The Federal Government, yesterday, pleaded with militant groups in the Niger Delta region, especially the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, to be patient with government as efforts were being made to address all their grievances.
The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Pastor Usani Uguru Usani, who made the appeal shortly after having a closed-door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said already some of the requests of the people had been attended to.
The appeal came as the rivalry between militants in the zone got messier as one of the groups offered to take security agents to ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo's hideout with Tompolo saying he has nothing to do with pipeline destruction.
Meantime, leaders of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, and Pan Niger Delta Peoples' Congress, PNDPC, were locked in verbal warfare, yesterday as Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State also begged the aggrieved youths not resume hostilities in the region.
It's a matter of patience --FG
According to Pastor Usani, the issue calls for patience, "knowing that some of these things have a procedure, and everything has a phase of planning and a phase of execution."
The minister, who said he was at the Villa to brief the President on the activities in his ministry while he was away, said though the issue of threat by NDA was not part of the discussions, government had started implementing the agreement it entered into with the people of the region.
"For a while, he (President) has not been around and there are things he needed to know from me and so I had to brief him on issues pertaining to the ministry, the projects that are going on and other anthropogenic issues that have to do with general matters concerning the Niger Delta region especially, the concerns bordering on who is right or not right to speak for the zone and the issues of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC. All these occupied our discussions with the President today," he said.
On whether the fresh threats by the Avengers was part of the discussions, he said: "We haven't discussed the Avengers per se but it is of essence as the President has always shown indication that whatever we need to and can do to sustain peace in the region, we would continue to do it... You are aware that the Vice President (Prof. Yemi Osinbajo) has been chairing the committee that handles the issues they are raising.
"And so, while that goes on operationally, headed by the Vice President, the President just needs to be briefed on our efforts though we know that the Vice President briefs him from time to time but as per the Avengers issue, it was not discussed. On a general note, it is understood that we have to be engaged to be able to sustain the peace that prevailed for a while."
On his message to the Avengers, he said: "My message is not just verbal but it has been demonstrated by the fact at all times. The government of which I am part, my role as minister in charge of the region, we have been appealing to them to just be patient with us, because, most of the time, the issues that are brought up are those that tend to portray the quest for development of the region.
"And that is all we have been doing, to say, be patient with us, these issues raised genuinely for the benefit of people of the region are being attended to. For instance, the university at Okerekoko, you are aware that the Vice President has directed that that university must take off. And he also directed that a minimum of N5 billion be budgeted for the take off of the university."
On the situation in the region now, he said: "We are glad, so far, that all parties have listened to one another. Government, Avengers, Elders and so on. We would wish that this continues. So, we would advise all of us to remain calm and see the things that we agitated for coming little by little."
He disagreed with claims of the Avengers that the government has failed in its promises to them, saying the university at Okerenkoko and the communities being part of surveillance of the petroleum infrastructure in the region were promises being kept.
"And of course you know that by the modular refineries which they had also talked about as sub-set of how they can be engaged instead of what is called illegal refineries, are also on, because the process of building a refinery or even getting the necessary procedures to establish such is not just a one day business.
Advertisements have been made, people have indicated interest and of course, to get it sustainable, the government is having the state governments involved but privately driven so that all concerned will be on a common page to ensure that when ever it takes off, there is no frustration or sabotage," he added.
He continued: "Then your second question of meeting with the Avengers, for us as a government, there hasn't been any group from the region that intended to meet with any arm of government that has been rebuffed. So, if any people make such overtures, we will be happy to receive them. We have been receiving different groups. We are not limiting our dialogue or discussions to any particular group. So anybody that says he is relevant in the process and comes forth, we are ready to engage."
East West road
He however described as unfortunate the circumstances surrounding the reconstruction of the East-West. "For the benefit of hindsight, the East-West road was conceived and started from the Ministry of Works then transferred to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. But we all have to appreciate one thing. Such physical infrastructure don't decay over night and so the neglect has continually put continuous liability on us.
Yes, it is true that I met with the contractors and I appealed to them to go back to site, we have also been very conscientious in releasing funds as they are cash-backed for them to continue work. Nonetheless, we are thinking of alternatives for completing that project amid the many issues that tend to be the undercurrents that are drawing back the execution. And such issues are technical and we are tackling them. In due course, you will know the outcome," he said.
Don't reopen attack on oil facilities, Okowa begs N/Delta Avengers
Speaking in like manner, Governor Okowa appealed to the NDA not to reopen attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta region.
Okowa in a statement issued by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Charles Aniagwu, noted that "Deltans will lose more if the group make good its latest threat to withdraw from further cooperation with the federal government and begin massive attacks on oil facilities.
"We passionately appeal to the Niger Delta Avengers not to resume hostilities, because Deltans will be the greatest losers. We are barely recovering from the effect of previous attacks and it is our honest appeal that they still give peace a chance by allowing for peaceful engagements with the Federal Government and other stakeholders," he said.
RNDA offers to lead security agents to Tompolo's hideout
Meanwhile, the bad blood between two top Niger Delta militant groups, Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, and Reformed Niger Delta Avengers, RNDA, worsened, yesterday, as the latter offered to lead security operatives to the creeks of Niger Delta region to smoke out fleeing Tompolo from his hideout.
Leader of RNDA and a coalition of nine other militant groups, self-styled "Major General" Johnmark Ezonebi, alias Obama, who called Vanguard on phone, yesterday morning, alleged that Tompolo has his hands full in NDA activities.
NDA, which repudiated its 14-month ceasefire, last Friday, and threatened to resume fresh hostilities in the region, is sympathetic to the PANDEF, while RNDA is behind the PNDPC.
Ezonebi, who said that members of his group were former foot soldiers of Tompolo in Camp 5 and NDA until it declared cessation of hostilities, last year, disclosed that some top security agents, federal and Delta state government officials also know the whereabouts of Tompolo, but kept the vital information away from the authorities.
His words: "We know exactly where he (Tompolo) is, even some top federal government officials and the government of Delta state know his whereabouts with top security agents. In a short while we shall give the names of all those influential supporters to Tompolo and his Niger Delta Avengers with some government officials from the presidency still getting in touch with a man that is under government wanted list."
I will not destroy oil pipelines - Tompolo
Tompolo's media consultant, Paul Bebenimibo, in a statement, yesterday, said the attention of the ex-militant leader has been drawn to media statements by the NDA and the RNDA, accusing him of working with the Federal Government to malign the Niger Delta region, working against the Federal Government, and being the brain behind the planned attack on oil facilities in the region.
"Ordinarily, we would have ignored these media statements by these so-called avengers and reformed avengers because it is not a new tactic by these groups in bringing Tompolo's name into whatever thing that happens in the Niger Delta region because of his legal battle with the government. Let it be stated at this point that Tompolo is not the only person having legal issues with the present government. Let us also state here that these accusations do not take away the fact that our dear country is at a crossroad.
"Restructuring/true federalism, participation of Niger Deltans in the oil industry, the Ogoni clean-up campaign, relocation of the headquarters of the International Oil Companies, establishment of modular refineries, resumption of academic activities in the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko and so on, are very germane issues the government needs to address now to shame mischievous elements in the polity.
We wish to reiterate our earlier stand that nothing will make Tompolo to resort to destruction of oil facilities he once protected in a contractual arrangement," he said.
RNDA disagrees with Tompolo
Ezonebi dismissed the refutation, saying, "RNDA wishes to state categorically that the so-called high command of the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, is no other person than Tompolo, who is presently under a wanted list and is hiding in the creek for sins against the region by using the struggle to empower himself and his immediate family and few cronies.
"The self-acclaimed spokesperson of NDA, 'Major General' Murdock Agbinibo, is no other than the three apostles of Tompolo, who have deserted their Warri homes."
They are on the run with their master, who uses the name of Niger Delta struggle to empower himself and his family alone to the detriment of the long neglected people of the Niger Delta region.
"RNDA wants to state that if there is any form of attack or destruction of oil pipelines and facilities in the creek of Delta state due to this shameless threat by the so- called Niger Delta Avengers... the people of Gbaramatu should hold Tompolo responsible for any harm or damage that they face in the wake of this," he said.
Publish if you have facts - Sara-Igbe
PANDEF top shot, HRH Anabs Sara-Igbe, who Vanguard contacted on phone, said he was only aware of a dialogue group meeting on Thursday.
Speaking on the allegation by RNDA that PANDEF collected N200 million from NDDC and other monies, he said, "If they have their facts, let them publish them. PANDEF is not about money and what people can collect, if that is what they want, they can go about and be collecting money if it is that easy. PANDEF is for peace and not violence, we are not at war with anybody.
Clark, Ayemi-Botu in verbal tango
National leader of PANDEF, Chief Edwin Clark and his PNDPC counterpart, HM Charles Ayemi-Botu, have fallen out with each other over the recent developments in the region with Clark calling Ayemi-Botu a shameless person.
The former national chairman of the Traditional Rulers of Oil Minerals Producing Communities of Nigeria, TROMPCON, responded from New York, United States, where he went for medical vacation that the elder statesman "is a pot calling the kettle black."
Chief Clark, who was unhappy that HM Ayemi-Botu allegedly allowed himself and others to be used by detractors of the region to disrupt the activities of PANDEF, said: "The people who gave us mandate have come out, Ayemi-Botu should be ashamed of himself. However, all I am saying is that Niger Delta royal fathers, personalities and stakeholders should work together and do not allow themselves to be used by detractors, who do not want the progress of the region."
HM Ayemi-Botu countered: "He is a kettle calling the pot black; indeed, he is the most shameless and conscienceless human being on the surface of the earth. He lacks advice, hence a man of over 90 years does not know when to retire home to rest due to lust and inordinate ambition."
PANDEF to meet in Warri
In a related development, members of PANDEF will regroup, Friday, in Warri, Delta State, for an emergency meeting after the October 26 disruption of its gathering in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, to discuss recent developments in the region.
It was at Effurun, near Warri, August, last year, that monarchs, elders, leaders and stakeholders of the region, met and resolved to mediate between the Federal Government and militants,who were bombing oil installations.
They appealed to the youths to cease hostilities and 24 hours after the meeting, NDA accepted ceasefire in deference to Clark and other leaders of the region.
Lead dialogue with PANDEF to avert looming crisis, Evah tells Buhari
Coordinator of the Ijaw Monitoring Group, IMG, Mr. Joseph Evah, yesterday, urged President Buhari to avert the looming trouble in the region by leading further discussions between the Federal Government and PANDEF.
Evah, who spoke on phone, last night, to Vanguard, said: "If the Federal Government jokes with the Avengers' threat, we may see the repeat of the 2009 militants/Nigeria military war in which the late President Umaru Yar'Adua begged militants with amnesty to end the war in the creeks."
He said that the nation's oil production was almost crippled then, warning, "If Ijaw gods of war like Egbesu, Osuopele and Benikrukru join Avengers, this matter will be beyond what our elder statesman and national leader of PANDEF, Chief Edwin Clark, can handle."
"The respect that the umbrella body of militants, Avengers, have for Chief Clark made them to listen to him and others in PANDEF to ceasefire in the first place and now, some enemies of progress in Buhari government are now sponsoring divide and rule game with politics to delay the 16-point agenda. The International Community should hold the Nigerian government responsible if there is crisis in the Niger Delta."
We need implementation of promises, not endless dialogue - IYC
In like manner, factional President of the Ijaw Youth Council, worldwide, IYC, Eric Omare, has called on the Federal Government to begin the implementation of its promises to the region, stating that what the people of the Niger Delta need was not endless dialogues on how to resolve the Niger Delta question but implementation of the promises made to the region by the federal government.
Omare, in a statement in Yenagoa, yesterday, emphasized that the demands of the Niger Delta people are well documented, and described dialogue with Niger Delta people as "tactics by the federal government to divert attention from the issues that need to be addressed," and advised Niger Delta leaders not to be deceived by the antics of the federal government to dialogue without implementation of promises
He said: "The federal government does not need dialogue to release fund for the Maritime University, Okerenkoko to take-off, clean-up Ogoni and other parts of the Niger Delta region that have been massively polluted, relocate headquarters of multinational oil companies to the Niger Delta region as promised, complete the East -West road and other key developmental projects, give stake to Niger Deltans in the oil and gas industry and above all restructure Nigeria along the line of federalism to guarantee resource control.
"We vehemently oppose endless dialogue with Niger Delta people which are tactics by the federal government to divert attention from the issues that needs to be addressed. What the Niger Delta people want is implementation of previous promises made by government and not further dialogue to divert attention and deceive Niger Deltans.