SHOWDOWN IN DELTA: Gov Okowa, PANDEF disagree over oil communities’ agitation

Okowa, PANDEF

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South

SHORTLY after a seemingly cutting-edge consultation between Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, Minister of Petroleum (State), Chief Timipre Sylva and Deputy Governor of Delta State, Deacon Kingsley Otuaro, July 29, at Abuja, over renewed agitations and threats by oil and gas-bearing communities of Ijaw, Itsekiri, Urhobo, Isoko, Ndokwa ethnic nationalities in Delta State, protesting under development and marginalisation, to shut down oil facilities in their domains, many were optimistic of a quick resolution.

Deacon Otuaro came with the glimmering hope, as he said the Federal Government was prepared to dialogue with the angry communities and urged them to wait until after the Id el Kabir holiday for discourse. The holiday ended July 31 and the succeeding month, August, ends tomorrow (Monday) with no word from the Federal Government.

Otuaro’s diplomacy

With inescapable internal grumblings, Otuaro, a conflict resolution expert, pleaded with the communities, penultimate Sunday to show “little more patience”, as the federal government was putting in place mechanism to ensure a “result-oriented dialogue.”

In a statement by his Media Adviser, Mr. Kosin Bulou, he said: ”First, the Federal Government has clearly stated it would not allow the ongoing agitations to escalate into bigger problems. That was the take of the Abuja meeting I was invited to.”

“So, representatives of the oil communities will be invited and discussions will hold in stages for the mutual benefit of all stakeholders.

“Only last week, the federal government sought information from the Delta State government that will assist the process, while giving indication it was putting together its relevant ministries, departments and agencies that will be part of the engagement”.

“So, I assure that our wait will not be long or endless. Like I have said before, a result-oriented dialogue is a process, not an event and preparations for same have begun. If I was not myself convinced, I would not sustain my appeals to the communities.

ALSO READ: Niger Delta agitation: Osinbajo, Sylva, Otuaro meet in Aso Rock

Your intents tactless, treachery — Clark

However, few days after Otuaro and Sylva conferred with Osinbajo and before the deputy governor’s plea for more patience, Leader, South-South, and former Federal Commissioner for Information, Senator Edwin Clark, questioned the reason for what he described as a “closed-door meeting”of the trio.

His words: “The action, whatever the intentions were, is not only thoughtless, but is also a betrayal of trust to say the least, and likely to stir up unnecessary tension in the region. This again shows the creepy attitude of this administration, and its practice of exclusion, and non-committal to issues of the Niger Delta.

“Majority of the laudable pronouncements and promises made by the Acting President during his visit to the region, and subsequent engagements with the flagship, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), have remained, largely, mere wishful assertions.

“Instead of the Vice President reverting to the leadership of PANDEF, he now holds meeting with the Minister of State(Petroleum), Timipre Sylva and the Deputy Governor of Delta State, Kingsley Otuaro to the exclusion of the leaders with whom he has been working,” he said.

Disquiet

Back in 2016, November 1 precisely, PANDEF, Clark led monarchs, leaders and stakeholders from all parts of Niger Delta to President Muhammadu Buhari, and submitted a16-point demand by the Niger-Delta region, but almost four years after, the federal government has practically abandoned discussions with the group. PANDEF demands encompass key regional demands, but not the specifics from separate oil communities.

Attack

However, the misapprehension rocketed, Wednesday, when the national chairman of PANDEF and former Military Administrator of Akwa Ibom State, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (retd.), took a potshot at Otuaro’s boss, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State.

Tactically asking Niger Delta governors not to allow Federal Government to use them to truncate genuine agitations of oil-producing communities and ethnic nationalities, Nkanga proceeded at a virtual meeting of stakeholders of the region to tell off Okowa.

National Publicity, PANDEF, Hon. Ken Robinson, in a statement, quoted him thus:   “The call became necessary following the disturbing way and manner the Delta State government has been conducting itself over recent developments in the state – where some oil-producing communities and groups, i.e Ijaws of Gbaramatu and Ogulagha, Itsekiris, Urhobos, Ukwuanis, Isokos, and Ndokwas, issued ultimatums and threats to disrupt oil and gas operations in their areas, due to federal government’s continued indifference towards the development of the region.”

Nothing yet from Delta govt intervention – Gbenekama

Spokesman of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Warri South-West Local Government, which is one of the agitating oil communities, Chief Godspower Gbenekama: “After PANDEF visit to Buhari in November 2016, what has happened to Niger Delta, nothing substantial has virtually happened in areas PANDEF wanted Federal Government to come in, is it in the area of infrastructure, education, name it? That is not to say, however, hat PANDEF is not doing its best.

“But PANDEF should also know that there are some specific needs of the people that they can tell the rnment that this is the particular thing they want in their area despite the fact that it had articulated the needs of the region,” a founding member of the regional group asserted.

“On the intervention of Delta State government in our protest, a responsible state government would not allow the agitating oil communities to go asunder or shut down oil facilities as threatened without any intervention, but we are right now not satisfied with the intervention of the state government,” he said.

…nobody arm twisting us

Gbenekama, nevertheless, clarified: “Sincerely and in fact, when they (state government) came to us, we told them that if you bring the federal government to the table, we will listen to you, but that the state government’s intervention is stopping us from continuing with our agitation is not true. We are looking at some of the issues and other internal dynamics before us. We know what we are doing,” he said.

We have no grouse with PANDEF – Otuaro

But in a sharp reaction to the allegation of Okowa subduing agitation by the communities, deputy governor, Otuaro, told Sunday Vanguard: “Senator Ifeanyi Okowa government is a people-oriented government that holds very strongly to the phenomenon of dialogue and anything that affects our people.

“We are not antithetical to anybody raising his voice on matters that affect us, but we think that we can have a win-win situation in creating a platform for our people to dialogue with the Federal Government on their concerns.

“We respect the leadership of PANDEF because it constitutes of critical stakeholders of Niger Delta and they are senior citizens of this region. We have no problem whatsoever with PANDEF.

“But like I said, we felt that given the way the agitation was going, we have to dialogue with the federal government. This is the position of the Okowa-led government of the state,” he added.

VANGUARD

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