By Omoniyi Salauden
THERE is no end in sight yet to the resurgence of violence in the Niger Delta region. The new militant group, Niger Delta Avengers, undeterred by the Federal Government’s posturing to use force to restore order in the troubled oil rich region, carried out another attack on a gas pipeline to Escravos in Warri South-west local government Area of Delta State. This has led to disruption of gas supply to Egbin, Geregu and Omotosho power stations.
Earlier in the month, a valve platform, an offshore oil facility belonging to Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL) located near Escravos in Warri Local Government Area had recorded a similar attack, causing epileptic power supply to both industrial and domestic consumers in the country. At present, the overall power generation is said to have dropped to 174, 7 MW from 3,147 MW.
There are heightened fears that the face-off between the militants and the Federal Government may worsen the already prostrate economy. Over the past few months since the militants began renewed agitation, there has been a drastic fall in the quantum of oil production, putting further strain on the economy. The Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe ikachukwu, on Monday, May 16, disclosed that the activities of the Niger Delta Avengers had cut down oil production by 800,000 barrel per day.
In the same vein, President Muhammadu Buhari at a recent meeting with Global Director of the Royal Dutch Shell Group, Mr. Andrew Brown, in Abuja, expressed concern over this development, saying “We have to be very serious with the situation in the Niger Delta because it threatens the national economy.” He, therefore, urged aggrieved persons, militants and communities in the Niger Delta to drop their confrontation stance and work with those who had been charged by the Federal Government to review the amnesty programme initiated by the late President Umar Yar’Adua.
But all entreaties seem to have fallen on deaf ears. In its 11-point condition for peace to reign, the Niger Delta Avengers demanded, among others, implementation of the recommendation of the National Conference of 2014, 60 percent control of resources by oil communities as well as immediate release of Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Pro-Biafara group, the Indigenous People of Biafara (IPOB).
The new militant group also threatened owners of oil blocs, who include, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, erstwhile military head of State, Gen Ibrahim Babangida (rted), former vice president Atiku Abubakar, ex-minister of Defence, Theophilus Danjuma and one time minister of Petroleum, Rilwanu Lukman with a two-week ultimatum to shut down operations and evacuate workers on oil fields.
Unwilling to succumb to any of these conditions, President Buhari was left with no option than to order military crackdown on the renewed militancy. Following the presidential directive, the military Joint Task Force has stepped up operations in the restive Niger Delta region to combat security challenges and ensure safety of oil and gas installations.
However, many people are of the opinion that military confrontation may not be the solution to the crisis. British Foreign Minister, Philip Hammond, said this in his advice to President Buhari. He stressed the need for government to deal with the root causes of the conflict because, in his opinion, a military confrontation could end in disaster. For now, there is no indication that the renewed violence is going to end soon.
While the government has the responsibility to protect lives of its citizens, there are enough reasons why application of force needs to be approached with caution at this time. Since January 1966 when Major Isaac Adaka Boro declared the short-lived Niger Delta Republic with his Niger Delta Volunteer Force and launched guerrilla warfare against the Federal Government of Gen J.TU. Aguiyi Ironsi on account of perceived injustice and marginalization of the oil region, military action has not produced any positive result.
The twelve days bloody confrontation with the federal troops resulted in a great causality on the side of the later. The then Head of State, Gen Yakubu Gowon, had to later give amnesty to Boro and his followers when Biafra civil war broke out. Impressed by his gallantry performance in the encounter, Gowon recruited Boro and his fighters into the Nigerian Army to fight the Biafarians. Boro himself was decorated a major of Nigerian Army at the age of 30 years. When the federal was done with him, he was assassinated to close the chapter of further Niger Delta Republic and arms agitation in the region. One account of the story has it that he was pinned down by Col Benjamen Adekunle and shut while returning from a victorious attack on May 9, 1968.
But the plot didn’t end the agitation. In 1994, Ken Saro Wiwa took over the struggle in a non violent approach using pen instead of gun. He took up a great fight against Shell by exposing its atrocities to the people of Ogoniland to the world. Wiwa was subsequently hanged to death through a kangaroo tribunal by the late Gen Sani Abacha. The same pattern of confrontation followed the emergence of militancy forces like Asari Dokubo’s NDPVF, Tompolo, Boyloaf, Ateke Tom all to no avail until the late President Umar Yar’Adua initiated the amnesty programme that calmed down the restiveness in the oil rich region. For all it cares, the Buhari administration is not likely to achieve an enduring peace through application of force. There is a need to balance hard power with soft approach. This is even more imperative now that the administration has shown renewed commitment to the clean-up of Ogoniland in line with the United Nations Environmental Programme Report released on August 4, 2011. Anything short of peaceful dialogue will rather distort the planned action on the clean up exercise as well as the proposed reform of the amnesty. Again, at this time of economic crunch, the administration can ill-afford another round of confrontation with the restive militants, while at the same time dealing with Boko Haram insurgency without putting further strain on the lean resources available. It is, therefore, high time the stakeholders began to work together to find a lasting solution to the menace of incessant militancy. Peace has remained elusive for too long in the region.