Chairman and members of Caretaker Committee of Abua/Odual Local Government Area, during their screening by the Rivers State House of Assembly in Port Harcourt, yesterday. Photo: Ibioye Diama
The militant group that threatened to unleash mayhem in Niger Delta as from today, New Delta Avengers has temporarily suspended hostilities, in deference to South-South leader, Chief Edwin Clark, who intervened in the row between the militants and the state Governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa.
In an open letter to Clark, an Itsekiri high commander of the group, Ujato Etomi and three others, said: “With due respect and recognition of your outstanding commitment to the development of the oppressed, underdeveloped and very maligned people of the Niger Delta region, we write to you about our struggle to wrest oil producing communities of Delta State from the death grip of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s administration in Delta State.
“First, we like to express our utmost appreciation for your intervention in our ultimatum to the Delta State governor over our grievance with his running of the affairs of the state, and particularly oil communities. We are aware of the efforts you are making to change the mind of the recalcitrant governor, and for this, we are grateful and hopeful that we won’t have to go back to the days of rage.
“In deference to your authority on issues involving our development and efforts to change the tide of perpetual underdevelopment and treatment as second class citizens of this nation, the highest command of the NDA has decided to shelve our planned attack on major oil facilities in the region from June 30, 2017,” the group announced.
It, however, asserted: “Sir, you are aware that we had earlier withdrawn the timeframe of our proposed strike. This was done with the intention to take the government unawares and to prove to all and sundry that we are not all about bark, we are more than able to accompany our noise with louder action.
“But your personal intervention and plea through PANDEF has made us take a second thought as we are now calling off the planned strikes.
“Without prejudice to any ongoing discussion with the Federal Government, we hope that the window of peace will afford you time to take up the issues as you promised with the Delta State Government.
“We are not oblivious of your concerns that our activities are capable of further causing adverse effects on crude production and derail your ongoing engagement with the Federal Government.
“But as we said in several statements, our grouse is not with the Federal Government. Our anger is with the present Delta State administration’s deliberate neglect and deprivation of oil-bearing communities in the state, and underfunding of the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC), since the swearing-in of this government in 2015,” it added.
The Avengers said: “Deltans and our people in the oil and gas producing areas cannot forgot that during the 2015 election campaign, the opposition parties accused Okowa and the PDP of planning to allegedly scrap DESOPADEC. We were told that he would do this so that money will be available for him to develop Ika land and other parts of the north.
“Despite denials, all indications now point to the truth of those statements, because since Okowa became governor, the commission has been starved of funds, and all resources available to the state are now being used to develop his homeland, yet he continues to sing his ‘Ego Aria’ songs to other parts of Delta State,” the group stated.
It’s words: “Chief Edwin Clark, as our leader and father, you have access to records and data, please take time to crosscheck the percentage and costs of projects that are being done in Okowa’s areas and what he is doing in the Itsekiri, Isoko, Ijaw, Ndokwa and Urhobo areas. As a leader who has the barometer to gauge the feelings of the people of oil communities from across the state, you are definitely aware that the people are not happy because of their well-being.
“There is a lot of dissatisfaction and it is just a matter of time before pipelines and oil platforms become victims. This is why we enjoy support from every tribe and clan that produces oil and gas in delta state,” the militant group said.
According to the Avengers: “It is therefore a big surprise that despite all these signals, the governor in a crystal-clear show of his detachment from what is happening in the state, accused us of being foreigners and people from outside the state. Our plan is to prove him wrong and show him and the Federal government that we are sons and daughters of the land, who have seen our fathers and mothers, friends, brothers and sister die from deprivation and hunger.
“We want to show the governor that we know the land and how to hit where it hurts most. Oil producing area of Delta State and in the Niger Delta as a whole have been suffering in the past, but our pain and torment have not been so strong that we have become totally hopeless. Those who have contract cannot pay their workers, the communities where projects are located cannot benefit so the project become a problem to them.
“We are suffering and dying, our father, but it is better to die fighting that lay prostrate as some of our leaders, elders and the likes of HOSTCOM have been doing to the Asaba power instead of speaking the truth,” it added.
The group continued: “On Okowa’s statement that we are not from Delta but foreigners, we want to ask: Which foreigners can be so touched and committed to the suffering of people outside their land that they want to put their lives and resources on the line for the welfare of the people the man who is their governor has abandoned?
“Nonetheless, we have decided to give peace a chance as directed by you, our father, to show our respect and support for you commitment and dedication despite the odds. We though want to reiterate that our retreat is not total; it is bound by the time we face.
“Sir, we are giving you the requested window for your intervention, but we will not demobilize our armaments, hardware and men from locations where they have been camping since they were dispatched three weeks ago until we are sure of positive result from your intervention. “We like to also appeal to you that as you work towards the resolution of this matter, our earlier demands are sacrosanct because there can be no peace without justice.
“We demand that the government must begin projects that reflect the statuses of oil-bearing communities as ‘the geese that lay the golden egg in the state’. We demand similar commitment to payments of contractors handling jobs in Okowa’s areas and those in our land.
“There must be a commitment to funding DESOPADEC in order to save the lives of contractors who are dying from the burden of debts and hopeless because of non-funding of the commission. Okowa must release over N40billion funds due to the commission since 2015 when he was sworn-in. “The law setting up DESOPADEC is clear on funding; let the governor give to the oil-bearing communities what is their due. All outstanding funds must be released.
“And, the state House of Assembly must also ensure that monies entitled to the commission are not only released, but are adequately monitored to ensure that they are utilised for projects.
“Our national leader, please also impress on the Federal Government that it is time that they start paying oil revenues directly to the host communities because the present system put communities at the mercy of politicians, who lord over the funds and force the communities to come cap-in-hand begging for what is due them.
“We will not fold our hands and look helplessly while our people are being robbed blind by politicians and their cohorts. We remain committed to the development of our communities and those who are committed to the cause,” the group warned.
Meanwhile, some former warlords in the Niger Delta have decried the unending tussle to get them enlisted in the Federal Government-backed Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) initiated by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
The aggrieved youth from Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers states told journalists in Yenagoa that they had also written a protest letter to Acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo after the amnesty office flouted several agreements with them.
They argued that 18 of their members embraced the programme under the third phase in 2012 and have since then not benefitted from the funds.
Leaders of the group include, Asenekiri Oyinle, Angiama-Owei Oyindoubra, John Government, Henry Gomoromo, John Sawyer, Trydi Okpeke, Dollar Motor, Selebi Ayowei, Bobra Angese and Ekerebi Umber.
They, thereafter, approached the Federal High Court in suit number FHC/YNG/CS/102/2013, but the amnesty office has refused to make any representations or embrace the out of court settlement option, the ex-militants said.