Prospects for peace in the troubled oil-rich Niger Delta region brightened at the weekend as the federal government, using back channel communications, may have established contacts with the militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers, whose violent activities had shut in about 800,000 bpd of the country’s crude oil production.
Faced with the huge production setback resulting in huge revenue losses to the nation’s purse, the federal government had set up a team under the auspices of the National Security Adviser, Maj-Gen. Babagana Monguno, and the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, to reach out to the militants and other relevant stakeholders and discuss ways of appeasing the restive youths and bring peace to the region.
To pave the way for the work of the committee, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo had met with the governors of the region, including Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa); Adams Oshiomhole (Edo), Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta); Nyesom Wike (Rivers) and Olusegun Mimiko (Ondo) last week, stating the federal government’s position to stand down the military that had been drafted to the area to enforce law and order.
Thisday learnt yesterday that the peace efforts were yielding fruits as Kachikwu might have established some contacts with some of the commanders of the NDA, who had initially repudiated the move, preferring to hang on to its demand for self-determination for the Niger Delta.
The contacts, Thisday further learnt, might have been responsible for the cessation of bombings of oil installations in the last few days, as the avengers were being prevailed upon by FG’s back channels contacts to give peace a chance by embracing dialogue.
Sources close to the process,said that evidence that progress was being made was the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta’s (MEND) consistent calls for dialogue instead of violence.
Using its own channels, MEND was said to have intervened on behalf of Kachikwu’s team, reaching out to its fellow militants to give the federal government a listening opportunity.
MEND said yesterday though that it was taking advantage of the olive branch offered by the federal government for dialogue and had appointed a former Minister of State for Petroleum, Odein Ajumogobia; a former senator, Florence Ita-Giwa; Bismark Rewane and four others as members of its team that will hold talks with the government on the crises in the Niger Delta.
The spokesman for MEND, Jomo Gbomo, said in a statement yesterday that it looked forward to the talks, stating that while Ajumogobia would represent Rivers State in the negotiating team, Rewane and Ita-Giwa would represent Delta and Cross River States, respectively.
According to the statement, other members of the team, it tagged Aaron Team, are Timipa Jenkins Okponipere (Bayelsa); Ibanga Isine (Akwa Ibom); Ledum Mitee (Rivers) and Lawson Omokhodion (Edo State).
It said the seven provisional members had accepted to serve on the team, adding that the remaining members of the team would be made public in due course after due consultations with relevant stakeholders.
“Following useful exploratory discussions held with high ranking officials of the current administration, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has constituted ‘Aaron Team 2’ to dialogue with the Federal Government on the immediate, medium and long-term future of the Niger Delta region,” the group said, adding: “The team is made up of patriotic and selfless men and women of proven track record, integrity and character; and drawn from different parts of the Niger Delta region, members of the MEND Aaron Team 2 are by no means members of MEND.”
MEND recalled that it had in the past 10 years of its existence taken up arms against the federal government and the International Oil Companies (IOCs) with a view to bringing to national and international attention, the pitiable paradox of the Niger Delta region.
It said it declared a ceasefire on 30 May, 2014 in response to former President Goodluck Jonathan’s Democracy Day speech of the previous day.
According to MEND, the ceasefire was an indication of the group’s belief in dialogue and diplomacy as means of settling disputes.
MEND invited the NDA to agree to a ceasefire and join in the negotiation with the federal government, warning that unless they both embraced peace, the Niger Delta’s struggle for development would be hijacked, once again, by selfish interests for their own personal aggrandizement.
It cited the recent purported demand of the NDA made through the region’s governors that the federal government should drop charges of corruption against certain individuals and politicians from the region as an indication that the struggle had been hijacked and described the demand as absurd, ridiculous and far removed from the Niger Delta struggle.
MEND said: “Our message to the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) is simple: The Niger Delta struggle is beyond attacks on oil installations. Indeed, prior to the MEND ceasefire; the group had, among numerous daring attacks, on Thursday June 19, 2008 successfully carried out the spectacular attack on Royal Dutch Shell’s offshore Bonga oilfield, which is located at a whooping distance of 120 kilometres (75miles) south-west of the Niger Delta.
“However, with the benevolent benefit of hindsight, the group realised that, after the initial euphoria of each successful attack, the gargantuan problems which confront our region; including environmental pollution and political corruption, increased geometrically. If indeed your cause is to avenge the injustice done to the Niger Delta region; then, we urge you to agree to a ceasefire and join us on the table of negotiating with the Federal Government.”