by Dele Agekameh
As is well known, even the greatest wars ever fought on earth ended at a conference table. Sometimes, it comes after avoidable deaths and destruction of human and material resources. That seems to be the case in the Niger Delta where many weeks after embarking on indiscriminate destruction of key oil facilities, the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA,is beginning to see the wisdom in the dialogue option.
The NDA started their hostile campaign with some mundane requests such as the release of Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, and others. With time, more and more demands were made, a situation that betrayed the real motive of the NDA.
At a point they wanted the government to release Sambo Dasuki, who is being held in detention over the N2.3 billion arms purchase scam. It was as if the group took up arms on the spur of the moment, not with a clearly designed objective.
In its latest demands, the NDA wants the government to create a conducive atmosphere for genuine dialogue and lasting peace talks. They also wantthe government to get the member states of the multinational oil corporations to commit independent mediators to the proposed dialogue.
Lastly, the NDA said they do not want any traditional ruler or politician to be part of the dialogue. They may be right on this. Many politicians and traditional rulers in the country especially in that region have not been able to live above board.
Before 1999, it was the traditional rulers in the region that were mostly trusted with issues of development in the area. But over the years, the youths discovered that many of the traditional rulers were insincere and that they were short-changing them.That was why they moved against them.
The politicians also entered the stage in 1999.They did not fare any better. In fact, they appeared to be more corrupt than the traditional rulers, hence, the youths decided to take their destiny in their hands.
It would be recalled that it was the politicians in the region that actually started arming the youths by using them as bodyguards and thugs during the various electioneering processes. During this period, the youths were handsomely paid. But as soon as the campaigns were over, they were quickly abandoned and the politicians never retrieved their arms from them.
So, in the face of hunger arising from being abandoned by their pay masters (politicians), the youths had no other option than to strive to fend for themselves. And the arms and ammunition supplied to them by the politicians readily became handy. This has been responsible for the festering incidents of cult-related activities, armed robbery, kidnapping and all forms of banditry going on in many parts of the country, particularly in the Niger Delta region.
The NDA-induced crisis looks more like a campaign of blackmail against the Federal Government because it is doubtful if they are truly representing the Niger Delta people or a group of attention-seeking individuals who want to get to the government by all means. Nevertheless, the pathetic and appalling situation in the Niger Delta is long overdue for a comprehensive surgery.
This is because it is clear that all the palliative measures put in place in the past, have not produced the desired result. For instance, the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, set up as an interventionist agency in 1999, has been hampered by improper funding of its activities. As we speak, the agency is being owed more than half a trillion naira by the Federal Government because of its snail-speed bureaucracy. Yet, this colossal sum of money could have made a whole lot of difference.
Again take the East-West Road. That road has been under perpetual construction since God-knows-when. Every year, there is always a budget provision but the project has remained static. There is also the lingering issue of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, which debate in the National Assembly has been going back and forth.
Yet, one important thing about the bill is the provision for benefits accruable to host communities in oil bearing states in the country.And we talk about developing the Niger Delta region without really committing resources into it.
Unfortunately, since the NDA started their insurgency in the region, the type of figures usually brandished as the amount of money lost to the crisis on daily basis is staggering. One wonders if a quarter, I mean, just a quarter of that money had been judiciously spent on developing the region, the story wouldn’t have been better than what it is today.
I have been to many parts of the Niger Delta especially Rivers, Delta and Bayelsa. People who live in the interiors of these places live in abject poverty and squalor. Go to Kokodiagbene in Gbaramatu Local Government Area of Delta State, you will weep for the people. They are completely cut off from civilization. Their waters are polluted, no pipe borne water, no good roads, the houses are mainly thatched houses and there is no government electricity.
In short, like the famous Thomas Hobbes quote, life there is “nasty, short, and brutish” simply because there is no government presence there. The same thing with many oil producing areas of the nine Niger Delta states. The most astonishing thing there is that it is the revenue derived from oil exploration and exploitation in these areas that is used to build those tall edifices in Abuja and elsewhere.
There is no doubt that there are fundamental issues involved in the Niger Delta conundrum. And the issues have been there for far too long while successive governments and their collaborators have done virtually nothing to address them.
The Niger Delta people have the moral right and legitimate reason to demand for a better deal with the Nigerian government. With the Boko Haram madness still fresh in memory, in resolving the issues at stake in the Niger Delta crisis, we must avoid unnecessary bloodshed and destruction which will do the country and the region no good.Therefore, to restore lasting peace to the region will require a holistic approach.
What the region needs now is improved environment for the inhabitants – good roads, well-equipped hospitals, good schools, electricity, clean water, industries and all that, so that they can reap the full benefit of their God-given mineral resources that have almost become a curse to them.
Like the Avengers suggested, the oil multinationals should be involved in this holistic programme to transform the region because the federal and state governments alone cannot do it. It is a massive development.
In doing this, decent people who are development experts within and outside the region should be co-opted if we must get results. At any rate,the Niger Delta issue will continue to be an albatross to the government and all of us Nigerians as long as we continue to ignore the reality in the region.
It is like mosquito perching on a man’s scrotum; you cannot use a gun to kill it, otherwise….Unless something is done to redress this glaring injustice and man’s inhumanity to man in the area and elsewhere in the country, we are only postponing the doomsday.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija