THE Ijaw leader and a former Information Minister, Chief Edwin Clark, is to lead negotiation with the Federal government on behalf of Avengers and other militant groups in the Niger Delta region to find lasting solutions to the perennial crisis in the region.
Accordingly, all the various groups and initiatives which have been working to achieve peace and stability in the Niger Delta since the escalation of renewed militancy in the region have collapsed into one umbrella of Pan Niger Delta Forum with Chief Edwin Clark as leader.
This was part of the resolutions of the expanded meeting of elders, leaders of thought, and representatives of various relevant stakeholders from the Niger Delta held on Friday night at the residence of Chief Edwin Clark, Asokoro Abuja.
The new Forum has also placed a demand on the Federal government to urgently set up its negotiation team that would engage this genuine leaders of the Niger Delt, mandated to speak for the various militant groups in the region.
The meeting had in attendance representatives of Government of Delta State, His Royal Majesty Alfred Diete Spiff; Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (Rtd), former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah; Justice F.F Tabai, retired Chief Justice of he Supreme Court; Professor Turner Isoun, and former Minister of Science and Technology.
Others present at the meeting include, Timi Alaibe; Alaowei Brodrick Bozimo, former Minister of Police Affairs; and several leaders of groups and ethnic nationalities in attendance.
Brigadier-General Paul Boroh (Retd), Coordinator of the Amnesty programme for the former Niger Delta militants was also in attendance.
Briefing newmen on the outcome of the about two-hour deliberations, a former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Chief Obong Victor Attah said the Convener of the meeting, Chief Edwin Clark is approaching 90 years, and “he feels the burden to make sure the Niger Delta he leaves is something our children and grand children will be proud of because we helped to engineer it”.
He said Clark called the meeting of the entire Niger Delta region which was fully represented. “We held a two-hour meeting and made certain decisions which are encapsulated in the communique”.
Attah, said the meeting noted that several groups out of concern for an interest in the Niger Delta have sprang up on efforts to right the wrongs of the Niger Delta and “this evening, we resolved and everybody agreed that the groups collapsed into one body, to be known as Pan Niger Delta Forum with Chief Edwin Clark as the leader.
He added that the meeting resolved to set up a working group that would work out the details and modalities of how the new formation would operate in the interest of the Niger Delta region.
The communique issued and signed by the Convener of the meeting Chief Edwin Clark and Co-Chairmen of the Central Working Committee, HRM King Alfred Diete-Spiff and Obong Victor Attah, at the end of the meeting indicated that they deliberated on current developments in the Niger Delta and agreed on several issues on how to resolve the crisis in the region.
The communique reads in part: “Commended various groups and initiatives which have been working to achieve pace and stability in the Niger Delta since the escalation of the renewed militancy in the region. These includes, the Pan Niger Delta Coastal State Consultative Forum, Niger Dialogue Contact Group, Initiative for Peace, Governance and Development, South-South Consolidated Forum, TROMPCON, and HOSTCOM.
“For all the various groups to work under the central umbrella of Pan Niger Delta Forum with Chief Edwin Clark as leader.
“The setting up of a central working committee taking into regard representation of states, ethnic nationalities, and special interests under the Chairmanship of Obong Victor Attah.
“The meeting also noted that the problems of the Niger Delta remain as follows: “Question of fairness, justice and equity, at the region remains largely unfairly treated and shortchanged on most national issues.
“Poor social infrastructural development and environmental degradation, poor funding of intervention agencies-Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Amnesty Office and Ministry of Niger Delta.
“With respect to the current insecurity in the region, the meeting noted as follows: “That the 60-day ceasefire declared by various agitating groups on the 21st of August, 2016 has led to relative peace in the region and thereby helped boost oil production and thereby aid the national economic recovery.
“However, the federal government has been unable to reciprocate so far by putting together a government dialogue team.
“That ‘operation crocodile’ exercise embarked by the Nigerian Military has not advanced the course of peace but only heightened the state of insecurity and tension.
“The need for various agitating groups in the Niger Delta to continue maintain the peace, retrain from all acts of violence and give the pursuit of dialogue by the leaders of the region a chance,” it stated.
The Convener and leader of the newly formed Pan Niger Delta Forum, Chief Edwin Clark, earlier in his welcome speech said the meeting was called to bring the people of Niger Delta under one umbrella, to find lasting solutions to the challenges of the region.
He noted that while individuals randomly condemned the escalated activities of the Niger Delta youths, who have been involved in destruction of the national assets resulting in the military intervention by deploying troops to the region.
Clark, said the grievances of the youth were not new, saying the struggle for the development of the Niger Delta dates back to the late 1950s, which led to the setting up of the Henry Willinks Commission in 1957, by the British Colonial government.
He added, “It is also what we, the elders and leaders of the region are still fighting and agitating for. The difference is the manner and method of the agitation”.
The Niger Delta leader said, “as elders, we will continue to plead with them to exercise restrain in their approach, because, apart from the fact that the method is destroying our vital national assets, it is also destroying the environment of the region”.
He, however, expressed concern that the Federal government has not shown any serious sign of commitment towards resolving the issues and end the crisis.
According to him, there was a unilateral 60-day cessation of hostilities which the restive youths volunteered, sequel to the meetings held Effurun and Warri, adding that it was sad that the federal government failed to leverage on the window to dialogue with the genuine representative of the region.
He maintained that military action would not resolve the crisis in the Niger Delta, disclosing that the set up of operation crocodile smile by the military in the region has escalated distrust and entrenching combatant position.
Clark, also faulted President Buhari’s 56th Independence speech where he claimed that the Federal government was engaging with responsible leadership in the Niger Delta region to find lasting solutions to genuine grievances of the region when in reality no such arrangement was in place.
He maintained that the elders and leaders from the Niger Delta were not against the government of President Muhammadu Buahri, and were prepared to fully support him in achieving peace in the region and development of the entire country.
He, however, noted that the elders would continue to speak for the people of the region and also ensure that the region is adequately represented in the central government.
The Coordinator and Convener of one of the collapsed group, Concerned Niger Delta Forum, Mr Mike Loyibo, said leaders from the Niger Delta have resolved to speak with one voice in order to advance the course of peace and development of the region.
He said: “You can see that all of us are here. We have decided to speak with one voice now. The Niger Delta people are not against the President. The President has got a lot of good will and we have come together as leaders and the entire followership.
“We have dissolved now into what we call Pan Niger Delta Forum and we are ready to support Mr President, then he too should be willing to set up a Federal Government team to talk to the authentic Niger Delta leaders.
“Niger Delta people don’t lack leaders and this is one of the best that has happened under the leadership of Chief Edwin Clark.
“You could have sighted almost everybody if could think of are here. I was also the Coordinator of the Concerned Niger Delta Elders but we dissolved into one and from today we will be speaking with one voice.
Loyibo, added that the ceasefire secured with Avengers and others agitators in the Niger Delta would be sustained, saying “after this meeting we are going to meet with them again and asked them sustain the ceasefire”.
He explained that all the agitating groups have given the Pan Niger Delta Forum to negotiate with the government on their behalf.