BY OKEY ONWUCHEKWA:
Stakeholders across the globe recently stormed The Hague, the city of peace to brainstorm on how to sustain the post-amnesty peace deal in Niger Delta. Our Deputy News Editor, OKEY ONWUCHEKWA was there to capture the big parley.
THE Hague, Netherlands has another baptismal name. It is an abode of international law, diplomacy and peace.
This charming city, where the Dutch government has its political seat provided a unique setting to chart a way forward for the Niger Delta question.
For 50 years, the exploration of the black gold (oil) in Nigeria’s Niger Delta has been a curse not blessing. This damning verdict is not without merit. Criminal neglect, grinding poverty and environmental degradation have been the hallmarks of the oil region.
But a clique would beg to disagree with the ‘oil cursed’ postulation on Niger Delta. Political elite and powerful multi-national oil companies belong to this group. Stupendous wealth garnered from the oil-region by this cabal that cuts across tribe and tongue stands out as its shower of blessing theory.
Pushed to the wall, some radical elements in the endangered zone took up arms between 2004 to 2009 to fight the obvious injustice. Like in every struggle, mixed multitude would unleash their venom. Different militant groups emerged in Niger Delta, all claiming to be committed to the struggle to liberate the oil-region from oppression. Kidnap for ransom, rape, theft, armed robbery, vandalisation, illegal bunkering, gun-running and other vices dented the genuine struggle of the people of the oil region.
This ugly scenario in the “smiling and suffering” oil-rich Niger Delta shocked Nigeria and the international community.
Ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua administration in a deft move proclaimed amnesty for Niger Delta militants last year to bring sustainable development and peace in the troubled oil-rich region.
Palliatives were churned out to achieve the post-amnesty deal brokered by Yar’Adua administration, but the big question remains: How can enduring peace be achieved in Niger Delta after the amnesty deal?
The Hague confab provided the platform to brainstorm on this knotty issue.
Between February 25 and 26, stakeholders across the globe offered germane views on taming the Niger Delta monster.
Over 100 participants drawn from civil society, non-governmental organizations, the Dutch and Nigerian governments and others stormed the talk-shop organized by the Rotterdam-based Hope for Niger Delta Campaign (HNDC).
Notable participants at the two-day event tagged “Niger Delta Peace Consolidation Conference” included the leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and Chairman of the Niger Delta Technical Committee, Mr. Ledum Mitee, President of Ijaw National Congress (INC), Dr. Atuboyedia Obianime, the leader of Nigerian community in The Netherlands, Chief Lambert Oguguo, and leader of militant, Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari.
Others are Nigerian Ambassador to The Netherlands, Dr. (Mrs) Akanbi represented by Kabiru Bala and defence attaché, Margaret Igbinoba, human rights lawyer, Festus Keyamo, Acting Executive Director Centre for Advanced Social Science, Dr. Sofri Joab-Peterside, Executive Director, Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Mr. Anyakwee Nsirimovu, social critic, Mr. Mike Igini, a lawyer, President of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Dr. Chris Ekiyor, International Affairs Coordinator Millieu Defensie/Friends of the Earth, Netherlands, Mr. Geert Ritsema, Mr. Jo Croft of Stakeholder Democracy Network London, and President of HNDC, Comrade Sunny Ofehe.
Visa hitches for Ex-militants
Despite assurances by the Dutch Foreign Affairs, key ex-Niger Delta militants were denied visa to participate in The Hague conference. The Dutch media and people who wanted to catch a glimpse of Niger Delta ex-militants like Victor Ebikabowei alias Boyloaf, and the leader of the Deadly underdog, Sobomabo Jackrich were disappointed to learn that they were denied visa in The Netherlands Embassy in Abuja.
A section of the Dutch media slammed the embassy’s action.
Dokubo-Asari stole the show
But Dokubo-Asari’s presence at the peace parley provided a consolation for the Dutch people and media to have firsthand information on the fury in Niger Delta.
From Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport to the conference held at the World Forum of the Novotel The Hague, it was vintage Dokubo-Asari.
Gifted with commanding voice and huge frame, Dokubo-Asari was one-man riot squad, who grabs every chance to express his radical views in achieving peace in the Niger Delta.
He was earlier quizzed at the Schipol Airport over possession of $10,000 and security matter.
Dokubo-Asari, who graced the conference, said he was forced to part with $1,500 fine for bringing $10,000 into The Netherlands.
“But for the respect I have for Sunny Ofehe, I would have turn back from the airport over the attitude of the Dutch security officials,” he blurted.
His over two hours delay at the airport was not a surprise to him.
“I’m subjected to such searches at most airports across the world,” he said.
The son of former Rivers State High Court Judge alleged that Nigerian security was responsible for his global ordeal at airport.
“They (Nigerian security) put me in the security watch list in the world,” he claimed.
Day one of the conference, the Christian-turned Muslim electrified the audience with his revolutionary messages on securing peace in Niger Delta.
For him, arms struggle was the answer. He contended that world respected leaders like Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro etc once took arms to fight for the emancipation of their people from oppressors.
He denounced his Nigerian citizenship, saying “I’m not a Nigerian, I’m an Ijaw man.”
Dokubo-Asari, who flew into The Netherlands from Benin Republic contended that he would not be slave in his fatherland.
He said he didn’t join the struggle for self-determination of Ijaw people out of poverty.
“I have never tasted poverty in my life,” he said claiming that the oppression of his people by the Nigerian state and oil companies forced him into the struggle.
He, however, said that the only panacea to the Niger Delta question remains a convocation of the Sovereign National Conference (SNC) to chart a way forward for the contraption called Nigeria.
Fuming with rage, the militant leader wondered the manner of peace the Federal Government was preaching to solve the Niger Delta crises.
He said ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, for instance, sent him to underground cell, where he was denied access to his lawyer and doctor after he went in search of peace in Aso Rock!
Dokubo-Asari still fuming with anger said it was insulting for President Umaru Yar’Adua and his cabal to be reluctant to accede power to a fellow Ijaw and Vice President Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President.
The self-exiled Ijaw youth leader also slammed General Theophilus Danjuma for flaunting his stupendous wealth from oil licence issued him by the Federal Government, when people from the oil-rich region are swimming in mass poverty.
Dokubo-Asari’s option of reaching truce in Niger Delta wasn’t shared by other stakeholders, who spoke on the first day of the confab. For instance, Dr. Ekiyor said his group believe in Nigeria that would ensure the rights of its citizen.
Dr. (Mrs) Akanbo said Niger Delta issue was a national one, claiming that Nigeria was capable of solving the problem without external interference.
After two days of intellectual fireworks, the participants proffered some resolutions to consolidate the post-amnesty peace deal in Niger Delta. In a communiqué signed by INC President, Ofehe and others, the participants urged the Federal Government to speedily adopt and implement the Niger Delta Technical Committee (NDTC) report “as the blueprint for the development of the Niger Delta region.”
The confab urged the Federal Government to implement the amnesty process within the context of the Niger Technical Committee Report and international standards on
Demobilization, De-commissioning and Rehabilitation (DDR).
To further fast-track peace in Niger Delta, the stakeholders urged the international community to support finger-printing of oil sale from the area and ensure that ‘blood oil’ is not sold on the international market.
The participants at The Hague talkshop also urged the international community to put pressure on multinational oil firms in Niger Delta to end gas flaring by 2011 and to adopt international best practices in tackling environmental issues in the oil region.
Political affirmation was not left out. The confab contended that good governance holds the ace in resolving the Niger Delta question. It called for the implementation of the Justice Muhammadu Uwais’ Report on Electoral Reforms Panel. It also believed that the international community denial of student visa to children of Nigerian public office holders would force the policy makers to be alive to their responsibility.
Similarly, the confab called for seizure and repatriation of stolen money stashed abroad by corrupt Nigerians.
It urged the international financial and donor agencies to blacklist Nigerian state governments that are not fiscally transparent and accountable.
Prior to the release of the communiqué of the Niger Peace Confab, the dramatic return of President Umaru Yar’Adua on February 24 after three-month ‘medical vacation in Saudi Arabia jolted the conferees and the international community.
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service aired the dawn invasion of Abuja by ailing President Yar’Adua. Acting President Goodluck Jonathan was caught unawares in the unfolding political drama. Jonathan’s kinsmen and others fumed with rage on the ill-treatment meted to him.
The intense political and security concerns did affect the peace consolidation parley. Jonathan’s aide, chairmen of Senate and House Representatives Committees and other top government officials pulled out from the conference at the last minute.
Ofehe said the House of Representatives panels chairmen opted out of the parley at the instance of Speaker Dimeji Bankole due to the unsavoury political climate occasioned by the sudden return of Yar’Adua.
Expectedly, oil majors including Shell with headquarters in The Netherlands shunned the peace parley. That didn’t stop The Friend of the Earth (Milieu Defensie) from reaffirming its commitment to prosecute Shell Nigeria for environmental degradation in Niger Delta.
A spokesman of the non-governmental organization, Mr. Geert Ritsema said his group and Nigeria’s Environmental Rights Action (ERA) are collaborating to bring Shell to justice.
Ritsema said the suit before a Dutch judge focused on the failure of Shell to respond speedily to oil spillage menace in Niger Delta, gas flaring and demand for compensation for victims of oil spillages.
Shell Nigeria has been severally criticized for its poor handling of oil issues in Niger Delta.
MOSOP, for instance, believes that the oil major cannot be an innocent party in the hanging of its leader and celebrated playwright, Ken Saro Wiwa by late General Sani Abacha’s junta in 1995. Since then, Shell had been declared persona non grata in Ogoni land, Rivers State.
HOSPITALITY AND MUSIC
Big misses of The Hague parley, notwithstanding, participants from Nigeria savoured African culinary, courtesy of Comrade and Mrs. Ofehe. It was a big deal dumping ‘Oyibo food’ for Nigerian dishes. Ask Dokubo-Asari, INC President, Keyamo and others, it was quite refreshing feasting on pounded yam, ogbono and other soup in Rotterdam.
Biting cold and 25 kilometre drive from The Hague to Rotterdam are no hitches for the conferees to savour the Nigerian delicacies. Mother’s pot indeed.
In a dinner to end the conference, rastaman, Stereoman Ekwe was in his best musical element dishing out local Nigerian songs to the delight of the participants.
that night (february 26) at crown plaza hotels
The Hague, Ofehe deployed his talent to complement Ekwe’s music. The activist was graceful in churning out rib-cracking jokes to the delight of guests.
The conference over, it is the burning desire of the Niger Delta stakeholders that Nigerian government and the international community would for once summon the political will to arrest the drift in the oil-rich. Dokubo-Asari’s alternative to peaceful dialogue – arms struggle- has dire consequence for the oppressed and the oppressor.
That option is no tea party. Hope the political elite and oil companies would allow commonsense to prevail
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