Niger Delta: Back to Square One?

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POLSCOPE
with Eddy Odivwri
eddy.odivwri@thisdaylive.com   08053069356

In the Beginning…
Between 1997 and 1999, the tempo of offensives in the Niger Delta was high. Groups and ethnic formations were springing up sporadically across the region. They all had a common agenda: make enough noise, cause enough trouble that will change the sorry narrative of the region. The groups had a large assemblage in the Port Harcourt/Bayelsa/Warri axis.
At the time, the region was literally sinking. The facilities and infrastructure were all in decrepit state. Regional angst and anger was rising steadily. The battle cry for change was loud. While the elder statesmen like Chief E. K Clarke were issuing statements and merely talking into the national air, the boys were acquiring and massing up war armaments. They then began to hit oil installations and platforms.  The attacks on oil facilities and workers were fierce. They vowed to crumble the Nigerian economy if government at the centre was going to continually abandon the region in squalor whilst harvesting the wealth of the nation from the same region.
The Nigerian state, controlled by the military at the time, could not quite contend with the rave of attacks especially as the terrain was difficult for the regular army/navy to understand and master.
At one point, 13 soldiers were killed at Okerenkoko in Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri south local Government area of Delta State. That was the zone controlled by the Government Ekpemupolo (better known as Tompolo) militia.
The argument was logical. The demands were justified: a region couldn’t be funding the entire nation from the resources therein and that same region will be left in offensive neglect, rot and decay. The amount of poverty, environmental degradation in the region was monumental. Even the traditional means by which the people catered for themselves (fishing and farming) had been destroyed as a result of the activities of oil exploration.

And Government Responded…
The flame of attacks and disquiet in the region continued to rise. Indeed, Nigeria’s earnings from oil export continued to drop and the government seemed helpless as the militants seemed unappeasable.
Thus by May 1999 when former President Olusegun Obasanjo came to power, the Bill for the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was among the first three he sent to the National Assembly for passage. By the dawn of 2000, the NDDC had been created as an interventionist agency that should respond to the needs of the region. This had to be done since previous interventionist efforts like Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) was too ill-equipped to tackle the needs of the region.
The coming of the NDDC provided a lot of reprieve. The amount of rot in the region had become endemic so much that much as the commission would try, it seemed not much had been done. Yet, the commission had revamped the region within its ability.
Till date,  the NDDC is still struggling to attend to the many challenges of the region.

Amnesty was Introduced…
When it became clear that the NDDC was not enough to rapidly attend to the needs of the region, hostility which had abated before broke out again in the region. The militants began to talk tough. They began to attack the oil facilities again along with kidnapping of oil workers—expatriates and local. The problem, once again got to a height. Casualties were being recorded frequently, including, as said earlier, the killing of 13 soldiers in Okerenkoko, Delta State. Again, the government seemed to have been at a cross-road. It did not seem that even the application of maximum military force would achieve anything. The militants were sophisticated and daring.
Then late President Umaru Yar’Adua, in 2007 considered the idea of granting the militants amnesty. A huge committee was set up and the modalities of the amnesty programme were worked out. Rounds of dialogue were held and reviewed over and over until the militants, trusting the middlemen like Timi Alaibe sent by the federal government, signed up to the amnesty offer.
The Amnesty programme was to be in three phases. The first being the disarmament and re-orientation of the militants. Two other stages included infrastructural revamp of the region and then the human capital optimization of the region.
The Amnesty office was set up after the militants handed over many (NOT ALL) of their arms. They held government in suspicion. They were not quite sure government would not pounce on them after they may have surrendered all their weapons, and then there will be nothing to defend themselves or repel the attacks. So, just some were handed over, so as to test if government had ulterior motives.
The Amnesty office soon started training ex militants in different skills and academy, sending them to overseas while paying them allowances that are almost thrice the minimum wage.  Yar’Adua then died. And President Jonathan continued the programme. Too soon, the Amnesty office became an industry, a big workyard where ethnic overlords were “settled”. Under Kingsley Kuku, who was managing the programme after Alaibe pulled out, the scheme became a whirlwind of arbitrary operations. Little-by-little, the scheme began to lose direction. The long queue of militants awaiting training experiences continued to grow and the attraction, it seemed, was the great opportunity to travel outside the country . About 30,000 ex militants signed up for the programme.
Many of the “senior militants” like Asari Dokubo, Tompolo, Boyloaf, etc became major training contractors in the Amnesty Office. The proof of the parvenu status they suddenly stumbled into is best illustrated with the number of private jets they began to own.
The volume of money made available to the scheme was enormous. Kuku did
not appear to have the requisite capacity to manage such huge funds. Abuses set in. He began to be overtly active in partisan politics. Most of his opinions on the polity were elevated from mere press statements to full page advertorials. Money was being wasted. He began to aim at the Ondo State government House. He seemed poised at his target until Jonathan lost the election a year ago. The EFCC revelations that have trailed his record of service are indicative of how clean or dirty his books were. For over a year, he has fled the country, even as the EFCC has declared him wanted.
Having been suffused with the unleavened feast of the phase one of the Amnesty programme, the other two phases were comfortably ignored. The result, in a way, is what we are seeing today.

The Uncomfortable New Order
No doubt, the Amnesty programme was virtually turned to an Ijaw empowerment scheme.  As with many Nigerian entities, the Amnesty programme became philistinic. When Jonathan lost the election, it was clear that something had to give. The Amnesty scheme came under intense scrutiny. Kuku had fled. A new helmsman with a new brief had been appointed. The amount of money that used to flow from that office to the militants ceased. Many of the ex militants whose training programmes were yet running had to quickly complete their trainings. A new order had come. There was no more free funds flowing out to ex militants who periodically had devised a tactic of laying siege at the Amnesty office in Abuja, making one outlandish demand or the other.
With the cash draught, coupled with the declaration of Tompolo as a wanted man, the trigger for another uprising was inadvertently pulled. And that was the birth process of the Niger Delta Avengers which have resumed wild hostilities in the creeks. They have hit oil installations on several occasions and the nation’s economy is already bleeding. That there is even national drop in electricity supply is traceable to the attack on gas pipelines by the new militia group.

Tompolo…the wanted Capon
It is the second time he has been declared wanted. After the killing of 13 soldiers in 2007 by members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), a platoon of soldiers had raided his home in Okerenkoko destroying everything in sight including even the palace of the monarch of the Gbaramatu kingdom. Tompolo had had a smart escape. For so long, the entire security apparatchik was searching for him. Then the Amnesty programme was launched. Tompolo, after much persuasion and re-assurance, eventually turned up himself and was taken to meet late President Yar’Adua at night, wherein he was re-assured of no harm.
When Yar’Adua died, the opportunity to dig deeper into the seat of government came with President Jonathan on the throne. Tompolo became extremely powerful and influential in the affairs of government. He was said to have influenced the appointment of Patrick Akpobolokemi as the former director-general of NIMASA.

Akpobolokemi is currently being tried by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over accusations of stealing and money laundering. It is not surprising that in no time, Tompolo  had landed prized contracts like the waterways contract given to Global West Vessel Specialist Agency, GWVSA, a company belonging to Tompolo
It was a curious contract. It was clearly the surrender of the territorial integrity of the nation’s waterways to an “untrained“ individual whereas the nation’s Naval command was left in the lurch. It was amazing how an individual could be awarded such sensitive contract worth billions of dollars.
It was not surprising therefore, how soon after, Tompolo became a mega billionaire in any currency of the world.
Believed to yet have  sophisticated armoury, the recent declaration of Tompolo wanted by the EFCC may have triggered the new offensives in the region under the new name: Niger Delta Avengers.
The question is asked: what are they avenging? Is it the haunt of Tompolo or the neglect of the region?

Back to Point Origin
Those skilled in the art of war can confirm that the pattern of attacks by the defunct(?) MEND is the same with the pattern of attacks being launched by the NDA.
There is no doubt that those behind the new wave of attacks are those who clearly understand the architecture of the oil exploration platforms. They know and hit targets that will hurt the nation’s economy most.
During the week, the Minister of state for Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu had said the attacks on oil installations have affected 350,000 jobs in the oil industry. That is aside the fact that the nation is losing about 500,000 bpd in oil exportation. That is huge revenue loss. Sad as this may be, the usual question is when this amount of loss was not recorded, how did it impact on the lives of the ordinary Nigerian?
That was how bad the nation’s economy sank in 1999. Sadly, we are back to that point.

Way Forward
We must get out of the woods. It is significant that Buhari is not ramming down the militia with military might. It is instructive that he realizes the importance of dialogue. But above all, the government must strengthen the institutions, not individuals, that can drive change to the people. It is clear that the last effort was built around individuals and when such individuals go down, their entire structures goes down with them. That is why today, the Niger remains largely underdeveloped, while certain individuals have become multi billionaires at the people’s expense.
One way of strengthening the institutions is to go back to the entire master plan crafted for the resuscitation of the Niger Delta. The implementation of the ignored phases of the regional revamp should commence immediately.
Yes, there is paucity of fund, but the people will need to see a demonstration of sincerity by government as they have been taken for a c ride for too long and repeatedly so.
Effort must be made to also absorb many of the trained former militants, otherwise the allure to return to the creeks will be strong, when they are idle, whether they have been trained by government or not. That is the only way the essence of the amnesty programme can be redeemed.