BEFORE penultimate Friday’s meeting at Abuja residence of former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark, where all the contending South-South groups resolved to speak with one voice, it was already obvious that they had buried the hatchet, only waiting for a formal consummation of new found unity.
Chairman of the Niger Delta Contact and Dialogue Group, NDCDG, led by King Alfred Diette-Spiff, former Governor of Akwa Ibom State Obong Victor Attah and other leaders had days before the meeting met variously with Clark in order to forge unity and speak with one voice on matters affecting the region.
In fact, the NDCDG at a meeting two weeks earlier in Port-Harcourt, Rivers state, invited members of the then Niger Delta Coastal States Consultative Forum, led by Chief Clark to a meeting, where the group sent a 14-man delegation. This was before the September 26 and 27 Niger Delta Summit postponed indefinitely by the government.
Amaechi not the problem
What was thought to be a problem before the Friday meeting was a new movement, led by the Minister of Transportation, Hon Rotimi Amaechi, which met some weeks earlier in Abuja, but it turned out before the meeting that Amaechi was not a problem.
Former acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Mrs. Ibim Seminatari, who the Minister asked to speak on his behalf, told Saturday Vanguard hours before the meeting in Clark’s residence: “The meeting called by Amaechi was not a meeting of a new crop of Niger Delta leaders, it was a meeting of leaders of the Niger Delta, but it was not a new crop, he did not select any person, he invited every stakeholder, who had had held or hold leadership position across the South-South region.”
“The reason I said it was not a new crop of leaders is that if you were at that meeting, you would have seen a lot of persons whose sympathy lies with South-South leaders, and you would also see that it was a broad spectrum of leadership of the region. The reason for the meeting is quite simple; you would find out that the South-South has been in the news obviously over a period of time for the wrong reasons plus the fact that the region is dealing with serious challenges. Amaechi meeting was for us to sit as one people and find solution to our problems.”
Concerns about wrong perception of struggle
Was Amaechi not aware that Chief Clark, King Diette-Spiff and others have groups that had been working on the same issue before he called his meeting, why did he not consult or align with them instead of calling a separate meeting? Mrs. Seminatari asserted: “You have to understand, when you say align, all of those who were at the meeting called by Amaechi included persons from both of groups. Now you have just mentioned two groups and there are others, the whole point of Amaechi’s meeting was that to harmonize all these voices. Myself speaking to you, I am an Ijaw, Chief Clark is Ijaw, His Royal Majesty Diette Spiff is Ijaw and if you observe, some people were already saying that most of the things happening in the Niger Delta are skewed towards the Ijaw.”
“Having an inclusion of other voices is important. The Minister of Transport, I can assure you, called this meeting without prejudice to any other one.”
Seminatari added: “The former Minister of Science and Technology, Prof Turner Isoun is leading one of the committees set up at the meeting to look into how to create jobs through ICT and there is another committee supposed to be engaging with our youths. So it is without prejudice to other groups and all the initiatives in the region are helpful and I do not think as someone from that region that any one initiative should be discountenanced. All of them work towards a common goal to ensure that our region is safe, more secured and more economically empowered.”
On the issue of leadership of the South-South, she said that Hon Amaechi was not contesting leadership of the region and had no plans whatsoever to contest leadership of the region with Chief Edwin Clark.
Buhari loves N-Delta
She also dismissed the notion that President Muhammadu was using Hon Amaechi to sabotage the region, adding” “The allegation is quite laughable, President Buhari loves Niger Delta and when I was appointed as acting MD of NDDC, my marching order was to go and turn things around in the area.”
Our goal is to speak with one voice
Speaking to Saturday Vanguard on phone, Thursday, on the unity meeting, where he adopted named as the leader of a new South-South coalition group, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PNDF, with former governor of Akwa Ibom state, Obong Attah and King Diette-Spiff as co-chairmen of the Central Working Committee, CWC, while activist and environmentalist, Mr. Ledum Mitee is the Secretary of the CWC, he said: “Everybody in the South-South is involved in the issues of Niger Delta with the new PNDF. That is what I want, I want us to work in unity and we have achieved that.”
“Hon Amaechi has said in the papers that he did not form a separate group, we are all together. The problem before was that we were all working at different levels, but we have all collapsed into one leadership. We have always worked together before, it is just that some external forces wanted to divide us and we all gathered to said no,” he added.
Chief Clark asserted: “Up till August 19 when we held a meeting at PTI, Effurun, near Warri, Delta State, we were all together, there was really no division, like I said, Amaechi said he has no group and interest different from what we are pursuing for the good of the region.”
“We are formidable and ready to discuss with the Federal Government on matters concerning our region,” he added.
The Idea PNDF
A source, however, told Saturday Vanguard: “PNDF is an idea whose time has come. You can see that the groups were already networking on how to meet and work with each other. At the meeting called by Hon Amaechi, they agreed to meet with the Clark group, the Clark group was already working with the King Diette-Spiff group, so PNDF naturally emerged, last Saturday, from the interplay of forces that wanted to unite and advance the cause of the region.”
Other groups, which also collapsed into the PNDF, were the Traditional Rulers of Oil Mineral Producing Communities of Nigeria, TROMPCON, Host Communities of Nigeria Producing Oil and Gas, HOSTCOM, Initiative for Peace, Governance and Development, South-South Consolidated Forum, among others.
One of the co-chairmen of the CWC, Obong Attah, who briefed newsmen on the formation of PNDF, said that Clark remains the leader of the group. Members of the CWC are former Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army, Brig. General Don Idada Ikponmwen (retd); former Special Adviser to the President of Niger Delta, Chief Timi Alaibe; Professor G.G. Darah; Professor Lucky Akaruese; Nella Ewan, SAN; and Dr. Alfred Mulade.
Also in the CWC are ex-military governor of Akwa Ibom state, Air- Commodore Idongesit Nkanga,Engr. Don Ben; T.K. Ogoriba; Ken Robinson; former Permanent Secretary, Amb. Godknows Igali; Tony Uranta; Amb Nkoyo Toyo; former national president of Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, Dr Chris Ekiyor.
Demands not new
Earlier in his welcome address, the convener, Chief Clark, said: “We are here today, again, to bring all men and women of goodwill from the Niger Delta under one umbrella, to find solutions to the challenges in the region. While we randomly condemn the activities of our youths, who unwittingly destroy our national assets, we cannot sit by, and allow the roof of our house to fall upon all of us, with the escalation of the military intervention by deploying troops to the region.”
”We have read some of the grievances of these youths. I must say that these grievances are not new. The struggle for the development of the Niger Delta dates back to the late 1950s. This was what led to the setting up of the Henry Willinks Commission in 1957 by the British Colonial Government.
“It is also what we; the elders and leaders of the region are still fighting and agitating for. The difference is the manner and method of the agitation. Whilst we are deploying discussion and dialogue to solve the problem, as we did from 2007 to 2008 that led to the setting up of the Amnesty programme by the Federal Government in 2009, the youths are forceful in their demand,” he stated. He went on: “As elders, we will continue to plead with them to exercise restraint in their approach, because, apart from the fact that the method is destroying our vital national assets, it is also destroying the environment of the region.”
FG not serious about peace
“On the other hand, the Federal Government does not seem to show any serious sign of commitment to resolve the issues and end the crisis. This is because there was a unilateral 60-day cessation of hostilities which the youths volunteered, sequel to our meetings in Effurun and Warri.
“ Sadly, the Federal Government, which we believe is aware of the 60-day cessation of hostilities, has not deemed it fit to leverage on it, and nominate its Team to dialogue with genuine representatives of the Region; rather, what it did was to set up ‘operation crocodile smile,” escalating distrust and entrenching combatant position,” he added.
“I listened to Mr. President’s 56th Independence speech in which he said “…. We have however, continued to dialogue with all groups and leaders of thought in the region to bring lasting peace…. As I have said earlier, we are engaging with responsible leadership in the region to find lasting solutions to genuine grievances of the area….”
“The question is who is the Federal Government holding dialogue with? If anyone here knows, please we will like to have an answer, tell us please. One is tempted to say that all that the Federal Government is doing is to attempt to create division amongst us. But if we are united, we will be able to speak with one voice to the Government and to our agitating youths, like we did at Efurun and Warri, Delta State, when they listened and embarked on a 60-day truce.
“In order to effectively put our house in proper perspective, so that we are ready to face the challenges to midwife the desired structure that will galvanize the input of the various stakeholders, preparatory for such a time when the Federal Government is ready to name its own dialogue structures, it is my proposal that a broad based Central Working Committee, reflecting the full diversities of the Niger Delta Coastal States be set up by this house,” he said.
“This is the purpose for which we are gathered here today. My sincere hope and prayer is that we will all speak with open minds and concisely, and that we will rise from this meeting with a new vision for a new hope for a new dawn of unity, peace and development in our beloved Niger Delta region and our great, country Nigeria,” he said.
The meeting had in attendance notable personalities from the Niger Delta region, including the convener, Chief Edwin Clark; His Royal Highness, King Alfred Diette- Spiff; former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah; Air Cmdr Idongesit Nkanga (rtd), former Governor Akwa Ibom State; Prof Turner Isoun former Minister Science and Technology; Alaowei Brodrick Bozimo former Minister of Police Affairs; Ledum Mitee; Chief Timi Alaibe; Professor G.G. Darah; Professor Lucky Akaruese; Brig. General Don Idada Ikponmwen,retd; Chief Ominimini Obiuwevbi; Nella Ewan, SAN; Dr. Alfred Mulade ; Engr. Don Ben; T.K. Ogoriba; Ken Robinson; Former Permanent Secretary, Amb. Godknows Igali; Tony Uranta; Amb. Nkoyo Toyo; Dr. Chris Ekiyor; Col.Paul Osa Ogbebor, retd.
Also at the meeting were Chief Godspower Gbenekama, chairman of Ijaw National Congress, Boma Obuforibo Dr Patrick Okonny, Hon Julius Pondi, member of the House of Representatives, Hendrix Opukeme, Chief Daniel Ekpebide, Kennedy Orubebe, Chief Douglas Naningba, Famous Danughan, P Z Aginighan, Chief Cairo Ojougboh, former deputy chairman of PDP, South-South, Chief Timi Alaibe, Chief Francis Doukpolagha, Chief T.K Okorotie, Michael Ekpo, Dr Emmanuel Akpanbong, Bishop Amajiena representing the clergy and Rev Tolar.