The spate of violence in the Niger Delta region has been on the rise lately, while the tempo of legitimate activities, mainly in oil exploration and production, has reduced drastically, no thanks to renewed agitations by groups masquerading as emancipators of the region.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of Zainab Okino and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 360Nobs.com.
No matter how it is couched, whether in self-acclaimed Niger Delta nationalist garb as freedom fighters, economic emancipators or regional activists, the current ‘struggle’ is largely based on the loss of power by homeboy, ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, and those who held the levers of power, mainly Niger Deltans, during his leadership. They also include people who got juicy positions, pipelines and creeks protection contracts and undermined the army of government in charge—the navy and civil defence, and, of course, those who took their hold on power to a ridiculous level and misled ex-President Jonathan in the process.
For their grievances, some of them found solace in ‘avenging’ the loss of those opportunities. Thus, all sorts of groups are emerging to align with the Niger Delta Avengers who first took up the gauntlet; all of them destroying oil facilities in their region, polluting their waters and aquatic lives and harming the nation’s economy.
The latest on Friday was the blowing up with dynamite of an NNPC gas station trunkline near Ogbe-Ijoh in Warri South West Local Government. Agip, Shell and other multinational companies’ installations had earlier been hit.
Speaking recently at a meeting with a director of the Royal Dutch Shell Group, President Buhari spoke forcefully on the resurgence of militancy in the region. “We have to be very serious with the situation in the Niger Delta because it threatens the national economy. I assure you that everything possible will be done to protect personnel and oil assets in the region”, he said.
Sadly, it is not enough to talk tough and even act tough, as the president appears to be saying and doing. Criminal as it is, criminalising the agitations in the Niger Delta and calling the actors criminals and vandals and alienating them are not enough to win the war, return the region to normalcy and allow uninterrupted flow of oil to the renewed pipelines, for onward distribution to other parts of the country. The criminals may not succeed in unseating the government, or even seceding as some of them claim, but they can do incalculable damage to the nation’s economy and psyche; and further reduce whatever is left of the government’s highly battered image and immense goodwill at the start of this administration.
On this, President Buhari needs some education in the combination of Obasanjo’s hard stance and Yar’adua’s gentle but effective approach to the Niger Delta question. These brought about the Amnesty Programme which, to a large extent, succeeded in pacifying the group. Again, President Jonathan in an attempt to indulge the ‘owners of the land that hosts oil’, directly and indirectly encouraged the bazzar that the gains of the Yar’adua era were turned into.
Yes, it may be tempting for the president to want to reverse some of the excesses of the past, but it should be done in a manner that the people would not feel persecuted. On this, Buhari has not shown good sportsmanship. Having just taken over from a Niger Deltan, Buhari has yet to sufficiently prove to all, and Niger Delta in particular, that his emergence and leadership is in the best interest of all.
By now, the president should have visited and interacted with almost all stakeholders in the Niger Delta or should have invited their opinion leaders to the Villa to reassure them; he is a Nigerian president and one for everybody and region. Instead, the president’s body language is more of that of a triumphant king, treating some parts of the country like conquered territories, while often going to the West for just social events. Those who are advising the president to ignore ill feelings by parts of the country that did not vote for him are not, in the least, helping him. Election is just a process to get people into position of leadership. And for the president in particular, once elected, the whole country becomes his constituency.
Getting the Niger Delta close is not synonymous with condoning criminality that the blowing up of pipelines is. Right or wrong, a precedent has been set on the Niger Delta issue. A sudden and marked departure from the past can land the nation in avoidable trouble. Besides, no form of rebellion by any group for whatever reason should be treated with levity, although rebels should also not be treated with kid gloves. Boko Haram is a clear example. History is replete with rebellions, insurrections, agitations, etc. that ended up on a dialogue table. A recent case in point is the South Sudan war that has just thawed, with some form of compromises. Not to talk of the ongoing Syrian crisis, the Taliban and Afghan government, World Wars I and II etc. that all ended in a truce or resolutions.
In essence, the Niger Delta Avengers and all other such groups may be criminals, vandals, terrorists or economic saboteurs, but Buhari should live above aboard and handle the case with superior strategies that guarantee a win-win resolution of the grievances of the avengers in the interest of the country.
This piece was written by By Zainab Suleiman Okino. You can reach her via firstname.lastname@example.org, www.zainabokino.blogspot.com.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 360Nobs.com.