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The Federal Government should take due notice of the fresh rumblings in the Niger Delta. It cannot afford complacency, procrastination or inaction on matters concerning the region, considering its long history of agitations and its age-old neglect by successive Nigerian governments.
The recent warnings from organisations such as the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) deserve prompt action from the government. PANDEF, led by Chief Edwin Clark, had warned that it would have no choice but pull out of its peace initiatives with the Federal Government if, by November 1, the government has not shown clear evidence of its commitment to implement the 16-point agenda submitted to it on behalf of the Niger Delta people. The Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders had also threatened to resume hostilities by September 31 if the Federal Government continues to drag its feet on the demands of the people.
It is good that the Federal Government has now met with PANDEF, which immediately announced the withdrawal of its November 1 ultimatum. We commend the government for the prompt meeting which led to the resolution of the face-off with the Niger Delta leaders, and for reaffirming its commitment to the implementation of the 16-point agenda. Although some ex-militant groups have warned that the withdrawal of the ultimatum by PANDEF could create room for a further neglect of the region, we urge the government not to slow down in its efforts to bring the 16-point plan into reality.
The rumblings from the Niger Delta are not good news for the country, especially at this time of dwindling national revenue. The problem of restiveness in the oil-producing Niger Delta region was a big challenge to the President Muhammadu administration in its early days. Militant elements in the Niger Delta region had taken exception to the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari almost immediately after he assumed office, leading to a near-total shut-in of oil production at a time that oil, the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, was doing very badly in the international market.
The government had the challenge of how to end militancy and the bombing of pipelines in the region until it decided to change tactics and embraced dialogue with the people and other key stakeholders in the area. The initiative led by the Acting President , Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, yielded fruit, resulting in a new understanding and the enhancement of oil production to the daily production benchmark of 2.2 million barrels per day, up from about 1.3 million barrels in the early days of the administration. This move, apart from shoring up government’s revenues, also substantially eased tension in the region, to the relief of the entire nation. At this time that the country is facing all kinds of agitations and threats to its corporate existence, the government must not allow the gains of the peace in the Niger Delta to be lost on the altar of complacency and inaction.
As the PANDEF leader noted, it has been a year since the 16-point agenda was submitted and apparently ratified for action. Why is it taking the government so long to act on the identified issues?
While there may not be a total abdication of responsibility on the various issues, as a government spokesperson has said, there is no doubt that whatever has been done on the peace initiatives is not enough to douse the tension in the region. The new agitations are real and the bubble may burst sooner than imagined. That would be a real tragedy, indeed, as it will portray the government as lacking focus and discipline.
The decision of the government to now have a PANDEF representative in the government’s Inter-Ministerial Group charged with the implementation of the Niger Delta vision should go a long way in keeping the region’s leaders abreast with details of government’s efforts on their demands.
What government can learn from the recent grumblings is to understand that its engagement tools with the critical stakeholders in the Niger Delta region should be regularly reviewed to adequately communicate its activities and timelines for the execution of the 16-point agenda to the intended beneficiaries. It is also possible that government is focusing more on relating directly with the ordinary people at the grassroots, but that must never be at the expense of the buy-in of all critical stakeholders , including PANDEF, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and the ex-militants.