Niger Delta: How Buhari can achieve lasting peace – Ex-MOSOP leader, Ledum Mitee

To match Interview NIGERIA-BUHARI/

Former President, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, MOSOP, Ledum Mitee, has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to do more in his bid to find lasting peace in the Niger Delta.

Mitee, who listed the top three issues of concern to people of the Niger Delta, said the Presidential Amnesty Programme was something that needed to be dealt with within the framework of our scope.

“When I chaired the Niger Delta Technical Committee, we produced a report and the component of that presidential amnesty was the Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration,” he told Punch.

“Part of what we dealt with was that there would be critical infrastructural and economic development of the Niger Delta, including environmental remediation. Unfortunately, in carrying that out, only the disarmament and demobilisation components of the DDR programme was implemented. The issues of reintegration, environmental remediation, as well as the infrastructural interventions, were not implemented.

“It seems to me that there is a need to revisit that programme, because we are thinking: How do you now fit those you have trained into the current economy? How do you reintegrate them into the society, so that they can migrate effectively to free them from dependency on stipends so that their skills would be of benefit to them and their community?

“That is an important thing that needs to be done quickly; otherwise, we will continue to give stipends to people, who will end up doing nothing. I think that is something we need to deal with. I also think that there are some outstanding law and justice issues; there are communities that believe that they are being persecuted and those are issues that need to be dealt with.

“There is also the question of infrastructural intervention. For instance, when you look at the East-West Road, there are certain critical aspects that makes those (residing) in Port Harcourt to spend, sometimes, six hours to cross from the popular Eleme junction to Onne junction. That’s the section that has the petrochemical, oil and gas routes, first and second refineries.

“Considering the pressure on that road, the N1bn voted for its rehabilitation last year, was not sufficient especially when infrastructural work has continued in other parts of the country, most notably Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. But nothing has happened in the the Niger Delta areas”, he added.

Asked what strategies he believes would to tackle current challenges, Mitee urged the Federal Government to leave the platform for dialogue open.

He suggested that three top government officials be mandated to speak with leaders of the Niger Delta on how to bring about peace and that the dialogue team should ascertain how much Nigeria is losing to the lack of peace in the region.

“We should ask ourselves how much we are spending by the military build-up that we have put in that area,” the activists continued.

“I sit in my village in Ogoni as I talk to you, and every day, I see aircraft flying all over the place. I heard that they bombed some boats carrying crude oil and the whole river in this place is polluted. I don’t think that can solve the problem.

“Do we need all that when we can dialogue? Are we losing more by thinking that military solution is enough, instead of spending that money on some critical areas? That dialogue can then produce some framework which all stakeholders can speak to and we can find the way forward.

“I think that what many people do not imagine is the level of compromise between those you involved in these oil thefts and pipeline vandalism and even the security agencies. It is far more profound than can be imagined. These are the frameworks that I want to see happen.

“The last time the Pan-Niger Delta Forum met, the statement they issued out was that they were ready for a dialogue. Most of the militant groups have said, ‘Talk on our behalf.’ MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) said, ‘We have a negotiation team.’ The Avengers said, ‘Talk to our leaders.’

“Now, the Federal Government has not done that. What I heard from the President’s speech was that ‘now, we are ready to talk with militants.’ I don’t know how they want to do that. Do they want to go to the creeks and start talking with the militants?

“Again, they say they want to talk about the framework ‘for how we’ll share the resources of the country.’ I don’t think that is a conversation you need to have with only militants. I think that we should not believe that the only way to solve the problem is through appeasement because that is why we are where we are.

“We have always felt that we need to appease, so we have not thought we should deal with those fundamental problems that led to militancy in the first place. Militancy is not the problem of the Niger Delta. It is, rather, an extreme expression of frustration – the lack of solution to the problem of the Niger Delta”.

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