Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Dissecting The Recurring Agitation For Balkanization of Nigeria (2)

This is the second tranche of this essay; an attempt to trace, reconcile the perennial agitation, quest for secession or Balkanization of Nigeria. Here’s a link to the first part. The part of this essay also chronicles the mixed bag of recent militant groups, more than a dozen at the last count.

Proliferation of Militias: The Niger Delta Avengers and others

More than 50 years after Major Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro formed the secessionist Ijaw Volunteer Force and declared the Niger Delta Republic on February 23, 1966, battling Federal forces for twelve days before he was reined in, another militia group – the Niger Delta Avengers is threading the same path. Prior to the current relapse to militancy in the Niger Delta, it is on record that the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) led by late Human Right Activist, Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa, campaigned vigorously for resource control before been put down by the General Sani Abacha government. Several years later, the agitation refuses to go away and have become even more virulent. In a July 24, 2011 interview with Vanguard newspaper, one Chief Samuel Timinipre Owonaru said to be the second in command to late Isaac Boro said inter alia, ‘’The tenets which have us in a stranglehold, that deny us our right to be able to control and manage our resources, are still in place. And until those laws are either reviewed or abrogated outright from our statute book, the struggle continues’’.
While the due of the MASSOB and the IPOB approach has been largely nonviolent (sit in, demonstrations), the new kid on the block, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) has upped the ante. The Niger Delta Avengers has carried out about sixteen attacks on oil and gas facilities in the Niger Delta area between February 20 and June 9, 2016. Here’s a timeline of Niger Delta Avengers attacks during aforementioned period. Even the Nigerian President, Buhari acknowledged and lamented that the Niger Delta Avengers are ‘’using high technology to bomb crude oil facilities’’. Recall that the militant group promised a while ago that it would reduce Nigeria's Crude oil output zero. They seem to be living up to their threat as militant attacks have cut Nigeria's oil production by more than half a million barrels per day. Some oil majors have declared force majeure as a result of this. Given their sophistication and ‘expertise’ for blistering attacks on crude oil and gas installations, one wonders if the Niger Delta Avengers are not old wine in new kegs or mishmash of both? 

With the ongoing Boko Haram counterinsurgency operation in the North-East and a similar scenario in the Niger Delta, Nigeria is essentially enmeshed in multiple asymmetrical warfare, insurgency. The implication of this is that the security agencies will be stretched and the Nigerian economy will begin to feel the brunt dwindling crude oil price, export in no distant time.

Roll Call of Militant Groups in the Niger Delta

It is not clear whether the intent of this macabre parade is aimed at disinformation or actual proliferation but suffice it to say that apart from the popular Niger Delta Avengers, there are more than a dozen militant groups. This creates an impression that militancy is the fastest growing ‘industry’ in Nigeria? Recently declared militant groups in Nigeria include: the New Delta Suicide Squad (NDSS), Red Egbesu Water Lions (REWL), Egbesu Mightier Fraternity, Joint Revolutionary Council (JRC), the Isoko Liberation Movement (ILM), Ultimate Warriors of Niger Delta (UWND), the Bakassi Strike Force (operatives around Akwa-Ibom - Cross River axis), Utorogu Liberation Movement (ULM), the Outgas Force, the Niger Delta Sea Commandos (NDSC), Ekpeye Liberation Group (ELG), Asawana Deadly Force of Niger Delta (ADFND), Niger Delta Red Squad (NDRS) and plausibly many more in the offing. On a lighter note, it appears there are no Non Commissioned Officers (NCO) or rank and file in the camp of the militant groups as they all seem to accord themselves extravagant titular ranks – Brigadier General ABC, Major General DCE or simply General.
One thing is sure, the enormous wealth, power-broker, celebrity status that the so-called former (are they really former?) Niger Delta militants assumed must have motivated other foot soldiers to tow that path. Former militants turned celebrity billionaires such as Alhaji Asari Dokubo (leader of the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force –NDPVF), Ateke Tom (leader of the Niger Delta Vigilante – NDV) and Chief Government Ekpemupolo a.k.a Tompolo et al attests to the ‘lucrative’, should I say fĂȘting trait of militancy. It is not unlikely that former gaffers are neutral in this relapse in militancy. Notwithstanding repeated denials, cat and mouse game between him and the Niger Delta Avengers, insinuation is rife that Mr. Tompolo may have a hand in the activities of the Niger Delta Avengers. Given that one of theirs – Jonathan is no longer in power and they no longer have free access to the presidency, it is pretty unlikely the current breed of Niger Delta militants will be assuaged, appeased with pipeline protection contracts or amnesty largesse. Of course current militancy is been branded as a just cause: agitation for resource control, self-determination and environmental activism. Not to sound alarmist but rather as an admonition, this writer submits that failure to arrest contemporary goings-on in the Niger Delta and in Nigeria may herald unpredictable upshots. 

Factors fanning the embers of militancy, secession

1.     Political dynamics and sentiment: Disenchanted civilian leaders in the Niger Delta seem to sympathize and covertly support the activities of the militant groups. They see them as ‘’armed agitators’’ fighting for ‘’true federalism and self-determination’’. According to Dr. Reuben Abati, ‘’(Niger Delta agitators) seem to have been further provoked by the arrival in Abuja of “a new Pharaoh (Buhari) who does not seem to know Joseph.” Abati went further to say that, ‘’…the paucity of patronage, the type that channels money into the pockets of Niger Delta militants, warlords or foot-soldiers, and since Abuja also seems to have become wasteland for the once-triumphant Niger Deltan, the Jonathan crowd, and the fisherman’s cap, the informal patronage that turned many Niger Deltans into king’s men and women, has vanished’’. Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, a former Nigeria External Affairs Minister, at a public forum in Lagos, sometime ago, explained that, "the rise of militias is a feature of plural societies: Societies which have fractured structurally and where the laid down mechanism for dealing with such pluralism has failed or is in the process of failing." On his part, Mr. Max Siollun asserts that, ‘’the Nigerian government have a long history of treating serious problems as molehills until they become volcanic-mountain-range problems. In 1995, the government executed Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists who had dared to call attention to economic exploitation and marginalization in the Niger Delta. The core complaints raised by the activists were never addressed, however, and soon they had given rise to an armed insurgency that reduced Nigeria’s oil output by 50 percent and cost it billions of dollars in lost revenue. In the early 2000s, the government also ignored a small religious sect in the northeast — only to watch it morph into Boko Haram’’.

2.     Economic, quest for resource control: The Niger Delta Avengers recently asked via its twitter handle @NDAvengers: ‘’Can Niger Deltans ask the Nigerian President and his northern law makers on how they intend funding the so-called North East Development Commission? Hope it is not what the High Command of the NDA is thinking?’’ Emboldened by the UK/EU referendum, the Niger Delta Avengers have asked President Buhari to conduct a referendum on the future of the Niger Delta. The sentiment in the Niger Delta is that their place is the geese that lays the golden eggs, the livewire of the Nigerian economy yet is massively underdeveloped. The Niger Delta militants contend that while pipeline protection contracts awarded to indigenes of the region have been cancelled by the President Buhari administration, the oil well licenses which they claim 80% are owned by Northern oligarchs and politicians were not cancelled nor re-allocated. According to Dr. Ochonu, a Professor of African History at Vanderbilt University, ‘’the ethnic nature of the militias in Nigeria points to a failure of the state to address certain basic fundamental issues in nationhood. This includes political and economic equity, safety to lives and property, human rights and resource control’’.

3.     Unemployment, poverty, environmental degradation: Definitely not a justification for bearing arms, but in the face of receding amnesty stipend payments, national unemployment rate currently pegged at 12.1%, youth unemployment, 42.24%, Nigerian GDP recording a negative growth of -0.36%, inflation standing at 13.7%, all of this may have contributed to the proliferation of militant groups. 

4.     Lack of proactive intelligence, arms proliferation: Nigeria’s security and intelligence paraphernalia are not proactive but reactive paper-tigers. Where were they when sophisticated arms traversed and continue to permeate the nook and cranny of Nigeria?

Use Technology To Monitor, Protect Critical National Infrastructures

The Niger Delta is said to cover approximately 80,000 square kilometers of land mass. If water bodies are factored in including the Atlantic offshore, the Calabar-Cameroun Sea, continuing to Equatorial Guinea, we are looking at plausibly 180,000 square km. The Niger Delta reportedly boasts of over 6,000 creeks, rivers and actuaries. It is difficult to station police officers, the military or security agents to cover or protect 6,000 kilometers of pipeline round the clock hence a military solution to the Niger Delta militancy is not sustainable in the long run. As this writer argued elsewhere, the Niger Delta militancy is akin to having a tsetse fly perched on the scrotum, use a sledge hammer and it becomes disastrous, leave it to fester and it portends danger. High time innovative technologies were deployed to monitor environmental risks, malicious activities and protect not just oil and gas installations but other critical national infrastructure in Nigeria. This is where Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) otherwise known as quadrocopters or drones and enhanced satellite imaging technology comes into play. A ‘weaponized’ drone fitted with sophisticated optical devices will efficiently do the job of hundreds, possibly thousands of troops. With such an innovation, troops only intervene when there’s need.

Political Solution

Writer submits that it will be counter-productive for the government to be seen to be overtly negotiating with arm bearing geezers. It is this earlier outdoor negotiation approach that precipitated the current audacity of militancy. Using back channels to do the negotiation suffices. This payment of amnesty stipend is not sustainable in the long run. As they say, you cannot keep doing the same thing the same way and expect a different result. It is better to teach a man who likes eating fish how to catch fish rather than given him portions of fish anytime he solicits for it. What the Niger Delta needs is massive infrastructural development. Militancy will fizzle out if the Niger Delta can be likened to Abuja or Lagos.
On the larger issue of constant agitation for secession, it is high time we addressed the remote and immediate causes of this recurring agitation for Balkanization of Nigeria. It should not be swept under the carpet; dissenting ideas must not be stifled.  Even the Nobel Laureate – Professor Wole Soyinka recently joined the growing rank of eminent Nigerians advocating for Nigeria to be restructured. Professor Soyinka submitted that Nigeria’s sovereignty is negotiable. 

An upshot of the 2015 presidential election is that Nigeria is more than ever fragmented along ethnic, religious lines. As Bishop Matthew Kukah put it in his recent interview, ‘’Nigeria is now a more divided country’’. The apparent lopsided political appointments by President Buhari further stoke the embers of disenchantment and marginalization. It is incumbent on Mr. President to heal the nation. He needs to come to terms with the fact, home truth that Nigeria as presently constituted and governed, is not working. Let’s stop playing the Ostrich and face our demons. If Nigeria is a divine project and a fait accompli as some us believe, then a radical political restructuring which entails true or fiscal federalism and devolution of powers to the federating units is exigent and will arrest perennial instability, complaint of marginalization and agitation for secession. This will ensure economic justice and equity. It will make central political power less attractive and contentious. But if the status quo: politics of divide and rule, appeasement, concentration of political power at Abuja persists, we end up postponing the evil day. 

If President Buhari openly supports the creation of an independent Palestine, and Western Sahara, why is he visibly enraged anytime Biafra, Niger Delta Republic or secession is mentioned? Enshrined in Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations is the principle of self-determination which states that, ‘’all people have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development’’. The United Kingdom just voted to exit the European Union. In 2014, Scots voted in a referendum whether or not they want an independent Scotland. No single gunshot was fired and no one threatened anybody. Catalonia is angling to break away from Spain. It boils down to a battle of ideas, superior argument and robust campaign.  So why is it treasonable when folks suggest or clamour for a Balkanization of Nigeria? 

If President Buhari and proponents of ‘One Nigeria’ are comfortable with the current arrangement of Nigeria and they are confident that Ndigbo, the Niger Delta people, have a good deal in Nigeria, why not organize a referendum, plebiscite to this effect rather than force their wishes down the throat of others or kill innocent people who stage peaceful demonstrations seeking independence?

Written by:
© Don Okereke
(Security Junkie/Analyst/Consultant, Ex-serviceman, Writer)
Follow me on Twitter: @donokereke
June, 2016

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