Emeka Nwankpa, a journalist and development activist, is chief media strategist of the Concerned Professionals’ Congress, an advocacy group promoting good governance and democracy in Nigeria. Nwankpa speaks with some journalists in Lagos on the situation in the Niger Delta. Sunday Okobi captures the interview. Excerpts:
The country has been wobbling from one crisis to another with devastating effects on the lives of the people. How can Nigeria get out of this seeming cycle of crisis?
A country of over 250 ethnic nationalities of different beliefs, backgrounds and preferences, a nation of over 170 million people of over 200 languages, different history, cultures, traditions and faiths, is a humongous lot. Even the teeth and tongue do clash but they settle because both need each other. There will be altercations and disagreement between people from time to time, either intra or inter. It is normal. But societies have progressed because of the tolerance and understanding existing among them.
The Niger Delta agitations did not start today and so cannot spiral out of control. It is the violence and destruction of national assets that I find very vexatious and disturbing. Yes, we may have grievances but does that mean that we should destroy our national assets? The answer is no. The Nigerian people do not deserve this treatment and that is why we believe there is more to it.
Why would some people endanger the Niger Delta people? Are they not polluting the already-polluted region? We may soon discover the politics of these attacks. There’s more than meets the eye but that is for the security and intelligence people to get the facts and move with the facts.
Are you suggesting that some people may be collaborating with the militants?
I have not said so, it is just my guess. Some think agitations are normal but the majority see the wilful blowing up of oil pipelines as criminality, which is outside genuine agitation. Try to examine some of the demands of the Avengers; are they different from what we had before? The pattern has not changed, only that the characters have changed. Events have moved beyond that now but it is food for thought.
It is good that the government seized the initiative of the dialogue option, bowing to public opinion. It is laudable, though some argue that the situation could have been stemmed. Anyway, no time is too late as long as it is in the right direction. The end justifies the means. More militant groups in the region are buying into the dialogue. At least, the efforts are paying off. We praise the team for the effort. The dialogue should be sincere, genuine and frank.
Do you think the intelligence agencies have the capacity to unmask the alleged masterminds of the attacks?
I do not think that our intelligence and security forces are doing little. I do not doubt their capacity. If you doubt it, the North-east is a living example of their gallantry and efficiency. Right now, Boko Haram’s capacity to launch attacks and hold territory has been considerably degraded, according to Country Reports on Terrorism for 2015 released recently by the United States Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism. It is an international commendation of the Nigerian military’s anti-insurgency operations under the present Chief of Defence Staff. Our soldiers have displayed conspicuous gallantry in their multiple operations across the country, especially in the North-east where they have worked under very strenuous conditions.
You said the present situation in the Niger Delta was avoidable. How could it have been avoided?
Without generalising, we think that the elders, political and community leaders and youths of the Niger Delta did not do enough to check the renewed militancy in the region. This is not an allegation of general complicity. More could have been done to prevent the attacks. But for a few voices, the initial conspiracy of silence across the region emboldened the militants.
Don’t forget that these militants live among the people? The place is now more polluted due to the bombings that have further endangered the livelihood of the people. Who’s killing who? Not to talk of the havoc on the rest of the country which has been thrown into darkness arising from the huge drop in power generation and the national oil production output that has been crippled by half. Must they get to this point to get attention? It rankles.
So you believe dialogue is the best option?
Absolutely. It is a masterstroke. Dialogue is strength. It is a win-win option and we commend the government for this. Remember, a workman is as good as his tool. I believe that this tool of diplomacy and dialogue speaks volumes about the capacity of the government as far as this issue is concerned. We commend the leadership of the Nigerian military for standing down their force.
Pragmatic leaders always win by sticking to principles and soft on methods. The president, as the Commander-in-Chief, can deploy troops but what remains his overriding goal is to preserve every part and parcel of the federation. This is pragmatic leadership. You will also discern from the comments of the CDS, Gen. Olonisakin, in Port Harcourt recently urging the militants to drop violence and peacefully articulate their grievances to the authorities.
This shows the leadership mind-set of a people-oriented military. It also goes to show that Mr. President means well for the region, actualising the long-awaited oil clean-up of the Niger Delta in line with the Kaiama Declaration and the Ogoni Bill of Rights. We must embrace peace and halt these drumbeats of war so that our people can get on with their lives.
How would you rate the commitment of the major stakeholders in the region to the resolution of the conflict?
The government has the constitutional responsibility to secure lives and property of the Nigerian people, including our national assets, and that is why the military force must remain there and also patrol the waterways. We trust our military to be professionally thorough in observing their rule of engagement. We are proud of them. The law-abiding and innocent people of the region have nothing to fear, except those who are working against the rest of us, who are blowing up oil pipelines.
We commend the oil majors operating in the region for staying on despite threats of continued bombing and destruction of their facilities. It is important that the Niger Delta activists utilise this window of the dialogue, ventilate their feelings to bring lasting peace so that the people of the region can get their lives back and live in peace in the communities.