- Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
Hopes of the Pan-Niger Delta Elders Forum (PANDEF) to meet in Port Harcourt, Rivers State yesterday to elect new leaders and chart a new course for the region were scuttled as the police sealed off the Hotel Presidential venue of the meeting.
The fierce-looking anti- riot policemen, who came in more than 10 patrol vehicles, sealed-off all the entrances into the hotel and prevented visitors and guest from entering or leaving the hotel.
The PANDEF meeting, which was to be the sixth in the series that have been held in states in the region, was for the election of national, state and local government officers of the forum.
As early as 8a.m., the police had taken over a stretch of Birabi Street, GRA Phase Two, Port Harcourt, where the hotel is located and motorists were advised to use alternative routes to get to their destination.
Although none of the leaders of PANDEF were seen close to the venue, but other members of the forum, who were dressed in traditional wears of the region, were seen in groups discussing in low tones.
When contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in the state, Omoni Nnamdi (DSP), said the decision to seal-off the meeting venue was to forestall breakdown of law and order, as well as to avoid carnage.
Omoni stated that the command deployed its men early enough to the venue following threats by a splinter group of PANDEF to disrupt the meeting.
He said: â€œWe sealed off the place due to security threat. There was a splinter group of that same PANDEF that threatened to disrupt the meeting.
â€œSo, in order to forestall any breakdown of law and order following threats to disrupt the meeting, that was why our men went there early enough to block the place; to forestall any kind of carnage.
â€œUntil when they are able to resolve their internal wrangling, internal differences and come together with one voice, then, they can hold the meeting.â€
Militant groups from the nine states of the Niger Delta had met on Wednesday at the Benin River, Delta State, maintaining that the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), which had hitherto been given the mandate to negotiate on their behalf remain disbanded.
The warlords who spoke under the auspices of the Reformed Niger Delta Agenda (RNDA), insisted that the Chief Edwin Clark-led PANDEF has now lost the authority to talk to the federal government on their behalf, noting that any agency of the government which continues to deal with PANDEF does so at its own risk.
Citing reasons why they took the decision, Johnmark Ezonbi, who presided over the meeting, in a communique he personally signed, declared that members of PANDEF comprised mainly of former appointed or elected political office holders in the Niger Delta region who should be blamed for the current state of the region.
The ex-militants argued that while in power, the disbanded PANDEF members did not use their privileged position to positively impact on the lives of the people of the region.
The RNDA leaders noted that the proposed PANDEF meeting in Port Harcourt has put paid to speculations that the group was an arm of a failed political party with the calibre of persons invited.
According to Ezonbi, â€˜those invited include former governors, former ministers, senators and ex-House of Representatives members from the Niger Delta region which shows that PANDEF was parading a retinue of failed politicians who had contributed to the underdevelopment of the region.
â€œPANDEF has been disbanded and it remains so. Federal and state Governments or agencies should stop dealing with the group under any guise on behalf of the region as PANDEF does not have the locus standi to meet to discuss issues affecting the region.
â€œThe RNDA and other agitating militants in the creeks of the region will not allow these failed leaders to thwart our genuine agitation for the development of the region. They cannot be trusted to speak on behalf of the region,â€ the militants said.
They added: â€œPANDEF should know that the same militants who gave them the mandate has since withdrawn it and given it to a more robust transparent group of persons.