Its now obvious that the platform through which the Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government won some respite in the Niger Delta is about to disintegrate.
After the crash of the Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2015, the people of the oil region went wildly angry by feeling deprived; and threats grew huge. Soon, the elders were made to come together and this birthed the Pan Niger Delta Elders Forum (PANDEF) headed by the former minister, Edwin Clark from Delta State, with the likes of Alagbo Tonye Graham-Douglas (alos a many times former minister), Anabs Sara-Igbe, Alfred Mulade (coordinating secretary), Olorogun Vincent O. Oyibode, Henry George, and many others. This group worked mostly with the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo.
According to the Kalabari-born Alagbo in an October 2017 press briefing, the emergence of PANDEF helped to communicate the anger of the natives in a 16-point demand (later expanded to 24), and some of them were quickly addressed, all to allow oil flow in the Niger Delta. Recounting the gains, Graham-Douglas stated then; “The Acting President made trips to the region. Committees are reviewing our demands, Maritime University in Okerenkeko has been restored and N2Bn released to start it. The FG is giving listening ear to our demands. Now, the 24 points are being discussed by the FG committee. It has been reduced to three broad areas.
“Development is not bought in a supermarket; we are no more where we were last year (when the demands were submitted). Government attention is now on us. Restructuring is now on the front burner. The Niger Delta now speaks with one voice unlike in the past when it was difficult to speak to the region because of many fronts with different demands. The boys know our line of action and a platform to dialogue for the entire region is on course. Bonny Road is a significant outcome, N120Bn.”
Another major gain to the region may be the resolution of the Kula oil crisis which pitched the people against Shell and FG on one hand; against Belemaoil against the Rivers State government and Shell on the other. At last, a win-win solution was achieved in 2019 and peace and oil returned to Kula, all due to the intervention of the FG and the NNPC.
Things fall apart?
There may have been many gains in the region but it does not look like these are being conveyed through the PANDEF.
Now, the elders seem unhappy. First, a section of the elders have developed other ambitions, demanding for return of presidency to the south-south. Sara-Igbe particularly resigned from his position in PANDEF (publicity secretary) to go for the presidency.
Next, the leader of PANDEF, Clark, fired a warning letter recounting failure of the FG to the resolutions and neglect of the forum in dealing with the region.
Clark accused Osinbajo of such acts. He recalled that the VP asked all oil companies to relocate to the region but none adhered to it; the VP did nothing.
An official in the VP’s office had rather gone round the oil region trying to create awareness on need for peace and security to attract investments. When confronted on failure of oil corporations to obey the FG, he said the insecurity in the area would not allow them to relocate.
Next, there emerged signs that the Amnesty Programme may have come to an end. This caused fresh consternation in the region. Many groups began to threaten fresh attacks and breakdown of order in the oil region, something the FG could ill-afford, not minding the fact that the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua administration that initiated it on June 26, 2009, intended it to end after about 24 months, after the initial 60 days disarming period. It has progressed till over 12 years due to threats each time the FG contemplates ending it, with over 15,000 benefitting from it at the rate of about N60Bn per year.
The anger of the Niger Delta elders can be measured in the way they rejected the naming of a modern railway station after Goodluck Jonathan.
Edwin Clark, elder statesman and leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, described the naming of the railway complex in Agbor, Delta State, after ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, as an insult.
In July, President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the naming of railway stations after some “deserving Nigerians.”
Obafemi Awolowo, premier of western Nigeria; Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo; Olusola Saraki, former senate leader; Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos state and Wole Soyinka, Nobel laureate, were among those honoured.
But in an open letter to Amaechi, the elder statesman said the gesture is “demeaning”, adding that Jonathan deserved more than that. Clark noted that rail transport is one of Jonathan’s legacies and that bestowing the same honour accorded the former president to other citizens diminishes the prestige of the ex-president.
According to Clark, even if Jonathan accepts the honour because he is a gentleman and will not want to complain to Buhari”, the Ijaw people will not. “Therefore, naming the railway station in Agbor, Delta State, ‘Goodluck Jonathan Railway Station and Complex’, is a misnomer.
From the tone and running narrative in the letter, the real anger of the PANDEF is that the office of the VP has not resuscitated the regular meetings between both parties. Worse, the VP is now engaging groups and youths in the Niger Delta outside the PANDEF.
Eze Chukwuemeka weighs in: Plot to derail south-south and eastern rail projects
A group loyal to the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, weighed into the matter, pointing out that there is a more urgent threat at hand.
Eze Chukwuemeka Eze, a media strategist and publicist, who rallies support for the Minister and former governor, drew the attention of Clark to the fact that some politicians in the Niger Delta are eing used to destroy the chances of the region to gain what other regions have already gained.
said; “Worry less about rail stations’ naming, join forces to save the Eastern railway corridor proposal; support Nicholas Osai’s recall for exposing himself as a true enemy of the Eastern Nigeria”
Eze, who was national publicity secretary of the defunct New People’s Democratic Party (nPDP) and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), appealed to the PANDEF leader to jettison the call on the Federal Government to reverse the naming of the Agbor Railway Station Complex after Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
Eze stressed that the ex-President is satisfied and has already expressed gratitude to President Mohammadu Buhari and the Transportation Minister, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, for the honour done him.
In a statement made available to media houses, Eze said, if icons like Obafemi Awolowo, Alex Ekwueme and other great leaders could be named after some of the railway stations, then ex President Jonathan, a pride of the Eastern region, is eminently qualified and entitled for the honour and it will be unfair to attempt to discredit it for any reason whatsoever.
He further pointed out that in currency naming, it is faces on small bills that are regarded as more important because most people would touch and see it daily than the higher denominations. He noted that the number of people that would see Jonathan’s name per day at a railways station would be far more than those that would see it at an international airport or international hotel.
Eze also reminded the later-day towncriers for Jonathan that same Jonathan presented himself as a lover of the common people by creating a campaign brand of the boy from Otueke without a shoe, the son of a canoe man. He thus wondered what is belittling to such a boy ending up with his name inscribed in one of the key Railway Stations in Nigeria. He argued that naming him after a train station would not stop him from getting more honours as President Muhammadu Buhari has been sending him on special missions abroad, thereby ingratiating Dr Jonathan’s name in the minds of international community more than any former President of Nigeria.
The party chieftain therefore called on Clark to pay a detailed attention to more critical issues of common concern and channel his energies to mobilise stakeholders to raise a voice against the artful scheme to satanically deprive the Eastern region the divine opportunity of linking her to other parts of the country through modern rail.
He said events have clearly revealed the existence of a cabal, a group of unconscious and conscienceless mortals, with a sworn mandate to scuttle every effort of the federal government at developing the South-South and South East regions and with a term of reference to frustrate the Eastern rail line project which he said will meaningfully impact the lives and livelihoods of the people and significantly add to the economies of states.
He wants Clark to think about why eastern ports remained dead over the decades and decide if such was a mere accident or a design by a group to ensure that the economy of the eastern region remained dead and continue to feed from another region. The strategic reminded people of former eastern region to know that politics is another form of war with same results.
Using Niger Deltans against Niger Delta
Eze lamented that more sickening is the very disturbing fact that Hon. Ossai Nicholas Ossai, the lawmaker representing the good people of Ndokwa/Ukwani Federal Constituency of Delta State and Chairman, House Committee on Treaties, Protocols and Agreements, has been conscripted to do the bidding against his own people.
He called on stakeholders of South South and South East to rise up, lend their voices against the common adversaries and react with the timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people.
Recall that the Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi had expressed shock that Ossai could be hounded on a project that would be of immense benefit to him and his constituents thus:
“It was apparent that the Chairman of the Committee investigating the ‘Loan from China’, Hon. Nicholas Osai, was determined to deny the people of the South-South and the South East the opportunity to be connected by rail”.
Eze said the moronic carriage of Hon. Ossai in recent times reflected in the expression of the Minister is good proof that the Delta-born lawmaker and his snooping paymasters are hell-bent on impeding the efforts of the administration of President Buhari to fulfil his campaign pledge of giving the country a durable and modern rail system.
Eze said it is wasteful venture for Hon. Osai of the PDP and his band of misguided elements to think that halting the loan and stopping the rail project would undermine the political future of Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, whom he said has served the country meritoriously with astonishing results. He called on the group sponsoring Ossai to be cautious of their actions, stressing that the grand conspiracy to make nonsense of Amaechi’s towering and intimidating political records, by faltering his thoughtful infrastructural programmes in the rail sector, will definitely meet its waterloo. He wondered why there was no noise when the PDP and Dr Jonathan initiated loans for rails years back even when the APC was in virile opposition. “Why would it be now that the APC is dutifully implementing and expanding it that the same APC with their PDP cohorts are mad against a railway programme?”
To demonstrate Ossai’s lopsided gait in his Committee’s investigation, he had to embarrass members by disallowing them from making contributions as he was severally seen cutting them off, insisting that he was in charge. “You are co-opted member. You cannot guide me”, Ossai had shouted down on a member.
Eze said attempts by Wole Oke to guide the process to ensure a rancour-free exercise was rebuffed by Ossai who ruled him out of order.
The party chief expressed concern that if Osai and his co-travellers are not called to order, they may succeed in frustrating both the Port Harcourt – Enugu- Maiduguri Rail line, including the Lagos/Calabar rail project because the probe, according to him, passes a wrong signal and erodes the confidence of the lending sovereign in the seriousness of Nigeria in the loan deal.
Eze expressed shock that a parliament with the All Progressives Congress in the majority could allow few members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party to continue to frustrate and embarrass the APC-led federal government for frivolous and mean reasons.
“We know what most of us suffered and risked to get this government on board and we can’t continue to watch very few misguided elements to frustrate the good intentions and policies of the administration of President Buhari to right the wrongs of PDP just because they want to achieve a diabolical and evil agenda. Speaker of the House, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, must call his men to order”, Eze said.
The party Chief urged the constituents of Hon. Osai to, as a matter of urgency, set in motion the necessary processes needed to recall the erring lawmaker for compromising and selling out his people, describing his actions as disgraceful to the people of Ndokwa/Ukwani Federal Constituency of Delta State, on whose mandate he rode to a saboteur at the detriment of his legislative assignment.
Eze enumerated ways through which President Buhari has done much to the oil region by addressing historic injustices including approving refund of over N1 trillion owed the NDDC and flagging off of Ogoni clean up with $1Bn.
He also held out Amaechi as a new star in the south-south and east and urged Clark and other elders to rally round him and stop those being lined up to destroy their own.
The bottom-line is that the Niger Delta elders are angry again and the youths may by the anger. The FG has a chance to address the anger now by resuming the romance with PANDEF before others penetrate the elders and deploy the youths.