It has become necessary to enter into dialogue with the Niger Delta Avengers in order to end the violent and costly conflict

The Niger Delta Avengers, a new militant group, has in the past few months engaged in the singular preoccupation of sabotaging oil infrastructure in the Niger Delta. Besides causing so much outrage across the nation and beyond, these waves of attacks have profound implications for our national well being. In the midst of a global oil price slump, the assault by the Avengers is like adding salt to injury. By the last count, Nigeria was said to be losing about 800,000 barrels per day which has downed the nation’s crude oil output to 1.4 million bpd, perhaps the lowest in decades.

“The incessant attacks on oil facilities have led to Nigeria losing its place as Africa’s largest oil producer because its oil output has fallen to a 22-year low,” said Ekpenyong Ayi, a member of the House of Representatives from Cross River State. The security agencies are also being stretched to the limit. The latest 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 North-east and the irritations of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in the Southeast.

However, the initial response to the attacks were a series of threats and indeed the invasion of some the communities by the armed forces. But experience teaches that military action alone can hardly work. Indeed, despite the fact that the creeks were swamped with soldiers, the militants were often a step ahead as they continued to serially bomb oil facilities from the shores of Bayelsa through Delta to the coast in Akwa Ibom. Last week, they bombed a major pipeline belonging to the Nigerian Agip Oil Company in Brass Local Government Area of Bayelsa which sparked a fire incident with the accompanying thick smoke to further pollute the environment.

Yet as we have repeatedly asked, the question remains: What exactly does the Avengers want? In response to appeals and pressure from many quarters, including prominent Nigerians, the group listed the conditions under which it would lay down its arms – among which was the restructuring of the federation in accordance with the 2014 National Conference. They also asked for greater ownership of oil resources for the people in the oil-bearing states and environmental repair and compensation throughout the Niger Delta as being done in Ogoniland. In addition they wanted the continuation of the amnesty programme initiated by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua administration.

In a recent editorial we had canvassed the need for the federal government to apply both the stick and the carrot as a way of addressing the haemorrhaging energy sector and dousing the tension in the air. We urged the government to persuade these groups to seek more peaceful alternative ventilation for their grievances and to deploy such persuasive force only to deter further infrastructure damage without alienating the unarmed populace. There is also the need to revisit the amnesty programme which the government said it would terminate in 2017 in addition to entering into a dialogue with any reasonable group ready for peace.

Last week, Dr. Ibe Kwachikwu, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, actually started what many had termed efforts at diffusing the tension when he visited the site of the contentious Maritime University at Kurutie in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State. The alleged scrapping of the university has caused much outrage and indeed its reopening was one of the demands of the militants. Evidently, the government is listening. Kachikwu reportedly assured the community that the government would intervene and continue with the project.

We consider it a wise move as it has become very important for the federal government to end the violence in the Niger Delta.