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The fragile peace in the Southsouth was breached by the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), which yesterday made good its threat to protest Federal Government’s failure to inaugurate a substantive Niger Delta Development Commission(NDDC) board.
Protesting IYC members shut down a flow station, the East-West Road and NDDC state offices in Bayelsa and Delta. Travellers had a rough time on the Eastwest Road, the major gateway linking the Southsouth to other parts of the country.
At the Bayelsa office of the NDDC, the protesters, mostly youths, hung IYC’s flag on the main entrance gate after chasing away the workers.
The tension caused by the protest was heightened by a fresh IYC threat to shut down the entire Niger Delta and the disappearance of the group’s President, Peter Igbifa. Igbifa was reportedly whisked to an unknown place by masked gunmen.
The IYC leader was said to be on his way to the International Airport, Port Harcourt, on Tuesday to board a flight to Abuja when the gunmen blocked his vehicle, seized and took him away. His whereabouts were unknown as of press time yesterday.
Before the incident, Igbifa had in a short video ordered the youth to proceed with the protest, expressing premonition that he could either be kidnapped, arrested, or killed.
The IYC had given a 30-day ultimatum, which expired Tuesday for the Federal Government and the Ministry of the Niger Delta Affairs to constitute the board for the NDDC or risk a total shutdown of the Niger Delta.
It also directed oil companies operating in the area to evacuate their employees, saying they would no longer guarantee their safety.
The protesters in Bayelsa State had first shut the NDDC office in Yenagoa before heading to the East-West Road where they barricaded the Mbiama section for several hours. Mbiama is a boundary community between Rivers and Bayelsa states.
Insisting on a substantive board for the NDDC, the protesters said a sole administrator running the commission was like a one-man show.
The IYC members also expressed displeasure with Niger Delta Affairs Minister Godswill Akpabio, and called for his immediate resignation.
Some placards displayed by them read ‘Restructure Nigeria Now!’, ‘IOCs (International Oil Companies) must not remit $1.6billion to NDDC Now!’, ‘We seek Justice in NDDC Now!’ and ‘FG should appoint a substantive board in NDDC now.”
They accused the Federal Government of being behind what they called a ”state-sponsored “abduction of IYC leader Igbifa.
The national leadership of the IYC later issued a statement in which it advised the protesters not to allow criminally- sponsored elements to infiltrate them.
The protesters were led to Mbiama by a former Chairman of the IYC (Central zone), Kennedy Olorogun, a priest of Egbesu, Bodmas Kemepado, and other youth leaders such as Patrick Ipidei.
There was, however, a mild drama when some armed soldiers arrived and attempted to disperse the protesters, who insisted that they would only vacate the road if Igbifa gave the directive.
In Delta, the protesters closed down the Batan flow station in Diebiri, a riverine community in Warri Southwst Local Government Area.
The flow station is under Oil Mining Lease (OML) 42 and operated by Neconde Energy Limited.
“We just shut down the Batan Flow Station in Diebiri clan,” IYC Secretary-General Frank Pukon said via an SMS to The Nation last night.
Pukon led the protesters with two other national officers from the Western zone of the IYC.
The protesters, clad in red t-shirts and IYC mufflers, had earlier stormed and closed the NDDC office in Edjeba, Warri South Local Government Area.
Like those in Bayelsa State, they bore placards and stickers with inscriptions such as “inaugurate substantive NDDC board,” We say no to bad governance,” IOCs must not remit $1.6 billion to NDDC for now,” Restructure Nigeria now, We seek justice in the NDDC.”
Pukon said that it was “disheartening that at this point in time, we are demonstrating for a substantive board to be set up, rather than calling on the Federal Government to come up with a development plan for the Niger Delta like they developed Abuja.”
He warned: ”In the next few hours, we will shut down the entire region. When I say shut down, it includes the oil companies, pending when the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will hearken to the voice of reasoning.”
But, a former President of IYC, Udengs Eradiri, kicked against the protest, saying the youth were misinformed.
Eradiri, who is the Special Assistant to the Sole Administrator, NDDC, Effiong Akwa, described the reported kidnap of the IYC President as an attempt to ridicule the Ijaw and the IYC.
His words: “It is a big lie that Igbifa was kidnapped. He was not kidnapped. Even the later statement that he was arrested by the DSS (Department of State Service) had been denied by the DSS. There was a video where his voice was overheard issuing directive on the protest.
“An IYC President moves around with security. How come it was a day that the ultimatum he issued expired that he chose to move alone without security? The kidnap claim must be investigated and he will be punished for misleading the Ijaw nation.
“Those who are protesting are misinformed. It is the prerogative of the President to inaugurate a board. But, the president had said based on the request of the Niger Delta governors, the activities of the NDDC should be investigated after which a board will come. This should be respected”.