THE ongoing destruction of pipelines and other critical oil facilities by the militant group, Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), is a serious threat to the Nigerian economy that the government must address with utmost speed and seriousness. The unrelenting attacks of this group on oil facilities have led to a downward spiral in Nigeria’s oil production, from about two million barrels per day to about 1.2 million barrels currently.
nstead of reducing, the attacks on oil facilities in the country are increasing. Last week, a new militant group which identified itself as the Red Egbesu Water Lions, signified its intention to begin its own attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta.
A certain “General” Torunanawei Latei, who identified himself as the Creek Network Coordinator of the Red Egbesu Water Lions, said the organisation was teaming up with the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), in blowing up pipelines and other oil equipment. The group gave the government a 7-day ultimatum to accede to its demands, failing which it will begin its own attacks. The resurgence of militancy and destruction of oil facilities will not augur well for the economy, peace, unity and progress of the oil-rich region and the entire country.
Suspected militants also recently blew up the Sagbama-Tuomo gas line belonging to the Nigerian Oil Company (NAOC) at Egbembiri, in Southern Ijaw Local Government area of Bayelsa State. The military has responded to these challenges with a campaign in Sagbama, which made some of the residents to flee their homes.
The two militant groups have made their demands known to the Federal government. The Red Egbesu Water Lions group, among other things, is demanding the release of the detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, and the National Security Adviser (NSA) to the former Goodluck Jonathan administration, Col. Sambo Dasuki. It also wants the government to direct the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to defreeze the bank accounts of former militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo (alias Tompolo).
The group threatened to shut down all oil exploration activities in the Niger Delta at the expiration of the 7-day ultimatum and demanded “unconditional and immediate payment to victims of the Bonga Oil Spill and Chevron gas explosion in Koluama, Bayelsa State.”
No doubt, there are genuine complaints of environmental neglect in the Niger Delta region occasioned by oil spillage, gas flaring and lack of affirmative action by past governments on these issues. It is clear that the nation may not have been fair to some of its component parts in terms of infrastructural development. Without mincing words, the Niger Delta is one of the neglected component parts of the country, despite the fact that most of the nation’s foreign exchange earnings come from the region.
But, we do not think that muscle-flexing through issuance of ultimatums to the government is the best way to solve the problems of the Niger Delta. This period that the country is experiencing severe financial difficulties on account of the crash in the price of crude oil in the international market is definitely not the time for any organisation to worsen the nation’s economic woes with the destruction of oil facilities.
Nigerian governments have, over the years, made several efforts to address the demands of Niger Delta people. The oil producing states of the Niger Delta now enjoy 13 percent derivation of oil revenue. This has made the Niger Delta states the highest earners of oil revenue in the country. The administration of late President Umaru Yar’Adua gave the region the Niger Delta Ministry as well as the Amnesty Programme for all repentant militants. The former president, Goodluck Jonathan, faithfully implemented the Amnesty programme under which many Niger Delta youths were trained locally and abroad, and thousands of them placed on a monthly salary that is far above the salary paid to fresh university graduates in Federal Government ministries.
President Muhammadu Buhari has extended the duration of the Amnesty programme, which should have ended in 2015, to 2018. However, no official pronouncement has been made on the 2018 extension date. The implementation of the recommendations of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Report on the cleanup of Ogoniland in Rivers State is scheduled to commence today, with $1 billion reportedly voted for the project by the Federal Government. Government officials also recently held a meeting with ex-militant leaders in Benin, Edo State with a view to ending the attacks. These, indeed, are signs of good faith by the Buhari administration and we appeal to all the militant groups to sheathe their swords and allow peace and development of the region.
It is possible that the Federal Government’s handling of some officials of the erstwhile Goodluck Jonathan government; the initial reports on government’s plan to end the Amnesty Programme in 2015 in line with Jonathan’s timetable for the scheme, and the relocation of the Maritime University at Okerenkoko may have provoked the latest agitations by the militants. But, these are issues that the militants can discuss with the government if their objective is truly to get a better deal from the present dispensation for their people.
Neither the seven-day ultimatum issued by the group nor the threat of crushing the militants by the government is the best approach to this problem. Let all sides to the issue eschew hostilities and embrace dialogue. Government should be given a chance to prove that it is ready to address the problems of the Niger Delta and others. The government cannot afford to fight on all fronts at the same time.