2023: How Will PIA Shape Elections in Niger Delta? – THISDAY Newspapers

Will voters in the Niger Delta sanction the All Progressives Congress and its candidates in the 2023 national elections, given their take on many sensitive issues affecting the region? Nseobong Okon-Ekong asks
More circumstantial evidence are emerging that the outcome of the 2023 national elections in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria may be influenced by perception arising from the Petroleum Industry Act recently signed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Petroleum Industry Act provides legal, governance, regulatory and fiscal framework for the Nigerian petroleum industry, the development of host communities, and related matters.
The Senate had passed the PIB on July 15, 2021, while the House of Representatives did same on July 16, thus ending a long wait since early 2000s, and notching another high for the Buhari administration.
However, overwhelming opinion by stakeholders and influential individuals from the oil-rich states have largely criticised the President for enacting the law while divergent views were being canvassed on some of the details of the law, particularly the vexatious issue of three percent for host communities. The Niger Delta region is loosely composed of nine states; Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers. In this regard, it cuts across two of the six geopolitical zones; namely, the South-east and the South-south. But in the strict sense, there are five Niger Delta states, which includes Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta and Rivers.
Until Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State switched political party loyalty from the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the ruling party at the centre, the All Progressives Congress (APC), the APC was not in control of any state in the Niger-Delta/South-south. Last year, Edo, where the APC had a foothold was lost to the PDP when Governor Godwin Obaseki defected to the PDP. As things stand currently, President Buhari’s APC has only Cross River State in its kitty; in the South-south region.
Cross River and Ijaw Youths Disappointed
One of the supposed inducements that attracted Ayade to the APC was the promise of a more rewarding relationship with the government at the centre. Citizens of Cross River are beginning to ask what use their governor’s friendship with the Federal Government is, if any. Ayade himself has not hidden his anger at how things have turned out. He asserted that the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) recently signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari seeks to perpetuate injustices that the state has suffered over the years. Ayade said the law failed to address the concerns of the state in spite of the presentation he made to the relevant Senate committee.
What has become clear is that the political identity of being an APC State, which Ayade, in his naivety believed could influence the behaviour of the President has turned out to be an illusion. Trying to fix the mistakes of the past by becoming a political ally of the President has not yielded the expected results for Ayade in this instance.
The PIA has definitely impacted negatively on APC’s flagging reputation in the Niger Delta/South-south. Combined with other enduring burning issues like open grazing and killing of innocent citizens by suspected Fulani herdsmen, the APC central government led by Buhari is held in the highest contempt by indigenes of the South-south/Niger Delta.
The Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) has declared the Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva and President Buhari, persona non grata, saying their safety may not be guaranteed in the Niger Delta. Sylva, a former governor of Bayelsa also chairs the FG’s PIA implementation committee. The composition of the committee is another sore point, as there are many non-indegenes of the region in the body.
IYC National Spokesman Ebilade Ekerefe in a statement issued in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State, saying, “With the amount of speed the president used in signing the PIB without recourse to the stand taken by stakeholders from the region, the President has further demonstrated that the opinions of the Niger delta people don’t matter in his government as we have witnessed in other areas that require urgent attention of his government.
“In the light of the foregoing, there’s no better time for the people of the Niger Delta region to intensify the struggle for resource control and self-determination. We believe strongly that will be the only sure path upon which our God-given natural resources can be managed by us and not this impunity we have witnessed from a repressive federal government under President Muhammadu Buhari,” he said.
Significant Issues in the Election
The 2023 national elections may be decided on four important issues which also defined the 2019 Election. They are insecurity, the economy, corruption and the quest for a peoples constitution, which will define the relationship between the central government and the sub-national governments; that is, the states.
No where in the country is safe from killer herdsmen, kidnappers, unknown gunmen, armed robbers, ethnic militias, bandits and ritualits. A report by SBM Intelligence, a Nigerian research group, claims that 2,732 people were killed in 33 states and the federal capital Abuja between April and June 2021.
These include attacks by the Boko Haram terrorist group and other militias, kidnappings, communal fights, and clashes between farmers and herders. The victims included 215 security personnel – 173 soldiers, 39 police officers, and three civil defense officers – and six vigilantes.
In a bid to get a grip on the collapsed economy, the Nigerian government has gone on a borrowing frenzy. As at March 31, Nigeria owed China $3.402 billion, according to the Debt Management Office. The amount covers 11 loan facilities from the China Exim Bank since 2010. Prices of basic commodities have skyrocketed, thereby putting a lot of pressure on families, even as employers are forced to cut losses by laying off staff. This has contributed to an all time high in unemployment rate.
Though the Buhari-led government was given a benefit of the doubt based on his personal reputation as an anti-corruption crusader, a recent statement by a former military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, saying that from what they know of cases of corruption in this administration, his government which was also labelled corrupt was a saint. While no wrong doing has been directly linked to the President, key personnel in his cabinet and many of his political associates are being investigated by anti-graft agencies. Perhaps, his refusal to act decisively by apportioning blame or punitive action renders him an accomplice.
The growing call for a redefinition of the relationship between federation units of Nigeria has never been so loud. From ethnic self-determination groups, some of which have become extremists and violent to sub-national governments and influential individuals, there is a concern for a restructuring of the federation.
All these issues are very much topical in the Niger Delta as they are elsewhere.There is abundant evidence that the effect of all these national malaise appear strongest in the Niger Delta states, where Buhari and the APC lost in 2019 to the PDP. The PDP has maintained its winning ways in that part of the country, since the turn of this era of democracy in 1999; never dropping the ball in states like Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers, with an unbroken record of victories.
Observations and Partiality
Voters in the Niger Delta region generally think of the APC as a Hausa/Fulani-controlled party. This line of thought has been fuelled by apparent lopsidedness in appointment into sensitive national offices which tend to favour a particular ethnic group since Buhari became president. Mr. President has also been consistent in not openly condemning misdemeanours by his kinsmen. Therefore, voters in the Niger Delta may sanction the APC and its candidate for their odd approach on many sensitive issues affecting the region.
Though many eminent personalities from the Niger Delta are in the top echelon of both the APC and the Buhari administration, they are widely viewed as traitors and apologists of the Hausa/Fulani who have contributed to the suffering of their people. In particular cases; names like Senator Godswill Akpabio, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transportation, Chief Festus Keyamo, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, Deputy Senate President and Chief Timipre Sylva are fingerred as persons who triggered the subjugation of the Niger Delta by the Buhari administration. Therefore, personalities like Governor Nyesom Wike have seized the moment to frequently play to the gallery; riding on the wave of prevalent emotion in the Niger Delta. Apart from loss of political capital in their home states, a severe threat to the personal safety of these personalities may be imminent.
Another cogent justification for the negative perception of APC and Buhari in the Niger Delta is the thinking that there is threat to Christianity should the APC be allowed a major in road to the Niger Delta. While this point is not entirely provable with empirical evidence supporting the idea that there is Northern agenda to stretch the rule of Islam from the desert to the Atlantic, the concern is palpable and on the lips of many in the Niger Delta.
From the Presidency
Presidential Spokeman Femi Adesina expectedly thinks President Muhammadu Buhari deserves accolades not knocks, for the PIA. According to him, Buhari, “has done what Napoleon couldn’t do. Again and again. The Bill had defied Olusegun Obasanjo who introduced it, got the better of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (God rest his soul), worsted Goodluck Jonathan, but has finally been subdued by Buhari. The man has proven to be adept at concluding things that had long trounced and vanquished many leaders before him. The PIB overwhelmed the first to eighth National Assembly, which couldn’t pass it into law. But through synergy and cooperation between the Executive and the Ninth Assembly, Nigeria now has a law for her cash cow, the oil and gas industry, more than 50 years after the last legislation, which had become obsolete.
“Step forward President Buhari, and be garlanded for being the Master Finisher. Practical examples abound in different spheres of National life, of projects, policies, proposed laws that had been in the works for more than two decades, but which have been seen to fruition by the tough but easy going man from Daura.”
At the Federal Executive Council (FEC), meeting last Wednesday, Buhari said that the passage of the PIB into law was the “end of decades of uncertainty and under-investment in the petroleum industry.
“To consolidate the commitment of this administration to delivering the value proposition of this law, I have approved an implementation framework commencing immediately to ensure the industry envisaged in the new law begins to take shape.
“The implementation process to be headed by the Hon Minister of State, Petroleum Resources is hereby tasked with the completion of the implementation of this act within 12 months. I am therefore directing all relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government to fully cooperate in ensuring the successful and timely implementation of this law.
“Let me now commend the leadership of the 9th Assembly for their continued pursuit of our national aspiration and demonstration of mutual harmony with the Executive in the pursuit of a patriotic outcome in the passage of the PIB.”
QUOTE 1
The 2023 national elections may be decided on four important issues which also defined the 2019 Election. They are insecurity, the economy, corruption and the quest for a peoples constitution, which will define the relationship between the central government and the sub-national governments; that is, the states
QUOTE 2
Voters in the Niger Delta region generally think of the APC as a Hausa/Fulani-controlled party. This line of thought has been filled by apparent lopsidedness appointment into sensitive national offices which tend to favour a particular ethnic group since Buhari became president. Mr. President has also been consistent in not openly condemning misdemeanours by his kinsmen

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