‘Niger Delta Avengers should take their grievances to amnesty office’
Seigha Manijar is the Chairman, Niger Delta Nationalities Forum and a member of Ijaw Elders’ Forum, Lagos. In this interview, he speaks on the activities of the new militant group in the Niger Delta region — Niger Delta Avengers — which has been destroying oil pipelines and facilities in the region. Manijer proffers a lot of solutions to the problem, which includes convening a Niger Delta youth summit by the Federal Government. He believes government can use the platform to assuage the fears of the youths and restore normalcy.
What in your view is responsible for the renewed spate of militancy in the Niger Delta, which has led to blowing up of oil pipelines and facilities?
Firstly, I can only speculate what could be responsible for the present spate of bombings in the Niger Delta. In any case, I want you to know that this spate of bombing stopped since 2009 when the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua declared the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) for the Niger Delta.
I remember that the Niger Delta was boiling when Obasanjo took over in May 29, 1999. But just after his assumption of office, his first official trip outside Abuja was to the Niger Delta. By the first week of June 1999, he was already in Port Harcourt through Warri where he dialogued with the youths of Niger Delta. Within weeks of his assumption of office, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) bill was sent to the National Assembly.
Even the government of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida did not waste much time in converting the 1.5 per cent derivation fund to three per cent in his time. Yar’ Adua in his early hours even created the Niger Delta Ministry. All these happened in those regimes because they reasoned on time that the Niger Delta and its oil are strategic to the nation’s economy.
This government is a year old, and if there is anything I can recall in respect to the Niger Delta, it is the reduction of budgetary allocation to PAP from N60 billion to N20 billion in this 2016 budget.
The near omission of the Lagos-Calabar rail project and the announcement by the Minister of Transport that the Maritime University in the Niger Delta has been cancelled are not too good signals.
It is in the light of the above that I think the new group called Avengers is simply behaving or reacting like the two-year-old baby, whose parents have just given birth to a new baby called North East Development Commission. Everybody including the World Bank, European Union, UNDP and African Union (AU), among others, are pledging one thing or the other towards nursing of the new baby, giving the impression that the older baby has been weaned. The older child, Niger Delta, is asking if it is still relevant to the household and in the process breaking glasses, cups and pots. A good parent must respond positively and adjust quickly too. The Niger Delta Avengers may be asking a rhetorical question on whether, because the government is diversifying into agriculture and solid minerals because the price of oil has plummeted, the Niger Delta, its oil and the people, especially the youth are no longer relevant.
The government sees NDA as criminals just as many commentators do. But, NDA also sees this government as wicked and undermining the Niger Delta region. I think the President has some quick fix jobs to do in this direction.
What kind of quick fix jobs do you expect from the President?
One, President Buhari should convene a Niger Delta youth summit to use the platform to assuage their fears. He should take same opportunity to pay former President Goodluck Jonathan a courtesy visit just to say thank you for respecting the wishes of the majority of voters at the 2015 presidential election.
These two steps will go a long way in the first place.
Again, President Buhari must and should decide whether to collapse all the interventionist agencies in the Niger Delta region into one institution and fund it appropriately or fund all of them properly and insist that they all function rightly. For example, the NDDC and the Niger Delta Ministry have no business building hostels for existing universities in Port Harcourt, Benin, Calabar or Asaba; neither should the East West road be the sole responsibility of the ministry. In any case, some of these projects are already variously captured in their respective local, state and federal budgets. Rather, the East West road should go to the Federal Ministry of Works. NDDC and Niger Delta ministry have no business providing dustbins and electric poles in urban centres such as Port Harcourt, Calamari, Benin, etc. These agencies must be made to purely concentrate on the development of rural and riverine oil producing communities. This way, the youths in these areas can now benefit directly.
The rural and the riverine communities are not benefitting enough from these agencies like the city centres. The operators are conniving with state governors and their elite friends to the detriment of the rural areas. The President should take a guided helicopter trip through the riverine communities and see for himself. On the other hand, these agencies are poorly funded. Yet, people from other regions are baffled with the proliferation of interventionist agencies in the Niger Delta.
For example, I hear that in the 2016 budget, the allocations to NDDC is N41billion, Niger Delta ministry has N19billion while the Amnesty programme got N20billion, totaling N80billion only. If this is true, it is very poor and it is undermining the importance of Niger Delta region. For example, a loss of 800,000 barrels of crude per day (bpd) as claimed by the Petroleum Minister, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, amounts to 800,000 bpd multiplied by $50 per day. This gives us $40 million per day. Against N300 per dollar, it amounts to N12billion per day. When you take in this for a month, you will have N360billion. It is now left for one to imagine the paltry sum given to these agencies for the development of all the nine oil-producing states in a year.
How would you react to the militarisation of the Niger Delta in response to renewed restiveness in the region?
Well, it is sad for one reason and good for another. It is bad in the sense that the more the military comes, the more the resolve of the youth or some criminals, who feel challenged to do their worst as a test of their capacity and knowledge of the environment.
It is also good in the sense that it affords Nigerians from other regions the opportunity to begin to appreciate the plight and challenges of the Niger Delta region.
A case in point was when I gave a ride to a serving JTF officer from Kebbi State, from Warri to Lagos some years ago. As we discussed along through our journey, he swore that what was happening in the Niger Delta would never be tolerated by either the Hausa or the Yoruba for one day. According to him, before he was posted to the Niger Delta, he was always angry with the Niger Delta youths because of their ‘criminal activities.’ He confessed that his first and second trips to the creeks in Rivers and Bayelsa states afforded him the opportunity to feel and see the pathetic situation in the region. I was happy with him for being forthright. However, when he was alighting at Ojota in Lagos, he said to me, “Oga, as soldiers we have to do our job.”
One of the demands of the Avengers is the release of detained leader of the Independent People Of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu. What is their business with that?
Well, like the two-year-old baby breaking glasses and pots in the house, once you recognise his or her importance along with the new baby, you can begin to have your peace in the house, otherwise, you have to contend with his or her nuisance. To me, it is in the interest of the Federal Government to release Nnamdi Kanu to reduce tension in the zone. This is not necessarily because of the NDA’s demand, but that this can massage Mr. President’s ego in the Southeast region. I equally advise Mr. President to appoint him as his Special Adviser on South East. The benefit of this gesture to the President is inestimable.
What is your message to members of the NDA and Niger Delta youths in the face of the present situation?
My message to Niger Delta youths is that they should not close their eyes or sleep because there are too many thieves around, both within and outside. They should shout and when necessary, make noise but don’t kill or maim.
As for the NDA, my message is that they have already shown capacity and willingness. They need not blow up more facilities. They should not mind that segment of the press that is always stigmatising and demonising them as criminals; they cannot police or protect the strategic facilities at our backyard except the security forces. But can the security forces stay inch after inch along the pipeline 24 hours? Would they not be paid? I will like to salute them for not taking the lives of innocent people as Boko Haram. Pipelines can always be repaired but life can’t.
I also want to strongly advise that the NDA should get in touch with the Coordinator and Chairman of the Amnesty Programme Brig-Gen Boroh. I strongly believe the Boroh I know will not betray them. Whatever their demands are, Boroh will take it to the President and it would be resolved. He is a true Niger Deltan.