… Jonah Okon
The Federal Government has in an attempt to reduce tension, violent protest, kidnapping and attack on oil facilities in the Niger Delta region, proposed to screen militant and socio-political groups in the region in a new vision to propel development in the oil producing communities.
The Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo stated this on Thursday at a town hall meeting held with elders and people of Akwa Ibom State in continuation of his tour of states in the Niger Delta region.
Osinbajo said the tour was to offer communities in the Niger Delta and all oil producing communities a new vision and a new compact in the great source of wealth of the nation.
“I am here as the emissary of President Muhammadu Buhari who after the visit of Pan Niger Delta Forum in November 2016 decided that we must undertake visit to engage with the leadership and people of oil producing communities of the region to hear them and understand their problems and concern,” he said.
He disclosed that the Federal Government has begun discreet verification of militant groups in the Niger Delta that recently accepted a temporary ceasefire after series of attacks on the country’s oil and gas infrastructure in the region.
In the same vein, report disclosed that meetings spearheaded by the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) and the Presidential Amnesty Office (PAO) have already taken place to put finishing touches to the exercise which might be concluded in another round of talks scheduled for later this month.
A Presidency source noted that while most of the groups currently going through screening in batches operate mainly from Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers, the hotbed of violent agitations in the oil-rich region, a source close to the talks stated yesterday that a handful also came in from Ondo, Cross River and Akwa Ibom, less affected by militancy.
The source noted that the groups were optimistic about the softening stance of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government to the Niger Delta problem and were, therefore prepared to cooperate to ensure peace in the Delta.
One of the groups, the Iduwini Volunteer Force, (IVF) operating mainly around the Bayelsa, Delta axes, a source who spoke in confidence said it submitted a list of 320 fighters, just like other militant organisations, which are currently being screened in batches by two directors from the NSA’s office and that of the Presidential Amnesty body.
The decision to submit themselves for vetting, it was learnt, arose from the renewed urgency the government seems to be giving the Niger Delta and some of the demands made by the leaders and elders of the area, the source said.
“The government seems to showing some commitment to peace. We are also reviewing the situation. But we are also saying that the government can do more.
The leadership of my own group believes that poor communities in the region must benefit directly from the oil in their back yard.
“We also believe that all the groups should be carried along. Can you imagine that some groups were qualified to be benefiting from the amnesty stipends as far back as 2012, yet they are not getting anything.
“The plank of the last meeting was that they wanted to get proper data as to who belong to what militant group. For example, my group is the number three militant group in the Niger Delta. We have submitted a list of our 320 fighters to them”, the source who was part of the talks said.
The public statements made by federal government officials in recent times, as against the hard stance before now, also added credence to the series of peace meetings which held in Abuja, the source said.
“It is as a result of the meetings that the federal government has been making these public statements which are in tandem with the demands of the freedom fighters that military operations in the Niger Delta should be reviewed.
“The 10 boys that were arrested in Gbaramatu have been released. The golden sword has been returned and they (federal government) have promised to reopen the Maritime University. They are also discussing when and how the oil companies can relocate their offices to the Niger Delta”, he stated.
He added that in the next scheduled meeting which will take place before the end of March, the contact persons also promised to be more detailed in the way the federal government intends to tackle other pending issues to ensure peace in the region.
A renewed spate of attacks on critical oil and gas infrastructure in the Niger Delta by the militants had led to a cut in the country’s crude oil production and export by about half, prompting the deployment of the military and later a series of backroom talks to ending the impasse.