P RESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari’s confirmation that his administration was talking to Niger Delta militants would have been a positive step towards finding a lasting solution to the spate of violence in the region but for a caveat. At least government is now talking!
It was at the farewell audience with Mr Michael Zinner, the outgoing Ambassador of Germany to Nigeria at the State House, Abuja, that President Buhari said government was also studying the instruments of the Amnesty Programme inherited from the previous administration, with a view to carrying out commitments made that were undelivered.
However, what is not clear at all is how the president is talking with the militants through foreign multinational oil companies and law-enforcement agencies. Is it curious that the job of instilling lasting peace in the Niger Delta region was assigned to foreigners and their companies?
The International Crisis Group in one of its reports on the violent agitations in the Niger Delta, maintained that “the Federal Government’s bark has always been a lot worse than its bite,” stressing that “their rhetoric has always been pitched to the outside world to reassure international partners that they are doing something.”
A statement by the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, quoted the President as saying, “We understand their feelings. We are studying the instruments. We have to secure the environment; otherwise, investment will not come. We will do our best for the country.”
Without doubt, the president’s emphasis from his statement was on ‘security,’ or rather, ‘insecurity in the region,’ and which he promised to do his best for the country by securing the area.
However, the question is: how did we arrive at the current state of insecurity in the oil region? Is security, or rather, insecurity now the bigger problem of the region or the fallout of the big problem?
As aptly captured by Senator Shehu Sani in a post he made on this issue, “Federal Government talking with the militants in the Niger Delta is a step in the right direction to secure an end to the attacks on oil infrastructure in the region; but a deeper and broader talks about the region is what is also needed to address the seeds and the sources of the problem.”
Instead of focusing on security, what is stopping the government from embarking on a broad and effective campaign to address the physical development imbalance of the area and the prevailing grinding poverty caused by environmental degradation and bastardisation of the means of livelihood of those living in the midst of the country’s oil wealth?
Without mincing words, the assignment given to the oil companies and security agencies to negotiate, or rather ‘settle’ the militants could best be described as another progress in error.
Now, we need to get this clearer: if the Federal Government is ‘negotiating’ or ‘dialoguing’ with militants through the multinational oil companies and security agencies, are the militants doing that on behalf of the entire people of the oil producing Niger Delta?
How sincere was the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in its avowed stance that the use of terms could be all we need to ascertain whether the Federal Government is sincere or not in addressing the Niger Delta question.
In conflict resolution, the proper use of words and terms could just be all that is needed to calm frayed nerves, and if we don’t get it clear, we may just be dancing around the real problem. The living reference is the use of Gaza and West Bank in the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
There is a marked distinction between negotiation with criminals and fraudsters who force concessions from government, using the strategy of attacks on oil installations, on the one hand, and dialogue with genuinely concerned citizens and leaders of the region who are committed to meaningfully engage government on the vexed Niger Delta question.
Rather than applying the fast-tracked appeasement strategy which, from experience, would only end up creating pockets of billionaires and more sophisticated warlords and emerging ‘generals,’ the Federal Government should frontally take on, by direct intervention, the real issue which remains – correcting the development imbalance of the Niger Delta region for the common good of the people of the area.
Severally, it has been said that Nigeria will be the gainer for such paradigm shift in attitude towards physical development of the Niger Delta region that produces the commodity that pays for almost everything that happens in the socio-economic and even political life of this country.
Whether anybody wants to hear this or not, negotiation to appease militants is a mere temporary breather, as many more and deadlier opportunistic groups will emerge as soon as the moon goes down.
Therefore, sincere and comprehensive dialogue and resolution of the Niger Delta question is a sustainable solution for all stakeholders.
- Izeze lives in Abuja.