by Annkio Briggs
SETTING THE NIGER DELTA AGENDA
At this point, it is advised you read the first part of this article HERE because this article is dedicated to proposing the agenda for any meeting between the Niger Delta and the government.
The scheduled meeting between elders of the Niger Delta and Buhari is a development, though one we should receive with open minds, ears, and eyes so we do not miss a thing.
The people of the Niger Delta have had too many meetings – with successive governments, with oil majors, with ourselves, yet we can’t afford to turn down any meeting, no matter how little the prospects of meaningful engagement. This is because we fear to be accused of not giving our best to the project Nigeria.
In any case, dialogue always offers an opportunity to reach an agreement non-violently. I am an abiding advocate of non-violence as a result; I endorse dialogue as an option in resolving the clear and present crisis in the Niger Delta. But, we as a people must be cautious so as to not come across as people “who don’t know what they want” or are unaware of their options.
In light of the tensed political atmosphere in the Niger Delta region and Nigeria, as a whole, it is pertinent to highlight the following issues.
1. We must not confuse this first meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari as the dialogue of the Niger Delta people with Federal Government. No. Because it is not.
2. While we understand the need to limit the numbers at this initial meeting we must not forget that the Niger Delta region has 40 ethnic nationalities, and nobody has been mandated to represent any ethnic nationality at the meeting. So, ethnic nationalities, which make up the Niger Delta region, are not represented at this meeting. It is my opinion that any meaningful discussion on resolving the age-long agitations for justice by the people of the Niger Delta, can’t take place without everyone representing their own aspirations. No one should be gagged or neglected into or in negotiations.
3. While we expect that this initial meeting with stakeholders in the Niger Delta and the federal government would be a sort of debriefing, and the persons picked to attend this meeting would return home to debrief their people, we also do expect that anybody speaking from the side of the Niger Delta would present the mandate of the people and not their personal mandate.
4. It must be remembered that the Niger Delta people have attended numerous meetings, seminars, and issued a number of reports, Bill of Rights, demands, communiqués, and so on. It must also be remembered that some of our people have died in the process of dialoguing and negotiations with our oppressors. Many have been maimed, raped; some have been imprisoned, blackmailed, all for the Niger Delta cause. Some, unfortunately, have also betrayed the Niger Delta cause. In all of this one thing is clear we know what we want therefore, we expect our views to be presented at this initial meeting.
5. It is the quality of the content of what the stakeholders attending this meeting will present in our collective name as ‘Niger Delta’ that will determine the result of the meeting and whether this November 1 meeting will be fruitful and will produce fruits.
6. We do not expect the attendees to commit the 40 ethnic nationalities in any way, shape, or form, because they are not elected to represent any of the nations that make up the Niger Delta. It should be noted that any commitment made on our behalf on our collective security, development, and rights, without any due consultation, as it were, will be rejected by the peoples of the region.
7. It is important to rehash that since 1960, development in the region has been retarded; a fair representation in the federal government has been denied our people; justice, equity, security have been withheld from our region. This deliberate exclusive policy thrust of the successive government, including this current one, has brought us to where we are today. It must not be forgotten.
8. Various groups from the region have been making demands for the issues raised in #7 above at various times, the continued denial of these peaceful interventions is what has led to an escalation to where there is a decade-long on-going armed struggle. While those in the armed struggle are in the minority, their demands reflect the aspirations of the majority.
9. Following decades of the see-saw approach of dialoguing with the oppressors of the region and expecting that the descendants of the people who brutally enslaved our ancestors will willingly grant us our freedom, there has been a consensus among the leaders of thought in the Niger Delta that the absence of any or all of the three issues below will never lead to lasting peace in the region:
a. Resource Ownership
b. Restructuring of the political structure in the country. Powers need to be devolved. The Scottish example is good template to begin with.
c. Self-determination for the peoples of the Niger Delta through a United Nations recognised referendum. Self-determination is a right of indigenous peoples guaranteed by the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights and the UN Declaration on Human and Indigenous Peoples Rights.
It must also be made clear here that this article contains my personal position on the issues confronting our people and that our people have to confront. I am not speaking for any ethnic nationality, but I do speak as an Ijaw woman and leader who has spent the past 18 years engaging my people at all levels, beginning from the grassroots in the creeks. I speak with every sense of responsibility when I say that 95% of my people want these 3 issues above in a, b, and c addressed.
In my work as an advocate for the people of the Niger Delta, I have met and interacted with respected leaders in the other ethnic nationalities of the Niger Delta, and their aspirations mirror those of my people.
If there is any Niger Delta daughter or son that wants anything contrary to those highlighted in #9 above, it is only for their personal and selfish and momentary political interest, and these interest can’t override the greater interest of the greater Niger Delta people.
While recognising that there are institutional engagements and negotiations that are key to driving lasting positive change that brings peace to the Niger Delta, it is important that the federal government be cautious because the methods being proposed, are the same methods that have failed in the past. It is time to inject new and creative thinking when addressing the Niger Delta question.
From communication coming out of the government, it appears that the primary aim of the Buhari-led government is to resolve militancy for the sole aim of bringing back crude oil production to 2.2 million barrels a day. The same old method of deceiving the people with dangling carrots, that never land on the ground.
The urgency of the federal government to reduce militancy by 90% and ram up crude oil production to 2.8 million barrels a day is laudable, but the lack of a corresponding policy that addresses the needs of the region is worrisome.
The people of the Niger Delta and indeed all Nigerians must not forget that the entire enterprise of government at all levels in Nigeria is funded by more than 80% from the resources of the region. As new regional development commissions are launched in the North, and a plan to throw the country into further debt of $30 billion are put into motion, we must all remember that the funding for these come from the Niger Delta.
So, the invitees to the government’s November 1 meeting must remember that they are there because they come from the Niger Delta and they must act as emissaries of the region first and foremost. They must remember that they are there for their ethnic nationality, their states, their communities, their region, their people.
The invitees must go there as the people who come from the region feeding the nation, and not as beggars or slaves beholden to the oppressors of their people.
We the people of the Niger Delta region will not accept anything less than OWNERSHIP, RESTRUCTURING, and REFERENDUM on the question of SELF DETERMINATION.Our call for justice and equity is not about individuals or political parties, it is about all our peoples and the future of our generations to come.
I remain a proud Niger Delta daughter and servant, of Ijaw ethnic nation, from Kalabari Clan, in Nigeria whose priority is and will remain the defence and protection of our rights to be who God has called us to be and will remain what we want to be, unconquered and peace loving.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
Annkio Briggs is a daughter, servant, and respected leader of the Niger Delta. She is a leading voice in the struggle for human rights and environmental justice in the oil-rich region. Connect with her on Facebook.