Niger Delta youths, under the aegis of Anioma Youths Forum Worldwide, has said there may be fresh agitation in the Niger Delta over the recent signing of the Petroleum Industry Bill into law, describing it as an aberration to the oil-rich region.
This is as the Defence Headquarters said the military was ready to forestall the breakdown of law and order in the region.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on Monday, signed the PIB into law after over 20 turbulent years,.
But the National President of the forum, Nnamdi Ofonye, in an interview, said the negligence of the Federal Government might lead to a new agitation.
He said, “We will collectively take a stand in our meeting this Sunday (today). Inasmuch as the eventual signing of the bill into law is one that all of Niger Delta has been craving, unfortunately, it didn’t turn out to be what we expected.
“The three per cent is still a far cry from what we thought, and this goes to show that our representatives do not take our plight to heart because if the bill that was just signed was presented for the general well-being of the people, it wouldn’t have generated controversy.
“If the generality of the Niger Delta is against the bill, I see no reason why our lawmakers did not stop it at the National Assembly. This is what we always got because when we ask for the constituency briefing, they don’t see it as anything but a waste of time.
“We have cried to them about what we want but most of them went to support the bill against the wishes of the people. They have failed us.
“The Niger Delta will renew its agitation. In fact, there have been some threats in some quarters. But we, the youth of the Niger Delta, are networking and speaking among ourselves to know what next to do.
“I do not want to pre-empt any group now, but currently, we are all planning to meet to review the so-called law. So far so good, the law has not gone down well with the youth of the Niger Delta. We will make our position known soon.”
However, the Director of Defence Information, Major General Benjamin Sawyerr, in an interview with one of our correspondents, advised anyone aggrieved with the law to seek means other than violence to seek redress.
Asked if the military had plans to checkmate the treats issued by the repentant militants, he said, “The military is ready at all times to address the issue of security concerns. We have all it takes to ensure that the peace and stability enjoyed in the Niger Delta remains and keep everyone secured.
“I believe they will resolve whatever their grievances are and it won’t degenerate into any crisis. However, we are always prepared to ensure there is peace in every nook and cranny of the country.”
However, two senior military officers from the South-South, who spoke with one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, appealed to the militants to embrace peace.
They said they would not speak on the record because the activities of the military in the region had already been centralised and that only the DHQ was allowed to make official comments on such issues.
They nevertheless warned that the military would not allow anyone to interrupt the peace being enjoyed by the people of the region over the signing of the PIB into law by the President.
One of them said, “Look, we are in a democratic setting. The President did not manufacture the bill. The bill, before it was presented for signing, was debated at the National Assembly. Representatives of all the states and communities in the country, South-South inclusive, took part in the debate. The majority of them agreed on the provisions in it before it was presented to the President for signing.
“If the people are not happy, they should rather talk to their people to prepare another bill for the amendment of the one signed. But if they say no and want to resort to self-help, we will not open our eyes and allow anyone to take the country back to the time when there was anarchy. The military is equipped enough to handle such a situation.”
The officer appealed to traditional rulers and opinion leaders in the zone to call their subjects to toe the path of peace.
Also, another senior officer, who equally spoke on condition of secrecy, said the military was always on the alert, warning that “anyone who wants to disrupt the peace and economic interest of the nation would not be spared.”
“While we are not preparing for any war with our brothers and sisters, we also need to say the military or even the police would not be watching while some people would unleash terror on their communities and innocent Nigerians,” he said.
A civil society organisation, Policy Alert, had also on Friday faulted the President’s assent to the Petroleum Industry Act 2021, urging communities to test the provisions of the Act before the courts.
The group, in a statement by its Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Officer, Mrs Nneka Luke-Ndumere, described the presidential assent as “grossly insensitive and problematic.”
It argued that Buhari’s assent to “these vexing provisions” reinforces the politics of exclusion and expropriation that it said had long characterised the relationship between the Federal Government and the oil-producing communities.
In an interview, a former militant leader in the Niger Delta region, Alhaji Mujahid Asari-Dokubo, described the signing of the PIA by Buhari as the greatest wrong that had been done to the oil-bearing region.
Asari-Dokubo said that though the bill had been signed into law despite public outcry over some of its contents, the day of reckoning would come.
He expressed dissatisfaction that the demand for 10 per cent oil revenue for oil and gas producing communities in Niger Delta was shunned but reduced to three per cent in the Petroleum Industry Act.
“It (signing of the PIB into law) is not different from what we had predicted about Muhammadu Buhari. We knew him; we knew his character; we knew how he’d behave. This is the greatest wrong that has been done to our people, and we know that it is somebody like Buhari that will inflict such pain on our people.
“But whatever we do today, we should remember that there would be a day for payback and reckoning. He (Buhari) and the charlatans around him who are saying it is an achievement; from 10 per cent to five per cent (three per cent), know what to do. Anybody who thinks he has a monopoly of violence, cruelty, power, a day of reckoning would surely come,” he said.
On why the militant groups in the Niger Delta region had yet to react to the matter, Asari-Dokubo said, “I cannot speak for the militants because I am not a militant, but a lot of people that have been doing that have been bribed under the amnesty programme.
“They are being paid money. So, what will they return to do? Most of us feel that there is no need to engage a deaf and dumb government. They are not going to listen to you. What they want is the silence of the graveyard.”
Also reacting, the Ijaw Youth Council, which had earlier declared the President and the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, persona non grata, following the signing of the PIA with three per cent allocation to oil-producing communities, said on Saturday that it would not be surprised if there was truth in the speculation that the National Assembly leadership and members allegedly collected $10m bribe to pass the controversial law.
The IYC said its position was based on the fact that the 9th Assembly under Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, and House of Representatives Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, was bent on doing the bidding of the President to the detriment of Nigerians’ interest.
The council stated this in a statement by its national spokesman, Ebilade Ekerefe, in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, on Saturday.
Ekerefe reiterated the vow that the council would treat federal lawmakers from the Niger Delta found to have benefited from the alleged bribe as “infidels.”
The IYC was reacting to media reports that a silent war was raging between the federal legislators and the principal officers of the 9th Assembly over the alleged $10m bribe to speedily pass the PIB.
The lawmakers are said to be angry after uncovering details of how the principal officers grossly shortchanged them in the distribution of the money to pass the new petroleum industry law, despite the overwhelming opposition to the three per cent revenue profit allocated to host communities.
The apex Ijaw youth body said, “We have yet to verify the authenticity of the alleged $10m bribery scandal involving the National Assembly members for the PIB to be passed. But if we find out that any of the National Assembly members from the Niger Delta region is culpable in this alleged bribery scam, they’ll be treated as infidels.
“The IYC is not planning any protest for now. What we said is that President Buhari and the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources should not come to the Niger Delta region for now because of the palpable anger of the people.
“But if they do, I can assure them that they will be greeted with boos and jeers. It will not be the first time such disgraceful treatment will be meted out to leaders from this region, and that will be activated.”
But the Senate has denied that members of the National Assembly received bribes to expedite passage of the PIB, preventing passage of five per cent oil profit share to host communities as proposed in the original version of the bill.
An online news portal, Peoples Gazette, had on Friday reported that members of the National Assembly were bracing for a showdown with their principal officers after uncovering details of how they were grossly short-changed in the distribution of a multimillion-dollar bribe for the passage of the PIB.
The medium had reported that at least $10m was allegedly paid in cash to the lawmakers, which was shared to members of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The report also quoted anonymous lawmakers as being aggrieved that President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan; Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamiala, allegedly took $2m each from the bribe, which was jointly presented by some power brokers in the petroleum sector, to force passage of the bill despite the protests.
It was further reported that the National Assembly members were also allegedly induced by the Federal Government through the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Sylva, to get the bill passed, while Chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), Senator Bassey Akpan, coordinated the sharing.
When contacted to react to the allegation, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ajibola Basiru, was miffed for being asked if the lawmakers were truly bribed.
Basiru said, “Why would you ask such a question from me? Go and ask from where you got such information. You people (journalists) don’t write things like that. I am a member. Where did we collect money? It is an annoying question; you can quote me on that one. It is insulting to us. Don’t we collect money for our salaries and allowances? Who gave us money? Why did we collect money? Does it mean we didn’t have jobs before we went to the National Assembly?
“So, if any idiot just says anything, journalists should be asking me whether we collected money to pass (a) bill; what kind of insult on our integrity is that? On those who collected money, let them (the press) go and show evidence where people collected and where they collected it.
“Tell them that I said it is insulting for anybody to even give credence to that allegation. If anybody said anybody collected (bribes), let them provide evidence. If there is no evidence, where then are you asking me whether we collected money and our people are fighting over it?”
The Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, did not pick several calls made to his telephone line to react to the allegation. He had yet to reply to a message sent to him, seeking his reaction, as of the time of filing this report.