Government should focus on addressing the militancy in the Niger Delta

The current crisis bedevilling the nation is bad enough to make any government nervous. For almost two years, the country’s economy has been contracting due to the global slump in the price of oil, Nigeria’s main foreign exchange earner. The situation has been worsened by the activities of a new militant group named Niger Delta Avengers (NDA). In the past few months, members of this group were engaged in the singular preoccupation of sabotaging oil infrastructure in the Niger Delta. These waves of attacks have profound implications for our national wellbeing. Indeed, available reports indicated that at one point, the country was losing about 800,000 barrels per day which slashed the nation’s crude oil output to 1.4 million bpd.

Unfortunately, instead of addressing the challenges associated with the problem, some people within the government seem to be looking for a scapegoat. In the past few months, media reports, quoting anonymous sources, but obviously from government of the day, were pointing fingers at former President Goodluck Jonathan as the man behind the Avengers. A shadowy militant group named the Reformed Niger Delta Avengers and some members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) had also lent weight to these allegations. One of the media reports (yet to be denied) said the presidency has ordered a probe into the alleged links between Jonathan, his wife, Patience, and the militant group.

Even though a few other names were usually mentioned along with him, Jonathan has repeatedly denied the allegation. In a statement issued by his spokesman, the former president dismissed his link to the militants as the handiwork of people who hold long-standing grievances against him. “There is no doubt that there exist such people who may have scores to settle with the former president,” said a statement by Jonathan’s spokesman. Indeed, last June, during an interview on Bloomberg Television, Jonathan himself said he was aware that the current administration was after him. “I am being investigated, yes, investigations are going on,” he said.

While we have no problem with agencies of state doing their work against any citizen, the allegation against the former president should be taken with circumspection. If anything, the accusation looks more like a throwback to the Jonathan era when the activities of Boko Haram were linked to Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) without any supporting evidence beyond politics. But this is a dangerous gambit that we cannot afford, especially at such a delicate period as this.

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 the militant groups in the Niger Delta to seek more peaceful alternative ventilation for whatever may be their grievances and to deploy force only to deter further infrastructure damage without alienating the unarmed populace. We also harped on the need to enter into dialogue with any reasonable group ready for peace.

Evidently, the government is listening. In the past few weeks, the government has been tightening its grip on the militants in the Niger Delta, particularly with its “Operation Crocodile Smile” while also opening flanks for negotiations. Indeed, last Monday, the Avengers openly declared their cessation of hostilities for dialogue. We consider this a remarkable milestone towards ending the violence in the Niger Delta just as we implore genuine militants, as against criminals, who have issues to come out and put them on the table.
But we also hasten to warn that attempts to rubbish President Jonathan with allegations that cannot be substantiated will only worsen an already bad situation.