NOVEMBER 21, 2016 – Whatever hopes were raised by the peace parley between the Presidency led by President Muhammadu Buhari and the stakeholders of the Niger Delta Region under the aegis of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, seem to be disappearing by the day. Not only are new groups emerging to make new demands, there is infighting among the different groups claiming to represent the interest of the region. Some of them accuse the PANDEF of not being representative of peoples of the region while the others accuse Clark of pursuing a selfish agenda.
The first signs of trouble emerged barely 24 hours after the Tuesday, November I, meeting in Abuja when militants who had hitherto ceased fire blew up the Trans Forcado Pipeline. This attack was however linked to the deployment of soldiers to the region shortly after the parley.
However, military authorities quickly explained the deployment as routine.
However while efforts were being made to mend whatever cracks were appearing over the peace deal, another attack was carried out on Tuesday, November 15 by the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA. It was exactly two weeks after the peace meeting in Abuja. The attacks brought down three trunklines in Nembe, Bayelsa State.
The trunklines have the capacity to supply 300,000 barrels of crude per day. The NDA later issued a statement claiming the attack was in response to ongoing naval exercises in the region.
According to the NDA’S spokesperson, Mudoch Aginibo:
The attack “is in response to the so-called ‘Operation Sharkbite’ an act of terrorism inaugurated by the tyranny of the Nigerian Navy establishment and orchestrated by some elements of the ruling political class to continuously undermine any effort by the Nigerian state to addressing the legitimate demands of the Niger Delta and a conspiracy to bloat the accounts of some security contractors and conflict merchants within the party structure of the APC.”.
Clark had the previous Friday condemned the renewed attacks on oil facilities, describing the avengers as “criminals and enemies of the region”.
Rising from an emergency meeting of PANDEF at Clark’s Warri home on Saturday, November 12, 2016, the group affirmed that the recent spate of bombings had no justification whatsoever, adding that such an unprovoked anger against national assets could not receive the support of the group.
According to PANDEF, blowing up the Trans Forcados crude oil pipeline less than 24 hours after the group’s meeting with the federal government was clearly an affront and a disregard for the dialogue process which was already on course.
While acknowledging that most of the militants had embraced the path of dialogue and negotiation already put in place, they however regretted that there were still a handful of new militant groups who have chosen the path of hostility rather than joining the dialogue and peace process, noting that their activities were motivated by selfish interest. PANDEF therefore urged the new militant groups to key into the dialogue process in the interest of peace and development of the Niger Delta region, adding that at the end of the day, it is the innocent Niger Delta citizens who will suffer the consequences of a possible reprisal by the military.
“It should be placed on record that arising from the August 19, 2016 stakeholders’ meeting at Effurun, Delta State, all agitating youths promptly declared a 60-day unilateral ceasefire, in deference to the patriotic position of the monarchs, leaders and stakeholders of the region which has subsisted till today”, Chief Clark recalled at the meeting.
Three different militant groups in the region however attacked the statesman over his comments.
The groups, the Reformed Egbesu Boys of the Niger Delta, REBND, the Niger Delta Sea Dogs, NDSD and the Niger Delta Sea Commandos, NDSC, which hitherto subscribed to the peace move being spearheaded by PANDEF, renounced its support for PANDEF.
They have consequently aligned themselves with the adamant, Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate, NDGJM, that had consistently referred to Chief Clark-led group as selfish and self-seeking individuals who do not have the interest of the region at heart.
Meanwhile, the Niger Delta Peoples Congress, NDPC, has also forwarded its demands to the Federal Government for peace in the region.
The group, led by King Alfred Diete Spiff, the Amanayabo of Twon Brass, Bayelsa State, met behind closed doors with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, on Tuesday at the Presidential Villa.
The group, among others, demanded the release of all ethnic agitators in custody as well as the creation of 6,000 jobs from the major oil companies in the zone and full demilitarization of Niger Delta villages.
According to the group, “This delegation is not only to re-affirm the plausible submissions made earlier but to also prioritize these concerns and place them in clearer perspectives. This is premised on our objective assessment of the anxieties, sentiments and myriads of reactions from the key drivers and players in the crises across and outside the region that immediately trailed the meetings…”
True federalism with the different units annexing and controlling their resources and paying appropriate and agreed tax to the centre were among its demands.
However, in a chat with The New Diplomat, Professor GG Darah, a member of the PANDEF gave words of hope amidst the growing anxiety:
“For every prolonged conflict such as we have in the Niger Delta, it is always a long walk to final peace as Nelson Mandela admonished in his autobiography. The apartheid in South Africa took 19 years to negotiate in Norway. Darfur peace talks in Sudan lasted five years. The Irish Republican Army continued bombing and sabotage while they held peace accord with the UK government. PANDEF is optimistic about final peace deal. Let the media also appeal to the bombers.”
Words of wisdom amidst the spectre of continued violence.
The military’s response has however been tough to decipher: “Let the politicians do their talking, we will keep doing ours.”