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30.04.2009 Feature Article

Tony Uranta & The Niger Delta Technical Committee Report

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(“They claimed that since the beginning of oil exploration activities in their area, they have found it increasingly difficult to ply their trade due to incessant sea incursion and water pollution that resulted in low catch in the shallow waters thereby forcing them to move to the high seas.”)

Tony I. Uranta, who's a member of the Federal Government's Technical Committee on Niger Delta, recently urged the government to release the white paper on the Committee's report. While he was not alone on that, the Rivers State chapter of the formidable Action Congress (AC) had also called on the president of Federal Republic of Nigeria to also do the same. Tonye Princewill, the Rivers AC leader, who's also a member of the Technical Committee on Niger Delta, has accused the Federal Government of not being indisputably committed to resolving the Niger Delta crisis. Is this not insincerity to the Niger Delta region? The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in the of April 13, 2009 said, “it would continue to hold the British hostages identified as Robin Barry Hughes and Matthew John Maguire, until the government drops all charges against Okah and frees him. MEND allegedly rescued the British men from pirates who kidnapped them from a vessel, MV HD Blue Ocean, around the Sombriero River off the shore of Rivers State on September 8, 2008.”

According to the Guardian: “though the government has accepted the recommendation of the technical committee to set up a decommissioning, disarmament and rehabilitation commission, it has however declined a negotiated release of Okah who is facing a 62-count criminal charge of treason, treasonable felony and attempts to overthrow the Federal Government.” But according to MEND's mouthpiece, Jomo Gbomo, "Nigeria is not a country where the rule of law is genuine. We all stood aside and allowed a fake judicial system hang Ken Saro-Wiwa. All the commanders listed for the so-called amnesty happen to be in Okah's charge sheet as wanted men. Now, the question is why should they believe such an offer when they are yet to be captured and tried." Further, MEND alleged that some top government officials and military officers both serving and retired involved in various oil deals are afraid that if released, he would expose them and cause a huge embarrassment to the administration. "It has always been so, but all that will change when the oil executives sit in Lagos without any oil wells to manage. Then, you wonder for how long Lagos will be a safe haven? It will not be long that the city begins to attract the vices that follow the oil industry; such as prostitution, greed and kidnapping which have started.”

Speaking against the surroundings of the President's amnesty for the Militants, Uranta is of the hope that the release of the paper would expose government commitment to the region. In Uranta's words: “The President's declaration is courageous and statesmanlike, but it is unfathomable why the government still held on to the white paper on the committee's report. "Its exhaustive recommendations would have gone a long way in actualizing the demands of the people.” While buttressing his point, Uranta said, “the truce would be more meaningful if government committed itself to the recommendations of the committee on the region. The President recently announced Federal Government's offer of amnesty to militants of the Niger Delta.”

An international Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), Action Aid International, has also said recently that, “amnesty to militants in the Niger-Delta should be backed by massive development, which will signal an end to environmental degradation in the area.” Action Aid Communication Officer, Mr. Tunde Aremu, who made this assertion noted that, “granting of amnesty to the militants was not a solution to the problems of pollution, hunger, diseases, loss of biodiversity and lack of basic amenities.” According to him, “youth restiveness and militancy in the Niger-Delta is caused by underdevelopment and exploitation of resources in the region by oil-prospecting companies.”

Furthermore Aremu lamented, “Government's planned amnesty, though a welcome development, would achieve the desired objective if it (government) comes up with workable solutions to problems of environmental degradation, disempowerment and infrastructure plaguing the region,'' he said. ``Government is yet to face these problems headlong. Until these teething problems are looked into, granting of amnesty would be an exercise in futility because it not just enough.''

Ledum Mitee, who's MOSOP leader and the leader of the Niger Delta Techinacal Committee in Kaduna recently urged the Federal Government to find a stand-in for Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) to explore the abundant petroleum resources in Ogoni land. Where Mittee hails from.

Mitee said: ``We want a replacement. It must not be Shell, because the relationship between the company and Ogoni people has broken down. It must not be Shell again. The company requires legal and social license to operate in Ogoni land. But the Ogoni people have withdrawn the social license. That is why Shell cannot operate in the area…Our people have yet to start ripping the benefit''.

According to reports, “Mitee said the Niger Delta Technical Committee set up by President Umaru Yar'adua, which he chaired, had submitted its report to the government in December 2008. He said some of the highlights of the report included the transformation of the region's infrastructure, to provide jobs for the unemployed youths in the area. Mitee said although the youth were ready to disarm, there was nothing on ground to show that the Federal government was making effort to improve their living condition. Commenting on Vision 20: 2020, he said it would continue to be a mirage unless certain thorny issues were resolved, adding: ``We need to start from the scratch.''

While Mittee was of that opinion, reports also has it that Aremu had, urged the government to compel oil companies to carry out their corporate social responsibility as well as to enforce environmental laws in the Niger-Delta. Aremu also stressed the need for the oil companies to assuage the quandary of the distressed communities. He said that Action Aid had written several situation papers to the Federal and state governments on the health and environmental hazards caused in the region through the operation of the oil companies. The spokesperson urged the government to look into such reports for possible implementation.

It was also gathered that a group under the aegis of Ilaje Fishing Association (IFA) and Association of Ilaje Coastal Fishermen (AICF), at a media briefing in Akure, Ondo State capital recently, also accused the Police and the Nigerian Navy of "allowing themselves to be used against defenseless and unarmed Nigerians who were carrying out a legitimate protest."

According to reports, “It was gathered that 16 members of the association had embarked on a protest to the AGIP platform on Abo Oil Field, located off the Ilaje coast to complain of the effect of oil exploration activities on their environment which they claimed was killing the fishing enterprise, the mainstay of the economy of the area.”

Further, “The fishermen, four of them in each of the four boats that made the convoy, had paddled the six-hour journey to drop a protest letter to a supply tug-boat belonging to the oil company but before they could accomplish their mission, a combined team of Police and Naval personnel, were allegedly drafted to the scene to shoot at the protesters. One of the boats was said to have been sunk by the security forces and the whereabouts of the occupants, whose names were given as Erukusi Goddey, Orisamakin Akin, Mesogboriwon Olumide and Oyo Samuel, have not been known since then. The petition titled: "Terrorism of the defenceless and impoverished Ilaje fishermen by AGIP Oil Company" and sent on their behalf by their counsel, Idowu Mafimisebi of Olusola Oke and Co., was also copied to the Ondo State governor as well as the Inspector-General of Police, the Chief of Naval Staff and the Director of the State Security Services. According to the chairmen of the two associations, Apostle Lemomu Lawrence of IFA and Benjamin Abiodun of AICF, the fishermen had earlier appealed to the oil company, in several correspondences since 2006, to help them cushion the effect of oil exploration activities on their business.”

Angered by the delay in releasing the white paper of the report of the technical committee, Princewill has grumble about the Federal Government's approach to solving the Niger Delta crisis. Princewill, said, “government's delay in implementing the committee's report and granting conditional amnesty to militants has further created skepticism in the minds of the people.” Still reacting, “the government of President Umaru Yar'Adua does not appear to be serious about resolving the crisis in the region and it is not even pretending to do so.” Princewill, on the local level, “charged states like Rivers to set up an oil producing commission to drive development in oil producing communities. He decried the lack of physical and human capacity development in these oil communities.” He said, “ this has become imperative because the 13 per cent derivation allocation from oil revenue was actually targeted at the oil-producing communities, most of which still lack basic necessities of life like water.”

Uranta, who is also the Secretary General of the United Niger Delta Energy Development Security Strategy (UNDEDSS), reportedly said that the Niger Delta issue must be tackled holistically. According to him, Nigeria could no longer afford to continue to delay its promises and pledges to the region, considering the very many disadvantages Niger Delta crises caused to the nation. Meanwhile, the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) in Lagos, has urged the government to have a rethink on setting up another committee to begin fresh deliberations on the recommendations of the Technical Committee Report. The Lagos State Chairman of the CLO, Mr. Eneruvie Enakoko, told NAN that setting up another committee would not only waste resources and manpower, it might create doubts in the minds of the people regarding government's sincerity. Enakoko pointed out that granting amnesty to the Niger Delta militants was only a palliative measure that would not last. ``The militants will revert to arms if at the end of the day there is no significant improvement in the life of people in the region or their demands are still not implemented,'' he added. The Technical Committee report on the Niger Delta was submitted to government in December 2008. But Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan also reportedly, has meanwhile asked Nigerian media to play a positive role in making the amnesty granted militants wishing to lay down their arms workable.

Odimegwu Onwumere, is the Founder of Poet Against Child Abuse (PACA), Oyigbo, Rivers State. 08032552855. [email protected]

Odimegwu Onwumere
Odimegwu Onwumere, © 2009

The author has 586 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: OdimegwuOnwumere

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