President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday hosted Niger Delta stakeholders at the Aso Rock Villa, listened to their 16-point demand and promised to study them and cooperate with the leaders in ending the environmental and economic sabotage in the region.
However, leaders of the various militant groups which have been blowing up oil infrastructure in the area were absent at the meeting, which was put together by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu.
The demands of the stakeholders, which was presented to the President by King Alfred Diette-Spiff, included that Niger Delta indigenes be allotted lucrative oil blocs by the President to grant them inclusive participation in the oil industry.
The others are sustenance and proper funding of the Presidential Amnesty Programme; cessation of the military operations against the communities; addressing pending law and justice issues as some aggrieved groups and individuals are yet to be resolved and resettlement of internally displaced persons in the region.
There are also expansion of the Ogoni clean-up and environmental remediation to other parts of the region; a resolution of the controversial Maritime University; provision of key regional critical infrastructure; security surveillance and protection of oil and gas infrastructure; relocation of administrative and operational headquarters of IOCs to the Niger Delta.
The leaders also asked for the provision of adequate power supply; restructuring and better funding of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC); strengthening the Niger Delta Ministry; proper resettlement of displaced Bakassi indigenes; economic development and economic empowerment; and implementation of fiscal federalism for the country.
Kachikwu, who addressed the press after the closed-door parley with the President, explained that the militants’ leaders were not invited because Buhari wanted to first hear from the elders – who came on the platform of the Pan Niger Delta Forum.
He described the meeting, at which the International Oil Companies (IOCs) were also absent, as being a frank conversation, the beginning of a process during which there were exchange of enough thoughts with which stakeholders can go back and begin the further process of negotiation.
Kachikwu said “the President was very happy the meeting took place. He was very quick to point out that he did not want a quick solution- he needed to go to the roots of why this problem has persisted through all the various governments”.
One of the prominent stakeholders, Chief Edwin Clark, told journalists that they had the blessing of the militant groups, including the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) to represent their interests, which is why the elders formed a Central Working Committee with Spiff and Obong Victor Attah, a former governor of Akwa Ibom State, as co-chairmen.
He reiterated that Buhari, who did not read his own prepared text but spoke straight from the heart, was happy with the meeting and that he promised to study the list of demands carefully and provide detailed responses as he would not want hasty quick-win fixes that would not be durable.