An engagement that works

Armed soldiers in the creek

Armed soldiers in the creek

Although there were objections from some quarters to the position that the Federal Government of Nigeria should negotiate with the militant groups in the creeks, especially the one known as the Niger Delta Avengers, this newspaper was emphatic in its submission that good reason dictated such engagement as the best option.

The visit the other day by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to Delta State during which he said the right and appropriately soothing words and exhibited a good understanding of the grievances of the people, would seem a confirmation of the Muhammadu Buhari-led government’s readiness to heed the right call, put an end to all agitations and let peace reign. This is a very good development.

The militants have been so determined in their objective to put the nation’s economy on its knees that they once code-named their activity Operation Red Economy and they have persisted in their destruction of oil installations amidst falling oil price in the global market, low productivity in virtually all aspects of the economy and lull in business activities.

At a time Nigeria needs to escape the stranglehold of economic recession, the activities of the avengers have successfully sabotaged the economy and compounded the nation’s precarious position.

It is important to remember where Nigeria is coming from and how the country arrived at this sorry pass. Despite the 13 per cent derivation coming from the government, inauguration of development commissions and even a dedicated ministry to the Niger Delta as well as an amnesty programme, there has been no marked prospect of transformation in the pillaged Niger Delta region. Rather, what have been the order of the day are clannish appeasement and aggrandisement of cronies and individual actors in the various programmes.

Compounding this has been the arrogance of some members of the ruling elite and their rejection of resource control by oil-producing states. This has created doubts and suspicion and raised moral questions in the minds of the impoverished people of the Niger Delta about the genuine intentions of the Muhammadu Buhari administration as well as its ability or even desire to develop the region.

By bombing oil installations in their region, the militants have passed a message that their offensive was not a mere violent activity of delinquent blackmailers or an incoherent statement of insurgency like was experienced in the past.

They have left no one in doubt that they are determined to cripple the economy until the Nigerian federation appreciates their genuine rebellion over control of the resources in their land: oil.

With Nigeria’s economy so threatened, it was only reasonable for the government to show a better appreciation of the situation. Osinbajo’s visit to Delta and the words he spoke were genuinely comforting signs. This is good against the background that there is no alternative to robust engagement with the people over the age-long injustice to the Niger Delta. Besides, so far, other sectors of the economy have not been adequately harnessed to address national development and sustainability and the Nigerian Armed Forces are getting overstretched in terms of resources and manpower as they respond to escalating nationwide uprisings. Therefore, the best path to walk is for the government to treat the Niger Delta agitation or any other agitation for that matter with caution so that another flank is not opened in the nation’s many already debilitating wars.

Constructive engagement, even with supposed militants, by a government is not a sign of weakness but a demonstration of responsibility and an expression of sensitivity to the grievances on display.

Indeed, to do otherwise would be testimony to indifference and a predilection for neglect of the people from whose soil the nation’s wealth is sourced, a classic case of injustice, which cannot but breed lasting discontent and eventual destruction of a nation.

Once again, this newspaper restates its position that while the people of Nigeria still await the implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference, which the Buhari administration claims, sadly, that it has consigned to the archives, Nigerians must begin to look in the direction of a just fiscal policy; one that grants the control of resources to federating units on whose land the resources are located. The nation’s political leadership must, therefore, immediately revisit the current structure of economic unitarism that encourages dependency and undermines equitable distribution and control of resources.

Once again, let it be stated that no amount of money spent or energy dissipated on quick fixes and fleeting measures, towards the resolution of various injustices in Nigeria, devoid of genuine fiscal federalism or a restructuring of the republic into a truly federal one in letter and spirit will ever work.

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