PANDEF Issues: Stakeholders trade blames on origin, ownership

Edwin Kiagbodo Clark

• Those Fomenting Trouble Are A Few Ijaws In Delta State— Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe
• Clark Is Autocratic, Not A Team Player— Ekayama Loyibo

On Sunday, September 24, 2017, immediately The Guardian On Sunday hit the newsstands, my phones started ringing non-stop. As a reporter, I knew that these calls would not be unconnected with our story of the day, entitled “Why We Removed Clark, Others As PANDEF Leaders.”

At about 2.30 p.m., I decided to pick some of the calls. The first person to speak with me introduced himself as His Highness Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe. He claimed to be a PANDEF chieftain. He also said he was a former State Security Adviser under His Excellency, Sir Dr. Peter Odili of Rivers State. He went on to explain that he is a prominent Ijaw chief, a politician and business executive.

The very articulate Chief went on to say: “Mr. Omonhinmin, PANDEF is a grassroots movement of the South-South people. You must not allow yourself to be used by a group of people with selfish motives to destroy the body.”

The next caller introduced himself as High Chief Mike Ekayama Loyibo, who said he is the national Coordinator of the new group, Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress (PANDPC).

He said: “I have just finished reading your interview with His Royal Majesty Pere Charles Ayemi-Botu. His position in this matter is our position. We are the authentic group. We have in our group His Excellency, former governor of Bayelsa State Timpire Sylva; Hon. Justice Francies Fedode Tabai JSC Rtd CFR; King Joseph Timiyan; Prof. Christopher A. Dime, Founder/Pioneer President of Ijaw National Congress (INC.); Prof. Benjamin Okaba, Secretary Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress; Prof. Eyo Etim Eyoung, former NDDC Commissioner; AVM Austin Ekehon (Rtd.); Bishop Dr. Mike Emu, Chairman Hoscom; DIG Mike Zuokumor (Rtd.); Former Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State Hon Peremobowei Ebebi; Rt Hon Olisa Omegwe, former Speaker House of Assembly.

“In this same group are the King of Ugehili Kingdom, the King of Opokuma kingdom, chairman of Traditional rulers’ council of Akwa Ibom State and the current Executive Chairman of TROMPCON, Rev. O.J. Agbarah, Olorogun Engr. Paul and Rt. Hon Mercy Alo Isei. All the persons I mentioned are members of the new group. Whatsoever name pleases Chief Clark and his few supporters they can call us, but all we know is that, we are more credible than some of the members of PANDEF.”

In his submission, His Highness Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe said: “Let me start by saying I am very much disappointed with His Royal Majesty Pere Dr. Charles Ayemi-Botu JP, the Paramount Ruler of the Ancient Saibiri Kingdom in Burutu Local Government of Delta State. I am disappointed on the ground that on September 15, 2017, we met in Warri at Wellington Hotel to resolve the so-called differences in PANDEF. In that meeting, it was resolved that nobody should go to the media. But I am so surprised to read him in The Guardian this morning, and he has said so many things. With due respect to the Royal Majesty, he played no significant role in the formation of PANDEF, which was founded on October 7, 2016, when all the various groups in Niger Delta came together and decided to adopt one name.

“The whole process of peace-building started with the Niger Delta Dialogue And Contact Group, which was headed by King Alfred Diete-Spiff. But even before that group came into being, I played a very strong role for it to come into existence. Because Judith Asumi and I met with the European Union in December 2016, after I had given a security report about the impending danger of what was going to happen in the whole of Niger Delta Region. During that meeting with the EU, I told them the implication and why the crisis in that region will come. This particular report was rightly published in most of the major newspapers in Nigeria at that time. And when I addressed the EU, the American Embassy and the British High Commission in Nigeria, I mentioned to them the danger and urgent need for peace-building in this region. Based on that report, the EU decided to support the Niger Delta Dialogue Committee, which held its first meeting in Uyo. And that process is still on. This Niger Delta Dialogue and Contact Group then set up two bodies: Group A and Group B. Group A was led by His Royal Majesty Alfred Diete-Spiff. This group was to dialogue with the Federal Government. Group B, led by Elder E.K. Ogoriba, was to dialogue with the boys. The idea was for us to get a ceasefire from the boys, while we dialogue.

“Interestingly, because of my pivotal role, I belong to the two groups. The Ogoriba group met with the boys and we got temporary ceasefire from them. Then the Spiff group also met with President Muhammadu Buhari. King Spiff as at then led the two groups. King Spiff, Ambassador Ukoyo and Judith Asumi met with President Buhari and discussed with him on the need for dialogue. At that meeting, President Buhari insisted that he needed to know the group to dialogue with.

“Within this period, the Costal State Group, led by Chief E.K. Clark met in PTI Effurun-Warri. I also attended that meeting. At that meeting, we saw the need to make peace in the Niger Delta Region and, therefore, we had to close ranks. Then there was another group led by Obong Victor Attah, the former governor of Akwa Ibom State. They also called a meeting in Abuja. And all of us were saying almost the same thing: that we need to come together to form a central body. So, with all these meetings, it was resolved that all these groups should collapse into a body to be known as PANDEF, with Clark as the national leader, His Royal Majesty Alfred Diete-Spiff as chairman, while Obong Attah became Spiff’s co-chairman; and Ledum Mittee should act as PANDEF Secretary. A central working committee was also formed. In all this manoeuvres, I did not see Pere Ayemi-Botu playing any role.

“Be that as it may, the idea of PANDEF was to make the body a grassroots organisation, that we its leadership should be from all the Local Government Areas in the states of Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River. Without much ado, a constitution-drafting committee was also set up and the constitution, as we speak, has already been drafted. According to the PANDEF Constitution, which will be deliberated upon any moment from now and ratified, the highest organ of PANDEF will be the National Assembly and that body made it clear that all Niger Delta sons and daughters– whether rich, powerful or poor, whatsoever their status in the society– will become members, by paying a subscription fee that will be prescribed by the constitution, and once you pay that fee and get your card, you become a member. Mind you, PANDEF is not an elitist club, but a grassroots movement that will cut across all the Local Government Areas in the Niger Delta and the South-South Region.

“PANDEF has structures. After the General Assembly, we have the Board of Trustees, which is to comprise of selected people from all the six states that make up PANDEF. But before now, some of us had suggested that we include states like Ondo, Imo and Abia in PANDEF, because of the political exigencies. PANDEF is like Afenifere, Arewa Consultative Forum and Ohanaeze Ndigbo. The idea of including these other states was put on hold, because we would not want a situation, where our plans are leaked to groups from other regions. So, we decided that for now, let PANDEF membership be restricted to these six states. But we are still considering how we can collaborate with other groups that have common or similar ideas with us on national issues. PANDEF is open to any group, or international organisations and agencies that share common ideals with it, alongside the Federal Government of Nigeria for collaboration. The second most important group in PANDEF after the General Assembly is the National Advisory Council, which would be made up of respected leaders from the region, who will be carefully selected from the various states. Part of their responsibility would be to advise the body in all matters. Thereafter, we have the National Executive Council, after which comes the State Executive Councils, and then down the line the Local Government Executive Council.

“We haven’t been able to get officers for these positions because we wanted PANDEF constitution to be filed with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) first. That has been done and the process is ongoing for the body’s registration. It is my view that between October 12 and 15 this year, PANDEF members will meet in Port Harcourt. And at that meeting, which will be the PANDEF General Assembly meeting, all these issues will be carefully looked into and resolved. This, therefore, means that all Niger Delta sons and daughters, governors, senators, House of Assembly members, chiefs, kings and everybody from the Region are free to attend that meeting, where we will adopt the PANDEF constitution, as well as elect national officers to run the body’s affairs. These National Officers will now supervise elections into various offices up to the local council areas in the six states.

“So, PANDEF is not an organisation that is owned by one ethnic group. It is owned by people from all the places in the whole of Niger Delta and the South-South Region. The PANDEF constitution is very clear, as it says: “every ethnic nationality in the region has a stake and must be represented in the General Assembly.” So, I am surprised that a group of Niger Deltans, whether they are Ijaws or not, have called themselves another name and said they are competing with PANDEF. Let me emphasise this: PANDEF is not in competition with anybody or group. And PANDEF is not begging anybody to join them. Everybody has a right of association, but in the interest of peace, we decided to meet with this group on September 15, 2017 in Warri to resolve gray areas. I am surprised that His Royal Majesty Pere Ayemi-Botu, because of his personal grudges against Chief E. K. Clark, decided to grant you an interview, which is very wrong. No group of persons can hold us to ransom. And again, I want to make it clear that the Ijaws do not own PANDEF, though Ijaws are members of PANDEF. What you must note is that the people trying to foment trouble are some Ijaw men from Delta State only. No other people outside Delta State are in their group.

“PANDEF was not formed by a militant group. Therefore, anybody saying PANDEF was formed by a militant group or agitators is misleading the public and Nigerians in this matter. PANDEF came as a necessity, when there was crisis in the Niger Delta, and the leadership of the entire Niger Delta, which includes former governors, former ministers and Special Advisers, alongside other former public office holders, including retired Supreme Court judges, Courts of Appeal and High Courts, all strata of Niger Delta, felt there was need for us to look for peace in the Niger Delta Region. Before now, the general impression about the Niger Delta as a whole is that it is a region, where people make trouble unnecessarily, and that the region is not safe for investments.

“Because of this erroneous belief, other regions in Nigeria are benefitting from what we were supposed to benefit naturally. So, we are striving to build a new leadership that will assure the international community alongside other Nigerians, and we are saying: Look, Niger Delta is now a very safe place to do business. We are dialoguing with government to ensure we make the place better instead of confrontation, breaking of oil pipes and the destruction of man and materials. Well, any group that feels what we are struggling to do now in the region is not good enough; let it continue. But PANDEF will not allow commotion of the past to continue anymore.”

Palace Watch reached out to His Royal Majesty Pere Dr. Charles Ayemi-Botu to ask why he decided to break the peace agreement reached at the meeting that held on September 15, 2017, when all sides were urged not to speak to the media on this matter.

IN his reaction, he said: “The so-called peace meeting was held on September 15, 2017 in Warri. Chief Clark spoke with you on September 17, 2017. It was only just proper and fair that I also state my side of the story. That was the reason I called you.”

HIGH Chief Mike Ekayama Loyibo, who said he is the national Coordinator of the Pan-Niger Delta People’s Congress (PANDPC) said: “Before today, there was this group called Concerned Niger Delta Association. During the crisis in the Niger Delta, we were also working round the clock to get this matter resolved with General John Yeri and General Ini, alongside other former military governors, as well as other people in the region. I was the convener and leader of this group, but I realised there was need for all of us to come together to find a lasting peace in the region, so that we can be stronger. So we all dissolved into one group and decided to form what was then known as the PANDEF with E.K. Clark as the leader.

“During the formation of PANDEF, we had thought that the body would be open for everybody’s participation. We did not realise on time that Chief Clark was out to use the body to re-launch and make himself relevant again and pocket the association. We were all in PANDEF. When we arranged a meeting and finally secured an audience with President Muhammadu Buhari, we all attended that meeting. But before that meeting with the President, Chief Clark began to do business with all of us. Once we gathered in his place, he would say, ‘this is the person that will go to a certain meeting; this other person will not go,’ just because he did not like the person’s face. He was doing this to people who are very relevant to the struggle.

“Clark was more concerned about an intimate delegation to see Mr. President, even when the people in this delegation have nothing to offer their people back home. It got to a point when we told Chief Clark pointblank: ‘why don’t you wait at home, while we will go and see Mr. President and report back to you afterwards?’ This, he would not take. After a heated argument, he said he would go to the first meeting with the President, but at subsequent meetings, he would wait for us to report back to him.

“What angered all of us was the fact that Chief Clark is not a team player. He is very autocratic. The document we produced and presented to the Nigerian government was not all-embracing, especially the areas that affect the boys in the Creeks. I was a member of the delegation that went to see Mr. President. The truth must be told that the meeting was not too pleasing. At that particular meeting, the President told us that he had a prepared speech, but he would not bother to read it. Mr. President wondered how he could be sure; if he decided to deal with us another group would not come up again to say it is representing the people of the region and the boys in the Creeks. The President drew our attention to the fact that that very particular day we met with him in Aso Villa, there was bombing in the Creeks. He said now that we have submitted our 16-point agenda, he would ask the Security Agencies to work and identify the group that has influence to deal with the boys in the Creeks. The President promised to articulate all other materials and get back to us.

“This was not what we expected from the President. So, we left Aso Rock disappointed. We all agreed to accompany Chief Clark in that delegation, because as leaders, we wanted to take our destiny in our hands. We began to appeal to the boys in the Creeks, that by blowing up the oil pipelines, they are crippling the nation’s economic resources and also in effect, harming the environment and shortening lives of the people of that region through their activities. This was partly why the boys decided to put a stop to their activities in the region. The boys in the Creeks are a very reasonable set of people. Some of them are medical doctors; some others are engineers, while others are lawyers. So, they keyed into our peace process. About two weeks after our meeting with Mr. President, the militants became very aggrieved, saying we did not talk about their position in the agenda we submitted to the Nigerian government. So, when, as the Niger Delta People’s Congress, we went to see Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, we had to convince him on the need to tour the Niger Delta Region and see for himself first hand areas, where oil and other related activities are affecting our people.”

High Chief Mike Ekayama Loyibo said it is wrong for members of PANDPC to be addressed as an aggrieved group. He said they are not aggrieved in any way or manner, stressing: “What we are after is the betterment of the people of our region, and proper and purposeful leadership that is devoid of personal interest.

He also said it was untrue for Chief Clark to allege that, when he met with General Boroh in Abuja, he was rebuked by General Boroh and asked to go and beg Chief Clark.

“Nothing like that happened,” he explained. “All we are saying is for Chief Clark to retire. He is already too old and he cannot lead us in the struggle ahead of us.

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