By Yushau A. Shuaib
“NEMA Registers 3500 Displaced People in Warri”
The above quotation was the title of a press release I issued as the spokesperson of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) on June 25, 2009 after the completion of our assignment in setting up Internally Displaced Person’s (IDPs) camp in Gbaramatu Kingdom, Warri South West, Delta State.
The NEMA’s intervention followed a clash between the military-led Joint Task Force (JTF) and Tompolo-led Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) which had claimed responsibility for the deaths of some soldiers and displacements of citizens.
Even though the military endorsed our passage to the creek in May 2009, some of us were scared stiff of the possibility of being captured by militants on a suspicion of being government’s spies. Surprisingly we were well-received by community leaders and local government council officials which was then under the Chairmanship of younger brother to Government Tompolo, the most wanted Militant Leader . To our amazement, we discovered some Hausa-Fulani folks within the hinterland who had adopted Ijaw-land as home away from home, speaking the local dialect fluently and even enjoying the locally brewed gin!
It was a scary adventure for NEMA responders as we persuaded women and children to come out from their hideouts in the bush. Their plights were better imagined as we had to close down some schools and health centres and converted them to IDP camps. Some pregnant women delivered babies in the thick forest; their men languished in the bush and stayed on water as thousands other displaced persons had scattered into the neighbouring states of Bayelsa, Edo, Ondo and Rivers.
While the Nigerian troops were still hunting for the militants, NEMA’s reports and intelligent information from other sources, persuaded the peace-loving President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, a Muslim Northerner from Katsina State to endorse the Amnesty Agreement.
The elusive Tompolo and other ex-militant leaders emerged from their hideouts and agreed to the Amnesty programmes in the Presidential Villa as they surrendered their sophisticated weapons and were eventually pardoned by Yar’Adua’s government.
The risky decision of President Yar’Adua in embracing dialogues and approving the Amnesty for the Niger Delta militants rather than confrontation through military might, quickly stabilised the region, boosted the volume of crude oil production, steadied supply of gas to electricity power stations, increased revenue to the Federation Account and ensured engagement of many youths of that region in various productive ventures including capacity building programmes at home and abroad.
Precisely seven years after, we are back to the old story as militants have staged a resurgence of hostilities through a new group, Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) which is attracting global media attention by destructions of oil facilities in the region. This unfortunate development is coming at a period when Nigerian troops are contending with Boko Haram menace in the North-East.
The activities of NDA and other similar groups are reminiscence of Pre-Yar’Adua’s Amnesty when the militants engaged in abductions of oil workers, especially the expatriates; rampant sea-piracy; destructions of oil facilities and killing of ordinary citizens and security personnel.
There are concerns expressed by some ex-militants that the Amnesty Programme may soon be jettisoned by Buhari’s administration as the Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, Brig. Gen Paul Boroh (rtd), recently disclosed that the programme is very expensive and cannot be sustained in perpetuity.
Coupled with that fear are the unfounded allegations that the current administration is after ex-militant leaders who supported Goodluck Jonathan in the last presidential election. Some are even claiming that the prosecution of Tompolo by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over corrupt practices is political witch-hunting.
There are certainly those that are not comfortable with military threats to ‘crush’ Niger Delta militants like Boko Haram Terrorists considering the fact that Nigerian troops are already overstretched as they engage in war on terror in the North-East. The Niger Delta creek is also precariously impenetrable terrain. Such threats, according to some critics, portray the government as adopting confrontational stance rather than diplomatic approach at addressing the youth restiveness.
In the face of military threats to crush the vandals, it is the unidentified militants that are currently ‘crushing’ and crippling Nigeria’s economy through the destructions of oil installations that provide gas for domestic power generation and crude oil for export. For instance, after the attack on the Nigeria Gas Company’s pipeline in January 2016, the Minister of Power and Works, Raji Fashola announced that the country was losing N470m daily. On the other hand, the Minister of State for Petroleum and Managing Director of NNPC, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, also disclosed that Nigeria losses 800,000 barrels of crude oil daily due to pipeline vandalism which easily translates to the revenue loss of over N7bn daily.
And just recently the Ad-hoc Committee on Crude Oil Theft Prevention and Control of the National Economic Council (NEC) revealed that the Federal Government does not have adequate operational vessels to patrol and secure the network of pipelines in the Niger Delta.
While we must condemn the destruction of oil facilities by the Niger Delta militants, the government should tread a political line through dialogues. President Buhari should ignore any misleading advice as some zealots would rather want our President to act like a no-nonsense cowboy in Hollywood movies. At over 70 years, President Buhari does not have that youthful strength and excessive power of military dictatorship to re-enact forceful compliance to orders because of democratic ethos.
As the father of the nation, Buhari should employ humane and thoughtful strategies that would not exacerbate the already tense political and economic situations in the country. He should demonstrate exemplary leadership qualities through compassionate disposition and diplomatic overtures to the belligerent militants whose sponsors are yet to be identified.
Since the most wanted Niger Delta militant, Government Tompolo, has issued Open Letters , appealing to President Muhamadu Buhari to intervene on his plight, the government should temper justice with mercy and capitalise on that and woo other leaders in the region for amicable solutions to the crises.
After fruitful dialogues government should work out concrete structures that would permanently address the plight of people whose environment provides the chunk of our national revenue. The government should also pursue aggressive economic diversification programmes for other geopolitical zones towards economic self-reliant and sustenance.
Yushau A. Shuaib