Sunday, 11 September 2016

Not Yet Uhuru; The Ticking Time Bomb In Nigeria’s Niger Delta

Apparently alluding to blistering attacks on crude oil installations and facilities by militant groups in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo recently said, ‘’Nigeria is losing one million barrels of crude oil per say due to vandalism’’. Nigeria’s public space is awash with a raging debate as to whether or not the Nigerian government should ‘negotiate’ with or as some put it, ‘appease’ the Niger Delta militants. While Western governments led by the United States and the United Kingdom recommend ‘dialogue’ as the best way out of the quagmire, President Buhari hitherto seemed unenthusiastic about a dialogue.
Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, is also one of those that want the Nigerian government to dialogue with the militants. Soyinka reportedly urged the federal government to ‘’engage the Niger Delta militants and respond positively to their demands in order to engender lasting peace in the region’’. The Movement for the emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, says, “Negotiation with the Niger Delta Avengers, 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.”
 
Niger Delta Avengers

Air of Uncertainty Pervades The Niger Delta

Unsuccessful at browbeating Niger Delta militants with threats and cognizant of the massive ripple effect the bombing of oil installations is having on the Nigerian economy and the country’s stability, the Buhari administration seem to have buckled, acceded to a dialogue. The arrowhead of the Niger Delta militancy – the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, subsequently agreed to a ceasefire but also warned that, ‘’it will continuously adopt asymmetric warfare during this period if, the Nigerian government and the ruling political party – the APC continues to use security agencies/agents, formations and politicians to arrest, intimidate, invade and harass innocent citizens, suspected NDA members and invade especially Ijaw communities’’. Notwithstanding the NDA ceasefire, not to be outdone and probably wanting to be relevant in the scheme of things, the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate, NDGJM, recently blew an oil facility while another that goes by the moniker – Niger Delta Cleansers, NDC,  threatens to attack soldiers deployed to the Niger Delta.

Nonetheless, uncertainty pervades the atmosphere as President Buhari’s administration continues to send mixed signals. A statement credited to President Buhari reads, ‘’we will deal with Niger Delta militants like we dealt with Boko Haram’’. The launching of ‘’Operation Crocodile Smile’’, massive build-up of military personnel and hardware in the Niger Delta and the ‘body language’ of this administration suggests that the government has other ideas. Could this be part of the carrot and stick approach? The Niger Delta Avengers claims 20 Nigerian soldiers recently lost their lives during the first four days of the ongoing ‘’Operation Crocodile Smiles’’. There is mutual mistrust and no love lost between the government and the Niger Delta militants/people. Chief Edwin Clark whom the Niger Delta Avengers nominated to represent the group in the purported dialogue with the Nigerian government recently opined that, ‘’militants are ready for dialogue but the federal government is stalling’’. He warns that the military operation in the Niger Delta could lead to renewed attacks by the militants.

Nigeria’s Politics of Appeasement, Treating Symptoms of a Disease And Postponing The Evil Day

As I posited in this essay - Dissecting the Recurring Agitation for Balkanization of Nigeria, militancy in the Niger Delta can be traced to Mr. Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro’s secessionist Ijaw Volunteer Force in 1966. The latest relapse to militancy in the Niger Delta after the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP of Presidents Yar Adua/Goodluck Jonathan, suggests the symptom of the disease was simply treated and the evil day was postponed. Aftermath of the amnesty programme, militant kingpins scantily surrendered their weapons, were showered with lucrative multi-million dollars pipeline protection contracts, other largesse while selected Niger Delta youths were awarded foreign scholarships by the Nigerian government. President Buhari assumed power, suspended many of the aforementioned contracts, pecks and voila, it was back to status quo ante.

Did The Amnesty Programme Spur Militant Groups in The Niger Delta?

Prior to President Yar’Adua’s Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, few militant groups held sway. They include: the defunct Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF), Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV) and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Niger Delta Liberation Front (NDLF). Right now, there are about 22 militant groups in the Niger Delta. It’s likely some former foot soldiers, seeing how ‘lucrative’ calling the shots is, now upped the ante. A Voice of America, VOA, report by Chris Stein cites analysts agreeing that, ‘’negotiating with Niger Delta Militants could encourage them’’. According to the news report, ‘’If Nigeria’s government plans to sit down with the militant groups that have wreaked havoc on its oil industry, they will need a lot of chairs’’. Excluding the abovementioned defunct militant groups,  my research suggests there are presently nearly two dozen splinter militant groups in the Niger Delta, vis-à-vis:

1.     The Niger Delta Avengers, NDA
2.     The Niger Delta Greenland Justice mandate, NDGJM
3.     Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force, JNDLF
4.     Adaka Boro Avengers, ABA
5.     Iduwini Volunteer Force, IVF
6.     New Delta Suicide Squad, NDSS
7.     Red Egbesu Water Lions, REWL
8.     Egbesu Mightier Fraternity, EMF
9.     Reformed Egbesu Boys, REB
10.                        Egbesu Water Lions, EWL
11.                        Joint Revolutionary Council, JRC
12.                        The Isoko Liberation Movement, ILM
13.                        Ultimate Warriors of Niger Delta, UWND
14.                        The Bakassi Strike Force, BSF,
15.                        Utorogu Liberation Movement, ULM
16.                        The Outgas Force, OF
17.                        The Niger Delta Sea Commandos, NDSC
18.                        Ekpeye Liberation Group, ELG
19.                        Asawana Deadly Force of Niger Delta, ADFND
20.                        Niger Delta Red Squad, NDRS
21.                        Niger Delta Cleansers, NDC
22.                        Former Forest Soldiers, (FFS), aka Isaac Boro Last Born
23. Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders (NDRC)
Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders

Matters Arising From The Niger Delta Crises, Proposed Dialogue

There's no gainsaying the fact that Niger Delta people have genuine grievances but what is not clear is whether the agitation, and militancy in that region is driven by vested interests, personal aggrandizement or in the interest of the generality of Niger Delta people? Some pertinent posers:
1.     Do the militants speak for the generality of the Niger Delta people?
2.     It is reported that Crude oil causes heart, skull deformities’ and a recent study predicts a cancer epidemic in Niger Delta by 2025. Are the Niger Delta militants cognizant of the health hazards posed by their actions?
3.     Current militancy seems like a déjà vu. Given that resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta dates back decades ago, any guarantee this atavism won't recur in the near future? 
4.     While unarmed Biafran, IPOB, and MASSOB activists are routinely quenched, killed by government security operatives, the Nigerian government opts to dialogue with folks who destroy critical national infrastructure? Does it follow that the surest way to get the attention and concessions from the Nigerian government is by upping the stakes? Validates the assertion that unarmed prophets are seldom heeded? 
5.     Nigeria recently unveiled its national counter-terrorism strategy tagged NACTEST. Does NACTEST prescribe negotiating with terrorists, militants or bandits? 

How To End The Niger Delta Crises

Appeasing Niger Delta youths with N65, 000 monthly stipends will not curtail recurring militancy, agitation. Teaching them how to fish rather than giving them fish will go a long way. Brainstorming an infrastructural, development master-plan and engagement of local communities not just the arm-bearing militants will also help. The International Oil Companies (IOCs) must also step up their game, and improve their relationship and engagement with host communities. The Nigerian government stands to lose nothing by reconsidering the cancellation of Maritime University established by President Goodluck Jonathan. The Deputy Head of the Mission of the United States in Nigeria, Ambassador David Young implores the federal government to improve the living conditions of the Niger Delta people. Any dialogue devoid of mopping up hoard of illegal firearms and reining in proliferation of sophisticated weaponry in the Niger Delta invites recidivism, relapse to militancy. A consistent demand of the Niger Delta people is resource control and restructuring of the Nigerian federation which the establishment is not amenable to. Ending hostilities in the Niger Delta is not rocket science. The Sir Henry Willinks minority reports and the Ledum Mittee report are credible templates if the Nigerian government is genuinely sincere in enduring peace and stability in the Niger Delta.

Conclusion:
Amnesty or not, dialogue or not, the situation in the Niger Delta will continue to remain a ticking time bomb as long as the establishment keeps treating the symptoms of the disease than fixing the causative agents. Only a fool will keep doing the same thing exactly the same way and expect a different result. 

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