‘We Can’t Rule out Military Option in Niger Delta’

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Ovie Omo-Agege, a lawyer, consummate grassroots politician and mobiliser is the Senator representing the Urhobo nation and people of Delta Central Senatorial District of Delta State. In this interview, he maintained that President Muhammadu Buhari is doing the needful to stabilise the country. He also disagrees with the activities of the Niger Delta Avengers. Shola Oyeyipo presents the excerpts:

What is your assessment of President Muhamadu Buhari?
President Muhamadu Buhari was elected to change the course of a nation that was drifting in the wrong path. Terrorists were moving freely within Nigeria and across borders, claiming territories, causing mayhem and killing people. The economy was deeply damaged by corruption and the biggest collapse in crude oil prices and revenue.

To deal with the security situation, government had to relocate the military command and control centre to Maiduguri, build international coalitions and equip the military. We have reclaimed most of the territories Boko Haram occupied, including the Sambisa forest. They are now unable to move freely and threaten us. Some of the Chibok girls have been rescued; Internally Displaced Persons (IDPS) are returning home, the borders and cities are no longer easily accessible to terrorists.

The truth is that we have succeeded in degrading and decimating Boko Haram in a way we thought was impossible and today, we are significantly safer than we were 15 months ago. I give the President a lot of credit for the strategic decisions made to get us to this position of relative security. Keeping our nation safe and defending its sovereignty is the most important duty of a president. And on this, President Muhamadu Buhari has delivered.

In the area of corruption, it is very clear that the government has done very well. Never in the history of Nigeria has any government achieved what this government has done. Before now, corruption was a way of life. It is hard to imagine how our country was ripped off. People were just sharing our money. But all that is changing. Huge amounts have been recovered and counting.

The economy has been more challenging to the government. As I said earlier, the government inherited a deeply damaged economy that was on a free fall. The 2016 budget was designed to stabilise the economy and lay a strong foundation for a diversified economy that will create jobs for those who want to work and opportunities for those who want to set up businesses.

The removal of fuel subsidy and the introduction of flexible exchange rate are policies that will help to stabilise the economy, so we can begin the long road to recovery. Increased infrastructural spending in the budget will help to diversify the economy. Overall, the government has done well in moving the country in the right direction.

But many do not share your view and in fact, some are already saying this was not the change they voted for. Are you not unduly praising the government?
I can tell you that most of those blaming the president for the hardship in the land today did not vote for him in the first place, so they cannot be expressing any buyer’s remorse.

Having said that, I want to say that I understand that times are tough – food prices have shot up, people are hurting, frustrated and angry over the economy. But the truth must be told. The president inherited a mess and he is just cleaning up the mess. The hardship we face today as a nation and individual was not created by this government. The poor state of the economy is a direct result of the mismanagement and mediocre performance of the past government.
Nigerians need to be patient. If we persevere and remain steadfast, together we will lead our country to peace and prosperity because the president has adopted an approach that embodies the values and direction that Nigeria has to take to achieve greatness.

What is your take on the activities of the Niger Delta Avengers?
I am a little curious about the timing of the emergence of the Niger Delta Avengers. Why now? The federal government amnesty programme of 2009 was supposed to end the hostilities and it did. And when Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, a Niger Deltan, became president in 2010, many applauded the feat as the icing on the cake of the Niger Delta struggle. So what has changed? What has this government done to warrant this senseless destruction of our national assets? This nonsense must stop. There is no justification for it at all.

Nigeria is passing through a most difficult period and we must all support the President who is trying to salvage the country. I have no doubt that president Buhari means well for Niger Delta. He has started the clean-up of the Ogoni land which the immediate past government failed to do. He has made provision in this year’s budget for the construction of the Lagos-Calabar railway which will transform the Niger Delta. If truly the Niger Delta Avengers are fighting for the people of the region, they should embrace dialogue.

We are in a democracy and there is no need for violence. When a group decides it no longer wants to debate and discuss its ideas and dialogue with government on their grievances, but rather wants to blow up oil facilities of the country that further destroys the environment, that is terrorism and it cannot and must not be tolerated by the government.

One of the demands of the militants is that the federal government should drop charges against former militant leaders and Niger Delta politicians accused of corruption. It was even reported some time ago that the governors of the states of Niger Delta made the same demand when they met with Vice President Yemi Osibanjo. What is your opinion on this?
Dropping charges against those accused of corruption as a precondition for ending the militancy is a non-starter as far as I am concerned. It is awful that our governors would table such a request before the vice president. If it is true, then it is extremely difficult not to believe that it is a plot to abort the anti-corruption war of President Buhari.

It’s shameful and disrespectful to the people of the Niger Delta, including those who have lost their lives in the struggle. It is a terrible thing to do. It is selfish and it introduces politics into the struggle and that worries me greatly. We cannot let them undermine the fight against corruption. If we do, the great promise of Nigeria will die. The anarchists and those who don’t wish Nigeria well would have won. We must stand firm against the evil minds in our midst.

How do you think the federal government should handle the Niger Delta crisis?
Militant attacks on oil facilities are threats to the nation’s survival. It’s an economic war that poses serious threat to economic growth, development and stability of the country. We must take it very seriously. However, this crisis can be resolved more through negotiation than by military action if all parties act in good faith. It appears both parties are ready to dialogue. But while government focuses on non-military means, all options should be on the table.

We should not rule out military action, especially now that the motive of the Niger Delta Avengers is not very clear. Is this a genuine struggle for the people of the Niger Delta without a hidden agenda? The timing of hostilities makes me doubt. But if it is and their motive is to solve the problems of poverty and environmental degradation in the Niger Delta, then we can end the crises without resort to military action.