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Threat of violence in Niger Delta

By Editorial Board
16 November 2017   |   4:00 am
After months of relative peace in the Niger Delta region, it is unfortunate that there are threats to the stability which the region had enjoyed. There is also threat to oil production...

Niger Delta militant. PHOTO: AFP

After months of relative peace in the Niger Delta region, it is unfortunate that there are threats to the stability which the region had enjoyed. There is also threat to oil production and therefore a threat to the national economy. The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) has threatened to return to the trenches for what the group has termed the government’s penchant for “endless dialogues” and “failure to implement previous promises made by the Federal Government.” The Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) has not been left out as the group also issued a warning to the government about its lackadaisical approach to the problems of the region. This is highly regrettable and certainly avoidable. The Federal Government ought to get its act together and intervene massively in the region to show good faith after so many months of pussyfooting over policy implementation. Besides, any government that cannot keep its promises to the people will not be taken seriously subsequently.

In its usual manner, the Federal Government has appealed to the Niger Delta Avengers and other militant groups to sheathe their swords. Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Pastor Usani Uguru Usani tried feebly to assure indigenes of the region that the government was willing to address their challenges. Of course his remonstration was dismissed by the agitators because the government had not been faithful to its promises. Across the country there is a general feeling that the government is not willing to frontally confront the Niger Delta conundrum. This perception keys into the current dominant narrative that the Federal Government is a largely partisan and ethnic-oriented government, a tragic, and dangerous thing to the survival of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The Niger Delta has remained a sore point in Nigeria’s history. With the upsurge of violence particularly in the last 10 odd years, it was expected that genuine focus would be placed on developing the land which produces the bulk of the nation’s wealth. But recent actions and pronouncements of the Federal Government suggest mere lip service to addressing the needs of the exploited region. Such simple demands as directing the oil majors to re-locate their operational headquarters to the region and providing funds for the take-off of the Maritime University have not been obeyed. Also, the news that major players in the oil sector have been directed to commit $100 million yearly to developing the North East is not comforting. Besides, a meeting of a mediating group within the region, PANDEF, was abruptly and crudely aborted by security agents who claimed to be acting on orders from above.

Why has it been impossible for the International Oil Companies to relocate to the region where they take oil and make money from? Why has the Federal Government lacked the political will to enforce its order to the oil companies? Is it because the will of the people is inferior to the greed of the oil exploring firms? Why has the Federal Government been unable to stop gas flaring? Why has the Federal Government not been able to build a befitting road network and the needed bridges in the region? Why has the Federal Government handled the Niger Delta crisis with impunity? These are questions which bother the people of the Niger Delta and compatriots across the country.

The Federal Government should immediately show good faith by taking certain definite steps. One of such steps is the movement of the headquarters of the IOCs to the region where they conduct their operations. The argument has always been made that their presence in the region would bring them closer to the environmental and physical challenges which infuriate the people of the region. As part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), therefore, they would be more actively involved in the communities where they work. Besides the enormous multiplier effect of their physical presence, this would help to transform the economy of the Niger Delta. Truth be said, the level of poverty and environmental degradation is appalling. Although wealth amounting to billions of dollars are daily extracted from the land, the people have nothing to show for it. Infrastructure is poor. Health facilities are abysmal. Power supply is virtually absent although the oil exploring companies always have power in their domains. These contradictions help fuel the rise of militancy in the region.

It was the late President Umaru Yar A’dua who ingeniously adopted a conciliatory approach to the problem by developing an amnesty programme. Although its implementation was faulty, it helped to reduce tension in the land. The time has come again for more steps to be urgently taken to calm frayed nerves in the region. It is clear that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is not properly funded and is hampered by corruption. The Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs is also virtually asleep.

Peace is needed in the Niger Delta. Nigeria also needs justice, fair play and equity. No other region in the history of Nigeria has been so exploited and left to gnash its teeth in psychological and physical agony as the Niger Delta. The East-West Road should be given immediate attention and completed before the end of the first term of this administration. The oil majors should move their headquarters as ordered by then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo. The Maritime University should take off immediately. The President should, as a matter of utmost urgency, speed up the incorporation of modular refineries into the refining chain. Also, the practice of giving oil blocks to prominent Nigerians without considering persons from the region should stop. The representation of the region in federal agencies and the federal cabinet should be given special attention.

Finally, President Muhammadu Buhari should prove himself a true statesman and pacify the people of the Niger Delta by meeting their demands which are reasonable and could be the key to end the cycle of violence which has been witnessed in the region. The time to act is now!