Niger Delta’s Achilles heel
Beyond the declaration of a ceasefire, militants under the aegis of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) should prepare to win their war at the negotiating table. Notwithstanding the threats to crush the militants, the government has left open the option of ending the militancy in the region through dialogue. By making an allowance for dialogue, the government has obviously spurned those hankering for the bombing of the militants to submission.
It is now that the militants still have the sympathy of a large proportion of the citizens that they should make themselves available for talks if their agitation is really driven by the need to redeem the despoiled Niger Delta. The agitation is already on the cusp of being hijacked by some people who do not belong to the NDA. So, if the NDA members do not make themselves available, and the government succeeds in destabilising them by conquest or infiltration, it is these fringe militants who do not share the vision of NDA that would be the beneficiaries of any peace deal that may be reached.
From what can be seen in the rabid jostle for the representation of the militants, it is not even these counterfeit militants who pose the greatest danger to the negotiation with the Federal Government. It is rather traditional rulers and other so-called leaders from the region who pretend to speak for the militants and the entire people of the area. While their so-called intervention lasts, we must remind them and their fellow travellers that they are not by any means needed on the journey to bring peace to the Niger Delta through dialogue between the government and the militants.
After risking their lives in the creeks fighting, the militants should not allow people who do not share in their sacrifices to represent them. The dialogue would fail and the sacrifices of the militants would be in vain if they allow these people to represent them. In fact, the traditional rulers and other so-called leaders of the Niger Delta should not be allowed to go near the venue of the discussion because they have contributed to the problems of the region. These are people who have been close to successive governments in the country. If they knew how to solve the problems of the Niger Delta why have they not done this since? These people were close to the immediate past government of President Goodluck Jonathan. If they could not persuade a president whom they considered their son to develop the region, is it Buhari they would be able to convince to do this? By now, the people of the region and other citizens have known that these people who parade themselves as the leaders of the region only want to negotiate for their own pockets.
This is how they have been negotiating away the collective wellbeing of the region. They go to Abuja to collect money for themselves. If they are given funds for the development of the region, they would rather embezzle it than use it for the purpose it was given. If oil companies which, based on their experience, suspect that the funds would not get to the people and thus insist on executing developmental projects themselves, it is these people who would insist that the money must be given to them. Were these people not there when efforts by previous governments to bring stability and development to the region translated to making only a handful of people billionaires? Were they not silent after getting their own share of federal allocations from the governors and others entrusted with the funds for the region? Have these traditional rulers not been replicating how their forebears sold their subjects to the colonisers for mirrors and gunpowder?
The militants must avoid their efforts being wasted by allowing these people who have become the Achilles heel of the Niger Delta to negotiate on their behalf. They must negotiate for themselves and if the traditional rulers and other so-called leaders must negotiate on the problems of the region, they are free to send their sons and daughters into the creeks and fight, deprive themselves of comfort and risk their lives. With the level of their sacrifices and the sophistication of their operations, one cannot doubt that the militants are aware of the problems of the region. If they could painstakingly document how the majority of the owners of the oil blocks in the country come from outside the Niger Delta that produces the oil, they also have the capacity to know those who can represent them. The militants should look for credible sons and daughters of the Niger Delta to negotiate on their behalf.
The so-called traditional rulers and self-declared leaders of the Niger Delta are struggling to speak for the region because of what they would personally gain. This is why the Federal Government must not make funds available for those who would negotiate on behalf of the Niger Delta. What the Niger Delta needs are not funds to be embezzled by some people. The government should avoid repeating the mistake of past administrations that only made funds available for some people on behalf of the Niger Delta. When such people amass such billions, they become the financiers of militancy whenever they feel that the government of the day is a threat to their interest. By not making funds available by which some people could become instant billionaires, the government would be sending a strong message that militancy would not make anyone a billionaire and this would disincentivise involvement in this destructive agitation.
What the region needs is a master plan that would highlight a clear-cut developmental path. Such a master plan should clearly spell out the various projects with timelines that would be executed in the region that would transform it and the lives of all the people there. Such a master plan would break the existing pattern whereby only some people benefit from the so-called amnesty programme. Are the beneficiaries of the amnesty programme the only people adversely affected by the degradation of the Niger Delta ? Those who are affected by the Niger Delta crisis, those who have genuinely lost their means of livelihood do not need the teensy intervention of the government under the rubric of amnesty programme. All they need is a master plan that would guarantee the recovery of their plundered means of livelihood.