Niger Delta, in recent times, has become a region in Nigeria that whenever it coughs, the entire country shivers like the fish under its oceanic terrain. It has also assumed a dimension that even the government at the state and federal levels usually have a second thought pertaining to the policies they promulgate as they affect the region. A time was when the youths of the region took the law into their hands and unleashed mayhem on everyone, including foreigners, and the country paid dearly for it as oil sales slumped almost to zero level.
The government at the centre could not achieve its budgetary visions. Even the hard stand of government in sending the military into the region was rebuffed, despite the “Operation Crocodile Tears,” until there was a reversal of the federal government decision.
Well-meaning sons of the Niger Delta assembled and reasoned together to work for peace in the region and the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), led by Chief Edwin Clark, was formed.
Sequel to this initiative, the federal government met and entered into an agreement for a ceasefire with the group, the Niger Delta Avengers, which was alleged to be the arrowhead of sabotage and destruction of oil amd gas facilities in the region. The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, later criss-crossed the region on a peace crusade.
As it is usual with the federal government, it has reneged on the agreement with the militants. Today, the story is about to change. Last week, the 10 coalition groups in the region and their leaders Niger Delta Watchdogs, led by General John Duku; Coalition of Niger Delta Agitators, led by General Ekpo Ekpo; Niger Delta Volunteers, led by General Osarolor Nedam; Niger Delta Warriors, led by Major-Gen. Henry Etete; Niger Delta Peoples Fighters, led by Major-Gen. Asukwo Henshaw; Bakassi Freedom Fighters, led by Major-Gen. Ibinabo Horsfall; Niger Delta Movement for Justice, led by Major-Gen. Duke Emmanson; Niger Delta Fighters Network, led by Major-Gen. Inibeghe Adams; Niger Delta Freedom Mandate; and Niger Delta Development Network, led by Major-Gen. Abiye Tariah, have all come together under an umbrella body known as the Coalition of Niger Delta Agitators to call for a renewed aggression in the region. In the light of their renewed call, the federal government should hide its face in shame that every time it goes into an agreement with a warring party, it reneges on its part of the agreement only to wake up from slumber when the situation becomes dicey and a line drawn for a showdown. The teachers,’ doctors,’ labour and civil servants’ labour agreements with the federal government are clear indications of a government that is not faithful to its own part of agreements. In the case of the Niger Delta militants, apart from almost castigating Chief Clark as selling out, they expressed no confidence in the federal government and argued that the government was only bidding for time and postponing the evil day. What could have warranted such an outburst? Was the elder statesman corrupting their aspirations or could it be, according to them, that their interest and that of the region were not being adequately represented? When youths are fighting, they table their grievances before an elder but these Niger Delta youths are not interested in the prolonged type of dialogue that Chief Clark is embarking upon. He has forgotten that this generation is the “fast food” generation. A generation that wants everything in the fast way. These militant agitators want to achieve their motive in the fast way. Someone should frankly address the demands of militant youths of the Niger Delta; indeed, they have a good point but their manner of approach needs to be fine-tuned. Once your agitation is known, it is better to toe the path of dialogue.
The militants have much to lose just as the country has much more to lose. A country with an unstable economy cannot afford to ignore a threat to its major economic stronghold. It is important to ask why the federal government is not too keen on sustaining the peace accord earlier initiated by the Vice President. Does it mean that the federal government only likes to dance in a burning bush? Despite all the military moves, the agitating militants have not been cowed, so why can’t government embrace and take another peaceful step so that the region can experience a more lasting peace?
Interestingly, the 2018 presidential budget speech has given hope that the federal government wants to embrace peace in the Niger Delta, knowing the implications ahead. The question, is how did our security agencies allow these militants to multiply at this rate? Definitely, with each group comes the challenge of acquiring arms and ammunition. As they feather their nest, so they become a danger to the country. Information shows that each of the groups uses illegal oil bunkering to sustain their operations. Each group has hundreds of recruited personnel. It is, therefore, a commendable move by the federal government not to engage them in combat but to seek peace with them. After all, they already see themselves as people deprived of their oil wealth, which is not yielding positive fruit for their region. It is true that the harsh economic realities in the country could also be the reason for their renewed agitation.
Moreover, it is situations like this that can be politicised, and this is not good for a country that is still struggling to extricate itself from the grip of Boko Haram terrorists and Fulani herdsmen that are freely rampaging all over the country.
The way forward is the peace initiative. This should not be postponed neither should the demand for resource control, fiscal federalism and devolution of power, if found worthy, must not be swept again under the carpet.
lf the militants are no longer comfortable with the leadership of Edwin Clark, then former President Goodluck Jonathan should be appointed as the new presidential peace envoy to the Niger Delta, for the sake of regional peace.
What would you do if, at a large car park, you suddenly discovered that when you pressed your car security key, six other cars responded and their doors were automatically opened?