The avengers and a nation’s injustice
Despite the nation’s attempts to remain oblivious of being a pastiche of unresolved contradictions, it is often confronted with the stark reminders that it cannot keep forging ahead until it decisively launches itself on the path of enduring stability. Such cohesion would continue to elude the nation in so far as tepid efforts are only made to identify what gnaws at its well-being at those moments that there are threats to the interests of those who consider the country as their exclusive patrimony. If the victims of Fulani’s antediluvian practices of herding livestock had not demonstrated a clear resolve to shake off their ogre, a disposition vitalised by national outrage, we would not spare a thought for those whose farmlands and other means of livelihood are being decimated by the business interests of others. But as has been shown in the herdsmen-farmers’ crisis and other crises in the past, the state’s intervention rather provokes the aggrieved citizens’ animus against it. The citizens are reminded of the state’s smug indisposition to appropriately provide the right answers to the questions they have raised about what should be done to guarantee their existence as eligible stakeholders in the polity. When this is the situation, aggrieved citizens feel more alienated and driven to resorting to self-help.
It is the same way that the state has responded to the question of socio-economic injustice in the Niger Delta. Whenever the indigenes of the region lament that their major means of livelihood, farming and fishing, have been destroyed by oil pollution , a situation aggravated by a dearth of commensurate compensation, the rest of the citizens who largely benefit from the resources of the region often dismiss them as a people who are never appreciative of what the state has done for them. Thus if the citizens now resort to self-help, the state does not see the need to consider the merit of their case in the first place. Its response brims with hubris and hauteur as expressed in the immediate deployment of its might to squelch any protest.
To be sure, while the attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta have drawn attention to the problems of the area, continuing to take up arms against the state is not the best strategy by the indigenes of the region. Such a strategy benefits only a very negligible number of people who are invited by the state to negotiate some selfish terms of peace. Such deals have transformed those previously marooned in the creeks as agitators into billionaires. They now possess the financial sinews to bulldoze their way into public offices or as king makers in the political arena, and to set up universities and other big businesses. It is because such a strategy of selective state beneficence does not improve the lot of the majority of the people that there is a ceaseless replication of the tactic of threatening oil production in the Niger Delta.
Outraged at a seeming disparagement of its goodwill, the state normally responds to agitations in the Niger Delta with violence. It was such indiscriminate response that led to the massacre of Odi. Where was the sense of justice on the part of the state when the culpable and the innocent were all lumped up in the cauldron of guilt and violently punished? By doing this, was the state not betraying itself as only protecting the interest of few persons whose billions are dependent on the oil resources from the Niger Delta? Now, riding roughshod, oblivious of the futility of its accustomed response, the state is set again to punish the guilty and the innocent by sending troops to Opozo.
If an intelligence report indicated that members of the National Delta Avengers (NDA) are in Opozo, they should be professionally ferreted out and duly punished. Any attempt to kill the innocent residents of Opozo and destroy their property would only provoke further attacks on the interests of the state. We must be aware of the logic that just as we would not kill any Fulani on the street because some Fulani herdsmen are murderers and rapists, so we must not destroy the indigenes of Niger Delta communities and their property simply because some people from those areas have become threats to the national economy.
But why the strategy of NDA is condemnable, we must acknowledge that some of the recommendations they have made, which other discerning citizens have often articulated, are what would bring lasting peace to the Niger Delta. The state must go beyond the deployment of stopgap measures and seriously consider some of these measures. For instance, the NDA has demanded that the national conference report in which answers are provided to some burning issues of socio-economic and political injustice be implemented. Like other aggrieved citizens, the members of the NDA are not oblivious of the fact that the state does not mean well for them. Or why should the state not be enthusiastic about implementing the strategies the citizens agreed on to forge a stronger national unity devoid of its debilitating injustices? And since the citizens have also agreed that the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) is a major strategy for peace and equitable distribution of the wealth of the region, why must the state avoid implementing it? If we were sincere in solving the problem in the Niger Delta, we would by all means avoid latching on to the excuse that since former President Goodluck Jonathan who is from the region did not show interest in some parts of the report which he could have implemented, his successor, President Muhammadu Buhari should not be bothered about the report. After all, Jonathan took the initiative of preparing the ground for the existence of the report and it is incumbent on his successor to take off from where his predecessor stopped. And as NDA has proposed, the region that has been environmentally degraded should equally be cleaned up. The residents whose fish ponds and farmlands have been pulverised must be given the right environment to resume their means of economic sustenance.
Indeed, since the Niger Delta is the economic artery of the nation, the state should take more interest in the welfare of the indigenes of the region. Such an interest should go beyond just allocating more funds to the governors of the region. They would only end up stealing the money to marry more wives and buy property all over the world. There should be an effective mechanism for checking the excesses of the leaders of the region with whom are entrusted the resources to improve the lot of the indigenes. Besides, there should be genuine federal presence in the region that would economically empower the indigenes. If the indigenes of the region benefit from the oil facilities in their region, it is not likely that they would destroy their own means of livelihood.
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