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Sara-Igbe: Discountenancing NDA’s threat could return country into recession

Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe

• PANDEF’s Agenda Is To Reposition Niger Delta Towards Economic Development
• Using Force To Solve Niger Delta Question Will Be Catastrophic

Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe, a chieftain of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), told KELVIN EBIRI that some political forces, who fear the group was becoming very influential were behind the crisis plaguing the body in order to whittle down its influence. While warning those behind the scene to desist or risk self destruction, he also cautioned the Federal Government against underestimating the threat by the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA).  

Why is Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) engulfed in crisis?
PANDEF as a body has no problem at all and we are not divided, and we are speaking with one voice. So, as far as I am concerned, we don’t have a problem as such. But what is happening has to do with some persons wanting to foment problem in the region, and they thought the best way to cause trouble is to do what they are doing. But unfortunately, as PANDEF, we are a peaceful organisation; we are a law-abiding organisation, and we don’t have any problem with anybody. We are known to be peaceful in the Niger Delta.

But is the emergence of Pan Niger Delta Peoples Congress (PNDPC), led by Charles Ayemi-Botu, not a pointer that all is not well in PANDEF?
Ayemi-Botu came to one of our meetings and tried to be president, but failed. I really don’t know what his problems are, but whatever maybe his grievances, we have had several meetings to iron them out. I have no problem with him. If he thinks he can form another organisation outside PANDEF, and it will be better than PANDEF, let him go ahead with whatever he is doing. You see, if a woman is beautiful, she will go out and show her beauty, and not to castigate other beautiful women or destroy them. If she is sure of herself, she would say, ‘okay, I am beautiful.’ But what he is doing is to show that he can destroy. I am not surprised because in our meeting in Warri, they confessed that somebody in government was sponsoring them to destabilise PANDEF. The said they have realised their follies and won’t do it again. If having said that they still believe they would be able to support somebody in government to destroy PANDEF (because PANDEF is becoming too strong) so that the person would lay claims to what he does not posses, then good luck to them.  If they have a body, which they think is the rightful body, let them demonstrate it.

They disrupted our meeting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State for no just cause, but for us, whatever has happen has happened, we are going to hold our meeting in Delta State, let them also call their meeting and let us see the calibre of Niger Deltans that would be there. Let them bring their agenda. If their agenda is to use militancy to make money, that is not our agenda. Our agenda is to reposition the Niger Delta towards economic development, and to bring investors to develop the region in the interest of government. We are not interested in pockets of money as they claim. PANDEF is an organisation for every son and daughter of Niger Delta, who wants to be party to it. If you don’t want to be party to it, go ahead and do your own.

But who is it in government that wants to destabilise PANDEF?
During the confession by that other group, they didn’t mention the name of the government official, they just said somebody is asking them to destroy PANDEF and they have realised this, and they will not do it. They said PANDEF is becoming more influential in the region and these persons that have sent them felt it will whittle down their influence in the region.

Did the Niger Delta Avengers’ threat to resume attacks on oil installations merely coincide with the disruption of PANDEF’s meeting?
No. The NDA also blamed PANDEF for prevailing on them to observe a ceasefire, with a promise to dialogue with government to accede to their demands. The NDA accused PANDEF of not bringing anything good in the region, but only talking. These are some of the reasons they gave for wanting to resume attacks. They also asked PANDEF not to talk to them again. PANDEF as a peaceful body will not encourage violence because we know what that will do to the region. We know the advantages of a peaceful environment in attracting investors, especially one that there is peace and security. So, we will not encourage anything that drives away investors from the region. We are still talking to them as fathers.

Let also tell you something. If a son sees somebody insulting his father, that son must react. What happened in Port Harcourt was an insult on Niger Delta. PANDEF is Niger Delta. If you destroy PANDEF, you have destroyed Niger Delta. Everybody has a right to be angry, and more groups will show their annoyance. But we believe that two wrongs cannot make a right, therefore, if they should continue with their anger, it may not lead us anywhere. So, we believe in dialogue; we believe in finding a solution to the crisis.

It is over a year since PANDEF submitted a 16-point agenda to President Muhammadu Buhari. What has happened afterwards?
We presented a 16-point agenda to the Federal Government and it commissioned a 20-point agenda.  We have, however, discovered that government’s 20-point agenda is only three points of our 16-point agenda. We are dialoguing. Our think tank group is meeting to review all events and developments so far, and why government has refused to implement the agreement. We cannot force government to do things, but we believe that if the government sincerely wants peace in the region, it should implement the 16-point agenda, as this would usher in peace and economic development, not only in the Niger Delta, but in the entire nation. We must continue to drum it to them until such a time that government will be willing. It took Moses several times to convince Pharaoh. In every situation it is not easy get to your heart desire from the government immediately, it is a gradual process and we are going to arrive there someday.

What are the consequences of government’s insouciance to the Niger Delta question?
The consequences are enormous. I am afraid because the last time NDA said they will only destroy oil facilities, this time, they say it will be bloody, meaning people will die. And when there is a fight between two elephants, the grasses suffer, and the economy will suffer. We don’t want that to happen in the region. We don’t want Operation Crocodile Smile to turn to crocodile cry. All we want is peace. If government is sincere, the few days the Niger Delta Avengers struck, oil production came down to about 800,000 barrels per day, and if they bring oil production to zero level, it is the economy that will suffer. This will push the country into recession. If the country believes that it can solve the problem that would come out of this using force, it will be disappointed. The late President Umaru Yar’adua tried it and he saw that it was becoming worse for him. You are going to kill people, but the economy will collapse and when the economy collapses you cannot run the government without resources as the government will go into debt and nobody will lend you money when you have no means to pay back.

Government should be realistic and see to it that it avoids crisis in the region. Niger Delta still remains the economic hub of this country. The situation here can be likened to an engine. If you don’t take good care of it, the engine would knock and production has to be stopped. Thereafter, you would have to buy a new engine or take time to work on the old one before production can commence. We don’t want that situation to repeat itself in the region because it will affect our new initiative of making the region an industrial hub, and government will suffer immense loss.

Should the NDA be taken serious amid operation crocodile smile?
The NDA are people you cannot underrate. They have done it before and they can still do it. The military was there when they were destroying the pipelines before we intervened. As you may know, guerrilla warfare is the worst fight you can fight all over the world, and several countries have been destroyed through it, and we don’t want Nigeria to be part of it.

The tenure of this government ends in 2019, any hope that it would address all issues raised by Niger Deltans?
It is left for government to take advantage of the prevailing peace because if it gets to a war situation, I don’t think it will have time to organise elections. No government can talk of a good election when the country is in crisis. The international community is also witnessing what is happening in the region, and we don’t want a situation where government will be branded as engaging in ethnic cleansing and genocide.

If a government instigates a crisis, the international community will know, and so the Federal Government should not be seen as engineering crisis in the region because of vested interests. Since the Federal Government is for the whole country, it should be fair at all times to everyone, and so should take steps to keep the Niger Delta calm so that we can continue to have revenue to run the country.

Is it true that people are using PANDEF to pursue Ijaw agenda?
There is nothing like Ijaw agenda in PANDEF. PANDEF is for every ethnic group in the Niger Delta region. Don’t forget that the Ijaw are majority in the Niger Delta. They are in Ondo, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom states. They are the only ethnic group that have this spread. And so, in any state if you want to bring somebody, it is possible you will bring somebody from Ijaw extraction. You cannot say because there are Ijaw in Bayelsa State, the Ijaw in Rivers should die. What is important is credible leadership. The chairmanship of PANDEF is going to Akwa Ibom State. It may not go to the Ijaw ethnic group there, but to the bigger ethnic group. Deputy chairman is going to Bayelsa State, secretary to Delta State, treasurer to Rivers State and organising secretary to Edo State. All the offices are shared accordingly to the various states. So, whosoever the states bring, fine. The way PANDEF is, there is no way any ethnic group will be left out. It is a matter of contribution. You are not there to contribute for your ethnic group, you are there to contribute to the interest of the region.

Is it true that Chief Edwin Clark’s overbearing influence is responsible for the crisis in PANDEF?
What do you mean by overbearing influence? If any of them who is accusing Clark has a father of that age, I don’t think their father can do what Clark is doing for Niger Delta. If a man of over 90 years has a passion for a region and is still working for the region, what is wrong with that? Whether you like it or not, a  90-year-old man will see a 40  or 50 year man as a child because he can be his grandfather. So, all you need to do is to make him to understand your approach to issues because your level of thinking is different from his. You have to synergise if you are a good follower. A good leader is also a good follower. If you have a leadership in place in a group, you must learn to convince it so that it will take your path and not to throw stones at an old man, who has sacrificed all his life for a region.

Will the crisis not divide PANDEF into splinter groups?
They cannot succeed. PANDEF is a grassroots organisation. Watch and see how it will unfold its programme. PANDEF is not owned by one or two men, it is owned by the entire Niger Delta region. If you read PANDEF’s constitution, you will understand what it is all about. Every son and daughter of Niger Delta is a member of PANDEF. So, you cannot kill an organisation that is owned by the people because PANDEF is not owned by a political party, or by one ethnic group. So, for you to kill an organisation that is not owned by one ethnic group, it is going to be very difficult. PANDEF is not a political organisation. PANDEF will not be interested in who becomes the governor of a state. PANDEF will not sponsor any candidate, but is only interested in holding government accountable to the people of the Niger Delta. If you are a governor, you must be accountable to your people. That is all that PANDEF is interested in. Our interest is to refocus the Niger Delta, and not in who becomes a governor or a senator. We are not interested in parties. Our interest is how can we make the place safe; how we can attract investors; how we can industrialise the place and create employment. Anybody who wants to destroy PANDEF will destroy himself because we are a moving train.



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