The tension that enveloped Nigeria’s political space with a November 1 deadline issued the Federal Government by Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) to implement its 16-point agenda for the Niger Delta region may have eased with a lifting of the deadline on Thursday night.
This followed the much-anticipated meeting between Acting President Yemi Osinbajo and PANDEF, led by Chief Edwin Clark, behind closed doors inside the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
It was leant that PANDEF at the meeting promised to withdraw its ultimatum to back out of the peace talks with the Federal Government.
In a tweet announcing the end and outcome of the meeting via his Twitter handle, Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the Acting President, Laolu Akande, said, “AgP Osinbajo concludes meeting with PANDEF, which now joins FG’s Interministerial group on the Buhari administration’s New Vision for NDelta.”
This meeting which followed sharp splits in the ranks of Niger Delta agitators, had in attendance, leaders and representatives from the Niger Delta and relevant ministers and heads of MDAs.
Despite this development, uncertainty remains still, as the prominent and influential groups which abandoned the coalition before the meeting retain their clear positions, which for some of them are deemed sacrosanct or in the very least, extremely difficult to cede ground on.
Recall that PANDEF had three days before the meeting, threatened to pull out of peace talks with the Federal Government if nothing was done to its 16-point agenda after November 1. But in a swift response, the Yemi Osinbajo-led presidency agreed to a meeting for Thursday, to address perceived agitations.
However, in what some political analysts speculate to be the result of high-level behind-the-scenes deployment of divide-and-rule soft power by the federal government to weaken the coalition and limit its bargaining capacity, PANDEF became embroiled in serious internal crisis following the issuance of the ultimatum.
Some of the region’s more prominent groups which were completely on the same page with PANDEF only days earlier, suddenly expressed lack of faith and withdrew their support for the Clark-led group, leaving PANDEF in a weaker state.
Among the groups were the foremost Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), and the Reformed Egbesu Assembly (REF).
While MEND picked offence with PANDEF’s ultimatum to the Federal Government, REF claimed that the Clark-led group could no longer be responsible for the people, having lost touch with actual happenings in the region.
It is the rather sudden volte-face of MEND, which had a major fallout with the President Goodluck Jonathan administration and famously endorsed then-candidate Buhari for president, that especially piqued the interest and suspicion of political observers that the move may not have been without a background government-dictated scheme considering the largely consistent non-fractious relationship between MEND and the Buhari administration.
What some analysts also found quite curious was the fact that MEND only thought it necessary to leave when the FG’s interest was placed under serious threat. Observers wondered why an understandable threat to the interest of a supposed adversary, which is consistent with such groups’ usual practice, could be MEND’s major deal breaker.
Also, other groups, many of them involving militants, argued that Clark and in his team were on their own unless they were meeting with Osinbajo to demand for referendum for Niger Delta Republic.
One of the groups, Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders (NDRC), said there was no need for peace talks any longer because it was not going to back out on its resolve to resume fresh attacks on oil installations by September 30.
For some of these groups insistent on securing fiscal federalism and secession, it is not clear how the federal government will deal with them.
The situation is also further complicated as their demands are coming at a time when groups in the South East and South West of the country were also vigorously clamouring for separation and fiscal federalism respectively.
It is in the light of this reality that many argue that regardless of the outcome of the now-depleted PANDEF’s meeting with the federal government, a great barrier to peace and compromise still remained.
While the meeting was ongoing, a statement issued by the spokesperson to Osinbajo, Akande, listed what he tagged, “a brief fact-sheet” on government efforts to better the lot of the oil-producing region.
In the ‘fact-sheet’, Akande listed seven things among which are, government’s commencement of the process of replacing illegal refineries in the region with modular ones, opening of the Maritime University at Okerenkoko in Gbaramatu Kingdom, Delta state, release of additional N35 billion to step up the Amnesty Programme in the Delta region, revamping of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to drive the creation of development and infrastructure projects in the region, setting aside an initial fund of $1 billion for the clean-up and environmental remediation of Ogoniland, the release of funds for the continuation of various sections of the East-West Road, and efforts to relocate operational headquarters of International Oil Companies to their states of operation.
Some will read this list of government’s Niger Delta achievement talking points as part of its strategic effort to assure PANDEF of its commitment to the region, as well as shape public narrative to its favour.
But it will be interesting to see how government will canvass the points on the list as its defence and strong counter-argument against charges of neglect, since these talking points have been in the public domain a long time, and yet could not prevent agitations from rising or stop relations with key actors in the region from degenerating.
Some analysts have observed that the so-called fact-sheet betrays the government’s delusion, and detachment from the essential issues of the growing agitations, mainly restructuring and the national question.
Ebere Ndukwu …
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