PORT HARCOURT- UNTIL last night, leaders and members of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, are still at a complete loss over what struck them last Thursday at the “Garden City,” Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, where they converged for their fourth general assembly.
Unexpectedly, Police and Department of State Services, DSS, operatives laid siege to the Hotel Presidential venue of the meeting, sealing off the place and turning back delegates from across the Niger Delta and parts of Abia, Ondo and Imo state that came for the assembly.
Wrong notion about Gov Wike
At first, the delegates thought it was the host governor, Nyemson Wike, who probably angry that PANDEF refused his plea reschedule the meeting to November because he was traveling abroad, that sent security agents to stop the meeting.
Some of the leaders made phone calls and soon found out that Wike was not in the details, they turned to top officials of the Police and DSS within and outside Rivers state, who told them that they knew nothing about the action, but the action was firmly on “orders from above.”
Nobody told them the person or persons giving the orders from above , but the Commissioner of Police and Director of DSS in the state, unambiguously indicated that the commands were to be implemented to the letter.
Sources told NDV that sad as the episode was, it was avertable if quarrelling Niger Delta leaders and militants, who are each other’s throats did not fall prey to a well-scripted security ambush.
Knowledgeable sources on what came to light, October 26, said the powers that be at the federal level have been searching for a way to cut the bourgeoning influence of PANDEF under the leadership of the former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark, since Niger Delta leaders met with President Muhammadu Buhari, last year.
The forces did not get the opening as calculated to hit PANDEF because of the well-built support from the people of the region and the robust media promotion on its activities until lately when militants under the jacket of the Reformed Niger Delta Avengers, RNDA, announced the withdrawal of the mandate they purportedly gave the regional body.
With the never-ending affront on PANDEF by the militants, who endorsed a parallel body, Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress, PNDPC, to replace the former, and the noticeable powerlessness of Niger Delta leaders to rein-in the combatants and PNDPC, the system in Abuja re-oiled its strategies.
To be sure, former Minister of Police Affairs, Alaowei Broderick Bozimo, Niger Delta campaigner, Elder T, K Ogoriba and leading lights, spearheaded an initiative to patch up, but it did not yield the needed result. The troubleshooting meeting mainly attended by Ijaw- PANDEF and PNDPC faithful from Delta, Edo, Bayelsa and Rivers states at Warri, Delta state, deliberated on some of the stormy issues, but could lay them to rest.
The establishment put in place diversionary tactics to camouflage its real agenda, while it advantageously keyed into the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo-led peace mission to the region and jaw-jaw with PANDEF, knowing that the approach will hoodwink perceived adversaries.
An out of this world opportunity came for the system when the RNDA over and over again threatened to resume hostilities if President Buhari, Prof Osinbajo, Federal Government, relevant Ministers, Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and other appropriate agencies continued to relate with PANDEF.
The militants, speaking through their leader, self-styled “Major General” Johnmark Ezonbi, said unless government opened fresh discussions with PNDPC, led by former national chairman of Traditional Rulers of Oil Minerals Producing Communities of Nigeria, TROMPCON, HM Charles Ayemi-Botu, aka Lion of the Niger, which has their backing, they would blow up oil installations in the region.
Oblivious of the shrouded plan, PANDEF, bent on outdoing PNDPC, flamboyantly went about preparation for its fourth session in Port Harcourt and on the other hand, the militant group went about its plan to prevent it with the deftness of a lion.
The last straw was its fear-provoking warning signal unconstrained 24 hours to the disrupted meeting, powered by earlier foot works carried out by emissaries of the group, which resulted in the swift “orders from above.” Some PANDEF leaders also got wind of the plan to stop their meeting on October 25 night, they did everything to avert the danger, but to no avail.
The conflict of interests among Niger Delta leaders and militants was the October 26 debacle in Port Harcourt. There was unsubstantiated rumor that internal crisis rocking PANDEF, especially the leadership, contributed to the crisis, but members preferred to keep sealed lip when contacted.
PANDEF demands explanation amide rumble
Avenger’s strike force, not laptop militants
Ezonbi denied that members of the group and the affiliated nine militant groups were laptop militants as alleged by a PANDEF youth wing leader, insisting that the group’s withdrawal of mandate from PANDEF has not changed.
“We (RNDA) were together with the defunct Niger Delta Avengers and we were the striking force unit then and it was due to some leadership and greed differences that made us to pull out after we saw the hand of Esau,” he declared.
He explained that a covetous leader wanted to use the differences to hijack the entire process after the Vice President and Minister of State for Petroleum Resources visited the creeks, adding that this greedy person wanted to claim all the glory after we have sacrificed our lives in the creeks.
Ezonbi challenged those calling the group laptop militants “to state the faceable militants that gave PANDEF mandate,” reiterating, “We were the striking force of the defunct Avenger and are you not surprised that the defunct Avengers could not come out to make a statement all these while.”
PNDPC justifies barricade by security agents
Contacted over the suspicion that the Port Harcourt incident was fallout of the power play between PANDEF and PNDPC, national leader of PNDPC, HM Ayemi-Botu, asserted, “There is no power play between PNDPC and PANDEF, we are operating on parallel wavelengths with varied vision and mission.”
He justified the cordon by security agents, saying their timely intervention was to avert the ensuing risk, “in view of the threat of coordinated attacks of oil installations in the region by the RNDA and Coalition of nine militant groups, which would have affected the steady crude oil production.”
He said, “The PNDPC by the special grace of God will usher the long awaited and much desired peace and panacea, which will be a turning point to massive human capital, infrastructure and industrial revolution of the region.”
“This, it will kick start by urgently convening an economic summit of all the IOCs, foreign/local investors, Ministries of Petroleum Resources, Niger Delta, Environment, NDDC, Federal and State Governments to strategise and synergise the modalities to transform the oil-rich region typical of the Dubai of Nigeria,” he said.
PANDEF now moribund- Ayemi- Botu
On why PNDPC and PANDEF should not join forces to pursue a common agenda, the monarch said, “Emma, you are not being fair to suggest that PNDPC and PANDEF should pursue a common front, whereas you know the circumstances that led to the formation of PANDEF in 2016. It was through a mandate given by the region’s agitators in the creeks.
“But in July, this year, during PANDEF meeting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa state, the agitators not announced that they had lost credibility in the leadership of PANDEF, they withdrew their mandate.
“Barely a month after, on the 19th of August, the agitators through the print media announced that PANDEF was disbanded with its leadership and in the same vein, announced the formation of PNDPC, as a substitute.
“Unfortunately, the leadership of PANDEF obviously is insensitive to throw in the towel when the ovation is loudest. With the withdrawal of mandate, it became defunct and moribund, more so, nobody has the sole responsibility of leading the Niger Delta course to the Promised Land and no honorarium is paid for doing so.
“Hence, the Federal Government timely intervention to avert the resurgence of bombings in the region and also let the PANDEF read the handwriting on the wall that it has ceased to exist as the body representing the Niger Delta region for further dialogue, except it metamorphoses into a political party or part of an existing political party,” he added.