Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, on Thursday urged the federal government to engage the Niger Delta militants and respond positively to their demands in order to engender lasting peace in the region.
The Nobel Laureate, who said he had been contacted to intervene in the Niger Delta crisis, spoke as the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, met in Abuja with traditional rulers from the coastal communities of the region and agreed to recommit to a peaceful resolution of all the issues in the oil rich region.
Although Soyinka was not forthcoming with details of the intervention in the crisis that had injured the nation’s economy decisively, he lashed out at the Nigerian media, accusing them of extreme invention and distortion of facts that had escalated the dispute.
He said at a press conference in Lagos that he would no longer be speaking to the local media over issues concerning Nigeria’s efforts to end militancy in the Niger Delta.
News reports had quoted him as saying that the services of international mediators would be sought to mediate between the federal government and militants to resolve the Niger Delta crisis.
Soyinka had met with President Muhammadu Buhari on August 11, and when approached by journalists afterwards, he said they had discussed “national and international matters, general matters, that’s all”.
He, however, promised to schedule a press conference later to give further details about the meeting.
Soyinka said thursday that he would rather discuss a Lebanese-Nigerian partnership involving his Wole Soyinka Foundation.
He said: “I know that when I was – to use the press expression – ambushed at the Villa the other day, I did say that I would answer questions about my visit to the Villa at a press conference that I‘d already planned, which was this one as a matter of fact.
“But I always fulfil my word, and so I’m going to speak very briefly about that visitation. And what I have to say about it is that today is not the day for talking about that visitation.
“And the real reason is this, let me tell you media, the real reason is that I had a meeting in London in the House of Lords. The meeting was not about the main subject that took me to Aso Rock which is the problem with, among other things, the problem we have in the Delta.
“But I used that opportunity to meet a certain number of international figures, parliamentarians, royal heads, etcetera, to pass on a message internationally to prospective interveners to what’s happening in the Delta at the request of some of the militant groups here.”
Soyinka said the meeting in London was reported in the media and was badly distorted.
“Let me make a plea, it is bad enough distorting whatever happens, events, statements on certain subjects, bad enough. But on an issue like the insurgency in Nigeria, the Delta in particular, we are on very, very delicate grounds and the media has a huge role to play in that,” he said.
He added: “And the immediate role people like me must demand of the media is accuracy. There can be no invention in this kind of situation. There can be no adumbration, there can be no extrapolation, not even second guessing. You have got to be accurate. Otherwise, there’s a loss of confidence and therefore a lack of solution. People must be confident that what they say to you is what you translate and transmit to those to whom you are sent.”
Last May, during events marking Buhari’s one year in office, Soyinka described a media report quoting him as declaring his support for the president as a “disgusting forgery”. Yesterday, he said media reports that he was part of an international group mediating between the federal government and the Niger Delta militants was an extreme invention.
“You cannot publish a statement to me saying I’m a part of an international group when the international group is not even in existence, there’s no international intervention group which has been formed,” he said.
According to him, “I think to go further and attribute to me a statement that the international group has already contacted Buhari, what kind of extreme invention is that? How can a group which does not exist meet with the Head of State? And how could I, who just happened to be meeting with the Head of State, say that the two entities have met when one of them does not exist?
“So please I implore you, media, in fact, I’ve taken a decision not to speak about the Delta situation publicly; just to carry on any assignment which I feel I can carry out on behalf of a resolution. “I will not be talking to the press any longer, because I cannot spend my time correcting falsehood. I’m not responsible for the falsehood, and that burden should not be placed on my head.”
Soyinka, however, appealed to the federal government to hold positive negotiations with the Niger Delta militants in order to solve the crisis in the region.
“I wish to make an appeal publicly to the government, and please report me accurately, to respond positively to the outrage from the militant groups,” he said, adding: “That is the request which has been made by some of the groups who got me into this interventionist role in the first place.”
Soyinka said at the moment the militants felt that Buhari was not seriously responding to their own outrage. “I wish to make a personal appeal to the government to respond positively and let us see where it ends us,” he said, explaining: “But I’m not part of any international group, I was approached personally and I’ve been responding personally to some of these groups just as I did when President Jonathan was in power and MEND was the umbrella group of the insurgents.”
Meanwhile, in an effort to give fillip to the federal government’s quest for peace in the Niger Delta, Kachikwu met with traditional rulers from the region in his office in Abuja yesterday and took the monarchs’ conditions for normalcy to return to the Delta.
In a statement, which was read at the headquarters of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in Abuja by the Bolowei of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Chief Wellington Okirika, the traditional rulers listed six things the federal government should do in order to build confidence and stop the destruction of the country’s oil assets by militants in the region.
They said: “Having acceded to the call for a ceasefire by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, on August 4, 2016, the buck has now been passed to the table of the federal government as driven by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources – a representative of the federal government.
“For the purposes of building confidence in the system, we wish to state here that as a matter of urgency the federal government should appoint/constitute a federal government dialogue team; release the 10 innocent school children arrested by the Nigerian Army on the 28th of May, 2016 in Oporoza and others in detention on trumped up charges.
“Return the Golden Sword, being the symbol of authority in the Gbaramatu traditional institution; return the three traditional council speed boats in custody of the Nigerian Army; cessation of hostilities perpetrated by the military in the Niger Delta region; and equally important, the federal government should make a categorical statement about the opening of the Maritime University, Okerenkoko, Delta State for academic activities in the 2016/2017 session.”
Speaking, Kachikwu said about $40 billion was spent in ‘papers’ to develop the environment and infrastructure of the oil-rich Niger Delta region in the last 10 years with no tangible results to show as evidence for such huge financial commitment to the region.
He explained that the $40 billion was part of allocations to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), derivations shares of the states, as well as financial commitments on developments by oil companies operating in the region.
He also said the government was committed to taking advantage of the ceasefire to negotiate a lasting solution to the Niger Delta issues, and that Buhari has not authorised any military action in the region. “If you look at the amount of money that has been put into the Niger Delta over the last 10 years in paper is over $40 billion. These have come from the NDDC, derivation, and oil companies’ investments,” Kachikwu said.
He further explained: “But as I go to the creeks, I see no single infrastructure that you can point to as the result of these investments and what it means is that we must now begin to do a soul-searching within ourselves and ask where did all these monies go to, who took them, what were they applied for, what were the roles of our own people and others not necessarily from the region.
“Unless you solve the governance and transparency issues in terms of spending this money, it doesn’t matter how much money you put into this place, you are going to go back to square one and so we must begin to ask fundamental questions about how these institutions are run and what roles our traditional rulers play in the decision making process on how these projects are run, there is a lot of home truths that must happen.”
Kachikwu noted that there must be accountable developmental projects tied to the Niger Delta and not the old ways of doing things. He added that there are lots of interests in putting money in the region as long as there is peace and good accountability structure.
He stated that while the government begins to set up a dialogue team with formalities, stakeholders in the region must also separate criminality from their genuine agitation for development.
“We must also going forward separate criminality from the genuine demands of Niger Delta because once you throw criminality into it, individuals who are self-serving disrupt the message we are sending and there is a good message you are sending but must be delivered very aggressively on the negotiation tables and not the field of destruction,” he said.
He said Buhari had been patient in following developments in the region, adding that the president has also avoided the call for a military action in the region. The minister however warned that the government would not resist the temptation of coming against wanton destruction of oil facilities and lives in the region.
According to him, “To the best of my knowledge, President Buhari has shown a lot of patience and calm and has not so far, despite over six months of very intensive militancy activity, asked anybody to go in and engage in a military action. He has always said there is a need to engage the communities and that is his first model and he is consistent with that.”