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The moment for statesmanship by Mr. President


President Muhammadu Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari

It is often said that statesmen or women emerge to shape history in circumstances that they neither anticipated nor promised, but have managed better than other leaders would. President Muhammadu Buhari has now been thrusted into such circumstances. The meeting between the President and the delegation from the Niger Delta, under the auspices of the Pan-Niger Delta Elders Forum (PANDEF), offered an opportunity for the delegation to present its list of 16 demands, but also enabled the president to demonstrate that he is to open a dialogue on the situation in that region of the country.

It is understood that the president informed the PANDEF delegation that he would consider their list of demands after he has received two other reports: the review of the implementation of the Amnesty Programme and the Service Chiefs report on the security situation in Niger Delta. This shows that the president desires to have a comprehensive picture of the situation. As he does that, he would be confronted with a myriad of discouraging factors.

These would include dissonant voices from among the various groups in the Niger Delta; the sceptical perspectives of some of his own advisers regarding the list of demands; and the argument that his immediate predecessor from that region did little during his tenure to help the Niger Delta. He will do well to discountenance those concerns.

This is because a statesman or woman seeks grand bargains, builds positive legacies, and takes a long view of public policy issues, which in this case must reflect the realisation that oil exploration in the North is already yielding some potential finds. He should recognise that since the time of President Babangida, every Nigerian leader has made incremental contribution to addressing the challenges of the Niger Delta.

Thus, President Babangida created the Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC). General Abacha called the 1994 Constitutional Conference, at which an agreement was reached to raise the derivation by “no less than 13 per cent of the revenue accruing to the Federation Account directly from any natural resources.” This provision was codified in Section 162(2) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution under General Abdulsalami Abubakar. President Obasanjo established the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2000; while President Umaru Yar’Adua created the Federal Ministry of Niger Delta in 2008 and the Amnesty Programme in 2009.

It is a piquant irony that, although General Abacha was especially reviled for executing the Ogoni-9 in 1995, the democratic dispensation that succeeded him has not improved on his “dictator’s gift” of 13 per cent derivation formula. Two subsequent efforts at the 2005 National Constitutional Review Conference and the 2014 National Political Conference to review the derivation formula were deadlocked.

As Buhari contemplates his next steps on the Niger Delta, he needs to take into account three considerations. First, the costs of conflict to Nigeria – cost in terms of lost revenue, damaged infrastructure, and loss of lives have increased considerably over the past 10 years. For example, the Technical Committee on Niger Delta established in 2008 estimated the loss of revenue from lost crude oil as a result of militancy for the three year period (2006-2008) at US$ 56.64 billion. To put the magnitude of this loss in comparative perspective, this is about four and half times the size of the financial resources committed to the Marshall Plan for the post conflict reconstruction of Europe from April 1948- June 1951.

If half of the lost revenue could have been recovered, that will amount to US$28.32 billion. And if half of the latter amount were earmarked as down payment for the implementation of the then master plan of the Niger Delta; that would still leave US$14.16 billion to support the development of the other parts of the country. That was then. The Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company confirmed at the Fiscal Liquidity Assessment Committee Retreat in Abuja on 28 October 2016 that Nigeria had lost US$7 billion between January–October 2016 due to militant activities in Niger Delta.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Presidential Committee on Northeast Initiatives indicated that Nigeria lost US$9 billion due to violent attacks by Boko Haram. The loss of lives and internal displacement caused by Boko Haram are too familiar to warrant repetition. Suffice it to say that the loss of revenue in the Niger Delta would have been avoided by grand bargains which might have redounded to the benefit of all parts in the country.

Second, the deployment of the country’s armed forces for so many domestic operations, for issues that their resolution lay in political debate and negotiations, can corrode the reputation of the country’s fledgling democracy and increase the risks of human rights violations by the gallant armed forces. The decision last year by the United States government initially to prohibit sales of arms to Nigeria, citing the (Senator Patrick) Leahy Law was a graphic illustration. The military had also come under withering criticisms by Amnesty International for its conduct in its fight against Boko Haram and many years earlier, by Human Rights Watch over its conduct in Ogoni and Odi. The more the democratic political process sub-contracts some difficult political issues to the military, the more the rest of the world will judge Nigeria as a country where democracy is deficient in delivering peace and democratic dividends.

This is already reflected in Nigeria’s ranking on many international and regional indices of governance. For example, Nigeria’s ranking in the Fragile State Index has deteriorated from 54th in 2005 to 14th in 2015 and now 13th in 2016 out of 178 countries. The 2016 Ibrahim Index of African Governance placed Nigeria at the bottom third among African countries (36 out of 54) and noted that Nigeria was among the bottom 15 countries where safety and rule of law deteriorated in 10 years period 2006-2015.

Third, there have historically been three core demands of the Niger Delta. These are upward revision of the derivation formula; redressing the environmental degradation brought on by oil exploration and production; and addressing the development neglect of the region. None of these issues is amenable to the use of force.

Indeed, it bears special emphasis that the tardiness and inadequacy of policy initiatives to the Niger Delta, made worse by corruption in the dedicated institutions, have allowed political demands to morph into popular agitations, militancy and deplorable criminality, blurring the line between legitimate protests and criminality. The meeting between the PANDEF delegation and the president should re-tilt the balance of actions from military confrontations to thoughtful and mutual interests-based negotiations.

Public policy making towards the Niger Delta should take cognizance of two famous aphorisms attributed to President Kennedy: “Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent action inevitable” and “those who fail to learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.” In his February 26, 2015 speech to Chatham House in London, presidential candidate Buhari said that he was “a former military ruler and a converted democrat who is ready to operate under democratic norms.” In his handling of the Niger Delta, he has an opportunity to improve on that aspiration by transforming from a democrat to a distinguished statesman.
• Otobo is a non-resident senior expert in Peace Building and Global Economic Policy at the Global Governance Institute, Brussels, Belgium.

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Muhammadu Buhari‎
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