Talking with the avengers
Although the struggle to halt the ecological degradation and wanton appropriation of the oil resources of the Niger Delta has resulted in the gristly end of agitators like Isaac Boro and Ken Saro-Wiwa at the hands of the state, there has been no dearth of such benign moments when the Federal Government spared a thought for the people of the region.
Indeed, through the setting up of the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB), Oil Mineral Producing Areas Commission (OMPADEC), Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC), Ministry of Niger Delta, the amnesty programme and the payment of derivation funds, successive governments have attempted to ameliorate the imperiled existence of the people of the Niger Delta.
But government’s interventions are largely self-serving and this is why the results they generate do not last. Whenever there is a resurgence of militancy in the region, the government moves to restore peace not for the sake of the people of the region but because of the need to protect its interest in the oil resources of the region. Oil remains the economic strength of the nation as long as it has not developed other sources of revenue.
The government’s move for negotiation with a new set of militants who call themselves the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) derives its validation from the fact that the country cannot exist without the oil from the Niger Delta that sustains the economy. If there must be peace in the Niger Delta for the nation to access its prime source of revenue, the government should not listen to those who are opposed to negotiation with the militants. While one does not support a resort to armed struggle, those who are affected by the ecological ravages in the Niger Delta region have a genuine reason to call the attention of the world to their plight if their own government and the oil companies making billions of dollars from the region are not willing to develop the region. Besides, it is clear by now that the military option is not workable not only because it has not stopped the militants from destroying oil facilities but also because it is innocent people who are often brutalised by the troops.
But we should be alert to the danger ahead if the whole process is bungled. During the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s era, the policy of appeasement resulted in the creation of billionaires out of militants. Yet, a regime of violence returned to the region after his exit. This shows that the strategy of appeasing only some people would not bring enduring peace to the region.
What the Niger Delta region needs is a strategy of development that would not benefit only a few people but the whole region. When a negligible number of people benefit from the policy of selective appeasement, fresh violent groups emerge in the region.
Obviously, if the members of the NDA are allowed to be the sole beneficiaries of the negotiation with the Federal Government, some other groups would soon emerge to wreak more grievous havoc on oil facilities and eventually be appeased by making them billionaires. Instead of settling militants with contracts for the monitoring of oil pipelines, the government should produce a comprehensive template for the development of the region.
It is good that the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu has promised to allocate oil blocks to people from the Niger Delta to break the existing monopoly of the oil blocks by people whose land does not produce the oil. However, the Niger Delta needs more than this. The allocation of oil blocks would only produce another few billionaires without solving the problem of the region. Worse still, those who may even get the oil blocks may not be those whose means of livelihood like farming and fishing have been eroded by oil pollution and thus they can no longer send their children to school or even feed themselves.
While it is imperative to really know what the avengers want, the preparation of a developmental template for the Niger Delta should involve the input of some credible people from the Niger Delta, other parts of the country and the rest of the world and the multinational oil companies. Such people should not include traditional rulers and politicians from the region. These people often seek opportunities to cater for their selfish interest and this is why the problem of the region has festered over the years. The negotiation should go beyond meeting the demands of only a single ethnic group in the region simply because they were the ones engaged in a violent agitation. It is the whole of the Niger Delta where oil is either exploited or gas is flared that has been ecologically devastated.
The avengers should underscore their sincerity by sifting their genuine demands from the ridiculous. They cannot claim to be fighting against injustice and at the same time be asking that some people who are the linchpins of inequity through their appropriation of resources meant for all should be shielded from facing the consequences of their criminal actions. They should not insist on their demand that the Federal Government should apologise for the ‘intimidation’ and death of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha who was found guilty of corruptly enriching himself at the expense of Bayelsa State. Instead of fighting for Sambo Dasuki and Government Ekpemupolo, who is better known as Tompolo, they should rather insist that the law should take its full course with a guarantee of fair trial for them.
Above all, for enduring peace in the Niger Delta, the government and the militants must agree that the region should control its resources. In the past 60 years, the resources from the Niger Delta have been used to develop other parts of the country at the detriment of those who own the region. It is time for them to be given the opportunity to manage their own resources and restore their degraded environment. They should agree on true federalism and the need for the implementation of the 2014 conference report that has resolved some of the troubling issues in the Niger Delta, but which President Muhammadu Buhari has vowed to consign to the archives.
Now that the avengers have agreed to negotiate, the government should avail itself of the opportunity and find enduring solutions to the problems of the Niger Delta.