The disclosure by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, that the federal government is ready to dialogue with the militants in the Niger Delta region is welcome. The intensification of the destruction of oil facilities in the region by the militants since the inauguration of the Muhammadu Buhari administration is greatly undermining the nation’s economy.
It is for this reason that any genuine effort to stop the attacks on oil facilities in the region should be expedited. Latest figures show that Nigeria’s daily oil production average has plummeted to a lowly 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd). This is 900,000 barrels short of the 2.2m barrels benchmark in this year’s budget. The unfortunate situation has left the country heavily short of its revenue projections and reeling from its increasing inability to meet its obligations.
This scenario underscores the need for peace in the Niger Delta and other parts of the country, to ensure wholesome socio-economic development. If the proposed dialogue is to achieve this objective, there must be sincerity of purpose on both sides and the willingness to give and take for the sake of our country and its citizens.
In the dialogue under consideration, we believe that the government has the greater responsibility. It has the sacred duty to both secure the territorial integrity of the country and keep its citizens safe and prosperous. This overriding incentive should help government put the peace motive permanently in sight and resist the temptation to wield the big stick, despite the present provocations.
The Buhari administration must take the criticism of its seeming lack of will to enter into a dialogue so far in good faith. Wittingly or unwittingly, it has given mixed signals, allowing people on the other side to doubt its real intentions. The journey to lasting peace using the instrumentality of dialogue and negotiations is a painstaking and often frustrating one, but in the end, it rewards handsomely.
Government is thus advised to heed the counsel of patriots who have called for a dialogue. As has been pointed out, the Niger Delta terrain is a naturally difficult one for a conventional military operation. It will involve considerable collateral damage to the people, the economy and ecosystem. At the end of the day, all warring parties are bound to return to the negotiating table.
This reality, though, should not encourage the criminality that most of the agitation in the Niger Delta has degenerated to in recent times. Dissenting elements within the region are reminded of the highly elevated and engaging platform which pioneers like the late Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Movement for the Survival of Ogoni people (MOSOP) used to put the suffering of the shortchanged oil-rich region on the global stage.
The current UNEP-inspired clean-up of Ogoniland, which is to be extended to all of the impacted areas of the Niger Delta, is a direct fallout of that struggle. In their moments of introspection, the present militants must determine the real cost of their activities on their immediate environment and already beleaguered people on whose behalf they are supposedly undertaking their dangerous exertions.
No matter the justification on account of the long years of criminal neglect of matters of the Niger Delta by successive administrations, the militants should realise that the bombing of oil facilities cannot solve the problems of the region. The subsisting divisions in their ranks and the attempts by some of their fellow militants to hijack the cause and deny equitable and full representation to all of the nationalities in the Niger Delta can only serve as a disincentive to genuine dialogue. Let the Niger Delta elements put their house in order and be ready to meet this government midway.
Both parties are advised to come to the negotiating table with the right tools and attitude. These should include a willingness to give and take, open- mindedness and a strong commitment to the objective of enthroning peace and security in the region. Need we emphasise that at the heart of this age-long agitation in the Niger Delta is the demand for true federalism?