‘Renewed militancy in Niger Delta is not necessary at this point’
Comrade Sunny Ofehe, founder and executive director of a Netherlands-based non-governmental organisation, Hope For Niger Delta Campaign (HNDC) spoke on the resurgence of militants in the Niger Delta and its implications
Is the renewed militancy in Niger Delta necessary at this point?
I have always been an advocate of peaceful process in resolving crisis. Militancy in my opinion has never benefitted the ordinary suffering people of the Niger Delta region. Unfortunately, militancy has been the tool that raises awareness on the plight of the region.
It is no surprise that once again the media and stakeholders are talking about the region again because there has been militants uprising lately. The region needs massive infrastructural development and policies that create jobs for the youths. This will actively engage the jobless youths and make them not vulnerable for militancy recruitment.
The renewed militancy is not necessary at this point. The global price of crude oil has dropped to an all-time low. The Nigerian economy depends on the crude oil export for revenue generation. Therefore, further militant activities targeting oil infrastructure will have a devastating effect on the already battered economy.
It is still not clear what the goals of those behind these attacks are. History has shown that any forceful security agents’ intervention usually claims vulnerable children, women and the elderly. I will appeal to those behind these attacks to desist from such acts and use a peaceful medium to express their agitation.
The people of the Niger Delta region are peace-loving people and militancy has no place in the current agitation. The militants under the aegis of the defunct MEND are still currently benefiting from government amnesty package. They should work with the security forces to restore the region to a peaceful state.
Won’t the development portray the region as being against the present government?
I don’t think the development should portray the region as being against the present government. The current administration is enjoying tremendous support from the majority of the people from the region.
The civil society organisations recently hailed President Buhari openly when he declared his government’s commitment to enforcing the UNEP report on Ogoniland. This act of militancy represents the interest of very few elements whose identities are still unknown.
You will agree with me that they have not received open support from the people of the region. The economy is biting hard on the people and all they want is a government that can deliver on policies that will eradicate poverty and provide daily needs for everyone.
Government should remain focused and deliver on campaign promises. The people of the region are anxious to know how the government will want to tackle the protracted environmental and human rights problems of the region.
Is it not an orchestrated plot to frustrate the Buhari’s government?
It is not a plot to frustrate the Buhari government but rather a plot to seek attention. So far the various attacks have been meticulously carried out despite the high security presence in the areas. It clearly shows that those behind these attacks are very organised and experienced with the terrain.
I am very pleased with the way the security forces have resorted to the gathering of intelligence and consultation rather than the use of minimal force to respond. The use of force will only affect the innocent people. In situation like this, the safety of the people and infrastructure in the affected areas should be of paramount importance to the Nigerian military taskforce.
The government should not be distracted but remain focused and articulate in the discharge of its duty to the citizens. The security of the region should not be left in the hands of the security forces alone, all peace-loving citizens from the region must act to bring an end to this security imbroglio.
From the militants’ terms for truce, is it not obvious that they are not fighting the real cause of the region?
We all know the problems facing the Niger Delta region. A region blessed with natural resources and the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, yet the people live under the poverty line. They lack basic necessities such as health care services, electricity and clean water.
The environment has faced despoliation from crude oil extraction. The main occupation of the people which is farming and fishing have been gravely affected by oil spills and pollution from gas flare.
Any meaningful agitation should address these situations and call on the government and oil multinational companies to meet these needs and remediate the environment of the people. This must be done in an organised manner with all stakeholders.
The use of minimal force through militant activities should not be the best option. It is always argued that violence is the best way to get the attention of government but I disagree with this opinion.
Having seen how the Amnesty programmme was handled in the last eight years, would you say it was/not a waste programme?
I wouldn’t say the programme was a waste because majority of them got vocational training both in Nigeria and abroad. In the short-term this was a positive step.
The long-term goal of the project is what I am skeptical about. This programme will not last forever but you know what will happen if the programme ends and the stipend stops coming.
Remember that those boys who got vocational training have returned back to the country, but are still unemployed. At the moment they are okay because their stipends are still being paid. What will happen to them when the stipend ends? The programme should have been designed in a way that will lead to gainful employment.
The amnesty programme should be able to engage all the beneficiaries of the programme by targeting jobs for them at a certain period. In this way, the skills they have acquired can be use to create job or personal business that will help them become independent. However, this has not been the case and my fear still remains what happens when the programme ends. I hope we don’t have some of them returning back to the creeks to begin another militant activities.
A son of the region was president of the country for six years, where were these militants in their quest for the development of the region?
I have always said that in former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, we lost a great opportunity to address the problems that plagued the Niger Delta region.
Though Jonathan was meant to preside over the whole country, but the Niger Delta has always been an issue to be addressed by any government. Jonathan was born and bred in the region, he understood better than any president before him the sufferings of the people.
I personally expected him to address the UNEP report on Ogoniland and make sure the East-West road is finished within his tenure. He should have promoted policies that will meet the basic needs of the people and walk away with lasting legacies that would have cemented his position in the history of the Niger Delta.
It is even more worrisome when you read about the squandering of public funds in his administration. There is no doubt that he was a good man who meant well for the country but I personally think he didn’t match the goodness with the political will and power.
The level of corruption in his administration would have been curtailed and the mismanaged funds used for outstanding projects that he would be remembered for in the country’s history.
The militants expected much from him and I think most of them would be disappointed as well. As an Ijaw son from the region, he enjoyed the support of his people including the militants. There were pockets of crisis in the region during his time but attacks such as this never really took place. We can understand why.
President Buhari has ordered for a crackdown on them, won’t it be another round of battles in the region?
There is no government that will sit down and just look while peace and security is being threatened. I support the crackdown, but it must be geared towards the culprits and not the innocent people.
So far there has not been any battle so the military must be commended for taking a pragmatic approach towards the issue. The boys should also thread with caution to avoid escalation.
What does the region stand to gain or lose in all these?
The region does not stand to gain from such security threats. We have always been at the losing end of such battles with the State security. We saw how the community of Odi in Bayelsa State was almost wiped out by the Obasanjo administration. The people have still not recovered from that military attack.
There are many communities in the region that have faced similar attacks in recent past. They have not recovered despite losing lives and property. Military invasion even in Gbaramatu the hometown of Tompolo still have the scars from the attacks it suffered while the government was looking for Tompolo during the late President Yar’Adua’s government.
We should always advocate for peace to preserve the lives of the vulnerable people of the region. The path to realization with peace may be slow but at the end it endures for a long time.