Prominent Ijaw leaders, including the Governor of Bayelsa State, Mr Seriake Dickson; Deputy Governor of Delta State, Mr Kingsley Otuaro; elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark, as well as political leaders of Ijaw extraction yesterday vowed to reject any presidential candidate in 2019 who does not support the restructuring of the country.
Other leaders of thought who converged on Kiagbodo, Delta State, the country home of Chief Clark, to take a definite position on the raging call to restructure Nigeria were former Minister of Aviation, Alabo Graham Douglas, ex-Minister of Police Affairs, Chief Broderick Bozimo as well as National Assembly members and traditional rulers.
After the meeting which lasted over four hours, Dickson said the leaders took a critical look at the issue of restructuring and took further steps to reaffirm their position that restructuring was a matter of survival to the Ijaw people.
According to Dickson, the meeting resolved that Ijaw people who are the most affected by the current situation in the country would only vote candidates with genuine and demonstrable support for restructuring irrespective of political party.
Special Adviser on Media Relations to the governor, Mr.Fidelis Soriwei, said in a statement that the leaders insisted that the next general election would be a referendum on restructuring across Ijaw land.
“The next election is going to be a referendum on restructuring because it affects the well being and survival of our people. We will support the candidates who are genuinely committed to the issue of restructuring,” the governor said.
While lauding the work of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Committee on restructuring led by Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, the Ijaw leaders called on President Muhammadu Buhari to show the requisite courage by setting in motion the legislative framework to ensure implementation of the report before 2019.
The leaders thereafter set up a committee on the issue comprising five representatives each from the three zones- the West, the Central and the East which has three weeks to submit its work.
“We have also examined the subject matter of restructuring. People shouldn’t play politics with the issue of restructuring. It is about the survival and wellbeing of our people, it is about the stability of Nigeria. It is far more beyond politics, the Ijaws are passionate about it.
“We commend all Nigerians from wherever they come from who are in support of this issue of restructuring. Concerning the recommendations of the APC committee, we call for sincere commitment, we call on the President to lead the charge to restructure the country which will lead to an equitable just and fair Nigeria,” Dickson said.
The leaders said all they wanted was a restructured country within the context of a corporate, united and peaceful Nigeria that guarantees equal right for all Nigerians, adding that only restructuring can guarantee peace in the country.
Also in attendance were Ambassador Godknows Igali, Prof. Dagogo Fubara, Prof Nimi Briggs, Prof Joe Ajienka, Prof C. Dime, Prof Steve Azaiki, Dr Pius Sinebe, Chief Wellington Okrika, Bayelsa State Commissioner for Culture and Ijaw Affairs, Dressy Dressman and a host of other Ijaw leaders.
In his comments, Clark stressed that restructuring was beyond politicking, insisting that any presidential candidate who was opposed to restructuring would face rejection in Ijaw land during the election.
Meanwhile, the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), yesterday expressed delight over the el-Rufai report, especially the portion that recommends state ownership of onshore mineral resources, including oil.
“This is clearly not the whole of what we want because we desire total control of our resources onshore and offshore, but it is certainly a giant leap towards what we have always agitated for as Ijaw people.
“However, we worry that this may be political and not backed by sincerity. Recently, the federal government promised the clean-up of Ogoni land and till date we have not seen the funding of that programme and for unacceptable reasons.
“If the APC-led federal government is sincere, let them show sincerity by immediately setting up various committees and put to work all stakeholders to ensure the recommendation is achieved in the shortest possible time before the 2019 elections.
“If not we would see this as one of its numerous strategic scams. We are also calling on all southern members of the National assembly to take this up as a project”, a statement by Alfred Kemepado, Secretary General of IYC said.
Also, in a statement by Daniel Dasimaka, the IYC Spokesman, the youths applauded the “far-reaching” recommendations by the committee.
“The Ijaw people are not completely in agreement with the recommendation which still vests ownership and control of offshore petroleum resources on the federal government, after all these years of marginalisation; because the oil producing communities who live on the banks of Rivers where the offshore resources are located suffer from the negative effects of oil and gas exploration and exploitation.
“While we commend the el-Rufai Committee for its painstaking efforts and bold recommendations, in the same vein we request the committee to revisit and expunge the vesting of the right to ownership and control of our offshore resources on the federal government,” the IYC argued.