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Taming Niger Delta Avengers

Posted: May 23, 2016 at 3:30 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Daniel Abia

Port Harcourt– In July 2009, late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua took one of the most difficult but extremely necessary decisions in his short-lived administration. And that was the granting of amnesty to the Niger Delta militants who were set to destroy the economy of the country. The consistency of their attacks on oil facilities did not only tell negatively on the global oil market, it drastically brought the country’s production output from two million barrel per day to a paltry 250,000 barrels.

Being a monolithic economy, depending solely on oil, Nigerian economic fortune was brought to the canvass. Yar’Adua knew the implication of the dynamite explosions at the Niger Delta creeks and the attendant effect of this on the economy. He did not wait for any wise counsel from anywhere but adopted the best diplomatic approach to solving the crisis and taming the hydra-headed monster.

The militants’ attacks on the nation’s oil sector were a bargaining chip: ‘give Niger Delta justice and equity and improve your oil economy’ was all they wanted. To save the dwindling economy therefore, the Yar’Adua administration could not afford to flip-flop on such opportunity. It grabbed it. The duration to turn in the weapons and embrace peace lasted sixty days, October 4, 2009, to be specific.

Several centres for collation of guns and other weapons were quickly set up across the region by the federal government. It was a booming business for many after all, especially the political class. Suddenly, the ring leaders of the rebel groups were flown in Presidential jet to Abuja, the country’s seat of power. They were seen in national television stations having warm handshake with the President beaming with smiles and full of some sense of accomplishment. Yesterday they were rebels, outlaws.

Today, they are golden boys; the super-rich. Some of them decide what happens in their immediate communities. They are title men in their own right. Their names still resonate like the ancient bell of Zion signaling early morning prayers. They are the Atekes, Asaris, Tompolos, Okahs, Boyloafs, Osamas, Africas of this world. They were mean, deadly. They were rebels with a genuine cause: “justice, equity for Niger Delta”. And they got it half-baked, though. Yar’Adua won the militancy war on a platter of sheer cognitive reasoning and diplomatic maneuvers. Within this period of jaw-jaw, the booming sounds of the gun ceased. The dynamites refused to detonate. The Creeks heaved a sigh of relief. And oil production jerked up from 250,000 to two million barrels every day.

Once again, there was peace in Nigeria but definitely not in the northeast. Boko Haram became busier than ever. It was a festival of bomb blasts under Jonathan; bomb blast in the church; explosion in the UN house, at the market, army Barracks, car parks. There were bomb Blast everywhere except the Villa. Then the Chibok holocaust, more than 200 school girls allegedly missing without any trace. Sambisa Forest became the theatre of the absurd and a platform of a new warfare. Finally, Jonathan was tactically edged out of power in 2015. His successor, President Muhammadu Buhari has seen one year as a democratic president. He came with a change mantra. Nigerians jumped at it after sixteen bleeding years under the PDP.  Then the turn of event: emergence of a new militant face which called itself the Niger Delta Avengers. This group claims that its members are not criminals or kidnappers. It said they are men who are well trained. Some obtained their education in Eastern Europe.

Their mission, we are told, is to crumble the Nigerian economy except their demands are granted. Such demands include among other things, immediate and unconditional release of Nnamdi Kanu and former NSA, Sambo Dasuki from detention. To show that they were not just on the pages of newspapers, they commenced the blowing up of pipelines belonging to the oil majors.  “It is extremely important to note that the engine room of the national interest is the executive obedience to court orders, protection and preservation of citizens’ constitutional liberties. Justification of executive disobedience to court orders as a protection of national interest is abominable.

“This is a deliberate ploy to bend the law and suspend the 1999 Constitution. We ask; does President Muhammadu Buhari have any legal capacity to declare anyone as a criminal? Disobedience to court orders is an act of executive rascality in the country,” the militant group said. The group had listed their targets of attack and they appear to be achieving that with clear precision. They have so far bombed several pipelines without or little resistance from the federal troops. Their activities within just two weeks of operation have reduced the country’s production by 800,000 barrels of oil, a sad situation in an already bad economy.

President Buhari had given a standing order to the military to crush the militants and rid the creeks of destruction so that oil can start to flow unhindered. But the rebels defiled the order by blowing up another pipeline last Friday. The Avengers, Thursday, listed some oil blocs allegedly owned by former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former Minister of Defence, General Theophilus Danjuma, late ex-Minister of Petroleum, Alhaji Rilwanu Lukman, other Northerners and South-Westerners in Niger-Delta region and issued them a two-week ultimatum to shut down operations and evacuate the workers from the locations or have them blown up. Col Mudoch Agbinibo, spokesman of the group said that “If at the end of the ultimatum and you are still operating. We will blow up all the locations. It will be bloody. So, just shut down your operations and leave.” Reuters, an international news agency had reported that “militant activity in the Niger Delta has taken out some 500,000 barrels per day of crude oil production from… companies in Nigeria, pushing oil output in Africa’s largest-producing nation to more than 22-year lows”.

This presupposes that the threat issued by this group must be considered serious in both content and expression. Atonement could save an impending doom here. A desperate situation needs a desperation solution, goes a common saying. To save the country’s economy from further downward trend, the faces behind the masks must be unveiled and atoned, if need be. But what people in other clime continue to wonder is that if these militants were given amnesty as it is known, why then the anger in the land? An Edinburgh International publication said that the Amnesty Programme is estimated to have cost the Nigerian Government close to $500m a year since 2009.

The report stated that “in 2014, $12,245 was spent per militant captured. The majority of those 30,000 enrolled in the programme receive cash stipends of around $325 per month, however some former militant leaders received much larger, multimillion dollar payments, creating a new wave of socio-economic imbalances in the region.” Somebody had wondered aloud the moral justification for renewed hostilities by the group called Niger Delta Avengers in a country that has spent more than “N500 billion alone on the Niger Delta Amnesty programme in the last 6 years.  In a country were over N621 billion was allocated to the Niger Delta Development Commission in 2014 and 2015 alone. This is definitely an anomaly”, he said.

The moral question that begs for answer is, is President Mohammadu Buhari willing to negotiate with this new face of militancy in the Niger Delta region? Former President Olusegun Obasanjo established the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, to appease the Niger Delta people. Umaru Yar’Adua established the Niger Delta Ministry Affairs in 2008 and in 2009, he set up the amnesty program. All of these establishments were aimed at bringing peace in the Niger Delta and by extension improve the nation’s economy. Whether this aim has been achieved or not, is left for the public court to judge.