The problem with dialogue!

The ongoing brigandage in the Niger Delta is to be expected the moment a government shows an inclination towards dialoguing with bandits. The Federal Government of Nigeria, with its back seemingly to the wall and, contrary to all permutations, has been talking of its preparedness to dialogue with bandits and every roughneck in the Niger Delta suddenly has their eye on a piece of the action.

The Federal Government must get its back off and, His Excellency Alhaji Muhammadu Buhari, President and Commander-in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will do well not to bring God into this matter. This is for the simple fact that those the president is begging in the name of God do not believe there is God! No man who believes in God will contemplate the kind of atrocities the bandits are capable of. If government does not get its back off the wall and bare its fangs, the next few weeks will witness the emergence of more terrorist groups.

This is because those with their backs to the wall negotiate from a position of weakness. It is not surprising that many of those who admonish the government to negotiate with bandits were the same set that hoodwinked late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua into instituting an ill-advised multi-billion naira drainpipe otherwise called Niger Delta amnesty programme. By falling for the dialogue stuff, Mallam Yar’Adua created a behemoth that has become a huge distraction for the well-meaning Buhari/Osinbajo administration.

God repose his soul! Were he to be alive today, chances are Mallam Umaru Yar’Adua would admit that the amnesty programme he was wrongly advised to institute as a means of checking restiveness in the Niger Delta region is counterproductive. As we can all see, the scavenging bandits in the Niger Delta and the starry-eyed beer fans in the heart of Igboland have, through their lawlessness, stained the white banner of the visionary Mallam Umaru Yar’Adua.

The ongoing banditry in parts of the South-East and South-South is the direct result of what you get when you dialogue with bandits. It was the dialogue the Yar’adua government had with all manner of criminals that spawned the new set of scavengers in the Niger Delta. It was the same dialogue that emboldened starry-eyed beer fans in the South East to attempt an exhumation of a hatchet that was buried 46 years ago! By extension, it was dialogue that emboldened the lecherous Boko Haram bandits who have elevated mass rape and mass murder to an art.

The only time dialogue becomes relevant is when one of two adversaries has been pummelled to the point of near-capitulation. No one should delude themselves that that dialogue makes sense without the big stick. It doesn’t! And, mind you, you don’t dangle carrots in the face of an adversary to lure them to the roundtable! No adversary gives second thought to an invitation to dialogue until they have been so battered to the point of seeing an invitation for dialogue as a life- and face-saver! This cardinal rule in war diplomacy had not been met when President Yar’Adua extended a presidential handshake to the Niger Delta bandits.

If in doubt, cast your mind back to the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka who spurned all entreaties until the government in Dhaka realised it had to achieve a decisive military victory which it did convincingly after foreclosing any chance of dialogue. Until the government turned the heat on them, few analysts imagined the Tigers, who hitherto had readymade excuses to reject peace overtures, would meekly subject itself to the democratic process.

Only recently, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), in a face-saving move, signed the Havana Peace Accord to end its 50-year bush war. Again, the magic was the decision of the government to drop the carrot stuff! The result was that the handwriting became clearer for FARC and, by 2012 the rebel group had to enlist the support of Pope Francis to assist in working out a soft-landing deal with the government in Bogota. Little wonder that the tough-talking Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte has promised there will be no carrots in his dealings with Muslim rebels and other terror groups in The Phillipines

At the onset, the multi-billion naira amnesty created the façade of peace in the restive Niger Delta region. This is one of the many problems of dialogue: initially, it creates the impression that all is well before you discover that all is far from being well! It is the failure of dialogue that took us to this point where bandits hold the nation by the jugular. If truth be told, all the terror groups emerged because we were either naïve or dishonest to believe that something good can come out in any dialogue of seeming equals!

One mistake the Buhari/Osinbajo government will make is to repeat the mistake of talking to implacable bandits who will always shift the post and continue to make outlandish demands. Especially in the case of the Niger Delta, what all budding scavengers are doing is to strategically position themselves for an imminent feast that will come out of a dialogue. Many of today’s scavengers saw how they lost out when their compatriots became super-rich in the name of amnesty and now believe it is time for them to have a piece of the action. The ongoing hot air is the usual jostling for vintage positions ahead of an imminent feast.

It is about time to employ reasonable force to call the bluff of all manner of scavengers!


Magaji sent this piece from Abuja.