The boiling Niger Delta cauldron Featured

Monday, 21 November 2016 00:00 Written by  Published in Economy Read 347 times
Niger Delta Avengers Niger Delta Avengers

Some sixty years ago, a unique event of epic economic proportion happened in the bowels of what is toady referred to as the Niger Delta region: the discovery of crude oil.

 

Since then, the economic and social fortunes of the people of the area have never been the same. The black gold gave the country a lot of money via the petrol dollars and such were used in the massive development of all parts of the nation. But the inhabitants of the area were not so happy as their farmers and fishermen became jobless as a result of the ravages of oil exploitation. The locals saw the oil workers as a new set of oppressors as they flaunt their opulence, in contrast to the poverty etched on the people and the area. There were cries for economic justice that later found expression in the various derivation policies of successive governments.

It was however the Yar`Adua administration that came with the novel policy of amnesty programmes for some people who took to arms struggle and were couched in the terms of militants. Even before then, the federal government established an interventionist agency, the Niger Delta Development Agency and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs to see to the specific development of the area. The present Buhari administration went a step further by implementing the United Nations report on the cleanup of the Ogoni area.

But all these economic measures did not sit well with some people in the Niger Delta area and that explains the sprouting of a new group, the Niger Delta Avengers.  For months running, this new militant group has wrecked havoc on the economic fortunes of the nation, with constant bombing of oil facilities and pipelines. The Niger Delta Avengers are religiously committed to bringing down the economy of the country and oil companies are leaving in droves. According to the Niger Delta Avengers, their demands among others include the immediate implementation of the report of the 2014 national conference, failure of which Nigeria will forcefully break up. They also want the federal government to apologize to the family of late DSP Alamieyesegha who died as a result of what they said was the intimidation of the government. Equally, they want 60 per cent of owners of oil blocks in Nigeria to come from the oil producing states and the remaining 40 per cent for the non-oil producing people. In addition they are demanding for the release of Mazi Nnamadi Kanu, the leader of the Independent Peoples of Biafra. The Niger Delta Avengers also listed in their demands that the Niger Delta Amnesty programme must be well funded and allowed to run effectively and that the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko in Delta State must commence academic activities in 2015/2016 academic session.

Some political watchers are of the strong conviction that the demands of the Niger Delta Avengers are ridiculous and absurd and they are of the support of military action of the government against the group. To them, the Avengers are criminal elements going for the economic jugular of the country. Others argue that it was the neglect of the region by the successive governments that gave vent to this trend of militancy.

  Speaking recently on the activities of this new militant group, Chief Rita Lori Ogbebor, a prominent Itsekiri leader and rights activists argued that it was the failure of the Niger Delta Ministry, Niger Delta Development Commission and the amnesty programme that brought this country to this economic mess. She argued that, “The failure of interventionist agencies to have a focus, plan and will to implement plans in addition to high degree of greed got us to this level. These avengers are young men, who are being used and who have not been given proper direction. It is the same leaders, who embezzle money meant for the development of the region that instigate these boys to take up arms”.

Not done with blaming the various efforts of the federal government, Lori Ogbebor came hard on the leaders of the Niger Delta region who are not alive to their social contract with the electorate. According to him, `I have never made any mistake about my belief that the Niger Delta leaders are the cause of the present crisis. They are not genuine. They should go to other states, especially in the south west and see what the leaders are doing. That is not the case of the Niger Delta states”.

Chief E.K. Clark, a prominent Ijaw leader, close confidant of former president, Goodluck Jonathan and chairman, Board of Trustees, Ijaw National Council, while calling on the militants to dialogue with the federal government was equally opposed to the military action of the federal government. Clark said, `I know that any resort to violence and insecurity only leaves a trail of tension, neglect, pain and wanton violence in the areas concerned. Even when security forces move in with the intention of restoring law and order, it is innocent villagers, in particular, women, children and the old who suffer the most. The Niger Delta is yet to recover from the season of violence which we experienced between 2005 and 2009. I, again make the same call and appeal, today, this time in a more shrill voice. Though the perceptions have not changed on the evolving kaleidoscope of national political administration, I remain firmly convinced that the destruction of our national economic golden goose is not a viable option”.

  Chief Ayiri Emami, a multi millionaire and politician of Itsekiri extraction believes that those behind the Niger Delta avengers do not have the interest of the region at heart and were rather working to frustrate the laudable intentions of the Buhari administration. He also blamed the Delta State government for its silence over the matter. He explains further on the menace of the Niger Delta Avengers: “We know those behind the group, the security agents know them. They are not ghosts and we will support President Buhari to bring them out no matter where they hide. I have interacted with people from the area. They are not happy with just few persons that are bringing bad name to all of them for self-centered reasons and government should stop them. Who are they avenging for? I can tell you that the name, Niger Delta Avengers chosen by the criminal elements and economic terrorists bombing oil and gas installations in the state and their demands roundly expose their political, selfish corrupt and destructive mission”.

  Even former militant leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo is against the activities of Niger Delta Avengers, saying that the group is not fighting for the interest and welfare of the people of the region. Speaking through his media aide, Mr Paul Bebenimbo, the repentant militant maintained thus: `He (Tompolo) will not apologise to the Niger Delta Avengers. If not for his present issues with the federal government, Tompolo would have gone after them and expose them because they seem to make things difficult for him, as the government is pointing fingers at him, but he cannot do anything in his present situation”. Tompolo also alluded that some prominent Itsekiri and Ijaw activists who are in Delta State APC “who are only looking for attention from the government, so they use the happening to seek relevance from the government, they may be behind these guys”.

  The governor of Delta State, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa is of the strong conviction that the activities of the Niger Delta Avengers and pipeline vandalism is sending a wrong signal to the international community and scaring away investors from the state. Okowa argues thus: `The pipeline vandalism that is going on is very bad for Delta State. We are suffering from pollution, our communities are affected, and we are the greatest losers, our communities are impacted negatively. I want to appeal to our brothers who are involved in one way or the other in this vandalism to stop. We cannot destroy ourselves in order to make a point. There are more civil ways of channeling grievances which we should apply”.

  The theme for appeal and negotiation was also worked on by the governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Seriake Dickson. He lamented the activities of NDA, saying it was scaring away foreign and local investors. “The unfortunate development is scaring foreign investors away from investing in the country. The recent development is affecting the socio-economic growth not only the state but the entire region. May I therefore call on stakeholders to discuss the way forward to nip in the bud, the unwarranted and incessant destruction of critical assets. The way forward is for all stakeholders to discuss the issues and the need for the federal government                                                to tread with caution and not adopt military approach as means of solving the problem. No one person can protect the assets in the remote areas of the region. I therefore call on those involved in this act of criminality and brigandage to stop forthwith. We also commend the military and other security organs in the fight against pipeline vandalism and the protection of lives and property in the region”.

 The former governor of Delta State, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan who was one of the arrowheads that led to the implementation of the amnesty programme of the Yar`Adua era also made a passionate appeal to the militants to embrace dialogue, arguing that destroying the pipelines would affect all Nigerians at the end of the day. But he is also against strong arm tactics of the government in fighting the members of the Niger Delta Avengers and those attacking the national assets of the country. Uduaghan made a solemn appeal to both the militants and the federal government. “I want to advise the federal government to take the issue of dialogue very seriously because I believe that is the solution to the current crisis. The leaders of the Niger Delta region should come together and engage each other to find solution to the problem”, said.

   Despite the claims and counter claims of those behind the bombing of the oil pipelines, whether some politicians and business men are the brains behind the avengers, or it is the fight for the actualization of fiscal federalism or the balkanization of the nation, one fact remains unassailable. The Niger Delta Avengers or those of similar stripe are terrorists attacking the very source and spring of national economy. If all Nigerians are desirous of restructuring the nation and implementing fiscal federalism, the elected members of the National Assembly are better qualified to address such national issues and point the way forward. Criminality under any veneer should be seen for what it is and all patriotic Nigerians should work round the clock to put ice into the boiling cauldron that is the Niger Delta crisis. This festering wound in the bowels of the Niger Delta, the base of crude oil and gas wealth that fire the economic growth and development of the country, should be given the best medicine to heal. That medicine, even the best practised medical doctor would agree, is dialogue. That is certainly the prayers on the lips of all patriotic Nigerians that want the best for the potential giant of Africa.

Ajalakpo Oweh

Ajalakpo Oweh, is a seasoned journalist who writes in from Delta state. He covers the southern sub-region of Nigeria for the magazine.