MINISTER of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, has said that the distrust that had characterised the relationship between President Muhammadu Buhari and Niger Delta leaders had given way to an atmosphere of optimism.
Kachikwu, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard, also dismissed claims that President Buhari berated Niger Delta leaders at a recent meeting in Abuja.
Asked if the purpose of convening the meeting was achieved, Kachikwu asserted thus: “Yes. The whole idea was to remove the trust deficit we have heard between both parties. The leaders had been unable to see President Muhammadu Buhari and the President himself was unable to identify who to speak with because of the existence so many groups and leaderships.”
On insinuations that the President was not ready to tackle the problems in the region, Kachikwu said: “That is not true, we have got to a point in this country where people should expect their President to be honest with them than to just give them a lovely welcome.
“What do they mean that the President was not ready for dialogue? He is ready to dialogue and has given instruction to the relevant ministries and authorities on what to do? However, he said before we embark on massive dialogue, I have to understand what is actually going wrong.
“What role are you people playing as leaders because if youths in your own communities continue to destroy things even when they knew that a meeting had been fixed for that day. So it is not just enough for you to say to me, sit down and let us dialogue. You should be able to bring your people to the table and say this is the solution. The President merely said this is your responsibility, take your responsibility, let me take mine, and as leaders, we can now find the solution.”
Continuing, Kachikwu: “What I can say is that he has asked us to go and make a comprehensive list of all the militant groups that claim that they are militant groups, whether they are Niger Delta Avengers or whatever they call themselves. We want to know who the operators and the areas they operate. Who are the traditional rulers and opinion leaders that can influence them or have a way to their conscience so that you even know who you are talking with?
“As blunt as that is, it was not that he was not saying the truth. What they expected was for them to come and he says we are setting up dialogue team. If he had done that, he would not be himself, I think he was frank about the situation and that does not mean that he is not ready for dialogue. After all, we have been doing this dialogue and all were authorized by him.
Asked if there was anything wrong in the President effecting some quick wins while working out the big wins.
Responding, Kachikwu said: “He has already done some quick wins, we have talked about the position of Maritime University, Okerenkoko, we released about 10 of the people, who were arrested, which was an issue before now and the military has not taken over any community. They are basically hanging around to protect the communities. So, there are quick wins that he has put on the table.
“I do not think that he has to begin to enumerate them, they are so visible for everybody to see and he has continuously said that there was a need for them to ensure that there is peace in their environment.
“All he is saying is that if we do quick wins and people go home, tomorrow again, they will come back and say that there are problems and people will start destruction again. He said this is because we are not going to the root causes of the problem and that follows what the Niger Delta people themselves said, which is that they want to go into the root causes of the problem. Both sides are saying the same thing.
Reacting to the allegation that the President derided the people of the region, he said: “I do not think so, he was frank, and he was brutally frank just like they were brutally frank themselves. They provided a 16-piont agenda and they made it clear what was imperative for things to work.
“In a negotiation, both sides will put their positions on the table. It is like shadow boxing. Nobody wants to give each other a quota, so both sides were frank. He did not deride them, we all took photographs together and were together. The leaders, including Chief Clark, were all very close to him.
“They chatted, there was convivia-lity and he spent three hours with them. In the first instance, I do not even think Niger Delta people can be derided. He knows us that if we come in and you talk nastily, people will just get up and walk away.
“But, I think they saw in him the usual frank General, he came out in his true colours, saying this is me, I am not doing it to win votes and it is the same frankness that he exhibited in the North East when those issues came up. He once said that instead of fighting the problem, they were stealing money. So he has always been like that.’’