Minister of and Sports, Mr. Solomon Dalung, has been controversial since President Muhammadu Buhari enlisted him in his cabinet, but what happened, Wednesday, last week, took everybody by storm.
It was the Minister himself, who personally released the bombshell. He said he visited Oporoza, the traditional headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Warri South-West Local Government Area, Delta State and held an interactive session with Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, the most dreaded militant group in the region, a feat the military and others have not achieved since the beginning of their year. *Dalong My Oporoza visit- Dalung He told a select group of journalists at the end of stakeholders’ meeting of the Southern Senatorial zone, Shendam, Plateau state that he undertook a two-hour journey on the sea to Oporoza in Gbaramatu kingdom where he met with the leadership of the NDA who gave him a sealed hand-written letter to deliver to President Muhammadu Buhari.
He said, “On reaching the community after the two-hour journey on the high sea, I met with the members of the communities who told me that their dream was to be included in the Nigerian project, that the education facilities and other basic social amenities are almost non-existent in the communities. They also raised concern of incessant attacks by the Nigerian military.”
The Minister said he took the trip last Wednesday as part of federal government’s commitment to good governance and his strong concern for the Nigerian youths, adding, “As a youth minister, I know that the Avengers are mostly youths who have potentials to be great citizens of this country.”
Dalung stated that after meeting with the communities, the Niger Delta ambassadors escorted him to the leadership of Avengers, who gave him a hand-written letter specifying their demands, which he said he was yet to present to the President.
Although the Minister said he did open the letter, he said the Avengers had raised three important issues to him; “The issues include the Niger-Delta Maritime University, pipeline community policing which they said the government had denied them, and the inability of the government to continue with the amnesty programme established by former President Umaru Musa Yarádua Yar’Adua.”
While speaking on the level of degradation and poverty in the area, he said past administrations had been unjust to the Niger-Delta communities, adding, “After going round some of the communities, I noticed that government projects were almost non-existent. I saw a secondary school signboard somewhere but the school is yet to be developed, the community has a clinic but still at the foundation level and a borehole that is not functional.”
Minister under fire
Dalung expected to get kudos but he is under fire from higher quarters, which saw his visit as a misadventure, but particularly from the people of Gbaramatu kingdom, who are aghast that the minister allowed himself to be conned by swindlers and in the process, painted the community in bad light.
What, however, is still ambiguous was whether Dalung knew he was dealing with impostors or he had a genuine mission, but did not know that those who brought him to Oporoza were charlatans and that the person they made him to believe was Tompolo, whom he allegedly spoke with on phone was not Government Ekpemupolo.
Dalung neither met Avengers nor spoke with Tompolo – Tour facilitator Saturday Vanguard was able to identify the youths that took Dalung on the contentious visit to Oporoza.
The leader of the team is from Bayelsa state. One of them, who in fact accompanied the minister on the visit, debunked media reports that the minister met with members of the Niger Delta Avengers and spoke with ex-militant leader, Tompolo.
On media reports that Dalung met with some members of the Niger Delta Avengers and spoke with Tompolo on phone on his way to Oporoza, the source said: “There was no time during the trip that Dalung spoke with anybody on the phone claiming to be Tompolo or had a meeting with representatives of Niger Delta Avengers.
His words: “The claim that he met with members of the Niger Delta Avengers was actually cooked up by the sponsors of such report to enable them sell their papers. But the the letter he was given was given to him by representatives of the community, who equally demanded that that their children whom were arrested by the military be released and academic activities at the Nigerian Maritime University should commence as soon as possible.”
Dalung visited Oporoza in company of three persons identified as James Brisibe, Jude Tabai and Ken Gold.
The source asserted that they did not plan to be fraudulent but the mission backfired the way Dalung went back and spoke to the media. How we hatched plot Raising fears that they have been receiving calls threatening them over their agenda on the trip, he told Saturday Vanguard: “We have been receiving calls and threats from individuals, including security personnel saying they would deal with us.”
Giving details of how the visit was planned the source explained that Dalung had planned to visit Oporoza in company of the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, who was tactically ousted from the trip over a likely media hype that would accompany the visit owing to the personality of Kachikwu. “Though Kachikwu was technically ejected from the trip, he insisted that his (Dalung) police security should accompany us on the trip, but I insisted that no single security official should follow us to Oporoza to ensure that the trip is discreet as possible as can be.
“I personally called the Minister on phone, introduced myself and told him of what we are facing as a people. After the pleasantries that ensued, he invited us to come and see him in his office.
“At his office, we started talking about the challenges of the Niger Delta region; it was at this point that he brought up the issues of the Niger Delta Avengers and among other challenges troubling the region,” he disclosed.
His words: “After much talk on what he has been doing to handle the issues of youth restiveness, he confided in us that he would like to assist in finding ways to tackle the attacks on oil installation in the Niger Delta region.”
“He said he was interested in visiting Oporoza to witness and see the pains of the people of the region. Some days later, he called us, fixed a date to include Kachikwu on the trip, but we told him that if Kachukwu accompanied us, the entire world would be aware of the visit even before we arrive and that there was need for us to embark on the visit as private as possible,” one of the facilitators said. He said:“They were the ones that made arrangement for flight and boat to be used for the trip and that was how we traveled to Oporoza where we met representatives of the community, including chiefs and youths at the Oporoza community football field.”
$2, 000 to wedge kola
Also debunking rumours in some quarters that there was financial undertone to the visit, the source said: “As I speak with you, we never benefited a dime from that visit. Even the $2, 000 that the Minister had traveled with on that visit, he used it to wedge kolanut and entertain representatives of the community, who had come out in their numbers to welcome us.”
“The crux of this whole matter is that the minister did not go to Oporoza to see Avengers, neither did he actually meet anybody there claiming to be members of Avengers,” he added. What he told us – Youth spokesperson Spokesperson of Oporoza Youths, Paul Kirifade, who was in the community when the minister visited and actually received him, told Saturday Vanguard that when the team got to the community, the minister who had earlier introduced himself as a member of an NGO, refused giving details of himself.
He simply said that he was a humanitarian that came to felicitate with the people following the military invasion of the community. “While addressing us, he told us that he heard of the military invasion and the arrest of 10 innocent students, being a good person and a humanitarian that once stayed in Escravos in 1994, he decided to wade into the matter.
“He also promised us that we would henceforth sleep with our two eyes closed as there would no longer be any form of military invasion on our communities. He also said that he would eat the fishes used in welcoming him with his two daughters aged four and 6 six years when he got back home as the gifts were given to him with a pure heart.”
If Dalung thought he could get away with his surreptitious visit to Oporoza and the slant he gave to it to please his masters, he made a big blunder, as it has turned out to be a blunder on his part and bad public relations for the government he serves.
Story full of lies
Oporoza leader, Mr. Piniki Azaiye, who seethed with anger, said: “Some days ago, a newspaper carried a story of how the Minister of Youths and Sports visited Oporoza in Gbaramatu to meet with the Niger Delta Avengers and he was given a letter by them to personally give to the President.”
“Lies are being told here. If it were that he came to Gbaramatu on the instructions of the President, he would have identified himself to the people at Oporoza and not only that, he said he spoke to Tompolo on his way to Oporoza to see him there. How did he get his mobile number, he should make it public because I need it too.” He said:
“The public should be informed that since Oporoza was invaded, Tompolo has not been seen in the community and his whereabouts are unknown and if his coming was known by Tompolo, that he was coming to Oporoza, the kingdom would have being so informed to receive him.”
“None of these happened. While he was addressing the people, he refused to identify himself and when he was even called Dalung, he did not respond to his name. What kind of a minister is that. On the other hand, did the federal government send him on a spy mission to establish that Avengers are living in Oporoza to come back and destroy the town? Alternatively, what is he after that he is hiding from the public as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? He is a shame to the present Buhari regime.
How they fooled him
“He did not come to Oporoza as a minister, but on his own personal ground. The jobbers, who assured him that he would meet Tompolo one on one, took him to Oporoza to fulfill their contracts with him.
“And they were adequately paid by the minister to cover the cost of the private jet that took them to Warri and other logistics to the creek and their professional fees,” he said.
“My happiness is that nothing happened to him if not it would have being said that Tompolo invited him to kill him and the military would use it as an excuse to bombard Gbaramatu kingdom again.
“Those that received them said that one Jude Tabai led the minister on the private mission; this said Jude Tabai should be questioned to unveil their mission to the creeks or their connection with the Avengers? He said.
His words: “We beg them in the name of God to stop calling Oporoza bad name in order to destroy it and Avengers are not in Oporoza, the government should use their intelligence to know who they are and where they stay in Nigeria and leave Gbaramatu alone.”
Fraudsters swindled him
The militant group, Avengers, were the first to slam Dalung on the alleged meeting with Avengers. Their spokesperson, self-styled Brig Gen Mudoch Agbinibo, said: “The Minister of Youth and Sports, Solomon
Dalung narrated how he met with some self-claimed Niger Delta Avengers in Oporoza, Gbaramatu Kingdom. We are here to let the public know that Niger Delta fraudsters have defrauded the Minister.”
“Niger Delta Avengers cannot stoop so low to send representatives to meet with a common Minister of Youth that does not know his work. Minister of Youth and Sports, Solomon Dalung has been defrauded and played by Niger Delta fraudsters.
“He did not have any meeting with us (Niger Delta Avengers). Let us make this clear; any meeting with Niger Delta Avengers that the International communities are not part to witness, we, (Niger Delta Avengers) will not be part of any such dialogue,” Agbinibo added.
Impostors double-crossed him
chairmen Spokesperson of Gbaramatu Communities Chairmen Forum, Mr. Johnbull Demebi, in a statement, said: “It is pertinent to state that to the best of our knowledge, we, the leadership of the community did not receive the Hon. Minister of Youth and Sports, or any other government official in Oporoza town last week.”
Insisting that to the best of their knowledge, Mr. Dalung had not visited the community, Mr. Demebi said, “The last government visitor to Oporoza community was the Acting Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris.” He advised government functionaries and VIPs “to be careful and mindful of persons they associate with, particularly with the intention of visiting our communities, as some persons are out to make money from top government functionaries and bring the name of the community to disrepute.”
He added that Mr. Dalung has been deceived by “mischievous persons and perhaps must have been swindled,” suggesting that intending visitors to the community “should make proper arrangement with the leadership of such communities to avoid any mishap in the course of such journey.” Unholy claim The Foundation for Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade, FHRACC, also lambasted the minister over his comments.
The Diaspora coordinator, Otuaro Jerry, asserted: The statement Solomon Dalung made that he paid a visit to Oporoza town to have interactive session with members of the Niger Delta Avengers is prodigiously contemptuous as same is obviously laden with the characteristic of surreptitiously labeling the peace-loving people of Gbaramatu kingdom as criminals.” “The claim, to say the least, is without doubt a calculated attempt to call a dog a bad name so as to kill it. We make bold to condemn in the strongest term this unholy and unrighteous claim of the Honourable Minister. “The fact that the Honourable Minister also claimed to have been invited by High Chief Government Ekpemupolo, who, based on our investigation, was last seen in the kingdom more than four months ago, to visit him at Oporoza, as a means to justifying his invasion of the community, also lend credence to his malaise laden visit. “It is wicked, atrocious and calamitous for the Honourable Minister to allow his esteem office to be used by some unscrupulous and political jobbers to achieve their egoistic and self-centered ends,” the group said.
FHRACC added: “It should be on record that the Honourable Minister, who is known too well by all well-informed Nigerians, and a host of other unidentified persons, including some well-known political jobbers invaded Oporoza community without pre-informing the leadership of the community of their planned visit.” “Interestingly, a surprised and unplanned welcome of the strangers, who refused to introduce themselves, was organized by people on ground upon acknowledging the presence of the Honourable Minister, but all attempts to ascertain the rationale for their visit was banished on the flimsy excuse anchored on security reasons. “We see and condemn this unholy claim as it plays the role of a travaux preparatoire for future military invasion orchestrated by those that are head bent in wishing for a genocidal attack on the people of Gbaramatu,” the group said