The PANDEF challenge and the 16-Point Agenda
In the wake of the ceaseless and ruinous attacks on national oil and gas assets by the numerous Niger Delta armed groups, the Ag President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo had embarked on whistle statesmanship during which he visited the various states in the region to affirm the federal government’s commitment to dialogue to resolve all thorny issues militating against peaceful and prosperous life among the people. Arising from that, the various Niger Delta groups decided to consolidate into one platform that represents all shades of opinion and sit at the table with one voice to negotiate for a better life with the federal government. Hence, they formed the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) for this purpose and drew up a 16-point agenda they want the federal government to implement.
Well, the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) is in the news again. Last week, the Forum, coordinated by the former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, issued an ultimatum to the federal government to wit: “If at the expiration of November 1, 2017, ultimatum, the federal government either fails or refuses to accede to these lawful and legitimate demands of the Niger Delta people, PANDEF may consider pulling out of the peace process in the Niger Delta.” At about the same time, yet another mushroom group, the Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders (NDRC) handed out a threat to resume the destruction of national oil and gas assets, claiming that “resource control, fiscal federalism and devolution of powers are the only panacea” to our national problems.
From all indications, PANDEF will continue to have problems with its sponsors if it ever imagines that this government will implement its superfluous 16-point agenda any time soon. PANDEF’s heavily loaded agenda includes some matters as simple as the continuation of the Presidential amnesty and the institutionalization of such lifetime thing as fiscal federalism. In between, PANDEF wants the federal government to ensure the immediate take off of the Nigeria Maritime University in Okerenkoko which land the Jonathan government bought from Government Epkemupolo alias Tompolo for billions of Naira; the erection of a deep seaport in Gbaramantu; the demilitarisation of Niger Delta; the resumption of the establishment of Export Processing Zone comprising of Gas City project at Ogidigben (recall that Goodluck Jonathan flagged off the project after three false starts owing to Tompolo’s statement that he couldn’t guarantee the President’s security); progress in Ogoni clean up and environmental remediation; inclusive participation (of Niger Delta people) in oil industry and ownership of oil blocks; building regional infrastructure; regular power supply; restructuring and funding of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC); enforcement of law/justice; security surveillance and protection of oil and gas infrastructure; amelioration of the plight of internally displaced persons; economic development and empowerment of the people of Niger Delta and resettlement of Bakassi internally displaced people.
Of course, there was no such agenda when Dr Goodluck Jonathan was the President, these demands only cropped up when, contrary to all expectations, Muhammadu Buhari floored Jonathan in the 2015 election. Neither were the actors different; actually, Edwin Clark was President Jonathan’s well known Godfather, but instead of delivering prosperity to the people of Niger Delta, he cornered it for himself. Chief Osita Okechukwu, the Director General of the Voice of Nigeria, was one of the numerous Nigerians miffed by the ultimatum that Chief Clark issued Nigeria. According to Okechukwu, Chief Clark “started building a university, married a new wife and was enjoying himself without showing seriousness in matters affecting the region (Niger Delta) and its people.” Yet, Clark is now fully back as the lead negotiator for a good deal for the people of his region.
Chief Clark’s coordination of PANDEF, among other things, affords him the opportunity to blame the North for his people’s misfortune. Instead of confining himself to their 16-point agenda, Clark returned with an acerbic punch aimed at Northern Nigeria. Hear him: “Suddenly, the word ‘Restructuring’ has become a pain in the ears of a few champions of wicked hegemony. All we are saying, let us go back to the negotiated 1960 Independence Constitution…. anything else is most obnoxious and totally unacceptable to the people of the entire Southern Nigeria and Middle Belt areas of Nigeria.” Does PANDEF now include Middle Belt? Is PANDEF now a platform for entire Southern Nigeria?
Continuing his lamentations, Clark decided to drop off the gloves and went straight for his adversaries: “You can therefore understand why some Northern elements are constantly opposed to any increase in the derivation formula of 13 per cent…..it is on record that during the 2014 national conference, prominent Northern delegates, again, opposed the increase of derivation revenue from 13 per cent to 25 per cent…..some Northern delegates were opposed to it because Kano and Kaduna were not included.
Evidently, some of the items on the 16-point agenda are resolvable in the short term, while others will take a longer time to address. Chief Clark and his associates need to overcome their cynicism, they need to sign off from political attacks on other people and, instead, go into earnest negotiation with the federal government regarding their demands. Every patriotic Nigerian is desirous of a peaceful and prosperous life that may result from a negotiated solution to the problems in Niger Delta. However, to achieve this, Chief Clark should put his personal interest aside, stop issuing meaningless ultimatums, quit the blame game and face his 16-point agenda squarely. There is no need for continuing bluster, we all have a stake in the country and want it to work for everyone.