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Niger Delta Violence: Fighting Fire With Fire

Charles Anyiam
Posted: Jun 15, 2016 at 2:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Charles Anyiam

In the wee hours of June 8, a group claiming to be members of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) once again blew up a crude oil pipeline belonging to one of the international oil companies (IOCs) operating in the region. In a tweet to the general public, the group disavowed any commitment to the entreaty from the Nigerian federal authorities for a dialogue to resolve issues related to the renewed insurgency in the troubled Niger Delta basin.

“This is to inform the general public that we are not negotiating with any committee. If the Federal Government is discussing with any group,” they warned “they’re doing that on their own.” According to a news report, the affected crude oil pipeline is located between Opia and Dagbolo villages in Warri North.

To underscore the recalcitrant and provocative nature of the attack, it came barely 48 hours after the two-week ceasefire declared by the Nigerian government to allow for dialogue between the authorities and the insurgents. And earlier on the same day, Acting Nigerian president, Yemi Osinbajo had met with governors of oil-producing states, the defence minister, Dan Ali, petroleum minister Ibe Kachikwu, and retired General Paul Boroh, the president’s adviser in charge of the Amnesty Programme for ex-militants which ended with a resolution to deescalate the government’s military action in the area.

Two days earlier, a new group of insurgents – the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force (JNDLF) – had threatened to attack the nation’s seat of power – Aso Rock, the national parliament, offices of IOCs, the Central Bank, military installations, and such other public buildings. “We will make the federal government and oil companies suffer as they have made the people of Niger Delta suffer over the years from environmental degradation and environmental pollution,” they declared, according to a statement from the group obtained by French news agency, AFP.

So far, there have been unsubstantiated claims making the rounds in the country of the mushrooming of armed groups claiming to speak for the people of the region. According to Judith Asuni of the conflict resolution group, Academic Associates PeaceWorks, there seem to be branches opening up of other ethnic minorities (apart from the Ijaws) that were not included in the 2009 amnesty programme. “It’s like buying your own McDonald’s franchise. You can open your own branch”, she told AFP.

At the roots of the current wave of violence in the region, we are told, is the understanding that the Amnesty Programme brokered in 2009 is likely to end soon. Another weird reason advanced at different fora for the resurgence of the organised chaos in the region is the equally weird notion that today’s violence on oil installations in the area is part of the grand plan by persons sympathetic to officials of the last administration who have so far been implicated in the ongoing anti-corruption campaign in the country – some of who are now either sitting in jail or are being actively investigated – to blackmail the nation.

In some quarters, I have read with appall the positioning and arguments about how and why the Muhammadu Buhari administration should discontinue the anti-corruption exercise. Some of the tantrums have been borderline treasonable.

I say all that to say that the rules of engagement in the Niger Delta have to change. A situation where any section of the country decides to threaten the rest of the union is unacceptable and must be resisted no matter the gravity of the grievance.

I’ll never dare minimise the sufferings of the people of the Niger Delta. The story of abuse and exploitation visited on the natural and human resources in the region over time is well known and well documented. And efforts aimed at ameliorating the devastating effects of the neglect of the region have not been lacking in impetus. The challenge, like most things Nigerian, has been corruption.

Under the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan alone, the Amnesty Programme was grossly abused to the discomfiture of those to who the programme was designed to benefit. To exacerbate the abuse, vested interests including politicians made a cottage industry of the militancy and militarisation of the region.

Astronomical sums of public money that have so far been expended on the Amnesty Programme do not seem to have had any impact on the condition of living of the average Niger Deltan because the monies ended up in the pockets of warlords, overlords and all sorts of lords.

And given the groundswell of support enjoyed by the then Vice President Jonathan when some malevolent forces almost stopped him from replacing the late Musa Yar’Adua, Nigerians have amply demonstrated our collective will to acknowledge the vital place of the region as a major economic lifeline of the nation. In the same safe spirit, no Nigerian ego was bruised as we all conceded choice federal jobs to persons of Niger Delta descent, such as the Oil Ministry, etc., in recognition of the geo-economic importance of their stead to our overall well being.

That is why I believe that as legitimate as the cause of the people of the Niger Delta might be, the renewed call to violence in the region seems like a plot hatched by fifth columnists whose true motives are still masked in some selfish garb. These so-called militants do not represent the true essence of the struggles and aspirations of the people of the Niger Delta.

If we therefore have to find lasting solutions to the problems of the region, it is time for voices of moderation and reason to rise from the creeks, estuaries, and mangrove forests of the region in condemnation of the provocative actions and utterances of these pretenders to the leadership of the Niger Delta. The threats of these mercenaries must be drowned out and the personages behind this madness called out.

And something tells me that the generality of the people of that region yearn for peace and will love a return to normalcy so they and till their land can heal. Given a choice, most of them will want to embrace dialogue rather than anarchy. They yearn to be freed from the tyranny of an armed minority of bandits who seem to have found willing recruits in the ranks of the region’s and the nation’s unemployed youths.

In conclusion, while the Federal Government pursues the option of dialoguing with willing parties in the region, they mustn’t allow criminals to win the propaganda war, which at the moment is tilted in favour of the so-called agitators. We must take our case to the international arena and define what the whole agitation is really all about – political brigandage, and expose the perpetrators as provocateurs, and as in the case of Boko Haram, actively seek the assistance and support of friendly nations in dealing with this madness.

All legitimate agitations are lawful but criminalised agitations are treasonable. When faced with criminalised agitations, I recommend we fight fire with fire.

That is the reality of this ISIS-influenced world in which we live today