By Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
Niger Delta leaders comprising traditional rulers, renowned academics, the clergy and several others from various fields met at the weekend in Kolokuma/Opokuma local council in Bayelsa State, insisting that the authority earlier given to the Chief Edwin Clarkâ€™s Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) to negotiate with the federal government had been withdrawn.
Participants at the meeting which held at the palace of the King of Opokuma Kingdom, Bayelsa State, His Majesty, Diongoli Okpoitari, also resolved to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari later this month to present a roadmap to achieving peace in the oil-rich region.
Okpoitari was joined by the King of Seibiri in Burutu, Delta State and former National Chairman of the Traditional Rulers of Oil Minerals Producing Communities of Nigeria, (TROMPCON),Â Charles Ayemi-Botu, Capt Joseph Timiyan, the Ebenanawei of Ogulagha, also in Delta and Chief Mike Loyibo.
Also present during the four-hour discussion were King Bubaraye Dakolo of Gbarantoru Kingdom in Bayelsa, Prof Christopher Damian, pioneer National Chairman, Ijaw National Congress (INC) fromÂ Edo, Prof Eyo Nyong, Cross River, Prof Benjamin Okaba, Major John ovwufite (rtd), former President-General Ewreni kingdom, among others.
Coming under the umbrella of the Pan Niger Delta Peoples Congress (PNDPC), the convener of the group, Loyibo and its leader, Ayemi-Botu, maintained that Clark had lost the confidence of theÂ people and agitators in the region and therefore could not continue to represent them.
Ayemi-Botu said that PANDEF which he formed along with others had been hijacked, promising to refocus the Niger Delta dialogue with the federal government with the present group.
He said the Kolokuma meeting was a follow-up to the one held in Warri, Delta State about a month ago, stressing that the militants withdrew from the Clark-led PANDEF because it was becoming a vehicle for the projection of personal interests.
â€œThis body is to ensure that the voice of the Niger Delta is truly heard. We set up committees that have articulated our vision and mission and the way we need to go and we have adopted the document.
â€œThis clearly is a body different from the rest in the region. Only the interest of the Niger Delta will be protected. We will meet with the president on what we ought to do to protect the interest of the Niger Delta people.
â€œEverybody will be carried along. We will not work for ourselves. We will work for the generality of the people. We know the problems. And these will be presented to the federal government. We need to make the Niger Delta the Dubai of Nigeria,â€ he said.
He added: â€œ Over 98 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product comes from oil but because we have a bad leadership, people who only seek to better themselves at the detriment of others, that is why we are like this. This body is non-partisan.â€
On his part, Loyibo, coordinator of the group reiterated that only the PNDPC had the mandate of the agitators to represent them, noting that the Clark-led group had done their best, but wasnâ€™t good enough for the region.
â€œWe are more of activists, not politicians. We are not fighting anybody. Clark has also paid his dues, whether negative or positive and we thank him for whatever he has done.
â€œThe prayer of every dying father is to haveÂ a worthy successor. Let him rest and allow others carry on from where he stopped. Today, boys in the creeks have said that there is need for us to continue from where he stopped,â€ he said.
Bishop Hyacinth Egbebor, the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Bomadi, in his comments, said he was supporting the new group because it is apolitical.
â€œI have seen the values they articulated on behalf of the people of the Niger Delta. We have heard the cry of our people and we are harmonising their energy.
â€œOur people have suffered for too long. This restiveness is as a result of failure of leadership. We donâ€™t want our young people to keep fighting the military here in a place that produces so much wealth and have made billionaires and built cities everywhere else.
â€œThat place till today lives in squalor. And these people have not been heard because of the failure of leadership. I hope the government will listen. The leaders failed because they politicised everything and always fought for their pockets. Let them bring our money back,â€ he said.
Nyong, in an interview said that as members of the PNDPC, if those they represent withdraw the mandate today, the group will gladly dissolve.
â€œIf the agitators say we should go, we will. We are not here to struggle for our pockets. The youths need to be empowered so that there can be peace. Their futures are being destroyed,â€ he added.
Many of those who spearheaded the PNDPC were founding members of PANDEF, which met with the president last year, but alleged that the group had been overtaken by the personal interests of its leaders.
But the Clark-led body had said it remained the authentic voice of the Niger Delta, describing an alleged group of militants claiming to upstage the body as people seeking relevance.