Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Obasanjo Moves To Heal Niger Delta Rifts;Foundation Offers 7-Point Plan

In an aggressive and democratic approach to Niger Delta issues that surround the halt of some 550,000 barrels per day of crude oil exports, Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo moved forcefully today to create a representative council of Delta leaders and Federal Government officials whom he asked to work together to mend the deep fractures between North and South in Nigeria.

The online Daily Vanguard, which is not often friendly to Obasanjo, treated the meeting of leaders with genuine interest and little political axe-grinding. That's a good sign that the council has at least an outside chance of success.

Meanwhile, a peace-oriented foundation offered a seven-point plan to halt the violence and meet the Delta's needs.

Here is the Vanguard's report on the Niger Delta Stakeholders Council meeting:

Obasanjo sets up council on Niger Delta

By Charles Ozoemena
Posted to the Web: Thursday, April 06, 2006

* To be inaugurated April 18
* All govts to come up with specific items of development

ABUJA — THE Niger Delta Stakeholders' meeting convened by President Olusegun Obasanjo rose yesterday with a resolution to establish a council of socio-economic development of the coastal states of the Niger Delta. The Council, the product of the more than four hours dialogue of Niger Delta stakeholders, is to be inaugurated on the 18th of this month by President Obasanjo who is Chairman of the council.

Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Ufot Ekaette is a member and secretary of the council. President Obasanjo. who announced the formation of the body, said it was charged with the responsibility of formulating short-, medium- and long-term measures on how to address the numerous problems of the Niger Delta.

Each of the coastal states, specifically, Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta, he said, would have their governors and six members each in the council, including a woman and a youth. Ondo and Akwa Ibom States will have their governors and three members each in the council. The President would norminate five people to the council.

Representatives of the NDDC, Ministry of Petroleum Resources, NNPC, Ministries of Works, Power and Steel are also members.

President Obasanjo described the work of the council as “very serious,” and pledged that the council would reconvene on April 18 to define items of what should be implemented in the bid to develop the region.

He urged all levels of government in the region to come up with specific items of development, insisting that “Niger Delta needs special attention by all. It’s not Federal Government alone, it’s not state governments alone, it needs local government attention. It needs family attention, and even the attention of our development partners.”

President Obasanjo said the sitting of the council was open as non-members were at liberty to attend meetings as observers.

While agreeing with suggestions that communities should benefit directly from the resources derived from their areas, he said government would pay attention to the provision of jobs, infrastructure as well as education. “I believe the country will enjoy a certain amount of serenity, peace and harmony if these things are provided. We must have short-, medium- and long-time solutions,” he said.

The President said he was satisfied with the outcome of the meeting and advised governors to give ears to the opinion of youths. “This is a very, very good meeting, but it is to lay the foundation of where we go from here,” he said.

Expressing satisfaction with the level of work and contributions of the NDDC to the development of theNiger Delta, he acknowledged the testimony that the commission remained and not be scrapped.

He also acknowledged testimonies that even the militant youths and the entire youths of the Niger Delta believe in Nigeria and love Nigeria, but insisted that their views be respected. He urged the state governors to show commitment to the course of the NDDC.

Delta A 'National Challenge'

Speaking at the opening of the meeting, President Obasanjo described the problems of the Niger Delta as a national challenge, and admitted that not much had been done to solve the multifarious problems of the region.

“We must agree that the problem or the challenge is not a tribal challenge. It’s not a sectional challenge, it’s a national challenge and even though it affects a section of our society, it has implications for all of us and implications beyond our borders,” he said.

However, he defended the Federal Government’s efforts aimed at developing the region over the years and debunked as false allegations that successive governments had turned deaf ears to attempting at solving the developmental problems of the Niger Delta.

"What we must, however, admit is that efforts that have been made have not fully addressed the issues or have not fully addressed the challenges,” he said.
He cited the13 per cent derivation and the creation of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as part of the initiative geared in favour of the region.

Acknowledging the contributions of the oil companies in bearing the responsibilities of the Niger Delta, he said government needed to redouble its commitment to the people of the area. Obviously tired of the growing spate of violence in the Niger Delta, President Obasanjo said violent actions were counter productive, even as he called for multifarious solutions to arresting the problems of the region. “We must realise that violence is futility. It does not solve any human problem satisfactorily. What solves human problems satisfactorily is dialogue.”

On why the stakeholders’ meeting was convened, he reminded the meeting that the forum was not convened to blame anybody for the failure to fully solve the problems of the area, stressing: “We are not here to blame one another or to blame anybody because this is a long standing challenge and what we have to do is to find how we can deal consistently with the challenge.

"I don’t think the purpose is for us to go on lamenting. We are not here to lament. We are not even here except to make it guide and direct the way we move forward. We are not here to go to the past because we know that the situation in the Niger Delta has been calling attention.

“For me, I don’t think that we are here to start exchanging blame because if we are going to talk of the situation and who is to blame, each and every one of us would have its blame. So, to me, we are not here to find who is wrong and who is right but to identify what is right to be done,” he said. President Obasanjo decried the failure of leadership at the communal level, saying in the process of understudying violence at the region he made heartbreaking discoveries.

According to him, “I have discovered what one calls collapse of communities, community values, community ethos, and communal lives. I have discovered multiplicity of militia groups. I have discovered painfully violence being extolled to the level of interest. I have also painfully discovered a situation where leaders have not been able to lead for whatever reason. Where followers have wretched the function of leadership. Where leaders have been made impotent. Where as a result, immaturity has been enthroned.

"I have also discovered buck-passing. We are not here to pass buck. We are here to move forward. What I hope to achieve at the end of the meeting is a new approach, a new orientation, a new determination, a new method of addressing the issues that are of great concern to all us in the Niger Delta and in the coastal states in general. Be more prescriptive in ourdeliberation. We have one thing in common. We are children of God Almighty. We must exhibit love, respect and responsibility,” he said.

Among those in attendance were Governor Peter Odili of Rivers; Governor Victor Attah of Akwa Ibom; Governor Donald Duke of Cross River; Governor Goodluck Jonathan of Bayelsa; Governor James Ibori of Delta; Amanyenabo of Twon Brass, Chief Alfred Diete Spiff; former Governor of Old Rivers State and Timi Alaibe, Executive Director, Finance and Administration, NDDC.

Others were: Senator Patrick Osakwe; King Edward Pepple III King of Bonny; Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, former Chairman of NDDC; Mr Olaka Nwogu; Emma Aguariavwodo, MD, NDDC; ministers; youth organisations; Senator Fred Brume; Chief Kenneth Gbagi; Ambassador Sam Edem (NDDC chairman); and Alhaji Atiku Abubarkar.

On another development, the daily newspaper Punch of Nigeria reported today on a peaxce plan proposed by an independent foundation seeking peace in the Delta, one of the most prolific oil regions on earth:

Foundation sets agenda for Niger Delta’s development

Clara Nwachukwu

The Niger Delta Peace Foundation, a non- governmental organisation seeking peace in the region, has proposed a seven-point agenda for peace and stability in the oil-rich area.

The President-General of the organisation, Chief Daniel Ebahor, in a statement on Wednesday in Lagos, said these steps are necessary to bring about sustainable peace and development in the region.

The Foundation advised government to ensure that the stakeholders’ forum it initiated must be able to develop a master plan capable of transforming the Delta.

The group also called on the stakeholders there to focus on human development and livelihood, rather than hostage-taking and primordial violence.

Against this backdrop, militant groups were urged to declare a cease-fire and re-focus attention on political accountability in the region and the nation.

In return, oil companies were encouraged to expand their conception of corporate social responsibility, noting that community relations goes beyond building of schools and clinics.

It argued that while government took the responsibility of providing amenities in the communities, the oil companies should engage in concrete effort by helping the communities to develop alternative and sustainable economies.

“Oil companies can make use of gas to stimulate small- and medium-scale industries across the states in the region, and thereby create an industrial revolution that would eradicate youths' restiveness,” Ebahor said.

In line with the NEITI initiative on transparency and accountability, the Peace Foundation also called on the National Assembly to enact a legislation that would hold the state and local governments fully accountable for the use the derivation fund and other statutory allocations.

He noted that such a law was already existing in the Chad Republic, which ensures that at least 80 per cent of the oil revenue accruing to the states in the region are devoted to five priority areas including health, education, rural development, infrastructure, water and environmental resources.

The PUNCH, Thursday April 06, 2006

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