In what can best be described as a colorful ceremony, traditional rulers in their ceremonial regalia, women groups in uniformed dresses and excited youths eager to catch a glimpse of the visitor.
But Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s visit yesterday to Oporoza, the headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom in Delta State, was everything but ceremonial. It was businesslike.
In fact, it was part of the strategy designed to stop the militancy that has badly affected crude oil production and Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings.
Gbaramatu is the home-base of fugitive ex-militant leader Chief Government Ekpemupolo, who is also known as Tompolo.
Prof Osinbajo, who was accompanied by Delta State Governor Dr Ifeanyi Okowa and Minister of State for Petroleum Dr Ibe Kachikwu, said the development of the Niger Delta was not a responsibility that only the Federal Government could shoulder, stressing that other stakeholders must join hands with the government to solve the region’s question.
The vice president, who visited the temporary site of the proposed Nigerian Maritime University in Kurutie after addressing the huge crowd that received him, left Gbaramatu Kingdom for Warri. He visited the Olu of Warri, Ogiame Ikenwoli. He addressed a meeting at the PTI Conference Centre, Effurun.
Speaking on the need for the development of the Niger Delta, which he agreed had a genuine need to be treated as a special development zone, Osinbajo said: “Number one, we must recognise the environmental and terrain challenges of the Niger Delta. We must also recognise that the Niger Delta is a special economic zone for this nation and so we must treat it as a special development zone.
“I agree that it must be treated as a special development zone. But what does it mean in practical terms? It means that the Federal Government, the state governments, the National Assembly representatives, alongside the NDDC and the civil society representatives of the Niger Delta people must sit together and develop a plan and funding arrangement for rapid development.
“There is no excuse for not planning together, the Federal Government alone cannot solve the problems of the Niger Delta, it is impossible for the Federal Government alone, but we can, sitting with the state governors from this region, National Assembly members and civil society organisations, plan for this special development zone and make sure that we carry it out and deliver on the promises that we have made to the people.”
“The states must also be prepared to devote substantial budget to this special project. The PANDEF has submitted a concise list of 16 dialogue issues that will be extremely helpful in ascertaining the key development priorities. That PANDEF document is an important working document; it’s a document around which we can plan,” he said.
Dr Kachikwu harped on the need for the people to look into the tourism potentials of the region and start tapping it for its development.
Okowa, who described the vice president’s visit as both a game changer and confidence-builder in the relationship between the people and the Federal Government, however noted that the people must allow the enabling environment for development to come.
He expressed the confidence that the visit would yield a lot of positive fruits and development, stressing the need for the people to give peace a chance.
Ijaw Youths Congress (IYC) National Leader Udengs Eradiri said the people were willing to work with the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, but pleaded that the Federal Government cease what he called the persecution of Ijaw leaders and release all those arrested.
Among the dignitaries at the Oporoza event were Senator Babafemi Ojudu, Senator James Manager; Brig-Gen. Paul Boroh; Deputy Governor Kingsley Otuaro; the first military administrator of Old Rivers and the Amanyanabo of Twon-Brass, King Alfred Diete-Spiff; one-time Minister of Police Affairs Alaowei Broderick Bozimo; House of Representatives member Hon Julius Pondi; Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe, former Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Pastor Power Aginighan; the National President of the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC), Udengs Eradiri; representative of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) Jenkins Timipa Okponipre. Ijaw chiefs, the clergy, youths and women from various walks of life.