FG Should Begin Withdrawal Of Troops From Niger Delta – Otuaro | Independent Newspapers Limited
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FG Should Begin Withdrawal Of Troops From Niger Delta – Otuaro

Posted: Nov 15, 2016 at 1:32 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)




 Comrade Jerry Otuaro, a Niger Delta rights activist and lawyer is the National and Diaspora Coordinator of the Foundation for Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade (FHRACC). He spoke to EJIKEME OMENAZU on the recent meeting of the Niger Delta leaders with President Muhammadu Buhari on how to resolve the crisis in the region.


 What is your take the recent meeting of some Niger Delta leaders with the Presidency over the planned dialogue on Niger Delta issues?


There is just no alternative to dialogue with respect to the Niger Delta issue. This is anchored on the fact that only dialogue can unearth the succour needed to addressing the injustice against the Niger Delta people; only dialogue can take us to the very root of the agitation; only dialogue can strengthen the relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed for a better Nigeria and only dialogue can assure the continuous existence of the Nigerian State. Anything short of dialoguing with the Niger Deltans is tantamount to cascading disaster that will consume the Nigeria State.

While dialogue is non-negotiable, the very fundamental should transcend mere dialogue to a sense of sincerity on the part of both our representatives and most importantly, the Federal government. A departure from this will take us aback to the standing of previous discourses on the Niger-Delta issue and that may spell doom to all concerns.  Personally, I hope this much anticipated dialogue will stand as a platform for resolving the Niger Delta issues once and for all rather than a palliative move to keep the crude flowing. This is an avenue that has presented itself so I support same with all sense of purpose.


 Across section of people in the Nigerians feel worried that the youths, especially leaders of youth and human rights organisations such as you, were not included in the delegation. Do you express such worry?


I share the same worries. Though, the very essence of the Pa. E.K Clark led PANDEF, as was published in major  news outlets on November 5, 2016, evidenced the fact that it was only a travaux preparatoire for a dialogue team to be inaugurated to engage the government. However, it is worrisome to note that the youth are not included or well represented in this process knowing that the youth are the very mechanism for the agitation.


 In your view, why do you think the youth groups and their leaders were excluded in that important meeting?

I cannot imagine what must have precipitated the non-inclusion, perhaps for selfish reasons or out of oversight.

 Since things are like this, would you like them to be included in future meetings? If so, why?

Without a second thought, my respond is yes. The youth have to be included on the ground that there can be no positive outcome from a dialogue that fails to include the Niger Delta youth because the youth are the arrowhead of the agitation. The youth are the ones involved in virtually all strata of the struggle. They do the clean and dirty jobs of the agitation and are the sacrificial lamps of the struggle. I cannot imagine a dialogue team without adequate representation from the youth. In fact, every single move relating to the Niger Delta issue should includes adequate representation from the youth to make headway.

 Would you say you have the confidence that the leaders in that first meeting can negotiate on behalf of the region bearing in mind the contending issues?


Certainly, our leaders present at the first meeting are very well able to negotiate on behalf of the region. But, I take exception to their representation. Devoid of any intention to be rude, it is appalling that when issues affecting the region are to be discussed, our leaders are not critical enough. While the composition of the first meeting may be excused, I do not think that those of our leaders present in that meeting should be saddled with the responsibility of negotiating on our behalf. My reasons are not far-fetched. Who do they report to at the end of each sittings? Who will correct their errors if there be any? Who ratifies their position? etc. I dare so no one.

My take is that our leaders should rest their nerves at home while a team duly selected should be sent to do the bidding and retire back to them for ratification and where there is need for correction, the leaders will be called upon to make such. Like the government team, I am sure the Presidency will only send a delegation to negotiate with our people and if there is any form of misnomer, the Presidency can ratify same or even refuse to implement same if need be. Again, the NLC, ASUU and other organised bodies are clear examples of how negotiating team should be. Our leaders cannot effectively play both roles because of its sensitivity.


 Could you give an assessment of the 16-point demand given to the government? Do you think they are far reaching enough?

Though not far-reaching, I think it embodies our position as a people. I think the issue of Resource Control and True Fiscal Federalism were not well articulated as well as the blunderous omission of the specific demand for coastal communities’ development. I also think that the Ogoni clean-up exercise was not well considered as the environmental pollution and degradation affects virtually the whole region as such there ought to be a call for the cleaning up of the entire Niger-Delta rather than taking the narrow pathway.


 In you view, should the government still keep the military in the region as the dialogue begins?

Certainly, no. Demilitarisation is inclusive in the 16-point demands as such I do not think it is wise that the military be kept in the creeks during the pendency of the dialogue. The presence of the military in the creeks of the Niger-Delta is capable of offsetting the essence of the dialogue because of the anathema that characterises  military presence in indigenous communities in the region. As a show of sincerity, the government should start a systemic withdrawal of troops from the region since the militants are ready to stop bombing oil and gas facilities pending the outcome of the dialogue. This is because history has thought us that militarization of the region has never yielded any positive result rather it causes more harm than good to the country.  Since President Buhari has also keyed into the ideology of using dialogue, it is wise to hold that there is no point wasting money militarizing the creeks to deflate the relative tranquility we are enjoying in recent times.


The militants are being urged by the government to suspend their gun battle and destruction of the oil installations to give way for the dialogue. How would you react to the call?

For the sake of our economy, it is a proper call to suspend their gun battle and destruction of oil installations. But, such is not enough to remedy the catalyst of violent agitation in the Niger Delta. Its continuity is clearly not beneficial to the Nigeria economy and also considering its adverse impact on the Niger Delta environment as well as the health of our people, even though it serves as a wake-up call for the attention of successive Nigeria governments.

How can you be calling for such suspension, yet you are continuously militarising the creeks? How can you expect those who engage in this act of sabotaging our economy to surrender their guns? But the government is so keen to use violent means to deal with this sensitive issue. In substantiating government insincerity, one can take a look at the unwarranted military attack on innocent Gbaramatu communities. To be truthful to ourselves, the government is not sincere to itself and that remains the militating factor in making such plea to the militants.