By Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye

Chief Mike Loyibo was part of the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) delegation led by Chief Edwin Clarke and His Royal Highness, Diete Spiff that visited President Muhammadu Buhari on November 1, 2016. Two weeks later, he led another  high-powered delegation of the Niger Delta Peoples Congress (NDPC), to meet with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, all aimed at pressing home some demands on the FederalGovernment. 

The second meeting expanded the demands of PANDEF and put at the forefront the approval for the take off of the Maritime University in the Niger-Delta region. 

Two months after their visit, Osinbajo, commenced his visit to the oil rich zone, beginning with Gbaramatu in Delta State.

Loyibo insists the visit is the best decision by the Federal Government in its determination to find lasting solution to the numerous Niger Delta problems.

What is the implication of the recent visit of the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo to the Niger Delta region?

For us as leaders that are the true representatives of the people, there is no better time than now. The visit of the presidency to the heart of the problem, that’s the core Niger Delta area, is the best thing to be able to assess first hand; it is a fact-finding visit. What are the problems? How do we get out of it? For us as leaders, it shows that the presidency is actually committed and genuinely concerned in addressing in a very holistic manner the age-long neglect of the Niger Delta.

When the Vice President went there, he said, Niger Delta is a special zone and it needs to be treated that way and that’s why he announced that by September, the academic activities of the Maritime University will kick off and that’s one of the best news we have been expecting as a people. So, for us, that visit was timely, proactive and it shows the leaders are committed to solving this age-long problem for once. After all, the problem is not Osinbajo’s problem. It is not Buhari’s problems. The problem was caused by we Niger-Delta people because when you blame the center everyday for all these problems, we have not asked questions about our 13 percent derivation money; what do the governors at that level do with the money? So, everyday we run to the center, saying you have not done this and that, we have not been able to ask questions among ourselves. So, there is a leadership problem in our area. As far as I am concerned, the problem is not a Buhari problem. It was caused by we, the Niger Delta people. Have we also asked questions? Our son and brother was there for years, what was the take home achievement? You see, we keep on blaming the government. After all, the MD of NDDC, is he an Hausa man? Somehow, we should also ask an internal question on how we manage the little resources that have been given to us before we talk.

So we can safely conclude that the visit has taken care of the demands of PANDEF and NDPC that visited the presidency late last year?

In all of them, I played a key role and the second visit was by Niger Delta Peoples Congress (NDPC). We went to re-emphasize and expand the visit of PANDEF. And again, in our second visit, we made it very clear to the presidency that he must come over to see these things himself and that will boost confidence. That is what they have done, so, it’s  the right step and I know that Rome was not built in a day. The destruction is an age-long destruction. You need time to address the issues and the problems of the people. So, for me, it is a gradual process and I believe in the leader we have. There is no corruption in his DNA and he’s genuinely concerned about the problems not just in the Niger Delta, but the entire problem of Nigeria. What I will continue to appeal is to ensure that we give him all our support so that he will succeed because if he fails, the bad people will take over this country and they will continue to take us backwards.

So the people were not disappointed as it was the Vice President that visited and not the President himself?

What are they talking about? With due respect to that view, the presidency is one. As a sitting President, was there anytime Jonathan visited the place? Did he come to Gbaramatu? Then, Yar’Adua was president and Jonathan came as Vice President to Gbaramatu. So, what’s the difference between the Number Two man and the President? The Vice represented the president and for us, we are excited. Whether it is Buhari, Osinbajo or even a Minister, provided he has the mandate of Mr. President, we are ok.

Some people would be quick to say that the visit was cosmetic, arguing that you don’t discuss such issues before the television cameras. How would you react?

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Now, let me tell you something about the visit. The visit itself, the way they had planned it, it was not supposed to be a public visit. The arrangement of the Presidency was to come in quietly and go out quietly. But somehow, the information leaked. It is the media that caused the leakage. It was not cosmetic. There was a closed door interaction and it will continue. It’s a continuous activity. Whatever way you look at it, the people I represent are both the majority and the ordinary people of the Niger Delta; we are happy and excited with the visit. We believe in the leadership of this country.

How do you react to the fact that barely 24 hours after the visit, some oil installations were set ablaze in the region?

There was no sabotage of any kind. There was no bombing. It was a fire incident. That was not a militant attack. The ceasefire we secured will be there until government addresses the fundamentals and they are in a hurry to do these things and we have seen commitments from the side of Mr. President. The media also need to help us. There was no militancy of any kind. Some people that don’t mean well for Nigeria will always say this kind of thing.

Are you saying with the visit, agitators from Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa and all other Niger Delta States have closed ranks and there is no dissension?

It is a continuous thing like I said. The problem is more in Delta State. It is over 70 percent there. Like in Rivers State, you don’t see pipeline destructions. Even in Bayelsa, the governor has been able to set up his own outfit to contain militancy. So, there are no divisions. The agitators and the aggrieved people have given us the mandate to interface for them and ensure they would bring development to our people. Why are they fighting after all? It is not for a better deal and place for the suffering people of the Niger Delta. But you cannot rule out criminality. Some of them are criminals but there are some of them that are genuinely concerned about the long neglect of our people.

A negotiation without people like Tompolo, Asari Dokubo, do you think there would be any headway?

We are representing Tompolo. We are representing the aggrieved people. So, you are seeing Tompolo, everybody here. Tompolo is also involved in the negotiation.

What about Dokubo?

Asari Dokubo, did he tell you he’s an aggrieved person? Yes, he’s a true activist. He’s also part of the peace process. He has been consulted and I didn’t say I am representing Tompolo. As a Niger Delta leader, I believe that the pains of Tompolo are my pains and that’s why I have always advocated that we apply political solutions in the issues around Tompolo, so that we can have a win, win situation. 

Chief Edwin Clarke is the leader of the Niger Delta and he’s been in the picture of these whole issues. How does he feel now after the visit?

He was excited. Nobody is saying that Chief Clarke is not a prominent leader in the region but there are also other leaders: you have the Amaechis, the Diette Spiff, the Tabais, so many of them. You have prominent traditional rulers. Yes, he’s one of the leaders of the Niger Delta. Chief Clarke feels happy with the visit of the Vice President and his view is that the visit is not a substitute for dialogue. And I don’t believe that you need a dialogue to solve the problems of the Niger Delta.

So, what do you need?

The problems are known to the presidency. One of our demands when we came on November 1st and 15th, last year was the Maritime University. You are aware that we made that demand. And the president has addressed that. Do you need dialogue and negotiation to get that? No. And so, there are a lot of issues. We want development of the Niger Delta and the Vice President said, yes, it is a special area. We need a master plan. So, if the problems are known to them, you don’t need dialogue. Assuming we say government do 18 issues and they keep on solving these issues without dialogue, are you then saying that the government should sit down and attend to the issues we raised both on November 1st and 15th? So, they have noted them and the Vice President has also asked for a Master-Plan and that will help the presidency in solving the problems. Whether there is dialogue or not, provided they attend to the issues of the Niger Delta for me, we are ok.