Sylvester Idowu in Warri
A frontline female activist, Dr. Judith Asuni has appealed to the people of Niger Delta to shun violence and continue to explore dialogue as the most dependable social instrument to redress challenges of underdevelopment in the region.
She maintained that the people of the region should not stop complaining for the development of the Niger Delta but should do such within the ambit of dialogue.
Asuni, an American by birth, Nigerian by naturalisation and a Sociologist with over 40 years experience, made the appeal in reaction to growing tension in the region over the failure of federal government to implement the 16- point demand of Pan Niger Delta’s Elders Forum (PANDEF).
Speaking during a session of Niger Delta dialogue with the theme: â€˜Two years on: Reflections on the past and planning for the future on the Niger Delta Dialogueâ€™, the Executive Director of the Warri-based non-governmental organisation, Academic Associates PeaceWorks (AAPeaceWorks), said the region should not stop talking stressing that stakeholders must continue to dialogue until the myriad of underdevelopment in the area were redressed by the government.
She recalled that the Niger Dialogue, which started in 2016 with attendees from the circle of ex-militants, traditional rulers, religious leaders and other sectors in the region, gave rise to PANDEF, adding that it also made Professor Yemi Osinbajo who was acting President to visit the region to interact with the people on the way forward.
While urging youths to shun any temptation to go the path of violence, Asuni, who was also the facilitator of the dialogue, said the region should continue to present its demands to the federal government in a peaceful way towards reaching an amicable solution.
â€œThe Niger Delta Dialogue started in June 2016, then government was not talking on matters of the region and we asked why the government was not talking. We got government leaders and stakeholders to talk. There were 50 stakeholders. We concentrated on the militant groups, traditional rulers, King Alfred Diete Spiff was Chairman of the group.
“Some issues discussed at our meetings include Petroleum Industry Bill, funding of the interventionist agencies, infrastructural development of the Niger Delta region, headquarters of oil companies, IDP crisis in Bakasi. The issues that affect the whole Niger Delta. We came up with suggestions and communiques at the dialogues.
“We also looked at issues requiring immediate attention like the Maritime University, invasion of Gbaramatu, body language of the federal government, surveillance contracts, outstanding debts on surveillance contracts, ceasefire , amnesty programme, engaging governors of Niger Delta, managing the key players in the conflicts “, she said
Former Ambassador to Ethiopia, Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo who also spoke called on various ethnic groups in the region to, as a matter of right, demand to see the budgetary provisions for their areas noting that it was in this way development could start coming to the region.
She said the Niger Delta dialogue, had made appreciable impact in the last two years, adding that the region should begin to press for new model of development
Ambassador Toyo said the amnesty program had failed to meet its expectations in the region and therefore stressed the need to redefine the model of development noting that this would be possible when stakeholders continue to dialogue.
“The existing model of development has not worked, the amnesty has not worked. By the time ethnic groups start asking questions on budgetary provisions for their areas, things will start getting better. It is your responsibility in the region to ask questions on development of Niger Delta. We have to replace the current development model with a more effective one.
â€œWe have made a lot of progress. We will continue to talk. No option to talking. It reduces antagonism. We have to engage the process. By the time ethnic groups start asking questions on budgetary provisions for their areas things will start moving,â€œ she stressed.
Others who also spoke were Her Royal Majesty, Obi Martha Dunkwu, Omu Anioma, Delta State, Professor Barineme Fakae and several others.
They harped on dialogue as the reliable tool to attract federal government attention to the area.