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Niger Delta leaders draw the battle line



Eniola Olayemi


Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, the umbrella body of traditional rulers, elders, leaders, and stakeholders of coastal states of Niger-Delta, has laid down the irreducible conditions any political party and its presidential candidate must attain, get the support of the people of the oil-rich region in the 2019 general elections.

The group, which converged on Uyo, capital of Akwa Ibom state, last weekend, for a consultative parley on core issues affecting the region and way forward, reviewed the current happenings in the region, policies, and actions of the Federal Government and gave no standing ovation to President Muhammadu Buhari.

Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, seems to be on top of the situation with his unwavering stand on restructuring, a key stipulation of the regional body, which is working in tandem with other regional groups across the country.

In fact, Abubakar sent his running mate, Dr. Peter Obi, to answer more questions from the group on his stand on restructuring and timelines for specific actions. The group had earlier called on presidential candidates of all the parties to address it on the subject matter, but on the face of it, Abubakar is the one that surmounted the preliminary hurdle.

The group in a communiqué issued at the end of PANDEF/South-South Stakeholders summit, Uyo, said it would “support only parties and candidates that align with the call for restructuring of the country, and that such political parties  and candidates must  affirm  to  an irrevocable agreement with the people of the Niger  Delta  before December 31, 2018.”

Former Federal Information Commissioner and National leader of PANDEF, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, whose address was read by Deputy National Chairman, PANDEF, Chief Francis Doukpola, asserted, “We, the people of Niger Delta have continued to emphasize on the need for restructuring.   Our country cannot continue this way. As was the dream of our founding fathers, we must have a functional federation. We must practice devolution of power, fiscal federalism, and resource control. This is only what will make the country more united and peaceful.”

PANDEF chair, Otuekong Nkanga, who shed more light, said, “We, therefore, reaffirm our earlier position that we, the people of South-South zone, and indeed the Niger Delta, demand restructuring and 100 percent resource control.”

He emphasized that “restructuring timetable and timelines must be agreed in advance of the elections.”  The former military government warned that the region would not vote for any candidate that was not supporting restructuring, noting that the Forum was working in tandem with other regional bodies to ensure that the best for the country.

However, PANDEF Secretary, Dr. Alfred Mulade, clarified that the group had not endorsed any candidate, saying the regional group threw open the door in the build-up to the primaries the door for all the presidential aspirants to meet with it. He added that while a few of them showed up and members asked critical questions, others did not.

Regarding the 2019 general elections, PANDEF    warned that the people of the region will “vehemently resist” any attempt to make use of “federal might” to subvert the will of the Niger Delta people in the 2019 general elections.

It urged “Governors of the South-South zone not to be distracted by the antics of enemies of the zone as the people are resolute with them,” emphasizing “the firm resolve of the peoples of South-South region to  resist  any act of intimidation and aggression against the governments and the people, or  any attempt to make us slaves in a country that has been built with our resources and sweat.”

In a communiqué signed by Nkanga and others, “PANDEF calls on  the public  and the International Community  to hold theFederal Government, Inspector  General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris and the Commissioner of Police, Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Musa Kimo responsible for  any breach of peace in Akwa Ibom state, and other states in the South-South Zone.”

It admonished security agencies in the country “to refrain from all partisan acts and focus on their primary roles of defending the territorial integrity of the country, and securing the lives and property of all Nigerians.”