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Leaders in Nigeria’s Restive Niger Delta Reject Government-Proposed Summit

Community leaders in Nigeria’s restive oil-rich Niger Delta have unanimously rejected a government-proposed summit aimed at resolving the military crisis in the region. The leaders claimed they have lost confidence in the government’s lack of political will to resolve the problems in the region. But President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has reportedly said the rejection of the summit would significantly undermine the implementation of government’s policies. He said the summit must hold in the interest of peace and security and for the development of the oil-producing region, promising that it would not turn out to be yet another "pointless and diversionary jamboree as some fear".

Lidum Mitte is the President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that the leaders rejected the government’s proposed summit on the grounds that previous summits had been reduced to mere “talk shops” with no solutions to the problems in the area.

“The view from the leaders that met with the federal government was that we did not require a summit in order to get some action done in the Niger Delta. People believe that what was lacking was the political will and not lack of some summit and that there has been several instances whereby people have met, produced papers and nothing has happened. So, they do not trust government again about talks and for one year nothing has happened, and they believe that a government that has a four-year term, one year has been wasted for so-called consultations that have not been effective. So, they felt that this was another delay as another tactic not to do anything,” Mitte noted.

He said leaders in the restive Niger Delta are skeptical of any summit that promises to resolve the problems in the area.

“I don’t know exactly what they (government) want to achieve if the important stakeholders say we do not need a summit. I agree that there is a need for some process to be embarked upon, but not in the idea in which it is being packaged for now,” he said.

Mitte said the government should swallow its pride and consult with stakeholders in the area to come out with alternatives to resolving the problems in the area.

“You can ask all the ethnic groups to their own vision of what they want done in the immediate, short, medium and long term. And then there should be some conversation about how we collate what is common and what the government wants to do. And from that point something needs to start on the ground so that people see that something is happening. But if you want a show thing like what we’ve gone through like a summit and if the government insists on that and the people say that they do not want it then of course you know it would be doomed for failure right from inception,” Mitte pointed out.

He said there is skepticism among people in the Niger Delta region about reported government policies to develop the area.

“If there has been a policy then there is just no need to have any summit. But if the whole idea is to know exactly how the people feel then the people have already expressed their feelings through the meetings. So, I should think that government should be humble enough. If you embark on something, which you find out that it is not consistent with the yearnings of the people to back down. But I do not think it is important in today’s world that government should say having said it we must carry it on whatever the opposition we have even from very critical stakeholders,” he said.

Mitte described as unfortunate how previous governments and oil companies have gone about addressing the problems in the region.

“We think that instead of what the oil companies and governments do most of the time to appease the most violent segments of the society that that is counter productive. We believe that we have to separate genuine community agitations from criminality and respond to them as such. I believe that there is no way you are going to solve this problem without making the people have benefits or get some take into the resources of their land. And those are the sorts of things that I expect to come out of any resolution of the conflict,” Mitte noted.