BEFORE ANOTHER VIOLENCE IN NIGER DELTA

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For peace to reign in the country, the federal government must stop reneging on agreements

Penultimate Friday, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) issued a notice calling off the ceasefire it reached with the federal government a year ago. The group of militants that forced down oil production to as low as 800 million barrels per day (mbd) by mid-2016, said it was returning to hostility because none of the promises made by the federal government to address issues of underdevelopment, environmental degradation and social injustice in the region has been fulfilled more than a year after they were made. Threatening to devastate oil installations, the militants said unlike their earlier outings, blood would flow in the creeks this time around.

It is recalled that the militants had reluctantly suspended violence in November last year following the intervention of leaders from the region. The basis of the ceasefire was a 16-point demand. Although the militants had expressed doubts that the federal government would accede to those demands, saying its only interest was not genuine peace but a stable environment for the exploitation of the region’s oil resources to fund government budget, the militants were prevailed upon to give peace a chance.

When six months after, the federal government seemed to be proving the militants right by not implementing a single item of the demands, the Niger Delta leaders raised the alarm on the dangers of government reneging on its promise to assuage the feelings of the people of the region. It took a peace shuttle round the region in May by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, then acting president, to calm frayed nerves. Again, he committed the federal government to actualising the demands, promising that such deliverable items such as the take-off of the Maritime University, Okerenkoko, Delta State and the Ogoni clean-up would be implemented expeditiously.

Against the background that attacks by the militants had brought the national economy to its knees and driven it into recession in 2016, we believe the federal government should be more serious in dealing with the situation. It was the ceasefire in November of that year that gradually restored oil production to about 2000 mbd by 2017, helping significantly to shore up the economy and pulling it out of recession. For an economy that is still tottering at the precipice, a disruption to oil production at this point would be disastrous.

Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari presented his 2018 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly, putting the estimates at N8.61 trillion. His total revenue projection of N6.61 trillion has oil accounting for N2.44 trillion at 2.3 mbd at $45. With a N2.01 trillion deficit already, the bill would be dead on arrival if there is a disruption in oil production. The prospect of this is very high with the threat from the militants. The federal government must, therefore, act quickly to nip the threat in the bud by acceding to the demands of the region. At least, let it start with the low hanging fruits.

While we call on the security agencies to be on alert, we appeal to the militants to also exercise restraints as a return to violence can only dampen the possibilities of implementation of any planned development projects in the region. For instance, the federal government already proposed to direct more funding to the region in 2018, increasing the estimates for the Ministry of Niger Delta from N34.20 billion in 2017 to N53.89 billion as well as allocating N71.20 billion and N65 billion to the Niger Delta Development Commission and the Amnesty Office respectively. Aside the N5 billion already allocated for the take-off of the Maritime University, an additional N17 billion has been allocated to complete the East-West Road that traverses the entire region.
Tokenistic as these measures may seem, their implementation would be dragged back with a resurgence of violence in the region.