Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Talking to the Avengers


Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper

Although there are objections from certain quarters, that the Federal Government should not negotiate with the emergent militant group known as the Niger Delta Avengers, good reason suggests the contrary. And the readiness of the militants to dialogue with government should be viewed as an auspicious opportunity to genuinely address the cause of renewed militancy in the Niger Delta region.

A few months ago, a group of militants emerged and started bombing gas pipelines and exploration facilities of international oil companies. So determined were they in their objective to put the nation’s economy on its knees that they code-named their activity Operation Red Economy. This has persisted amidst falling oil price in the global market, low productivity in virtually all aspects of the economy and lull in business activities.

Coming at a time Nigeria needs to be extricated from the stranglehold of imminent recession, the activities of the avengers smacked of economic sabotage. They have attacked the Nigerian Navy in about four locations in the region, and have appropriated vessels and guns. They have also bombed no fewer than five oil exploration facilities.

However, what is striking in the Avengers’ activity is that they have not killed anybody, but would only cripple the economy. While it seems unpatriotic, their message clearly also draws Nigerians into a state of reflection to ask: how long can we go on with this?

Events of the past decades should put the activities of the Avengers in perspective. Despite the 13 per cent derivation coming from the government, frequent inauguration of development commissions and even a dedicated ministry to the Niger Delta as well as an amnesty programme, there has been no marked prospect of transformation in this pillaged region. Rather, what have been observed are clannish appeasement and aggrandisement of cronies and individual actors in the programmes.

Coupled with this is the arrogance of some members of the ruling elite and their rejection of resource control by oil-producing states. This has created doubts and suspicion and raised moral questions in the minds of the impoverished Niger Deltans about the genuine intentions of the Muhammadu Buhari administration as well as the efficacy and ability of the government to develop the region.

By bombing oil installations in their region, the Niger Delta Avengers seem to be passing a clear message that this renewed offensive is not a mere violent activity of delinquent youths arm-twisting easy targets for cash. They are insisting too that their offensive is not an incoherent statement of insurgency like others in the past. While they are aware of the earlier warning, threat and rude denouncement from the presidency, they appear ready to fight on.

As their tactics and modus operandi suggest, the Avengers do not seem to be beggarly gun-wielding miscreants. These are radical and uncompromising supporters of the Isaac Boro ideological orientation, bent on reclaiming what they see as their stolen land and resources. In one short sentence, the Avengers leave no one in doubt that they are determined to cripple the economy until the Nigerian federation appreciates their genuine rebellion over control of the resources in their land: oil.

As it stands, Nigeria’s economic mainstay is being threatened; so far other sectors of the economy have not been adequately harnessed to address national development and sustainability. Besides, the Nigerian Armed Forces are getting overstretched in terms of resources and manpower as they respond to escalating nationwide uprisings. Perhaps, it may be for these reasons that concerned eminent Nigerians, major foreign stakeholders and some western powers have cautioned the government to treat these militants with caution, for they are different from other groups with whom government could negotiate aimlessly.

Now that the militant group wants to dialogue, the government must seize the opportunity and maximise it to its optimum. Notwithstanding the arrogant posturing in the pre-dialogue conditions given by the Avengers, that the government finds itself at the negotiating table with the militants is not a sign of weakness as some armchair critics have posited; and should not be viewed as such. Coming to the negotiating table is a demonstration of responsibility and an expression of solicitude and responsiveness, not only to the people of the Niger Delta, but also to all Nigerians.

The ongoing militancy is a continuous reminder of the recalcitrance of government to reach out. It is a testimony of the feeling of indifference and habitual knack for neglect which a unitary system had fostered all these years. Militancy is sometimes a call for justice. Barring any implementation of the ‘archived’ report of the National Conference, the renewed militancy in the Niger Delta is an invitation to Nigerians to look in the direction of a just fiscal policy; one that grants the control of resources to federating units on whose land the resources are located. It is a call on the political leadership to squarely revisit the economic unitarism that encourages dependency and undermines equitable distribution and control of resources.

This newspaper has stated it before, and it can never be tired of restating it often and again: Whatever the volume of resources expended on quick fixes and fleeting measures towards the resolution of the Niger Delta problem, any deliberation devoid of genuine interest in justice and peace is a recipe for chaos and insecurity.

What this means, as also stated earlier is that: For peace to reign, all stakeholders must engage in genuine dialogue to appreciate the desires of the Niger Delta people. As their unified clamour suggests, the Niger Delta crisis demands openness to the realities of their blighted existence, equity in the distribution of the common wealth, and commitment and sincerity in the fight against corruption.

So, the Nigerian government should negotiate with the Avengers and this should be done on time. Nothing can satisfy these agitations other than justice and equity.

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