by Usman Alabi
The spate of militant activities in the Niger Delta has increased, no thanks to the activities of the Niger Delta Avengers and other groups alike. Although the NDA seems to be the most outspoken of the groups given their recent activities and violence, it does not remove the fact that there are other groups lurking in the shadows waiting to make their claims. The increased bombing of oil installations and pipeline vandalization has led to an all-time downward trend of Nigeria’s revenue, thus contributing to the economic challenges faced in the country. This situation puts the President between the options of either negotiating with the militants or crushing them with brute military force. But the disposition of the President seems contrary to the latter given the fact that he ordered drastic scale down in military presence and mission in the region while he vacillates between the options available to him to tackle the militant insurgency. Yet despite this gesture of the President, the militants have increased their activities in the region, blowing up pipelines with impunity. Opinions are divided between the President negotiating with the militants or declaring full scale war, the advocates of the latter are of the view that negotiating would portray the government as weak leading to unnecessary concessions.
MEND in a recent statement has described the NDA as criminals holding the government to a ransom for concessions and their engagement in militancy is for personal gains. They stated that they are not opposed to the government negotiating with NDA for national interest, but they should not be deluded into thinking that such negotiation is tied to the resolution of the Niger Delta question. MEND stated categorically that “Negotiation with the NDA is merely a temporary respite, as another opportunistic group is lurking in the shadows, but dialogue and resolution of the Niger Delta question will be a sustainable solution for all stakeholders”. MEND has forgotten that both it and the NDA are products of the same conditions, and their statement about the criminal nature of the NDA only worsens the matter, in fact, their statement makes the issue more complicated for the government because it brings up the question of who exactly they are supposed to negotiate with.
Again the Niger Delta question stares us in the face and it will keep haunting us as a nation until it is addressed. Irrespective of the words or adjectives used in describing the militants, whether we call them criminals, vandals, rebels, economic saboteurs etc, the fact is that the Nigerian state is the main culprit. The state in Nigeria created the conditions for struggle in the first place by failing in its responsibility to the Niger Delta people, it creates the atmosphere for criminality if that is what the Niger Delta struggle has been reduced to. Hence, the present situation would continue until the Niger Delta question is holistically addressed. Perhaps, the questions we should be asking ourselves are: in spite of the criminal propensity of some of these groups and their intransigence, do they have a legitimate cause? Can we get them to negotiate? I leave you to proffer answers to the questions.
The Niger Delta question had been with us even before independence, the Henry Willink commission made mention of it. The question is that the region should be considered a special development area, that the social and economic conditions in this region should be prioritized because of the explorative activities in the place which has hampered the people’s livelihood. The question is about declaring a development emergency for that region, it is about coming out with a tectonic and holistic development plan which would be put to work immediately.
This is my submission: the Niger Delta question must be addressed, although with the incessant and unrepentant activities of the militants, one is tempted to support a full scale war to crush them, but the advocates of force should know that even history has not vindicated their conviction. Though amnesty is an exception, but its dynamics and implementation is a contributory factor to the recent resurgence of militancy in the region, it could not have been a permanent solution. Hence, the state must be strategic in dealing with this issue, it must shy away from the usual temporary solution to addressing the real issues so as to put the matter to rest. The state through its intelligence apparatus must know the number of militant groups in the region and bring all the stakeholders to the table. It has to present them with something like a periodic road map to development which would engage the people of the region, the Niger Delta should be given the status of a special development area. All these alongside visible manifestations of government commitment in the region via structures and commissioned projects and improvement in the living condition of the people can totally put an end to militant struggle. Hence, government should negotiate because a full scale military operation would only fuel the militant struggle. The Buhari led administration is in the right position to put an end to the struggle, he is not jumping to conclusions, he is consulting, he is trusted. This might just be an opportunity to put a lid to the Niger Delta question and put an end to the struggle.