The authorities should apply the carrot and the stick as the government’s stability is being tested
For weeks now, a violent militant group going by the name “Niger Delta Avengers” has been on the offensive, bombing and disrupting oil and gas production in the Niger Delta. By the last count, Nigeria was said to be losing almost half of its oil production on a daily basis while the onshore operations of most of the international oil companies in the Niger Delta had been crippled. In economic terms, this is a luxury we cannot afford, particular at a period like this. But of greater importance, the violence has opened yet another conflict with all the security implications at a time the nation is trying to end the menace of the Boko Haram violence in the Northeast. But who exactly are the avengers and what are they avenging?
When the group started its violent activities about a month ago, it made 10 demands of the federal government that were not only political but which also gave them away as sympathetic towards a political tendency. Reacting, Adams Oshiomhole, Edo State Governor, said: “I don’t think the state should submit to blackmail from any quarters. I believe the responsibility of the political elite is to strengthen the bridge of unity; to discourage preaching hatred; discourage amplifying weak points, and work to strengthen those points.”
We share this view as we call on critical stakeholders in the Niger Delta to talk to the Avengers by making them realise not only the futility of their action but also the danger they pose to the communities and the environment. Beyond that, in economic terms, the damage of disrupted oil production will impact more negatively on the Niger Delta than any other region in Nigeria.
We recall that under the administration of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, the Niger Delta militants were asked to submit their arms for amnesty. Meanwhile, the administration that followed awarded contracts worth billions of naira to a few militants and ethnic warlords. The policy angered those who were excluded from the largesse. As some of the contracts were not executed, some of the beneficiaries are now facing the wrath of the law. One of them has been declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
That is the backdrop to the present crisis. Unfortunately, what we have witnessed so far are mixed messages from the federal government. While the presidency threatened to treat the avengers like the Boko Haram terrorists, other officials announced that the state would enter into dialogue with them. For now, there is a full-scale military operation in some communities in the Niger Delta which has led to fatalities on both sides.
The criminality of the Avengers has to be viewed in the context of a corrupt political environment and a weak state which has lost the monopoly of violence to criminal gangs – terrorists, kidnappers, herdsmen, armed robbers and other nihilist groups. Instead of equipping the police to secure the country, each successive government since 1999 has deployed armed soldiers to protect life and property. In the process, peace loving communities have been subjected to harassment and intimidation by armed troops.
Without prejudice to the ongoing efforts at restoring order in the region, the current violence and sabotage of strategic installations in the Niger Delta renews the imperatives of Nigeria’s sovereignty. Whatever may be the limited grouse of these militants, the fact is that they are in a violent contest with the Nigerian state over aspects of national territory and economic activities. The responsibility of the state is therefore dual: first, to persuade these groups to seek more peaceful alternative ventilation for whatever may be their grouse and, second, to deploy such persuasive force as to deter further infrastructure damage without alienating the unarmed populace.