â€¢ Warns peaceful dialogue should not be taken for granted
By Okon Bassey in Uyo
The Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) has advised that the peaceful disposition of the people of the Niger Delta region should not be taken as a sign of weakness, vowing to pursue vigorously the 16-point agenda presented to the federal government on how to tackle crisis and development of the region and the country.
The Chairman of PANDEF and former Military Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Idongesit Nkanga (rtd), who made the call at the weekend at the inaugural meeting of the new executive of the body in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital, complained of lack of significant progress since the 16-point agenda which is like a template for a lasting peace to be achieved in the region.
The federal government, PANDEF said, was yet to fulfill what it promised the region after series of meetings which culminated in the visit of the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to the region last year to further strengthen government commitment to the region.
Nkanga stressed the resolve of the forum to pursue the realisation of true federalism and the restructuring of the country as well as the continued use of dialogue in resolving all contentions issues for equity and fairness among all the federating units.
â€œI would like to use this opportunity to make a passionate appeal that there must be a new way of searching for peace.Â For this cause, Isaac Daka Boro and Ken Saro Wiwa died, while Odi was levelled.Â If you want to operate federalism, you must listen to the voices of the people,â€ he said.
Nkanga noted that even when the vice president during his visit to the region called on International Oil Companies (IOCs) operating in the country to relocate their head offices to the Niger Delta, such directives had not been implemented.
â€œThe issues we are talking about here include the clean-up of Ogoniland which has remained as it is when it was flagged off. We are also talking about an end to gas flaring which we have not seen, rather the federal government is collecting penalties for that and sharing it equally to all states meanwhile only the people of Niger Delta continue to suffer the horrific effects of gas flaring.
â€œWe are also talking about the relocation of headquarters of IOC to their areas ofÂ operation, and there is also the issue of smuggling of offshore/onshore oil dichotomy into the El Rufai committee on restructuring. The Green Tree agreement, modular refineries and corruption are some of the issues bordering the people of the Niger Delta,â€ he said.
PANDEF insisted that the 50 per cent derivation principle on mineral resources be restored, regretting that the arrangement which led to prosperity of the old regions of the country was suddenly abandoned after the discovery of oil in the Niger Delta.
â€œThe old revenue sharing formula which had 50 per cent going to the regions, 30 per cent into the distribution pool and 20 per cent for the development of the federal capital led to the varying development we saw in the old three different regions of the country. We wondered why it was suddenly abandoned after the discovery of oil in the Niger Delta,â€ he said
Nkanga posited that theÂ relative peace now being enjoyed in the region was a result of intervention by PANDEF which has resulted in increased oil production and huge revenue to the federal government coffer.
â€œYou may have seen responses by our youths.Â They believe and trust that the elders are doing the right thing.Â It is that relative peace that we have that has helped to sustain the increase in oil production.Â By the window of ceasefire, the production went up to 2.2 million barrels per day about N83 billion per day which we are giving this country.
â€œSadly, with this money, you see development in other areas but nothing comes to the Niger Delta. That is why restructuring is important as well as justice to the Niger Delta,â€ he stated.
The chairman of the forum observed that the government was living in denial and suppressing the desires and wishes of many regions of the country which have given rise to crisis in almost all parts of the federation.
â€œWe have been living in denial and if you continue to suppress it, it will erupt as it has erupted today.Â In all the regions, something is happening. In every street, we have seen soldiers.Â We are under siege. Â Â
â€œIn the Middle Belt, there is a problem, in the South-east, they are talking about operation python dance,Â in the South-south, they are talking about operation crocodile Â smile, it therefore means there is something that is not quite right in the country,â€™â€™ he added.
PANDEF, he said, would continue to use dialogue as a tool for conflict resolution.
He added that PANDEF as the voice of the Niger Delta region, was working with other recognised groups in the South-east, South-west and the Middle Belt to ensure a peaceful resolution of conflict in the country.
Nkanga noted that such meetings and dialogue would ensure a paradigm shift in governance of the country.