The Niger Delta Nationalities Forum in Lagos has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene in the protracted dispute involving Oil Prospecting Lease (OPL) 245, stressing that it is an act of injustice that the only oil block awarded to an indigene of Niger Delta by the late General Sani Abacha has become a source of unending dispute.
The Forum also lauded the federal government’s decision to dialogue with leaders of Niger Delta region to find solution to the crisis in the region, describing it as the best option for the country.
Speaking to journalists in Lagos at the weekend, the Chairman of the Forum, Mr. Seigha Manager said the people of the region were grateful to the late General Sani Abacha for creating Bayelsa State and allocating three oil blocks to the deserving Nigerian citizens from the Southeast, Northeast and South-south (Niger Delta).
He identified the three oil blocks as Oil Prospecting Leases (OPLs) 244, OPL 245 and OPL 246. According to him, OPL 245 was the only oil block allocated to a Niger Delta citizen.
“While the other two have enjoyed peace and tranquility in the hands of their owners, that of the Niger Delta citizen, OPL 245, is akin to a bird standing on a tiny rope. Neither the bird nor the rope has seen peace till date. It is the only oil block that every passing regime has poked into simply because the allottee is a Niger Deltan. It is the only oil block that has been allocated, cancelled, later returned to the allottee and then is under probe at any given time. All of this is happening because the allottee is from the Niger Delta, yet the owner does not fall in the bracket of rich persons in Nigeria not to talk of Africa. There are other issues like that,” Manager said.
He argued that the allegation by Senator Ita Enang that about 85 per cent of oil blocks were allocated to northerners and others to the exclusion of Niger Deltans was not a false allegation, adding that the only oil block allocated to a Niger Deltan has become a source of dispute.
He urged President Buhari as a man of integrity to intervene in the OPL 245 matter.
“Even when these oil blocks are domiciled in our backyard where the oil exploration and exploitation activities affect our people, other Nigerians do not think we deserve to own anything relating to oil in the Niger Delta. These are the things that bring restiveness to the Niger Delta. Therefore, I am appealing to Mr. President and even the national assembly members, whom we know that as at today, have constituted committees again and again to probe this particular oil block, to please sympathise with us in the Niger Delta and allow us to have some peace.”
Manager said the dialogue with the Niger Delta was delayed probably because President Buhari was “overwhelmed by the undue pressure and misinformation from either his party or overzealous folks, otherwise as a former head of state, a former governor of the old eastern region, a former oil minister and a former Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) chairman, he should be the most qualified, most guided and most experienced leader to handle the Niger Delta crisis with utmost care”.
“The president is today doing what he should have done since last year; just like what Obasanjo did in 1999 as well as Yar’Adua in 2007. In any case, it is better late than never,” Manager added.
On the expectations of the people of Niger Delta from President Buhari, Manager said the people wanted due respect as stakeholders in Nigeria without discrimination.
According to him, the Niger Delta has rejected the second class citizenship status, which other regions try to bestow on the region.
To support his allegation that the major tribes treated the Niger Delta as second class citizens in a country, Manager alleged that the people of the region were shortchanged in allocation of oil blocks.
“The richest woman in Nigeria cum Africa is from the southwest and her source of wealth is oil. The richest man in Nigeria cum Africa is from the northwest and his wealth is largely tied to oil exploit. The second richest man in Nigeria and fifth in Africa is from the northeast and he is simply an oil magnate. Again, the third richest man in Nigeria and eighth in Africa is still from the northeast and he is also another oil magnate. Oil block allocation is the prerogative of the president of Nigeria at any point in time and when he allocates, until such allocation is changed by law, it remains so,” he explained.
To solve the militancy problem in the Niger Delta, he suggested that President Buhari should look into the issue of Amnesty Programme and give it every support that is necessary.
“He should bring in more restive youths into it and pay them their stipend as and when due. Although we talk of the infrastructural development and all sorts of development in Niger Delta, the one that is immediate and can affect the lives of the youth is the amnesty, which is the only successful interventionist programme in Niger Delta,” he said.
He also urged the president to make up his mind to fund other interventionist agencies like the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Niger Delta Ministry, properly or scrap them completely.