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Panel - Niger Delta Needs Collective Action

Niger Delta Needs Collective Action, Presidential Panel


by Akanimo Sampson,
Port Harcourt

CHAIRMAN of the presidential peace panel-the Niger Delta Peace and Conflict Resolution Committee, NDPCRC, Senator David Brigidi, says bringing speedy socio-economic, political and environmental justice to Nigeria's oil and gas region, requires a very urgent and collective action.

Brigidi was speaking at a closed door meeting in the creeks of Bayelsa State with leaders of the armed youths who are locked in confrontation with the Nigerian state over what they described as ''decades of neglect and untold hardship''.

According to him, ''we have reach a point where all hands must be on deck to move the Niger Delta forward. No one group or sector of society can do it alone. We need the political will of government, community support, prayers from religious bodies, and cooperation of the aggrieved armed youths''.

The presidential peace panel which has so far visited camps in Bayelsa, Edo, and Ondo states, is pushing for at least, a 12-month ceasefire deal with the armed youths who preferred to labelled as ''freedom fighters''. Although the armed youths seem to have agreed in principle for the deal, they are also putting up some seeming fundamental pre-conditions.

Besides their agitation for a general arnnesty, immediate commencement of development projects in the oil region based on the masterplan, release of Henry Okah (Jomo Gbomo) as well as job and skill acquisition opportunities for the Niger Delta youths, their demands also include the control of the resources of the region, by its people.

While pleading with them to join hands with the NDPCRC to usher in a new era of poeace and rapid development in the area, Brigidi, hoever, acknowledged that militant action has, once again, helped bring attention to the ''deplorable'' conditions of existence in the Niger Delta.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, which appears to be the radical of the armed groups, is of the view that the deprivation and poverty suffered by the peoples of the Niger Delta and in other parts of the country cannot be resolved on the basis of capitalism in a neo-colonial economy like Nigeria held "hostage" by imperialism.

Brigidi who was accompanied by John Amadi, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, ACP, his State Security Service, SSS, counterrpart, Duke Fubara, and Kingsley Kuku, the Committee Secretary to the meeting, said, "we are all comrades in the same struggles… so nobody can claim to be a better Niger Deltan than anyone of us. Having said that i must also point out that we are proud of you all for drawing attention to the plight of our people. We are here to plead with you to lay down your arms to enable the authorities redress the issues you are raising''.

Before the Brigidi panel which came into being on July 2,this year, the government of Olusegun Obasanjo had inaugurated the Consolidated Council on Social and Economic Development of Coastal States of the Niger Delta. The Council, which had the president as the chairman and all the governors of the oil-producing states on board, had announced the creation of thousands of jobs including recruitment drive into the armed forces for the Niger Delta, among other things.

This was perhaps, targeted at absorbing the militant youths. But MEND rejected the plans saying that the government was trying to remedy 50 years of injustice with menial jobs. They said further that the offer did not address their demands for more local control of oil wealth. They therefore renewed their threat to continue oil installation attacks.

However, this is not the first time such measures have been announced. In 2001, a presidential committee, tagged the Special Security Committee on oil Producing Areas, headed by the then Chief of Army staff Lt. Gen. Alexander Ogomudia, made similar recommendations and till date nothing has been done in that regards.

It seems the crisis of the Niger Delta has become juggernaut for the Nigerian state. The neglect of the area by government and its plunder by the transnational oil and gas corporations have thrown up millions of able-bodied youths that are ready to take up arms against the government and oil companies in order to swim out of poverty. The situation has however become feast for the ruling elites. A World Bank report says a tiny 1% of the population amass 80% of the oil wealth of the country, condemning the rest 99% to scramble for 20%. Resolving the crisis would require sacrificing the huge profits of the multinationals and the greed of the Nigerian ruling elites. But this is not possible in a neo-colonial capitalist country.

Therefore, if the basic needs of life such as food, shelter, decent jobs, education, health care, electricity, water, among others. are to be guaranteed to the working masses and youths, not only of the Niger Delta but also of the entire country, perhaps, not just the security approach regime, but also the whole capitalist arrangement must be done away with. The task of overthrowing capitalism and reorganizing society and bringing the resources of society, e.g. oil under a public democratic management and control, is a task for the working masses themselves.

Meanwhile, when the meeting which lasted for some five hours rose, there were strong indications that the ''freedom fighters'' would play ball with the Brigidi panel. For those of MEND, freeing Henry Okah, and granting all militants amnesty will determine the way forward. For those of Edo and Ondo states, developing the Ijaw areas and giving them a sense of belonging is a ''must'' for lasting peace in the troubled oil region.

Commenting, Duke Fubara, a member of the presidential peace panel says what the people are asking for is doable. He did not give out much details. However, the committee scribe, Kingsley Kuku in his own comment said, ''there are clear signs that lasting peace is possible in the Niger Delta. We are still engaging them in dialogue. Thats all i can say for now''.

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