· Maintain region not part of Biafra
· Abdulsalami, Kukah caution political elite against divisive statements
Iyobosa Uwugiaren in Abuja and Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
Leaders and elders of the Niger Delta under the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) have reiterated their demand for the implementation of the 2014 National Conference report and the relocation of the headquarters of oil multinationals to the region.
The national leader of PANDEF, Chief Edwin Clark, who presided over a meeting of the group Tuesday in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, also called on the federal government to urgently revisit the 16-point agenda of the forum, as the patience of the youths of the region had started running out.
The nonagenarian spoke at the third general assembly of PANDEF with the theme, “Appraisal of the 16-Point Agenda: State of the Nation and the Way Forward for Sustainable Peace and Development in the Niger Delta region.”
The elder statesman, in the course of the meeting attended by several other Niger Delta leaders, including Governor Seriake Dickson and the King of Twon-Brass, Alfred Diette-Spiff, said the over 600 recommendations in the report would tackle the challenges facing the country.
He also asked the federal government to raise a team to commence dialogue with PANDEF to ensure the sustainability of peace in the Niger Delta region, where he maintained that crude oil production had increased significantly.
PANDEF also accused the federal government of failing to prevail on the oil companies to relocate to their operational bases, as well as not being forthright in declaring its position on the setting up of modular refineries in the region.
On the current Biafra agitation, the leaders reaffirmed their position that the six states of the South-south zone were not part of Biafra as claimed by some Biafran agitators.
They equally condemned the quit notice issued by the Arewa youths to the Igbos, describing the action as a flagrant violation of the Nigerian Constitution.
In his comments, Dickson assured the elders and leaders that the South-south governors were committed to working with them to promote and protect the interests of the region.
Dickson maintained that peace and stability were paramount in the development of the Niger Delta, stressing that the leaders in the region would work collectively to change the long perceived notion of insecurity in the region and promote its socio-economic and political viability.
He reminded the federal government that the militarisation of the Niger Delta was not a solution to resolving the issues, noting that the only battle to be fought was lack of economic inclusion and environmental terrorism in the region.
“There are parts of this country that are very happy to promote crises and spread propaganda about insecurity in our region as a deliberate strategy of weakening this region economically.
“So I want to use this opportunity to charge all our people, political, opinion and community leaders, to continue to work for a stable and prosperous Niger Delta because in the end, whether we are able to bring prosperity and development to our people depends on the presence of security and stability.
“I want to also use this opportunity to make the point again that militarisation of any community within any state in our region is not a solution.
“And in this Niger Delta, the battles to be fought are not the ones that tanks and soldiers should be deployed; the battles all of us should unite to confront and defeat in the Niger Delta, are the issues of environmental terrorism as I have always called it and the issue of gross neglect, under-development and lack of economic inclusion,” Dickson said.
He also aligned with the position of PANDEF, pledging to support the forum to ensure that its secretariat in Yenagoa functions optimally.
In a related development, a former military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, and the convener of the National Peace Committee, Bishop Hassan Matthew Kukah, have strongly condemned the political elite who they said were promoting hate speeches and calling for the dissolution of the country.
They also commended Acting President Yemi Osinbajo for taking proactive steps to stem the growing divisive rhetoric and separatist sentiments in the country.
The National Peace Committee played a crucial role in the run up to the 2015 general election and used its influence to ensure that the key contestants in the polls and their supporters did not resort to violence during and after the elections.
The two eminent personalities who said this in a statement they jointly signed Tuesday in Abuja, noted that the developments were of serious concern to the peace committee.
They commended Osinbajo for engaging with leaders of influence across the North and South-east, in a bid to stop the rise of mutual hostility and tension that had been stoked by elements from some parts of the country.
Abdulsalami and Kukah called for more voices of leadership from all communities in the country to reinforce the message of the acting president.
“We’ve recently come to the end of the holy month of Ramadan, for millions of Nigerians, a time of spirituality, introspection and the request for God’s forgiveness,” they added.
“Therefore, there could be no better time than now as a nation for us all to be thoughtful, deliberate and make ourselves worthy of divine mercy, especially in the atmosphere of a steep rise in divisive and hateful rhetoric in our country.
“It is indeed, the appropriate time to underscore the imperatives of peaceful co-existence of all communities and all Nigerians,” they said.
They observed that Nigerians could not afford at this time or any other time to stoke the fires of hate and divisiveness in the body politic, especially when ordinary Nigerians are engaged in difficult struggles to secure their livelihood, amidst rising insecurity and increasing fear.
They added that the nation had lost too many of its citizens to random and diverse acts of violence, while many more had been maimed for life or living in displacement.
They further stated: “Tens of thousands of children have been orphaned by conflict and millions of our fellow citizens now face threats of starvation in the face of rising food insecurity.”
In many parts of the country, the committee noted that mass killings had gone unpunished and unresolved, inter-communal clashes had become chronic, adding that economic deprivation and growing social exclusion and feelings of alienation, particularly among the youths were being exploited by segments of the elite with potentially dangerous and painful consequences for all Nigerians.
The statement acknowledged that the drums of rising division also reflects the perception by citizens that there is poor governance in Nigeria today, blaming politicians who had failed in delivering on the mandate of the electorate for better livelihoods and neighbourhoods for teaming up with advocates of division and hate.
The group stated that in many parts of the country, young people who had been left without means of livelihood or hope in their future had become converts to radicalisation preached by those it described as demagogues who resorted to various guises including ethnicity and religion.
According to Abubakar and Kukah, “At this time in Nigeria, more than ever before, we need government at all levels, which works for the people, with commitment and respect for the rule of law and for the security and well wellbeing of persons and communities in the country.
“We also need credible institutions, an economy that guarantees a fair deal and outcome for hardworking people, better physical infrastructure and an enabling environment in which citizens can thrive.”
They further urged the state governments to be more committed to developing their people and relying less on Abuja to fund their consumption through monthly allocations.
They encouraged Osinbajo and the federal government to remain steadfast in the steps they had taken to reassure all communities and citizens of an equal stake in the Nigerian project, insisting that Nigerians need an effective state they call their own.
To reinforce the unity of the country, they appealed that on-going efforts to reach out to leaders from various parts of the country should be broadened into honest dialogue with all segments of the Nigerian population to ensure that ordinary citizens get the opportunity to convey their views to government at the highest levels and get carried along in the formulation and implementation of government policies.
The committee further advised the government to hold consultations on the possibility of examining the reports of the Political Reforms Conference of 2005 and other National Conferences as a basis for further and continuing dialogue on the co-existence among communities in Nigeria.
Pledging their support for the government to ensure effective enforcement of laws that prohibit divisive speeches, they called on politicians to deny support to or endorse groups that harbour or express disdain for peaceful coexistence among Nigerians.