By Ibiba DonPedro
Strains of the faulty foundation of a skewed federal system on which Nigeria’s democracy rests and which has led to deepening cracks in the bond that has held different sections of the country together echoed strongly at the lecture organised by Gbaramatu Voice which turned 5 recently. The event held at the Presidential Hotel, Port Harcourt, Wednesday, September 30, 2020.
At a lecture to mark the event with the theme Peace, Security and Development speaker after speaker and panelists drummed on the imperative to resolve the contradictions in the system which threatens all.
In her presentation on the events theme on Peace, Security and Development, Florence Ibok Abasi, programmes manager Stakeholder Democracy Network, SDN traced The organisation’s impactful work in communities in the Niger Delta outlining deep research and reports that followed this.
She made the point that, ‘We achieve better results when we put communities in charge of their development agenda. A return to the practice of Federalism in the country which encourages the full, legitimate participation of local people in the exploitation of resources that occur in their communities and the payment of requisite taxes by local and state governments, is essential for this to happen.
Her piece traced the rise of the artisanal oil refining business popularly known as ‘Kpofire’, that rose in the creeks of the Niger Delta through local skills that on the one hand, filled the petroleum products supply gap, but which is fingered for massive environmental degradation in the Niger Delta. Clashes between complicit security operatives and local refiners often lead to the burning down of communities. Ibok Abasi called on the authorities to expand the possibilities offered by the Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Development Initiative, PAGMI for local miners of gold in the North of the country to the Niger Delta oil and gas resources to achieve equity, emphasising that, ”This will bring an effective end to the shadowy kpofire sector, encourage legitimate funding into the sector, infrastructure, cleaner environmental practice and end the violence perpetrated by complicit security operatives in the areas where artisanal oil refining occurs’.
In statements during a panel session on the theme of the conference, which had Prof Tosan Harriman, Joseph Ekiye and himself, as discussants, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, spokesman of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Delta State also placed emphasis on the faulty foundation on which the country rests, stating that, ‘the faulty construction called Nigeria is something that every right thinking human being should think about.
The Biafran’s are trying, Niger Delta agitators are trying and they have been boxed to a corner so everywhere is silent for the government to do what they are doing. But I think we have our own way of doing our own thing. I think we should go back to the basics and let the government know that look, these people are human beings, these people have their own way of life they should be allowed their unique way of dealing with issues”.
Delving further into the crisis of human and infrastructural development in the Niger Delta, Chief Gbenekama who was one of the foundation personalities that put together the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, decried a situation where five years after it began discussions with the Federal Government on the 16 Point Agenda, the talks have been abandoned while the issues they seek to address fester.
He noted further that black soot, a product of the Artisanal Oil Refining business has completely taken over the air in the creeks as in much of the rest of the Niger Delta.
The lecture which preceded the 5th Anniversary awards event that evening had eminent Niger Delta persons including, Prof Ebiegberi Alagoa, Chief Sheriff Mulade, Prof Mark Anikpo among others present.