Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper
With the spate of renewed violence in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s profile as a country under the siege of militancy and terrorism has unfortunately notched a point higher. Sadly, this is not just bad for the country’s image, it is bad for its economy and future survival. Immediate, medium-term and long-term solutions must, therefore, be found so that, like the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East, this crisis in the creeks does not further cripple Nigeria’s already wobbly economy.
The country depends largely on oil revenue from the Niger Delta area that has witnessed some peace since the amnesty programme came into force around the same time terrorism hit the North-East. But shortly before the first anniversary of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, militants who call themselves the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) returned to the trenches where they have blown up some oil installations, electricity, gas and crude pipelines. This development is a huge blow to the already complicated 2016 budget as the nation’s crude oil production has already been reduced by 31 per cent this year from 2.2 million barrels per day to 1.4 million barrels. The 2016 budget estimates are based on the projections that militancy has begun to shatter.
The Federal Government, already bogged down by challenges of terrorism, deadly activities of herdsmen and the resurgent Biafran agitation in the South-East, must develop a strategy for ending this crisis. Whatever it does, however, the well-being of the people of Niger Delta within a united Nigeria must be paramount.
While violence by the militants cannot solve problems of the area, there are fundamental issues about the Niger Delta that those who govern the country should not trifle with. The area had been volatile before the ingenious gesture of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua calmed frayed nerves from 2009 with the Amnesty Programme. That programme too has not gone far in addressing the issues of development, rehabilitation and reconstruction of the oil-rich but environmentally-abused and poverty-stricken Niger Delta.
While a government that has advertised heavy investments in the reconstruction of the North-East ruined by Boko Haram insurgents has been threatening fire and brimstone against the Niger Delta militants, it is important to reiterate the value of constructive engagement of the stakeholders in the area. It is high time government took a total look at the plight of the people, feel their pains and redress the situation of the long-suffering majority who have not been the real beneficiaries of the token tagged Amnesty Programme. While the programme has made some militants rich, it has not addressed the huge infrastructure challenges and poverty in the area. According to the UNDP, the human capital development index of the people of the Niger Delta is among the worst in the country.
There are some immediate things to be done apart from getting the people of the area to sit down with the government for dialogue. One of them is cleaning up the Niger Delta waters. It is gratifying to note that a process to clean up Ogoniland was launched last Thursday by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari who cancelled his visit to the area at the last minute.
While the provision of infrastructure and sustainable development is important, there can be no enduring peace in the area or any part of Nigeria, for that matter, if injustice to the people of the Niger Delta is not comprehensively redressed. Specifically, a truthful commitment to the principle and practice of federalism is what can bring peace and prosperity to Nigeria. The time for a strict adherence to federalism in resource ownership and use for the development of a united Nigeria is now. The country and its leaders have failed for too long to accept that they can only live in a widening gyre of troubles while they continue to operate a convoluted system that is unitary but claims to be federal, thus breeding injustice and discontent.
It is a fact that justice is a non-negotiable condition for peace and if there is one place where injustice has been perpetrated for too long, it is in the Niger Delta. Only a leadership that is totally committed to justice and a properly structured Nigeria can solve the identity, resource ownership and other crises of development in Nigeria. Only a truly federal Nigeria can find peace and progress.