Posted by By Emma Amaize on
THE British Government has dispatched to Nigeria, a delegation to help in resolving the recurring crisis in the Niger Delta.
THE British Government has dispatched to Nigeria, a delegation to help in resolving the recurring crisis in the Niger Delta. The delegation led by the head of the Africa Department (Equatorial), Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mr. Tim Hitchens, was in Warri yesterday where it met with the Olu of Warri, Ogiame Atuwatse, and Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark, on how to find an acceptable and enduring solution to the crisis.
Chief Clark condemned President Olusegun Obasanjo's handling of issues affecting the Niger Delta, saying that Ijaw leaders had met and resolved to tell the president to stop dealing with the leader of Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), Alhaji Asari Dokubo, as if the matter he was discussing with him was a personal problem between both of them. He said it was a matter affecting the destiny of the Ijaw nation and the leaders did not want it to be mishandled or the life of Dokubo put under threat by government forces in Abuja.
The British team also comprising the Deputy High Commissioner in Nigeria, Mr. David Wyatt, and Political Adviser of the commission, Alisadair Walker, was received on behalf of the Olu of Warri in his palace by Itsekiri leader, Chief Mabiaku, while Chief Clark played host to them at his country home in Kiagbodo. They were billed to meet with Urhobo leaders last night.
Mr. Hitchens and the delegation was in the Niger Delta to find out from the leaders the grievances that led to a state of insecurity, not only in Warri but the entire Niger Delta. Vanguard learnt that the British government resorted to the approach of meeting the leaders because it wanted to have an independent account of the cause of the tension in the Niger Delta to be able to advise the Federal Government accordingly in their bilateral talks.
The team leader who asked probing questions said the diplomats had been following the "unfolding events in the Niger Delta. The British people live and work in the region and they have to understand what was happening; what happened in the past; the thinking of the different ethnic nationalities; the situation today and the way forward from their own perspectives."
The Itsekiri and Ijaw traced the problem to alleged injustice and inequality by the Federal Government and the oil companies in the region that produces the wealth that sustains the nation .
Chief Clark told the team that the British High Commissioner came on a similar mission some time ago and he assured him on behalf of the Ijaw that there would not be trouble but the oil companies and government had continued to operate as if the host communities were conquered territories which they could plunder at will.
Allaying the fears of the British delegation which noted that the Shell Petroleum Development Company had relocated from Warri to Port Harcourt because of the crisis in Warri, he vowed that the Ijaw, Itsekiri and Urhobo would no longer go to war again over oil matters because they had discussed and known who their common enemies were.
He said that the Ijaw, who account for 90 per cent of the oil in the country, had not been appreciated by the nation, adding that "when the trouble started, we told the government that gun boat diplomacy would not work. We had a similar example in the past: they thought that when Isaac Boro died, it was over. Boro went and Asari Dokubo came and when Asari goes, another Asari will come. So there cannot be peace in the Niger Delta until justice is done. Any where in the world, nobody likes oppression, particualarly the British people. But what we have seen so far in Nigeria, the nearer you are to the oil, the poorer you are, the more wretched you are, you do not look like somebody who lives in Texas or California but the farther away, in Sokoto and other places, the richer you are, you are able to gather money to become President of Nigeria.
"This is criminal negligence, marginalisation and these are what our boys are fighting against. The crisis in Warri is a local one but in the Niger Delta, the Ijaw feel they have not been taken care of by the Federal Government. The President of the World Bank warned recently in Ethiopia that the Federal Government of Nigeria should not waste away the surplus money, that part of this money should be used in developing the Niger Delta. But if a man like the World Bank President could see the matter in this light, why can't our president see it that way.
"You (Obasanjo) created the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). They are parading themselves up and down. NDDC cannot be a substitute for government. The Federal Government which neglected our area now believes that since they have the NDDC, every project should be carried out by the NDDC. The road between Port Harcourt and Warri is the most important economic road in Nigeria, but you can see what it is. I was driving from Port Harcourt to Warri one day but was trapped. Why? Two trailers wanted to overtake each other. There are about 20 bridges on that road, they are all dilapidated, nobody cares. The president promises me, that oh, we shall include it in this year's budget.
"The question of Warri-Port Harcourt dual carriageway, what did they do? They said the NDDC should spend N600 million to rehabilitate the road, that is not the job of the NDDC. So, these are the problems we are facing and we cannot continue. We have a road between Warri and Benin, a dual carriageway, it was started in 1982. Up till today, it has not been completed. Bayelsa State is the only state in this country that is not hooked to the national grid. They use gas turbine. Nigerians are not being fair to us," he said.
Mr. Hitchens interjected at this stage to ask what happened to the billions of Naira collected by the state governments and Chief Clark replied that the same attitude of the Federal Government was what the people were facing from their state governments. He, however, said "it is true they are building some bridges and roads for us, but we feel that we should receive more attention because we are the neglected people."
But Mr. Hitchens was not done yet. He asked: "Do your Assembly members say this and when they say this, what response do they get from the state gpovernment? Clark replied: "They do, it is like a cry in the wilderness, how many of them , three or four of them. ."
Mr. Hitchens observed that the interest of the Ijaw and Itsekiri were the same from the explantion of Chief Clark and that a combined effort by them would make a significant impact in the struggle. But Clark said "it will make some impact, not a significant one because if you put them together, we are not up to one-third or one-fourth."
Mr. Hitchens noted that so many British citizens who fled Warri to Port Harcourt still harbour great fears about returning to Warri and asked the Ijaw leader: "How do I persuade them to come?" Clark, responding, said "that between 1997 and today, there have been political troubles between the Ijaw and Itsekiri in Warri but by this year, the issues were being sorted out and we are understanding ourselves. Government is also doing its best. I have said it before when the British High Commissioner came here, we won't fight again, particularly when we realised that Warri which was a second class township in 1912 when Port Harcourt was founded as a town, today is one backward place. So, the only thing we can do to encourage them to return is that there will be peace in Warri. Armed robbery is general in Nigeria, that can be taken of.
Chief Clark also complained of high level of bunkering of oil which the Federal Government knows but is not doing much to tackle it.