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Fiscal federalism is solution to dwindling oil revenue, militancy — Alaowei

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Alaowei Cleric

Alaowei Cleric

• Order To clamp down On Niger Delta Militants Rash, Ill-conceived
Alaowei Cleric is a lawyer, public affairs analyst and human rights activist. He is the national president of the Foundation for Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade (FHRACC). He spoke with OBIRE ONAKEMU on implications of militancy resurgence in the Niger Delta.

What do you think could be the implications for national security and economy, now that there are threats of unrest in the Niger Delta?
The return of militancy in the Niger  Delta region will pose a grave danger to the nation’s mono-economy. It will spell doom for the country, especially now that the global oil price is experiencing steady decline. This now speaks volume to the fact that the economy needs to be diversified. The Country should practice true fiscal federalism, where each state is allowed to harness and control their resources. That is the only panacea to our economic growth.

In a similar vein, the renewed crisis in the Niger Delta region will also grievously add to the threat to national security. Nigeria cannot afford to fight many battles at the same time. The Boko Haram conundrum is already pushing the country to a receiving end. With the upsurge of MASSOB and IPOB separatist’s protests in the eastern part of the country, the Fulani herdsmen genocidal attacks on the indigenous people of Southern Nigeria and the Middle Belt, I don’t think the country can afford to have militants’ agitations contemporaneously with these bodies.

What do you make of President Buhari’s order on the Niger Delta Avengers?
President Buhari’s order to the nation’s armed forces to crush the new militant group is too rash and ill-conceived. That should not be the first approach. President Buhari’s military response to the pipeline bombings is not the solution to the crisis. If the use of force did not solve the Boko Haram crisis, IPOB members’ non-violent struggle and the Niger Delta crisis before the proclamation of Presidential Amnesty by late President Musa Yar’Adua, then use of force cannot still be a panacea to the renewed violent struggle in the Niger Delta region.

President Buhari should convene a meeting with the former militant leaders and other stakeholders in the region in order to fine-tune the reason behind these renewed destructions of oil facilities. What is happening in the creeks also called for local communities’ participation in the protection of oil facilities. The government should involve the oil-bearing communities for the protection of pipelines in their domain. This is the only way the issue of pipeline attacks can be reduced to the nearest minimum.

As for the military’s threat to respond to the pipeline bombings, though I condemn the activities of these economic saboteurs, I appeal that the military should exercise some restraint in swinging into action in order to avoid civilian casualties. The military should be guided by its professional ethics so as not to attack innocent members of communities in the precinct of the crude oil pipelines. They should not repeat Odi, Gbaramatu Kingdom and Ayakoromo community invasions in the name of attacking militants. That’s unacceptable and we cannot condone such act anymore.
Are there common features you notice between Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) and the defunct Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)?

There is nothing I have seen in Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) to be compared with MEND. I have no single knowledge about this NDA. What I hear about the group may not be different from what Nigerians have heard about them. I don’t even know the faces behind. Their identity remains a misery to me.

Talking about MEND, it is a known fact that the group had well-organised structures, a symbol of a well-trained military formation with a sophisticated media that added value to its struggle. Remember that MEND was a regional organisation that cut across the entire nine states of the Niger Delta. I don’t know whether NDA has these same structures.

In what ways can sustainable peace can be worked out in the Niger-Delta?
Peace is guaranteed in the Niger Delta region if the President chooses to carry the people along in his government. Throughout Jonathan’s five years in office there was relative in the region. That’s because his government duly managed situations that would have incited people to take up arms against the government. Instances abound where President Jonathan initiated laudable programmes that engaged many of the youths who ordinarily would have turned out to be societal liabilities. The pipelines surveillance contract he awarded to ex-militants in the region has in no small measure helped to contain youth uprising in the region during his time.

I am miffed at the idea shared by some, people particularly members of the ruling APC, that whether the NDA was asleep when Jonathan was in power? Though I am not holding brief for the group because I don’t support their activities, it is proper to put the records straight. The Niger Delta region was peaceful during Jonathan’s tenure simply because he addressed some of the issues that brought about militancy in the region. One of the promises of late President Musa Yar’Adua when declaring Presidential Amnesty for the youths was to set up coastal guards, which was to have membership from the armed forces, the police and the local communities where the pipelines are crisscrossing. Jonathan implemented this proposal but changed the name to pipeline surveillance. Many youths were engaged by this programme in the Niger Delta. These are the things this present government should be doing to engage the jobless youth in the region.

In what appears to be a well-coordinated renewed attack on oil facilities by the so called Niger Delta Avengers, what do you think is really the motive behind their action?
Like I said before, I don’t know anything about this group. However, I can draw some inferences on what is happening to the region. I am sure the motives behind this rebirth of militants agitation may be born out of the fact that the region is feeling deprived by this present Government from having her fair share in the Country. The same was the prime factor that instigated youth restiveness in the region before the grant of Amnesty. How do you expect a restive youth to react when the only benefit of the Amnesty Programme is taken away by this present Government? Since the very day the Transport Minister, RT Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi proposed to cancel the Maritime University at Okerenkoko in Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri South West LGA of Delta State most of us feared that it might result to another round of fierce militancy. How I wish the Buhari Government knows the importance of that school to the educationally marginalized Niger Delta region. Those who ask silly questions that the new militants group has no justification in destroying oil facilities in this administration should as well ask the Federal Government whether it is justifiable to remove the only Federal Institution given to them by Jonathan?

The NDA’s spokesman, Mudoch Agbinibo placed blame for the attack on oil facility on footstep of ex-militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo. How would you react to that?
I have nothing much to say save for the fact that the group should present a genuine demands to justify its activities. Aligning their activities to High Chief Government Ekpemupolo (aka Tompolo)’s predicament is a fox pas. I think that’s a misrepresentation of fact. They are only adding more injuries to Tompolo’s woes.

The NDA’s spokesman also alleged that the latest attack was in line with a three-day ultimatum to Tompolo “to apologise” to the group for allegedly insulting the group. What do you make of this?
What is wrong with the comment allegedly made by Tompolo? He only denounced the group, that is a normal thing everybody should do. When Tompolo started his MEND armed campaign this was how some other Niger Deltans who were not to privy to MEND’s activities denounced them. Tompolo and his lieutenants were not deterred by the condemnations from his Niger Delta people neither was he blamed his activities on the actions or inactions of other Niger Deltans. NDA should leave Tompolo alone. Since he said he is not part of them, they should leave him like that.

Again, Agbinibo said the attack was merely in fulfillment of ND’s threat to launch an attack on an oil installation within Tompolo’s enclave in Gbaramatu Kingdom. How do you see to that?
I don’t know what they mean “within Tompolo’s enclave in Gbaramatu Kingdom”? By its appellation the body is supposed to be a regional group. They should tell more of themselves to the world. I don’t think it is acceptable if they want to use that phantom claim to prove a point that Tompolo is in support of the group. As far as the later said he is not in support of the group to me that should be the position.
Well Tompolo is not in charge of the security of the region neither his own community and so anybody can go and destroy pipeline in his domain. The security of the region and all other parts of the country is in the hands of the military. I think the military should tell us why the attack on a particular place

The Niger Delta Avenger has stressed it’s determination to deal a deadly blow on oil and gas production in Nigeria. How do you see to this threat?
To me that threat should not be treated with a wave of hand. Not even the military’s belligerent assurance should dissuade the Government from doing the needful. Government should take proactive measures to arrest this impending economic disaster that may befall our economy. The proactive approach should not be the use of force which is the advice of the military and some other Nigerians particularly from the Northern part of the Country. The Government should engage the stakeholders in the region in dialogue. It should find out the grievances, if any, from the people. That is the only way this looming economic Holocaust can be averted.

Equally, there is a clear warning to all the Niger Delta politicians, traditional rulers, community leaders, and the likes of Tompolo to mind their business and leave the liberation of the Niger Delta people to the Avengers. How do you react to this?

I am sure the Avengers issued that warning in obiter, i.e out of the way. You cannot separate the people of Niger Delta from the struggle. They are part and parcel of the struggle though with different approach. They cannot make Niger Deltans scapegoats because the region did not support armed struggle. Though we will condemn armed struggle at the moment but some of us have strongly partake in the intellectual militancy. The reason being that the struggle should evolve from armed campaign to intellectual battle now that the world approach to issues are handled in a civilized manner. The Avengers should not cause an unnecessary hiccups in the region. They are free to carry out their armed campaign if that will address the problems of the region.

What do you make of Tompolo and the Niger Delta Avenger militants’ face-off?
I don’t know of any faceoff between Tompolo and the NDA. If however there is any then it is not far from the fact that Tompolo distances himself from the activities of this new group. I think Tompolo should not be vilified from distancing himself from a group he knows nothing about. If that is the reason for the faceoff then I advised Tompolo to stand on his position no matter the threats to his life.

The federal has just disclosed that it had commend the process of setting up a trust fund for the Niger Delta, and expressed a resolve to leave no stone unturned in ensuring a structured and sustained development of the region. How do you see to this?
If that pledge is not a political gimmick then I welcome it. It is not just saying it, the Government should match its resolve with action. With all the promises, I am still tempted to alert the world that the Buhari Government is by act or omission executing an economic war of aggression against the people of Niger Delta. I see no reason why the Hon. Minister of Transport, RT Hon Rotimi Amaechi is still pushing his devilish agenda to cancel the Maritime University at Okerenkoko in Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri South West LGA of Delta State while Buhari is watching gleefully if truly he has the intention of developing the region? To us as Niger Deltans, Amaechi is only acting on a script prepared by the Government of the day. Under this administration, the Niger Delta Ministry and the NDDC are starved of funds to the extent that these bodies cannot execute capital projects.

In a situation where the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria visited Forcados in Burutu LGA of Delta State, one of the nation’s economic hub, gave a matching order to the military to fish out the pipeline vandals but kept mute on the ecological problems bedeviling the neglected coastal Communities then it shows that the Government valued oil more than the well being of the people. These are nagging issues that agitate in the minds of the people. It is regrettable that while the present Government has budgeted in its 2016 budget a whopping sum of N400b for oil explorations in the Lake Chad Basin, there are no such provisions in the budget for the region that provides the funds. What an irony? Until these abnormalities have been addressed by the Government of the day, their consequences will continue to stir up anger of the people who feel being oppressed or marginalized by the Government.

How would you conclude this interview?
I want to conclude by advising the Federal Government to initiate people oriented programmes in the region in order to engage the youths. The Government should know that the hand that watereth must be watered. You must take care of the source that provides food for the table less the source will close its mouth. It is not out of place if the Government involve the youths in the region in pipeline surveillance work. They understand the terrain better therefore their involvement will put an end to pipeline vandalism in the region. The Government should not listen to bad advice. The advice from some quarters of the Country which suggest that Government should explore maximum force on the militants are not good advice. These are advice that not only primed to fail but they will also jeopardize our fragile unity.


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