By Ernest Chinwo
Port Harcourt — Former agitators in the Niger Delta region have announced their endorsement of President Muhammadu Buhari for second term.
The former agitators, under the aegis of the Peace Ambassadors of the Niger Delta (PAND), however said their acceptance of Buhari was not a “sweeping partisan” endorsement of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
However, King Michael Ateke Tom has dissociated himself from the group, saying it was never in his character to cheapen himself, adding also that as a traditional ruler, he would not betray the trust of his people.
Addressing a press conference in Port Harcourt yesterday, Convener of PAND, Ebikabowei Victor Ben, said ex-agitators in the Niger Delta region were witnesses to the commitment of the Buhari administration to the development of the region.
He lauded Buhari for not scrapping the Presidential Amnesty Programme for Niger Delta despite pressure from some quarters.
He also said the interest of the region was better served under Buhari rather than the “surface dressing” of the past administration.
He said: “In spite of promises by several administrations, this government under the leadership of the now United Nations deputy secretary, Amina Mohammed, put the framework for the remediation and cleanup of the Ogoniland, which is the largest of such effort in the world and expected to cost $1 billion.
“As we speak, contractors have been mobilised for the first phase of the exercise. Also, the Bodo City/Bonny Road, which was abandoned for more three decades have been awarded and construction is ongoing.
“Also, the Niger Delta is not left out of this government’s commitment to investing in infrastructure which is one of its biggest spending priorities. The long-abandoned East-West road is finally receiving funding and attention.
“All of these achievements find expression in a 20-point plan for the Niger Delta which was being presented to us by the Petroleum Minister, Ibe Kachikwu. The plan also covers the need for government and oil companies working in our region to create at least a 100,000 jobs yearly. The plan for the Niger Delta is what we need now for a more sustainable future.
“As witnesses to the commitment of this government to these issues that we have presented over the years through various fora and tangible achievements we have seen as it concerns our region over the last four years, we have decided to endorse the government to continue beyond 2019.”
The PAND Convener stated that ex-agitators and the people of the Niger Delta region have seen a deep seated commitment of the current administration in addressing the issues being faced by the people of the region.
Ben said: “In spite of the tense beginning and moments we have had with the current administration following his defeat of our brother, Goodluck Jonathan, we have formed a new partnership for the Niger Delta and have seen a deep seated commitment to addressing the issues that we in the region are facing.
“We have to give special credit to Vice President Yemi Osibanjo for painstakingly leading the engorgement in the Niger Delta and assuring us of his plan.
“Since the initiation of the laudable amnesty programme in 2019, the focus has always been palliative and focused on pacifying the Niger Delta using the payment of stipends to our people. While this goes a long way to help our numerous poor, it is always an instance of giving fish and not teaching how to fish.
“In spite of a lot of pressure on this government to scrap the programme, which was rejected by President Buhari, we have seen a resolve to reform the programme in such a way that focuses more on human capital side over the routine welfare and palliative payments. This is what progress means to us and this is the type of programme we would align with and encourage.”
Meanwhile, King Michael Ateke Tom has dissociated himself from the ex-agitators that endorsed Buhari.