potentials of the area through the development of farms estates, fishery development projects and Agro-Allied industrial clusters, and others.
The Niger Delta region also called for an inclusive participation in oil industry and ownership of oil blocs while urging the Federal Government to enunciate policies and actions that will address the lack of participation as well as imbalance in the ownership of oil and gas assets.
On restructuring and funding of the NDDC, the elders noted that restructuring would ensure it refocuses as a true interventionist agency to respond swiftly to the yearnings of the grassroots of the Niger Delta.
According to them, communities must be able to have a say in what projects come to them and also want full implementation of the funding provisions of the NDDC Act.
On strengthening of the Niger Delta Ministry, the elders demanded that the ministry should be adequately funded and strengthened to fulfill the purpose for which it was created, noting that the era of abysmal funding should end.
On the Bakassi question, the elders recommended a comprehensive resettlement plan including development for the host communities and displaced population to reduce the risk of making them into a stateless people while expressing the support of the region on the call for true federalism and urged that Federal Government should treat the matter expeditiously.