NOVEMBER 13, 2016 – It is no longer news that federal government’s dialogue with Niger Delta Militants failed as the Nigerian army deployed troops to the region.
The blame game is in full swing as Former Minister of Information Chief Edwin Clark blame dissenting militant groups for the latest development.
The Newtelegraph reported that Former Minister of Information and Leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum ( PANDEF), Chief Edwin Clark, has blamed the latest deployment of troops to the Niger Delta by the Nigeria Army on the threats issued by some dissenting militant groups in the region.
The elder-statesman, who spoke exclusively to Sunday Telegraph on latest developments in the oil rich region, said the threat by some groups to reduce oil production level to a paltry 500, 000 barrels per day must have compelled the Federal Government to deploy troops to safeguard its investments and forestall any breakdown of law and order.
A factional militia group, the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate, had, over the weekend, declared its preparedness to engage the Federal Government in a total war. The group was angry over what they tagged the humiliation that came with the meeting of the PANDEF with President Muhammadu Buhari, last week.
The group expressed displeasure that the dialogue stamped humiliation on the collective image of the Niger Delta. According to the militia group, the representatives of the people of the region at the meeting were not carefully selected by the various people and ethnic nationalities constituting the region but were cabals responsible for the current deplorable state of the region and its people.
Apparently miffed by the threat to resume bombing of oil installation, the Federal Government deployed more troops to the region, an action that has sparked off apprehension and condemnation from stakeholders in the region. Clark, however, appealed for calm, saying PANDEF had waded into the matter and received assurances from the Federal Government that the troops were not deployed as an army of occupation to harass the inhabitants of the oil bearing communities.
According to him, the soldiers were under instruction to patrol the area and conduct surveillance around strategic oil and gas installations. “Will any responsible government sit down with arms folded when there has been threats? Your fathers, your brothers have just gone and returned from a meeting with the Federal Government; you’ve not heard from them and you are bombing oil facilities. I think that they cannot eat their cake and have it.
“However, we’ve taken up the matter with the Federal Government and they have explained that what they are doing there is a mere surveillance operation. It is a mere presence of the troops in the creeks. The troops are not down; they are in houseboats patrolling the waterways.
They are not in anybody’s village. The two boys that were allegedly arrested have been released. So there is no cause for alarm. If you threaten the government that we are going to bomb all your pipelines, the government is bound to react. But we have intervened, “ he said.
Clark who dismissed the allegations that his delegation to the pre- dialogue meeting was not representative of the various groups in the Niger Delta, argued that PANDEF tried its best to accommodate every group including those who joined late.
He disclosed that besides traditional rulers drawn from all parts of the region, the delegation and opinion leaders made up of former governors, former members of the National Assembly, professionals, former ministers, representatives of youth and women groups as well as representatives of trade unions.
He said that the criticisms and condemnations were expected because of the diversity in the region and the fact that even the groups have not bothered to check and ascertain if they had a representative amongst the over 100 persons who attended the presidential parley.
Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, said the meeting between the Federal Government and leaders of the Niger Delta was an open- minded meeting and not a negotiation. According to him, it was a meeting designed for both parties to exchange views on how to go about the negotiation plans.
He said that given the number of persons who we’re in attendance, it would not have been possible to negotiate with over 80 people at the same time.
Apparently not impressed with the threats of violence that came a few hours after the meeting, Kachikwu, who was on a television programme monitored in Abuja, said it was not right to adopt threat as a means to getting government to take any action. The Federal Government, he said, had a responsibility to protect its citizens and assets in the Niger Delta.
It is not an issue of if you don’t do this, I do this. The government has a responsibility to protect its environment, protect its citizens and protect its assets and it will never give up on that responsibility. Obviously, I don’t think that going to war is the best way to do it.
Talking is the best way to do it but the government has a responsibility to provide security and I don’t think that it is a question of if you don’t do this fast, we are going to go back and start. I think we should just drop militancy as a tool for progressing the things that we push.