Last week, I wrote on the Super Eagles-Algeria World Cup qualifying match slated for November, 12 at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo, capital of Akwa Ibom State. The piece attracted good reactions showing that Nigerians are passionate about football. In the discourse, I said the return leg of the CAF Club Champions League final leg took place in Algeria, ardent readers of this column quickly pointed out that it was in Egypt. They are correct. It was a mistake of the head and not of the heart: Zamalek FC belongs to Egypt. The omission, notwithstanding the point I tried to make on how Black nations can handle North African teams and triumph remains very valid. From those tapes, Eagles’ handlers will see that there are other factors to winning matches other than playing good football and that was the point I conveyed in the said piece. I insist that Eagles’ handlers should watch the first and second leg of that encounter as there are lots of lessons for them.
The President Muhammadu Buhari administration has continued to impress with the way they are gradually scoring some vital points amid what were clearly initial missteps in vision and governance attitude. The anti-corruption war is good, given the level of decay in the system. Yes, it could be approached in a far, much better way but it is important we get started; until you start an endeavor, the issues of mistakes never arise. The diversification effort is commendable and the securing the release of some of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls is certainly a big plus. Just as those ones were going on, last Tuesday, in Aso Rock, the nation’s seat of power, the Federal Government, led by the President himself, met with a select group of leaders from the long marginalized Niger Delta Region. The move should gladden the hearts of anyone who loves this nation and wishes the present administration well. The reasons are simple: this option is totally in line with sound democratic temperament and culture.
By now, it should be clear to us that endurable precedence are not products of force or manipulation, they are the end products of dialogue. Make no mistake about this, force and manipulation do produce results, but the effects are temporal, sometimes leaving the chance for such challenges to resurrect in a monstrous form. This is why dialogue should always be the preferred option and that is exactly why the President must be commended for seeing the reason to take this path. Secondly, this strategy, if taken to a successful end, would have established the superiority of dialogue over every other method in conflict resolution. We should all be excited at the development, especially those of us who know a lot about the undercurrents that drive politicians and political issues including agitation in our nation.
Oil, wherever it is found, is always a source of cantankerous struggles and divisions, our nation is no exemption. It is even worse with a situation where the region that dominates political power play has no oil deposit at all. The truth is the North is fully aware that the presence of oil in another part of the nation has helped her survival and hastened her development and they know also that if the proceeds of oil is distant from them, that could spell some huge discomfort, so they have always been ready to do anything, including going to war to safeguard their interest. The civil war was essentially about this and even in peace time, that disposition has not changed especially with what they see of the attitude of the Niger Delta people. They have remained apprehensive and suspicious. I will stop here but let me explain how this relates to current crisis in the Niger Delta region: most northerners who have spoken or written me or participated in talkshows in public fora always hold the view, the restiveness in Niger Delta is unreasonable and unwarranted. Their disposition is that so much has been conceded to the region, enough to make them lose the right to any form of agitation.
With the coming of Buhari to power, and with the dominance of the security apparatus by northerners, there has been this growing feeling that the military can be used to wipe out the “criminals”, cow the people and restore “law and order”. If we take note, the Presidency had played along that line; I know the Amnesty Programme was to stop in the first quarter of 2016 and the deployment of soldiers to the Niger Delta was in line with this thinking. Change in strategy may have been provoked by deep thinking, reach-outs and of course, foreign intervention. Whatever it is, it is a good development and the President deserves kudos. I still feel it is unfortunate to make Buhari go through the pains especially after a president of Niger Delta extraction just vacated power after six years without doing anything concrete for his home region. It is a big indictment.
There are gaps in this dialogue process which I observe, first, in the composition and secondly in the table of demands. The Southeast component appears to be very insignificant in the current effort. Some of my friends from the core Niger Delta have argued that they are aware there is ‘Political Niger Delta’, ‘Geographical Niger Delta, ‘Crude Oil Niger Delta’ etc., and each time we talk, they insist we must be clear on each one. Whatever are the criteria, parts of the Southeast (even though of Igbo extraction) are typical Niger Delta area. Before the Mamman Nasir obnoxious boundary adjustment exercise which was deliberately designed to deny the Igbo of their oil wells, many of these areas were under the same administrative unit with those ceded to some South-South states. Niger Delta became a notable issue because of oil, that is the truth and if I am to stretch the argument, both the Niger Delta and their Southeastern oil producing brothers suffer the same environmental degradation arising from oil exploration. Kachikwu or whoever is putting the dialogue together must ensure that the Abia and Imo ends are tidied up; they must seek out their representatives and bring them on board.
I am not impressed with the table of demands, talking of oil wells for individuals, contracts for pipeline protection, adequate funding for Niger Delta Commission and ministry, environmental clean-up are good, but all these should have been encapsulated under a demand for a Marshal Plan. Niger Delta deserves a city like Abuja and Lagos, their road network ought to be better than what we see abroad, the youths should have easy guarantee of qualitative training; what should happen to Niger Delta region should be more than tokenism of patching one road here while the other stretch is terribly bad, or building a new school block amid others that are dilapidated. It is time we know that a society that has wealth is deserving of its benefits, we don’t need to task the imagination to know this. Until there is a good reward system in this nation, peace will remain elusive. Meanwhile, let’s thank President Buhari for this worthy effort.