Niger Delta Leaders Split Over Federal Government’s Demands

Leaders of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, a coalition of monarchs, leaders and stakeholders of the coastal states of the Niger Delta region, led by former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark, were dumbfounded, Tuesday, by the action of the co-chairman of the forum’s Central Working Committee, CWC, His Royal Majesty, King Alfred Diete-Spiff, who led a separate group to make fresh demands on the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, in Abuja.

Chief Clark nominated HRM Diete-Spiff, the Amanayabo of Twon-Brass in Bayelsa State to read PANDEF’s 16-point demand when the leaders met President Muhammadu Buhari on November 1 in Abuja and due to his position as co-chairman, questions are being asked on his new group, Niger Delta People’s Congress, NDPC. Head of Media, NDPC and PANDEF member, Mr. Hendrik Opukeme, however, told Vanguard that there was no cause for alarm, as there was no rift between PANDEF and the new group.

According to him: “Not necessarily a split, but key issues from the agitators were not adequately presented. Secondly, most of their representatives were shut out by PANDEF. Rather, expired persons and government apologists took over PANDEF.”

Many PANDEF leaders approached by Vanguard yesterday, kept sealed lips on the matter with some describing it as disgusting, pointing out that leaders of the forum were not in the know of the new group.

One of them said: “PANDEF is going to meet over it and a general decision will be taken. It is not a case of asking me my personal opinion of what HRM Diete-Spiff did. We have to meet and find out why something like this happened and issue a formal statement.”

Another said: “The truth is that after the PANDEF meeting, some part of Niger Delta and some civil society groups felt not properly carried along in the scheme of things, hence this meeting with the Vice President.”

A source, who attended the Tuesday meeting of NDPC with Prof Osinbajo said: “The conveners of NPDC, I must confess, are not comfortable with PANDEF leadership, hence they went through King Diete Spiff. Though I am not too comfortable with the conveners, I had to attend because my people insisted. That is why I do not want to make comment openly for now, but at the appropriate time, I will speak my mind.”

No need for a counter group

Reacting to the confusion, the Niger Delta Security Watch Organization of Nigeria, NDSWON, in a statement by its president, Dickson Bekederimo, said: “The fresh demands made by NDPC, led by the Amanyanabo of Twon Brass, appear to have modified the16-point demand of PANDEF. The new group that presented a modified version of the 16-point demand paraded persons from PANDEF. While l commend the submission of the modified version of the 16-point demand, which specifically touched the core issues that always trigger agitation in the region, l am, however, disturbed by the attempt to pluralize the region by the constitution of another group. Where it becomes necessary to modify the 16-point demand, it is my belief that such modification and submission of modified list ought to be routed through PANDEF.

PANDEF is umbrella body 

PANDEF member, Mr. Tony Uranta, asserted: “In our efforts to address the myriad of challenges besetting the Niger Delta, there had been numerous bodies and groupings in existence well before the wise creation of PANDEF as an umbrella entity representing the entire region as a whole. PANDEF is the supreme body of the Niger Delta, but, aware that PANDEF is in infancy and respectful of the rights of people to associate and speak freely, PANDEF’s recent general assembly agreed that special-interest bodies like Traditional Rulers of Oil Producing Communities, TROMPCON and Host Oil Producing Communities of Nigeria, HOSTCOM could continue actions and advocacy they had long been committed to.

NPDC fresh demands in order

The Ijaw People Development Initiative, IPDI, nevertheless, endorsed the presentation by NDPC, saying: “It is in tandem with the yearnings of Niger Delta region.” In a statement by the national president, Austin Ozobo, the group said: “We wish to say that the demands presented to the Vice President were the core demands of Niger Delta, which were omitted by PANDEF.”

A divided house can’t stand

Commenting on the development, Director of Centre for Environmental Human Rights and Development, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Dr. Nenibarini Zabbey, said: “There is need for the leaders of Niger Delta to put their house in order. There is total disunity among them and it is bad. They should form a united front and properly articulate their points. From the way they are going, it shows that the points are not well articulated.”

Bille leader carpets FG

“Chief Igbamibo Kemuel, a leader of the Community Development Committee, CDC, Bille Kingdom, said: “For the Vice President to accept the visit of Diete-Spiff when the President himself had received PANDEF shows that the federal government is not interested in the development of Niger Delta.”

Youth unhappy with elders

Meanwhile, leader of Nigerian Youth Organization, NYO, in Rivers State, Comrade Goodnews Amadi, said:    “Youths of the region are not happy with what is happening between the presidency and the leaders of Niger Delta. The leaders of this region are the people destroying this Niger Delta.   They are using these different factions to cause more problems. The two parties are not considering the place of youths in this quest.   They cannot get call for a meeting of the region and the youths are not represented. This shows total disunity. Alagoa Morris, Niger Delta activist, said:  “I am not surprised for two reasons. Firstly, a lot of criticism trailed the first set of demands and, youths were also expressing displeasure for not being carried along. Secondly, I am not surprised because this is confirming that the people of the Niger Delta have spent more time in complaining and shouting than articulating issues in unison.”

Mr. Eric Omare, spokesman, Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) worldwide, told Vanguard:  “Firstly, it is unfortunate that a group of people that went to the vice president were also present at the meeting of the Niger Delta leaders with the President to present the 16 -point demands.”