At the inception of the current civil rule in 1999, agitations for self determination, nay resource control degenerated from non-violent struggle to a violent one in the Nigerian Niger Delta Region. Prior to the time the symbols of the agitations in the region had been the likes of Adakaboro, Ledun Mittee and the popular Kenule Saro-Wiwa who paid the supreme price as he was guillotined through a judicial process widely condemned and considered flawed under the Military Regime of General Sani Abacha.
The struggle in the region prior to 1999 had been largely non-violent. However, the acrimony and division among the Niger Deltans themselves resulted in pockets of civil uprising and in-fighting which resulted in the broad daylight killings of the Ogoni 4 which led to the hanging of the Ogoni 9 of which Ken Saro-Wiwa was the most notable. Strangely, fifteen years after Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Niger Deltans who had championed the emancipation of the region had been consigned to mother earth, nobody, not even the so called leaders of the region ever remembered those who had earlier championed the course of the region.
At first the civil disturbance in the Delta Region became pronounced resulting in brazen seizure and killing of policemen and other security agents. The Obasanjo regime promptly responded by wielding the big stick which resulted in the levelling and extermination of Odi village. That singular event changed the face of the Niger Delta struggle from civil disturbance to militancy. Dokubo Asari and Ateke Tom became conspicuous leaders of rival militant groups that claimed they were fighting for the interest of the indigenes of the region. The crux of their campaign was that the region was getting less of the national cake – petro dollars predominantly derived from the region and adjoining territorial waters.
The recent interview of Asari Dokubo, published by Saharareporters, has shown that the major militants were not alone. They were backed by politicians, opinion leaders, military personnel and political office holders in and from the region. It is no longer farfetched the modalities through which the militants were armed and how they had the weaponry supply and effrontery to confront the Nigerian Military.
Due to the public uproar and international condemnation of the attack on Odi village, the Obasanjo regime treaded more softly and initiated an understanding which pacified the Dokubo Asari group and the latter in return mellowed and the wave of militancy subsided for a while.
Just as Dokubo Asari was perceived as being bought over by the Federal Government of Nigeria, the other militants regrouped under a new acronym – Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). The Asari’s interview has exposed that they were all militants but separated by the diversity and hegemony of the various heterogeneous groups that populate the Niger Delta region from Awkwa-Ibom State to Balyesa, Rivers, Cross-Rivers, Delta State, and coaster areas of Ondo State. At that time there were accusations that the militants engaged in illegal oil bunkering and sabotage of the oil pipelines in the region.
As the Yar’Adua regime came on board in May 2007, the approach of the militants changed from mere attack on oil installations to kidnapping of foreign all workers. As at now kidnapping has graduated into a regional trade with all manner of people from the aged, children, foreigners and Nigerians alike are kidnapped for millions of naira in ransom. The situation is reminiscence of the pirate taking in the territorial waters of Somalia. The Nigerian Government, at the time and at all times could not afford to use maximum military force to subdue the militants for obvious reasons. Any maximum force would truncate the complete exploration of crude oil, the mainstay of the Nigerian monofocal economy. Any such force could lead to criminal charges of genocide against functionaries of the government at the World Court in Hague as it is the lot of Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia.
The Yar’Adua government found a middle course called amnesty which entailed cajoling and lobbying the militants to surrender their (sophisticated) weapons in return for amnesty, rehabilitation and re-integration. The programme which saw the semi-illiterate militants visiting the state house officially and shaking hands with the President took off on an initial optimistic note. The militants were garrisoned in camps where they were re-banded for re-integration into civil society. There are indications that after graduation from the camps they are paid monthly upkeep allowance just like the unemployed citizens in most advanced countries of Europe are paid.
The amnesty programme notwithstanding, militancy continues unabated with the concentration being on ransom taking after incessant kidnappings. A particular group of the militants which remains under the identity of MEND seems not to absolutely buy into the amnesty programme under the pretext that the programme does not have a holistic approach to addressing the agitations of the region. At first, eminent people like the Nobel Laurent Wole Soyinka were involved in mediation between the group and the Nigerian Government. All those appeared to have collapsed now because of non-commitment and intransigence on the part of the militants. Statesman Wole Soyinka recently pulled out of the arrangement following the 50th independence anniversary marred by twin bombings credited to MEND.
At the wake of the Independence Day bombing, President Jonathan had strived stridently to exonerate MEND and the Niger Delta Militants, but the subsequent facts and happenings have proved the Presidency wrong in all respects. Even if the independence day bombings were narrowed down to some individuals like Henry Okah and his accomplices, the atrocities were perpetuated by Niger Delta Militants, irrespective of whether they were genuine MEND or not.
Revelations in Dokubo Asari’s interview confirm such a position as Henry Okah, MEND leader facing trial in South Africa; his brother Sunday Okah – used as conduit for arms siphoning from military depots in Kaduna now works for President Jonathan’s re-election; General Azasi (Rtd) currently the National Security Adviser and a Balyesan presided and subverted investigation on arms siphoned from Kaduna; all Governors and political leaders in the region were involved in the militancy directly or indirectly at the onset. That was even when President Jonathan served as Deputy Governor of Balyesa State.
Nonetheless that a Niger Delta man is currently the President nothing seems to have changed from the militancy in the Niger Delta. A couple of days ago, AFREN oil platform was attacked leading to a shut-in of about 60,000 crude oil export. The house of the Special Assistant to the President on Amnesty – Timi Alaibe has been bombed. As if that is not enough, ExxonMobil’s offshore exploration facility was reportedly attacked by the said militants on 15th November, 2010. As at the time of writing this article, reports in the media indicate that the MEND is planning fresh offensives on oil installations. The recent attacks by militants have prompted the Federal Government to order a clampdown on the area with warnings that civilians should evacuate to avoid casualties.
Why it was easy to blame the Federal Government for past neglect of the Niger Delta area, the leadership of the region are equally complicit in the underdevelopment of the region. The huge monthly allocations from the federation accounts to the states in the region based on 13% derivation formula, did not impact positively on the region because the leadership of the region chose to feather their personal nests.
Now that the country is sliding into another cycle of attacks by militants of the Niger Delta just a couple of months to the next general elections, it is imperative to ask the question – “what do the Niger Deltans Desire?” If one of their own is currently the President; another one the Chief of Staff, another one the National Security Adviser; another – Minister of Foreign Affairs; another – Minister of Petroleum; another – Minister of Niger Delta Ministry; it becomes unimaginable what the Niger Deltans wish as a regional interest in the Nigerian polity. If they are dissatisfied by the state of affairs now, the situation is not likely to change even if the incumbent president is re-elected for a full term of four years in year 2011.
Rather than appear insatiable and lay the foundation for the fragmentation of the country by prompting other ethnic nationalities into violence that would ultimately pull a negative zeal on the fate of Nigerian Nation State, they should encourage their men currently in power to convoke a Sovereign National Conference of all ethnic nationalities to decide once and for all the way to true Nigerian federalism. This would undoubtedly satisfy the yearnings of everyone instead of plunging the entire country into avoidable chaos and confusion.
Ajayi Olatunji Olowo writes from Abuja, Nigeria. email@example.com
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