…As NDA demands end to military campaign
02 November 2016, Sweetcrude, Abuja – The meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and Niger Delta Stakeholders supposedly held at the State House’s Banquet Hall.
However, militants were conspicuously absent at the meeting which is aimed at resolving the seemingly intractable crisis in the oil rich region.
In attendance are the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo and governors of Delta, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa States.
Ministers who are from Niger Delta, as well as service chiefs and the Inspector General of Police are also attending the meeting.
Traditional rulers and members of the Civil Society groups from the Niger Delta are also in attendance.
President Muhammadu Buhari had scheduled to meet Niger Delta stakeholders with a view to ending the militancy in the region which has led to a sharp decline in Nigeria’s oil revenue.
Those expected at the meeting include all the governors, ministers and other political appointees from the Niger Delta region as well as traditional rulers and representatives of militant groups.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, confirmed yesterday that the meeting would hold today at 12.00 noon. He, however, declined comment on issues President Buhari is likely to present before the region’s stakeholders.
President Buhari is ex[ected to present a package for peace in the region which includes additional N35billon for the ongoing Amnesty Programme. A virement request to that effect is now awaiting the approval of the National Assembly.
However, there had been reports of disagreements over the choice of representatives and a $10 billion infrastructural development fund for the region launched by the government.
An Ijaw elder, Chief Anabs Sara Igbe, revealed to journalists yesterday that the scheduled meeting will open doors for the much expected dialogue with leaders of the region.
Chief Sara Igbe, who is a delegate expected to take part in the meeting, said it would be the first official engagement between the people of Niger Delta and the president. He added that it would create an opportunity for the region to make submissions on issues that border on the economic and human capital development, as well as security and restoration of peace in the region.
He said the discussion with the president would focus on socio-economic development of the region as well as building a strong synergy with multinational oil companies operating in the area.
“We will also look into fiscal federalism and security of Niger Delta. We will look at a way of building a synergy between the oil companies and the people of the region so as to bring a lasting peace. We will also harp on the on-going war against corruption. We are not against the fight against corruption but we want it to done within the ambit of the law,” he said.
Other Niger Delta leaders expected at the meeting include Chief Edwin Clark, Chief Alfred Diete Spiff, Chief Judith Asune and Eradiri Udengs, the IYC President.
The Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, had last week said the president called for the meeting with some stakeholders from the region as part of efforts to end insurgency in the restive region.
Kachikwu, while launching a roadmap for the oil sector, had announced a $10bn infrastructure development fund being planned for the oil-rich region.
But leaders and stakeholders of the Niger Delta have rejected the planned fund, arguing that they were not consulted before the decision was taken.
Kachikwu yesterday also acknowledged there were already cracks, “We are having our first meeting, which is already becoming very contentious.
“We were encouraged to continue to engage, despite these misunderstandings. I am personally committed to ensuring a very robust engagement with every stakeholder in the region to ensure the sense of inclusion.” he said in a speech he delivered at the 2016 Nigerian Gas Association (NGA) annual conference and exhibition in Abuja on Monday.
Leaders and representative of groups from the region said they will keep sealed lips until after the meeting today.
“We have been told not to say anything until we have met with the president,” Chief Godspower Gbenakama, spokesman for Gbaramatu Kingdom, told reporters, adding that it was not unusual for disagreements because the “Niger Delta is a big place, there is always issues about who is going to represent where.”
Traditional rulers and stakeholders from the region had at a maiden meeting in Abuja with the minister in August listed the cessation of hostilities by the military around the region, reopening of the Maritime University and release of individuals arrested on trumped up charges, among others as conditions for the return to lasting peace in the region.
They also called on the Federal Government to urgently constitute a dialogue to negotiate on its behalf with stakeholders in the Niger Delta region.
The Niger Delta has been rocked by intermittent attacks by militant groups since February, leading to cut in Nigeria’s oil output far below what is proposed in the 2016 budget. This is even as oil price has remained low at the international market.
In the first eight months, supply disruptions significantly affected the country’s oil exports as four of the nation’s five largest crude export streams were totally suspended.
Nigeria lost over $7bn (around N2 trillion) to militancy and pipeline vandalism since the beginning of the year, according to Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Maikanti Baru at the weekend.
He added that “60 per cent of oil production lost is NNPC-FGN equity. At an estimated price of $45 per barrel, the total 2016 revenue loss to the Federation Account translates to about $7 billion.”
President Buhari had during the launch of the Nigeria Oil and Gas Industry Roadmap tagged “The 7 Big Wins” at the Presidential Villa, said “The golden era of high oil prices may not be here now, but oil and gas resources still remain the most immediate and practical keys out of our present economic crisis.
“Oil and gas still remain a critical enabler for the successful implementation of our budget as well as the source of funds for laying a strong foundation for a new and more diversified economy.”
Meanwhile, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) threatened yesterday to step up attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta if the president pursues a military campaign.
The threat cast a shadow over peace talks between the government and groups due to start on today.
The Nigerian military had declared war against militants threatening the peace of region with the launch of operation Crocodile Smile which is aimed at getting rid of all forms of criminal activities in the region.
But in a written response to Reuters questions, Mudoch Agbinibo, spokesman for the NDA, said the group was “determined to gradually grind the flow of our oil” if Buhari’s administration opted to continue its military campaign in the region.
Agbinibo said President Muhammadu Buhari must “come down from his iron-horse of ethnic and religious bigotry.”
Any plan of the Nigerian government thinking of exploiting the resources of the Niger Delta to fund government without our genuine involvement will be a very tall dream,” said the spokesman.
The NDA spokesman said the group was a “liberation movement, poised towards the control of our resources” that would “pay appropriate tax to the central government.”