Beyond Niger Delta peace talks

ON November 2 this year, suspected militants bombed an oil pipeline in Delta State. Significantly, the Trans Forcados export line operated by the Pipelines and Product Marketing Company (PPMC) and which receives crude from Batan, near Warri, was attacked just hours after President Muhammadu Buhari met with Niger Delta leaders at the State House, Abuja, to discuss how to end the unrest plaguing the region. The station had been attacked in July and had only just resumed operation following repairs.

Following the Abuja peace parley, Minister of State for Petroleum, Emmanuel Kachikwu, had enthused: “The reality is that as of today and this morning, we are at 2.1 million barrels production. That is substantial.” Nigeria normally produces around 2.2 million barrels per day (bpd), but the militants had earlier reduced the output to a mere 1.4 bpd, validating the minister’s submission that the gains of the past few months had been substantial. However, the fact that the latest attack occurred less than 48 hours after the resumption of operations at the flow station should serve as an eye opener to the nation. The truth, quite simply, is that meaningful dialogue is yet to take place between the government and the militants.

In its reaction to the incident, the Niger Delta Avengers, last Sunday, blamed their action on the Federal Government’s approach to the peace process. A statement by its spokesperson, one Mudoch Agbinibi, said: “The High Command of the Niger Delta Avengers cannot be blamed for the continuous bombing of crude oil export pipelines and other oil installations, since the Government has been relentlessly carrying out military build ups to continuously harass communities and indigenes of the Niger Delta after the November 1st meeting of the PANDEF and President Buhari. We believe that our fathers, leaders and royal fathers are ready to meet the government of Nigeria with representatives of IOCs and the neutral observers but not with guns, warships and jet fighters terrorizing their communities.”

Clearly, the issue of the Niger Delta militants has to be taken more seriously by government at all levels in the country.

In their latest statement, the militants made clear that they considered the representation at the peace parley to be skewed in favour of the Federal Government. They also indicated that they could do with oil pipelines surveillance contracts. The time has therefore come for the Federal Government to take another look at their demands. The nation needs peace in that region, but there is no goodwill between the government and the militants. We expect the Federal Government to demonstrate, through the utterances of its key members and through political appointments, that it is truly committed to peace in the region.

The job of ensuring lasting peace in the region is however not that of the Federal Government alone. As we noted in our previous editorials, since 1999, the state governors have failed to significantly address the core challenges of life in the zone, with monumental corruption virtually defeating the modest efforts of the Federal Government to develop the zone, while the oil companies continue to deploy technology that is manifestly unfavourable to the environment. The respective state and local governments in the zone should therefore buckle up on their performance, while reaching out to the militants for productive talks.

We believe that some of the conditions given by the militants for peace, such as multi-level involvement of relevant stakeholders, restructuring of Nigeria and cessation of military offensive, are very reasonable, and should provoke sober thinking in the government circles. It has become more than abundantly clear that the nation can only ignore their demands at its own peril. Since military action has consistently failed and only fuelled further attacks on oil installations and thus more grievous damage to the economy, it stands to reason that the government must approach the Niger Delta situation with greater caution. It must stoop to conquer and resist the temptation of military power which, as international observers have consistently warned, can only exacerbate the situation. The nation cannot be talking of peace in the zone while soldiers carry out human rights abuses and shoot to death youths in the zone, like the Shooting Stars Sports Club player, Izu Joseph.

Since February, several militant groups have bombed oil facilities, ensuring dangerous cuts in oil production and power supply and forcing Nigerians into greater misery. If the reduction in daily production of oil by almost a third had grave implications for the 2016 budget, it makes little sense to be pontificating about the 2017 budget and the glories it will bring to the nation. The militants, on the other hand, must realise that their actions are contributing to the pollution in the zone. They must cease hostilities in the region while canvassing peace with the Federal Government. The time to act is now.