60 days after the inauguration of the Nigeria National Conference by President Goodluck Jonathan, the Pan-Niger Delta Conference (PNDC) today, Thursday May 8, 2014, held an interactive forum to deliberate on some matters currently being tackled at the National Conference, which affect the Niger Delta region.
The event which held at the Grand Montecito Hotel, along Sani Abacha Road in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, witnessed the presence of some delegates representing various constituencies in the region, amongst whom were Chief Sergeant Awuse, human rights crusader, Dr. Isaac Osuoka, and foremost environmental rights activist, Ann Kio Briggs.
Also present at the event were stakeholders and representatives from the civil society organisations, as well as invited guests from all walks of life.
The forum was an avenue for the delegates to report back to their constituencies, on the happenings and contentious issues at the National Conference, while taking citizens’ views on the way forward.
The interactive meeting, which commenced about 10am, was chaired by Professor Andrew Efemini from the University of Port Harcourt. In his opening remarks, Professor Efemini expressed his excitement over the convocation of the ongoing National Conference by President Goodluck Jonathan. He stated that, “no amount of projects executed by Jonathan would have far-reaching effects for the Niger Delta as much as organizing a national conference, because the national conference can free the people of the Niger Delta from the shackles of pain, unemployment and illiteracy.”
He further emphasized that, “we do not want to discuss resource control but resource ownership, and the National Conference provides all of us with an opportunity to speak. This is the beginning of a mass support for our delegates at the National Conference.”
Chief Sergeant Awuse, while giving his address, stated that the Niger Delta region must be prepared to compromise in order to benefit from the National Conference. He said, “We have not yet come to a complete stock-taking with the geo-political zones. Consensus is built on give and take. We must give something to get something.”
Sergeant Awuse, a member of the Committee on Public Finance and Revenue generation, posited that the issues which have to be considered are, “How united are we in chasing what we are looking for?” and “How dependable can we assume the other parts of the southern Nigeria would be?
“For example, in the South-South meeting, we agreed that the federating units should remain the states, as going back to regional system would take us backward. But some parts of Nigeria, particularly the South-West group, have an agenda for a regional arrangement, which we had before. So, there are a lot of divisions. How much we can give in, would depend on how much compromise we get from other regions including the middle belt and other areas.”
On his part, Dr. Isaac Osuoka lamented that the current political order in Nigeria has nothing more to offer.
Describing it as the fourth republic, he said, “Examining all of the institutions associated with the 4th republic, including the tiers of government, there is nothing we can expect to come out of the system, except something is done to fundamentally recreate and restructure the foundation of the states.
“There are people in the National Conference who want to preserve the existing order, saying that only governance should be developed on. We differ from that view. Today, those who have been military dictators and military administrators, who have also participated in the looting of the treasury, are now talking of good governance.
“Boko Haram is attempting to tear Nigeria apart. They believe they can impose their own religion using terror against the people of the country. There is so much poverty caused by them.”
The human rights activist, who is a member of the Committee on Land Tenure and National Boundary Matters, maintained that we have to revert to the pre-coup status of 1963 constitution which, he said, was imposed by the military, but was a product of debates which included the people of Nigeria.
On the need for a compromise, he stated that the compromise is a negotiation which must be democratized, adding that, the Nigerian people should be allowed to participate in it if delegates act accountably by giving their people feedback on every process at the conference.
Osuoka finally called for the removal of the Land Use Act from the 1999 Constitution as it has not been for the good of the Nigerian people. “Right now, the Land Use Act is locked into the constitution. So the only way to amend it is by constitutional amendment, which is almost impossible owing to the long process”, he decried.
He also referred to the United Nations Environmental Project (UNEP) 2011 report, which revealed that the level of pollution of Ogoniland is unprecedented, being the worst in the world. The report he said, recommends one billion naira to clean up Ogoniland alone, let alone the other areas of the Niger Delta which have suffered environmental degradation from oil spillage as well.
Ann Kio Briggs, while speaking, emphasized three key issues which were 100% resource ownership (instead of resource control), onshore/offshore dichotomy, and the derivation rate at 50% for the Niger Delta region.
She said, “I am demanding for 100% resource ownership for the Niger Delta, and we would pay tax on it. Until we change the current position, nothing will change. But the Nigerian (1999) Constitution as it is today does not permit us to get it 100%. So we have to demand for a change in the law. The constitution is against the aspiration and survival of all the groups in the Niger Delta. From this conference, we must begin to think about our survival, our future.”
She went ahead to reel out figures in relation to the federal allocation to local governments in Nigeria for the month of April, 2013. She revealed that about N79 billion was given to the three geo-political zones of the Northern region of Nigeria, and about N65 billion was given to the Southern region.
Ann Kio Briggs, who is a member of the Committee on Devolution of Power at the national conference, also advocated for the oil to be left in the soil when she said, “The call for a moratorium from the exploitation of oil in the Niger Delta must be considered. Let us stop the exploration of oil and gas, until other viable options are explored and developed. So those who can fish should go and fish, and those who can farm should resume farming.”
During the Question and Answer session, the delegates were generally commended by some participants who praised their courage and requested them to fine-tune their strategies in upholding the various positions taken by the Niger Deltans on the respective issues.
The delegates in agreement, announced that a subsequent Interactive Forum would be organized before the end of the National Conference to further deliberate upon the collective interests of the region, in order to clearly articulate the way forward for the region in the final outcome of the National Conference.
The highlight of the event was the resolution passed by all the participants at the event, to uphold the strategic interests of the Niger Delta region as a united people championing a common cause for the development of the region.
It would be recalled that a Pan-Niger Delta Conference (PNDC) with the theme ‘Niger Delta and the National Conference’, was held in January 28, 2014 with a view to ascertaining and harmonising the interests of the people in the region, in order to present a clearly-defined and unified front at the National Conference.
The PNDC which involves leaders of thought, social justice activists and other stakeholders, has its Secretariat at the Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action), a non-governmental organization whose headquarters is situated in Port Harcourt.