Appealing to the militants to give it more time to address the issues in the region, the Federal Government through its Niger Delta Affairs Minister Usani Uguru Usani, renewed President Muhammadu Buhari’s resolve to develop the region.
He spoke with reporters after meeting with the President at the State House in Abuja.
Responding to a question on the fresh threats by militants, the minister said: “Well, we haven’t discussed the Avengers per se. But it is of essence as the President has always shown indication that whatever we need to and can do to sustain peace in the region, we would continue to do.
“And, of course, the benefit of that, you are aware that the Vice President (Prof Yemi Osinbajo) has been chairing the committee that handles the issues they are raising. While that goes on operationally under the vice president’s position in the committee, the President needs to be briefed on our efforts, though we know that the vice president is briefing him from time to time. But per se, the Niger Delta Avengers’ issues were not discussed.
“On a general note, it is understood that we have to be engaged to be able to sustain the peace that prevailed for a while. We have been appealing to them to just be patient with us, because, most of the time, the issues that are brought up are those that tend to portray the quest for development of the region.
“And that is all we have been telling to be patient with us; that these issues raised genuinely to the benefits of people of the region, are being attended to. For instance, you are aware that the vice president has directed the takeoff of the Maritime University in Okerenkoko, Delta State.
“He also directed that a minimum of N5 billion be budgeted as a takeoff grant. So, it’s a matter of patience, knowing that some of these things have a procedure. It will not be because it did not happen the way they wanted, so it will not happen. Everything has a phase of planning and a phase of execution.”
Usani expressed gladness that all the parties, including the government, militants, elders’ forum and other stakeholders have listened to one another in the past few months.
“We wish that this continues. So, we advise all to remain calm. The things that we agitated for are coming little by little”, he said.
On some claims by militants that the government has not kept its promises, the minister said: “The allegation that all the promises made have not been implemented is incorrect. I just talked about the university. The other issue is the communities being part of surveillance of the petroleum infrastructure in the region.
“Of course, you know that by the modular refineries which they also talked about how they can be engaged, instead of what is called illegal refineries, they are also on. The process of building a refinery or even getting the necessary procedures to establish such is not just a one-day business.
“Advertisements have been made, people have indicated interests and of course, to make it sustainable, the Federal government is involving the states, but it is private sector-driven. This is to ensure that all concerned are on a common page and be sure that whenever it takes off, there will be no frustration or sabotage.
“Then your second question of meeting with the Avengers… for us as a government, there hasn’t been any group from the region that intended to meet with any arm of government that has been rebuffed. So, if any people make such overtures, we are happy to receive them. We have been receiving different groups. We are not limiting our dialogue or discussions to any particular group. So, anybody that says he is relevant in the process and comes forth, we will engage them.”
Speaking on the East-West Road, Usani said: “That is the unfortunate circumstance of our situation.
“Yes! It’s true that I met with the contractors and appealed to them to go back to site. We have also been very conscientious in releasing funds as they are cashed-backed to enable them to continue work. Nonetheless, we are thinking of alternatives of completing that projects amidst the many issues that tend to be the undercurrent that are drawing back the execution. And such issues are technical and we tackling them. In due course, you will know the outcomes.”
Giving further insight into his mission at the Presidential Villa, the minister explained: “For a while, he (President) has not been around and there are things he needed to know from me. So, I had to brief him on issues pertaining to the ministry; the on-going projects and other anthropocentric issues that have to do with the general matters concerning the Niger Delta region, especially, as they throw up concerns bothering on who is right to speak for and who is not right to speak for; and then issues of the NDDC. All these dominated my discussion with the President today (yesterday).”