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Setting Niger Delta agenda between between Buhari and stakeholders

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SETTING THE AGENDA FOR THE NOV 1 MEETING BETWEEN NIGER DELTA STAKEHOLDERS AND PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI 

By Annkio Briggs

The oil-rich delta region of southern Nigeria – called Niger Delta – is larger than 70,000 square kilometers with a population larger of over 35 million people – larger than the population of Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Australia, Greece, Netherlands, Austria, Romania, Hungary, and United Arab Emirates – made up of 40 ethnic nationalities and collectively producing over 2.2 million barrels of crude oil per day.

I have to restate here for the purpose of emphasis – the population of the people of the Niger Delta is larger than that of all our African neighbours – Chad, Niger, Cameroon, Benin Republic, and Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and many more. If the Niger Delta region were an independent country, its population would place it as the 39th most populous nation in the world, a position between Canada (36 million) and Morocco (34 million) on the global country-by-country population list.

The people of the Niger Delta with the crude oil resources exploited from their region are not a poor people, are not a conquered people, and we are therefore not beggars. And we could probably be the richest black people on earth, if we dared to own our God-given resources.

From 1885 to 1893, the Niger Delta we have gone from being the Oil Rivers Protectorate to the Niger Coast Protectorate Petroleum Rich Region, these are identities given to us first because of our riches in Palm Kernel produce to the discovery of crude oil and gas just before the independence of Nigeria in 1960. Before the British came and ascribed these nomenclature on the region, we were (and are still are) the indigenes of an enviable, blessed, rich, and industrious region.

After the discovery of oil and gas in commercial quantities in the Niger Delta, the region has remained in the centre of national and international debate with regards to the pollution and environmental degradation of the region. The twin issues have been made worse by unimaginable levels of corruption and human rights abuses of succession of military regimes and the democratic regimes that followed.

The Niger Delta are mostly found in the South South political zone of Nigeria. Geographically, we occupy 7.5% of Nigeria’s landmass. Politically, the region is made up of six states – Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, and Rivers.

We have experiences different seasons of oppression and political climate – colonial, post-colonial, Nigerian civil war (in which we were marked for extermination by the two armies in the conflict), violent agitations, and non-violent resistance, and the story is on-going.

The resources of the Delta region has been used for more than a century, since the 1914 amalgamation to 1960 Independence, when we were dealt a bad hand of cards of oppression, neglect, under-development and human rights abuse.

We are a welcoming and peace loving, yet we have never failed to resist oppression, neglect, injustice and inequality from the days of Nana of Itsekiri, the Nembe war, the era of King Jaja of Opopo, to that of Chief Harold Dappa Biriye, Adaka Boro, and all the way to the agitations of Ken Saro-Wiwa, we have always wanted fairness, justice, and equitable for all.

During all these times, our peaceful and humble ways and obvious loyal commitment to the continuity of Nigeria as a country has been willfully misread as weakness or even deadly desire on our part to sacrifice our people, region, and resources to keep the corrupt enterprise called Nigeria going.

When in 1998, the oppressive and extremely corrupt regime led by the late General Sani Abacha was dismantled following the unexpected death of the head of state, a supposed democratic government was ushered in the next year. General Olusegun Obasanjo (Rtd), a former military ruler who had just been released from prison took up leadership of the country as president based on the 1999 Constitution and there was high hopes for a new era of democratic rule.

But, the 1999 Constitution wasn’t the constitution agreed upon by the 350 ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. Rather, it was a military decree signed into law by General Abdulsalami Abubakar. The military-produced document begins “We, the people”, then proceeds to say the people agreed on a united Nigeria and prescribe laws to government the people. who never agreed to the document in the first place. It is a fraud to pass off the 1999 Constitution as a democratic framework for the country.

I have always maintained that the problems staring Nigeria in the fact, that threaten our unity, are are written in the 1999 Constitution which the military government handover over to a military general as the basis for him to rule the country.

The Niger Delta people expected things to change in favour of the region, politically, when Obasanjo took over power, but what we were handed was continued genocide. We were cruely handed Odi, Odioma, Gbaramatu, Ayekoromo, and others.

The Niger Delta Development Commission, a supposed developmental intervention agency, turned out to be a puppet controlled from Abuja using people from the Niger Delta region as willing political and economic pawns in the hands of the federal government working against the collective good and development empowerment of the very people the agency was created to serve.

Though the NDDC is being presented as an agency for the Niger Delta people and region and managed by the Niger Delta people, it is actually a political power tool manipulated and controlled by the political system today known as the ‘cabal’.

What did we get from democracy? The calls for resource control which galvanised into a globally recognised movement during the Abacha years was frustrated, the oppression and neglect of the Niger Delta region continued which snowballed into the armed agitations. Only then, did the issues that had been placed before past leaders of the country receive some attention.

President Obasanjo again offered something, a truce to enable the output of oil to rise again from the creeks of the Niger Delta, he succeeded. Then we had to deal with the unconstitutional ambition for 3rd term, NDDC became the cash cow for driving an illegality driven by the raw ambition of one man. Funds meant to go into the Niger Delta was diverted to fund the unholy agenda. The Niger Delta and Igbo people are still paying the price for the failure of the 3rd term, as they are seen as being responsible for the failure.

There is, indeed, a political cabal, that takes a hold of any elected or military government, it either controls the government to its selfish benefit or brings the government down. The Niger Delta has been at the receiving end of this cabal. The policies and system of long established decisions of never allowing either political or economic power to leave the control of “the cabal” which is made of one minority ethnic group from the North driven by the draconian philosophy of the military profession.

The cabal won’t permit a government with aims different from its selfish aims to hold power at all costs to rise and fix Nigeria by addressing the very unjust system that the cabal feeds off of.

Boko Haram, the Fulani herdsmen militia, boldly killing, destroying and raping their way from Kaduna to Warri in the past 6 years, the kidnapping of under-aged Christian girls of South South origin, forcefully converting them to Islam, renaming them, and married them off to Muslim leaders and truck pushers are all criminal and terrorist enterprises funded and protected by the cabal.

In May 2015 the President Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress government was sworn in, 1 year and 5 months later, the Niger Delta people are worst off than they have ever been since 1960.

In my opinion as a Niger Deltan, amongst over 35 million Niger Deltans coming from 40 ethnic nationalities owning the resources known as oil and gas, and others yet to be discovered, we the Niger Delta people have made too many sacrifices that no other groups of peoples have made for Nigeria or will ever be willing to make. And this is for a country dubiously created 100 years ago for selfish economic reasons. By 1914, the people of the Niger Delta had been living in the territory as free and independent nationalities for hundreds of years, it is therefore nothing to be ashamed of, if we decide today to re-appraise our terms and conditions of continue stay in a union that has no regard for us as equal partners in nation building, but rather sees us as tools to serve.

The Niger Delta region and her people, and the people of the South East have been referred to as the 5% that did not vote for the President Buhari lead APC government and were told not to expect what the 97% who voted for him will get.

At home and abroad the people of the Niger Delta, Igbos, and some selected outspoken Yorubas have been singled out and made to undergo media trials by the Muhammadu Buhari government. They have been branded thieves and looters of the treasury and denied their fundamental human rights.

The Niger Delta region is under constant threat of having the political will of the people overturned by the courts. Nearly 18 months after the 2015 elections and re-run elections, my beloved Rivers state is without full representation at the National Assembly, House of Representatives and State Assembly. All this, is a bid to frustrate the will of the Rivers people embodied in Governor Nyesom Wike. A political party and a democratic leader is meant to serve the people not punish the people.

The devastation and destruction of the Niger Delta people’s environment, by International Oil Companies and their 60% federal government partners is probably the worst and most unacceptable sacrifice the people of the Niger Delta region have had to make to sustain Nigeria. And it is one that we will continue to make until we take our destiny into our own hands.

The Niger Delta ecosystem and the people’s livelihood has been destroyed by the careless and wicked method of exploration and exploitation of oil and gas has been undertaken since the discovery of oil and gas in the Niger Delta in 1957.

It is estimated that 25% of our mangrove has been destroyed! Our rain forest is nearly if not all destroyed all 7,400 square kilometers.

Oil spills in communities destroy crops; aquaculture which contaminate our drinking waters and farm soil destroying our livelihood, taking away our basic human right to feed and provide for ourselves and family. In the 90% agrarian and fishing communities of the Niger Delta, our fish and crops are destroyed by the activities of the federal government and their international oil major partners.

Experts have predicted that the environmental degradation in the Niger Delta region, if it continues at the current pace, our land and waters will become uninhabitable in less than a generation.

l personally believe this unfortunate trend has been the strategy of the born-to-rule power dealing cabal all along and the silence and inaction of the Nigerian government has encouraged it, in fact, actually promoted it. To either kill us off or make the region uninhabitable, either one of each will produce the desired outcome – unfettered access to our oil and gas (by any means necessary).

Respiratory problems, asthma, skin, stomach, and lung cancers, are some of the common health issues prevalent in the Niger Delta. Access to clean water, air and food is denied us as a result of the environmental abuses.

Gas flaring minimum of 3.5billion cubic feet of associated gas is flared yearly in the Niger Delta by the oil companies and their federal government partners, ironically the governments are obliged to protect us from these abuses. Gas flared in the Niger Delta is the equivalent of 25% of the UK’s gas consumption, which is the equivalent of 40% of Africa’s gas consumption as of 2001 (15 years ago) (Source: Wikipedia.org).

The federal government and oil companies are wasting a minimum of US$2 billion per year of Niger Delta wealth. It is cheaper for them to flare than to commercially separate viable associated gas from oil so they flare not minding the cost to the people and the Niger Delta region. They are killing us slowly to, ironically, save money.

It is therefore my considered opinion that this is the reason oil companies take their headquarters to Lagos State, and not because of insecurity caused by the Niger Delta people. They have the knowledge of exactly the health hazards they have created for us, according to the UNEP report we have a death sentence hanging over our heads. Our children have no future even before they are conceived.

Climate Justice in its study estimates that the exposure to benzene would result in 8 news cases of cancer yearly in Bayelsa State. Is it worth it? So that Kano State can collect allocation for its 44 LGA while Bayelsa State gets less than 1/5th of that for its 8 LGA.

l can say with confidence that more than 95% or 97% of our people in the Niger Delta region believe that the call for restructuring and resource ownership rather than threaten the unity of Nigeria seems to be the last post for the unity of Nigeria. I make my observation as a Niger Deltan, I don’t claim to speak for all the ethnic nationalities, and I have been a strong advocate for all ethnic groups to speak for themselves.

As recently confirmed by Nigeria’s minister of state for petroleum resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu when he presented a roadmap for the development of the nation’s oil and gas industry at the Presidential Villa Abuja on Thursday the 27th of October, 2016 that President Buhari will meet with some stakeholders from the oil rich region on Tuesday, November 1.

SETTING THE NIGER DELTA AGENDA

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s recently confirmed by Nigeria’s minister of state for petroleum resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu when he presented a roadmap for the development of the nation’s oil and gas industry at the Presidential Villa Abuja on Thursday the 27th of October, 2016 that President Buhari will meet with some stakeholders from the oil rich region on Tuesday, November 1.

At this point, it is advised you read the first part of this article HERE because this article is dedicated to proposing the agenda for any meeting between the Niger Delta and the government.

The scheduled meeting between elders of the Niger Delta and Buhari is a development, though one we should receive with open minds, ears, and eyes so we do not miss a thing.

The people of the Niger Delta have had too many meetings – with successive governments, with oil majors, with ourselves, yet we can’t afford to turn down any meeting, no matter how little the prospects of meaningful engagement. This is because we fear to be accused of not giving our best to the project Nigeria.

In any case, dialogue always offers an opportunity to reach an agreement non-violently. I am an abiding advocate of non-violence as a result; I endorse dialogue as an option in resolving the clear and present crisis in the Niger Delta.  But, we as a people must be cautious so as to not come across as people “who don’t know what they want” or are unaware of their options.

In light of the tensed political atmosphere in the Niger Delta region and Nigeria, as a whole, it is pertinent to highlight the following issues.

1. We must not confuse this first meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari as the dialogue of the Niger Delta people with Federal Government. No. Because it is not.

2. While we understand the need to limit the numbers at this initial meeting we must not forget that the Niger Delta region has 40 ethnic nationalities, and nobody has been mandated to represent any ethnic nationality at the meeting. So, ethnic nationalities, which make up the Niger Delta region, are not represented at this meeting. It is my opinion that any meaningful discussion on resolving the age-long agitations for justice by the people of the Niger Delta, can’t take place without everyone representing their own aspirations. No one should be gagged or neglected into or in negotiations.

3. While we expect that this initial meeting with stakeholders in the Niger Delta and the federal government would be a sort of debriefing, and the persons picked to attend this meeting would return home to debrief their people, we also do expect that anybody speaking from the side of the Niger Delta would present the mandate of the people and not their personal mandate.

4. It must be remembered that the Niger Delta people have attended numerous meetings, seminars, and issued a number of reports, Bill of Rights, demands, communiqués, and so on. It must also be remembered that some of our people have died in the process of dialoguing and negotiations with our oppressors. Many have been maimed, raped; some have been imprisoned, blackmailed, all for the Niger Delta cause. Some, unfortunately, have also betrayed the Niger Delta cause. In all of this one thing is clear we know what we want therefore, we expect our views to be presented at this initial meeting.

5. It is the quality of the content of what the stakeholders attending this meeting will present in our collective name as ‘Niger Delta’ that will determine the result of the meeting and whether this November 1 meeting will be fruitful and will produce fruits.

6. We do not expect the attendees to commit the 40 ethnic nationalities in any way, shape, or form, because they are not elected to represent any of the nations that make up the Niger Delta. It should be noted that any commitment made on our behalf on our collective security, development, and rights, without any due consultation, as it were, will be rejected by the peoples of the region.

7. It is important to rehash that since 1960, development in the region has been retarded; a fair representation in the federal government has been denied our people; justice, equity, security have been withheld from our region. This deliberate exclusive policy thrust of the successive government, including this current one, has brought us to where we are today. It must not be forgotten.

8. Various groups from the region have been making demands for the issues raised in #7 above at various times, the continued denial of these peaceful interventions is what has led to an escalation to where there is a decade-long on-going armed struggle. While those in the armed struggle are in the minority, their demands reflect the aspirations of the majority.

9. Following decades of the see-saw approach of dialoguing with the oppressors of the region and expecting that the descendants of the people who brutally enslaved our ancestors will willingly grant us our freedom, there has been a consensus among the leaders of thought in the Niger Delta that the absence of any or all of the three issues below will never lead to lasting peace in the region:

a. Resource Ownership

b. Restructuring of the political structure in the country. Powers need to be devolved. The Scottish example is good template to begin with. 

c. Self-determination for the peoples of the Niger Delta through a United Nations recognised referendum. Self-determination is a right of indigenous peoples guaranteed by the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights and the UN Declaration on Human and Indigenous Peoples Rights.

It must also be made clear here that this article contains my personal position on the issues confronting our people and that our people have to confront. I am not speaking for any ethnic nationality, but I do speak as an Ijaw woman and leader who has spent the past 18 years engaging my people at all levels, beginning from the grassroots in the creeks. I speak with every sense of responsibility when I say that 95% of my people want these 3 issues above in a, b, and c addressed.

In my work as an advocate for the people of the Niger Delta, I have met and interacted with respected leaders in the other ethnic nationalities of the Niger Delta, and their aspirations mirror those of my people.

If there is any Niger Delta daughter or son that wants anything contrary to those highlighted in #9 above, it is only for their personal and selfish and momentary political interest, and these interest can’t override the greater interest of the greater Niger Delta people.

While recognising that there are institutional engagements and negotiations that are key to driving lasting positive change that brings peace to the Niger Delta, it is important that the federal government be cautious because the methods being proposed, are the same methods that have failed in the past. It is time to inject new and creative thinking when addressing the Niger Delta question.

From communication coming out of the government, it appears that the primary aim of the Buhari-led government is to resolve militancy for the sole aim of bringing back crude oil production to 2.2 million barrels a day. The same old method of deceiving the people with dangling carrots, that never land on the ground.

The urgency of the federal government to reduce militancy by 90% and ram up crude oil production to 2.8 million barrels a day is laudable, but the lack of a corresponding policy that addresses the needs of the region is worrisome.

The people of the Niger Delta and indeed all Nigerians must not forget that the entire enterprise of government at all levels in Nigeria is funded by more than 80% from the resources of the region. As new regional development commissions are launched in the North, and a plan to throw the country into further debt of $30 billion are put into motion, we must all remember that the funding for these come from the Niger Delta.

So, the invitees to the government’s November 1 meeting must remember that they are there because they come from the Niger Delta and they must act as emissaries of the region first and foremost. They must remember that they are there for their ethnic nationality, their states, their communities, their region, their people.

The invitees must go there as the people who come from the region feeding the nation, and not as beggars or slaves beholden to the oppressors of their people.

We the people of the Niger Delta region will not accept anything less than OWNERSHIP, RESTRUCTURING, and REFERENDUM on the question of SELF DETERMINATION.Our call for justice and equity is not about individuals or political parties, it is about all our peoples and the future of our generations to come.

I remain a proud Niger Delta daughter and servant, of Ijaw ethnic nation, from Kalabari Clan, in Nigeria whose priority is and will remain the defence and protection of our rights to be who God has called us to be and will remain what we want to be, unconquered and peace loving.

Annkio Briggs is a daughter, servant, and respected leader of the Niger Delta. She is a leading voice in the struggle for human rights and environmental justice in the oil-rich region. Connect with her on Facebook. 

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