Niger Delta needs attention, government needs peace

PHOTO: George Osodi/Panos for Oxfam America

In conflict resolution, it is always pertinent to establish a common ground which dialogue should revolve around. It is also important to note reconcilable differences in every parley where such ground can be envisaged. This is why there is a great difference between the insurgency in the North East and the militancy in the Niger Delta. While such common ground is absent in the North East attack, the Niger Delta struggle is not bereft of such rallying point. The fact that the boys in the creeks have not hidden their demands makes negotiations even more possible.

A group that shows willingness to negotiate should be given some of attention. On a negotiating table, there are issues that can easily be discarded or regarded by both parties where their desirability is objectively debated and considered. Whatever an issue may be, it is always advisable to bring it to the table for discussion. It is also noteworthy that energy spent in discussion is far less than the one spent in war. Therefore, all parties should first explore the possibility of negotiation.

That is why the recent threats by Niger-Delta Avengers to resume its suspended hostility against oil and gas installations in the region should not be treated with levity. Their activities, you may recall almost crumbled the nascent administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, bringing oil production to a 30-year low. Resumption of destruction of oil facilities this time when there are signs of a possible end to recession would be the most unthinkable thing to be allowed to happen. It should be nipped in the bud. With an oil-sensitive economy like ours, any threat to its free-flow is a direct attack on the socio economic dynamics of the national economic development. The claim by the agitators that the Federal Government is only interested in their oil wells and not their well-being evokes a two-way emotion either for an action against the government or for government to do something about the apparent neglect of the region.

Apart from such activities halting the oil business in the region, many businesses that depend directly or indirectly on the thriving petroleum business in the Niger Delta would suffer great losses that may lead to joblessness, hardship and further depreciation of naira. Do not forget that human lives would also be lost either by direct confrontation with the security forces or indirectly by being victims of pollution or oil-spillage as a result of explosion of oil installation. With a statement conveying a threat of a possible brutal and bloody attack that will not spare any oil facility, it would therefore not be weakness but wisdom for government to address the contentious issues raised by the Avengers.

It is a pity that we have elected to remain behind in a fast changing globalised economy. While the world is gradually gravitating away from oil, we are increasingly dependent on it to drive the economy. Even now, the civilised world is exploring massive discoveries. With this modern technology, there are increasing possibilities of non-oil or non-hydro carbon energy. Even as it is today, with the mass production of electric cars with their less carbon emissions, the global demand for fuel is declining.

The nation’s experience is like a proverbial farmer who put all his eggs in one basket and lost all of them in the event of an accident. It is this unfortunate situation that constantly emboldens proliferation of adventures in oil-pipeline destructions by many youth groups. A country with diversified sources of revenue earnings would not be held to ransom this way. But the government has no moral justification what-so-ever to continue to pay lip-service and give deaf ears to the yearnings of the Niger Delta people, a region that is the mainstay of the nation’s economy. Take for instance, the deplorable living conditions of the inhabitants of the region who daily face the worst livable condition occasioned by pollution due to activities of oil companies in the region.

When an average Niger Deltan sees how Abuja, the seat of government, is being transformed into a modern world class city with the resources from their region, the desire to protest becomes immanent and almost irresistible.

The plight of the people here is both deplorable and lamentable as life expectancy is lower than in many other regions in Nigeria. The daily inhaling of some pernicious substances being released to the atmosphere in the process of gas flaring and refining of crude is quite harmful to the health. Take for instance the recent black soot plague experienced in Port Harcourt at the beginning of the year. Experts say that such lethal substances can cause bronchitis, respiratory illnesses and cancer, leading to premature death. Those black substances were easily seen. What of others not so easily detected that dissolve in drinking water and settle on open food displayed for sale in markets?

The need for the Federal Government to meet with Niger Delta Avengers is both pertinent and imperative. Therefore, the recent assurance by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Usani Usani of the Federal Government’s readiness to meet with them is quite welcoming. One would only appeal for sincerity of purpose by our leaders in handling the obvious problems of the region.



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