Some of the events of the past few weeks in the country may be suggesting that President Muhammadu Buhari does not give a hoot about the crisis in the Niger Delta, writes Iyobosa Uwugiaren
It appears President Muhammadu Buhari still doesn’t give a damn about the vexed issues generating stifling tension in the troubled Niger Delta region. Perhaps so! At the peak of the nation’s economic recession last year, caused by a number of challenges, chiefly from low sale of crude to the sabotage of oil installations in the Niger Delta by the militants/agitators, there were conflicting suggestions by President Muhammadu Buhari’s men over the best possible way to respond to the issue.
An insider told THISDAY that while the Minister of State for Petroleum, Mr. Ibe kachukwu-led group within the government, suggested dialogue to the vexed issue, some “political hawks” within the Villa toughly recommended strong military force in dealing with the matter “once and for all.
A trained army General, Buhari was said to have adopted the option of employing the military force. However, the source said after months of deploying hundreds of the Nigerian’s troops to smoke out the militants blowing up oil facilities in the region, it became clear to the aging president that he could not win the war, before he decided to try a different approach.
Reverting to Kachukwu’s wise counsel, Buhari later directed the Petroleum Minister to invite the aggrieved Niger Delta community/traditional rulers to his villa for talks. And not many key monitors of the region doubted then that the move could end a surge of sabotage, which had cost the nation billions of dollars in damages and exports.
Drawing the delegations from all states in the Niger Delta, comprising the political leaders, traditional rulers, religious leaders, youth groups and other stakeholders, a meeting was later held in November last year between the Buhari-led federal government and the leaders of the region.
But then, the president’s body language and his utterances at the meeting, an insider said, did not suggest that Buhari was serious about the option of dialogue that informed the invite sent to his visitors.
“At the meeting, President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the destruction to the Niger Delta oil facilities, describing it as criminal. He told us that we knew the criminals, where they were, and directed us to go and talk to them”, one of the Niger Delta leaders from Edo State, who attended the meeting told THISDAY.
The source added that although the president’s visitors did not condone the violence, they argued that the actions of the militants reflected well-founded anger in the penurious Niger Delta region and the legitimate calls for a greater share of revenues generated from their lands.
The region’s delegations were said to have told Buhari that meeting their demands, among them better roads, stable electricity and a long-promised university, would have shown the government’s goodwill, and they later presented their 16-point demand to the President.
Not for a furious President. He was to have expressed annoyance over the audacity of the Niger Delta leaders, and later stormed out of the meeting, after just five minutes of meeting with them.
“The government isn’t taking the issue seriously,” Barrister Ledum Mitee, a lawyer and advocate for the Ogoni, had told Financial Times.
To be sure, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), an umbrella body of the traditional rulers, elders, community leaders and other critical stakeholders of the ethnic nationalities that make up the Niger Delta region, recently stated that the N29 billion provided for in the 2017 national budget by Buhari to fight the militancy in the Niger Delta, was a clear sign that the federal government is not ready to embrace dialogue on the issue.
The leaders, who met with Buhari said the budgetary allocation to fight militancy would further exacerbate the crisis in the region. A statement issued recently and signed by a member of the Central Working Committee of PANDEF, Dr. Alfred Mulade, expressed concern over a statement credited to the president’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, that the presidency was yet to identify credible leaders to negotiate with on the problems in the oil-producing region.
“The attention of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) has again been drawn to some uncomplimentary remarks credited to the Senior Special Adviser to President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, to the effect that the presidency was yet to have credible leaders from the Niger Delta region to dialogue with.
“This statement, coming from the presidency at a time when it has become very clear that the militancy and destruction of oil and gas facilities have abated, owing to the timely intervention of PANDEF, the umbrella body of monarchs, leaders and credible stakeholders of the ethnic nationalities of the coastal states of the Niger Delta region.
“This intervention which has positively led to the cessation of hostilities by the armed agitators, in deference to the appeal by the leaders, has actually led to improvements in the crude oil production, which hitherto fell to 900,000bpd, relative to the production target of 2.2mbpd.”
The umbrella of the pan Niger Delta group added: “To make matters worse, the government is reported to have earmarked a whooping N29 billion of oil revenue to fight militancy in the Niger Delta region. This, of course, will further exacerbate the crisis in the region, where PANDEF has been working assiduously to ensure permanent peace.
“How on earth would government begin to think of this kind of huge expenditure, despite the dwindling economy, just to fight militancy, when the causative factors sufficiently articulated and presented to the president by PANDEF remain ignored?”
The Chief E.K Clark-led group argued that the rise in crude oil production could not have been possible without the unification of all credible stakeholders under the aegis of PANDEF, adding that this explained the quality and diversity of the composition of its delegation that met with Buhari on November 1, 2016 in Abuja, where the position paper of the region was presented to the President, with a well-founded assurance to dialogue as a way out of resolving the lingering challenges in the region.
He told THISDAY recently that at the meeting with Buhari and other fora, the Niger Delta leaders had consistently advocated for exchange of ideas and the urgent setting up of a dialogue team by the federal government to demonstrate credible commitment to resolving the crisis in the region. He, however, regretted that two months down the road since their visit to President Buhari, the federal government has not demonstrated any commitment to the dialogue process by the setting up of its team.
“Curiously too is the fact that one of the items among the 16-point dialogue issues was the reopening of the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, Delta State, which the government announced had been given positive consideration, but has not seen the light of the day in spite of the fact that hopes had been raised and expectations heightened.
“It is instructive to place on record that the Nigeria Maritime University, Okerenkoko, is an iconic project that touches the heart of the region. That the functionality of this institution will engender a sense of belonging, participation in speeding up the process of healing old wounds occasioned by age-long deprivations cannot be over-flogged,” he said.
He urged the government to reopen the maritime university, saying it would confer credibility and goodwill to the federal government in the resolution of the crisis in the region. More so, when the facilities for the successful take-off of the university have already been domiciled and modestly developed in compliance with extant requirements and standards by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan in Kurutie, Delta State.
Clark, nonetheless, promised to continue to plead with all agitating groups to continue to sustain the predominant peace and work towards dialogue, noting that this remained the best option for resolving the crises in the Niger Delta region.
The Clark-led group is not alone in this seeming frustration. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), one of the noticeable militant groups in the region, also recently reviewed its support for the negotiations between the federal government and the rebel groups in the oil-rich region that had consistently attacked oil and gas facilities in the area.
MEND, which passed a “no confidence vote” on Buhari-led government, accused the president of reneging on all the deals he entered into with the militants, stressing that the government’s handling of the issues was unacceptable.
A statement by its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, said as a condition for peace, the President should immediately act to preserve the peace process by officially commencing negotiations with the leaders and elders of the region. MEND accused Buhari of “arrogance” in the treatment of the issues raised by the leaders of PANDEF, noting that the government had not shown seriousness in dealing with the crisis.
While stating that its members no longer trusted the current administration to have any meaningful dialogue with the region, the group, however, called for the immediate setting up of a federal government team to meet with PANDEF headed by Chief Clark to salvage the situation.
“Without prejudice to the pre-2015 presidential election endorsement freely and voluntarily given to President Muhammadu Buhari on January 6, 2015, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) hereby categorically and unequivocally passes a vote of no confidence on the government of President Buhari.
“Prior to and after his reluctant meeting with the traditional rulers, opinion leaders and stakeholders of the Niger Delta region, under the auspices of PANDEF on November 1, 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari has been carrying on arrogantly and making controversial, prejudicial, conflicting and contradictory statements about the politics and economy of the oil-rich region.
“Since after he assumed the reins of power, President Muhammadu Buhari has always, for reasons best known to him, held the Niger Delta region in contempt, while accusing and/or blackmailing the leadership of the region of not being ready for dialogue, whereas it is the federal government that is not ready or willing to name a team to dialogue with the people.”
Similarly, the Niger Delta Avengers, which had claimed responsibility for bombing of many oil facilities in the Niger Delta region, also appears to be running out of patience with Buhari. In its recent post on its website, the group stated that it had launched two simultaneous operations to disrupt oil and gas activities in the region. The operations are identified as “Operations Wall of Jericho” and “Hurricane Joshua.”
Expectedly, the Avengers’ threat did not go down with the Defence Headquarters, promising to deal decisively with the militant group. The Avengers had in a statement by its Brig.Gen Mudoch Agbinib, said since its declaration of cessation of hostilities in the region, it was clear to the group that Buhari was not ready for any form of dialogue and negotiations with its people.
“The world is aware that after listening to calls from our royal fathers, community leaders, stakeholders and members of the comity of nations, especially the governments of the United States of America, Great Britain and the European Union, we halted all actions,” the group had said
However, amidst threats by different Niger Delta’s groups and counter threats by the federal government security agencies, especially the military, experts in conflict resolution said war would do no good in the economic strategic region. The sound argument is that resources for war may be sufficient to provide all-inclusive way out.
The intelligent suggestion by experts in the Niger Delta crisis is that the federal government could resolve the vexed issue by employing dialogue, special education programme, compensation, infrastructure development and not militarisation of the region.
On discussion, they explained that the Niger Delta needs genuine dialogue that would involve “tendering of apology” to the disadvantaged people, analyse past protests, address immediate concern and promise a rewarding future for the alleviation of their pains.
Misbau Opeyemi Aminu, who has carried out several researches in the region, said the Niger Delta had realised the relevance of oil and gas to the nations revenue (85%) and relevance of Niger Delta region to electric power generation, saying “our primary source of energy for electricity – gas – account for almost 75% of the total source and it has become a weapon” for negotiations.
Aminu added: “The truth may be bitter. Don’t blame the Niger Deltans but look back into the struggle against environmental degradation and neglect–livelihood denial, oppression and persecution. Their mentality, social behaviour and social structures have been destroyed over a long time. Restoring their trust, mind and brains to the Nigerian project will take a while. The lifestyle destroyed over the years cannot be corrected through the barrel of gun.”
Aminu listed what he called the Niger Delta’s pain points as: destroyed farmland, destroyed aquatic life, polluted environment, inadequate or selective compensation, systemic inequality that favours non-oil producers to have more and juicy oil wells, while the bearers of wells linger in poverty, lingering joblessness among the youth, and lack of meaningful development/dearth of infrastructure, among others.
According to him, a lot of contracts were awarded to different contractors, such as roads, hospitals, schools etc by the Federal Government, NDDC, IOC, Banks, corporate organisations and others, either as developmental programme or as Corporate Social Responsibility projects that were financially mobilised but unexecuted due to the attitude and frustration from the people.
On special education system, Aminu in an interview THISDAY recently, stated: “We need to design a special education system that offers basic education and addresses the mind and soul of the Niger Delta people. The education programme can be segmented into three: education system for the pupils in nursery, primary and secondary schools. While addressing the basic education initiative, a lot of emphasis should be placed on re-orientating the minds for a constructive future.”
Aminu also recommended a modified amnesty programmes for the youth between ages 18 and 55 that would encourage special education (basic and mind education), skill acquisition, entrepreneurship, welfare packages and rewarding stake within the industry.
He said a majority of the elders of 55 years and above, suffer the consequences of environmental degradation and as such, deserved “huge compensation, psychological appeasement or using opinion moulders to address their mind-set. It is obvious that we will need mind, body and soul to build our nation.”
The people of the Niger Delta, he said, needed to be compensated after a meaningful dialogue, noting that “the Nigerian economy bleeds profusely with the crises.’’
Experts said over N500 billion is lost monthly, a huge fund which would have been deployed to fulfil election promises, and grow the economy.
Federal government’s data shows that the prevailing economic recession was majorly induced by shortage in supply side of the economy – lost association with Niger Delta crises and drop in oil prices in International market.
Records show that Nigeria losses over one million barrel of oil a day to Niger Delta crises; prices of oil in the international market hovers between $45/barrel to $52/barrel in the last 4 to 6 months. Using an average of $48/barrel, the nation is losing $48m or about N500billion a month.
It is believed that losing 46% ($48m/day) of the nation daily revenue ($106/day) is huge and this could incapacitate the government at all levels. More so, continuous shortage in supply side of the economy, experts said, is causing shortage of foreign exchange; continuous devaluation of the naira and low industrial utilisation with so much value being destroyed while the country’s GDP/per Capital income has plummeted.
Like somebody asked: What is wrong with the federal government sitting down with the aggrieved critical stakeholders in the Niger Delta to discuss the region’s demands, negotiate, compensate and move forward as a nation?
To be sure, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), an umbrella body of the traditional rulers, elders, community leaders and other critical stakeholders of the ethnic nationalities that make up the Niger Delta region, recently stated that the N29 billion provided for in the 2017 national budget by Buhari to fight the militancy in the Niger Delta, was a clear sign that the federal government is not ready to embrace dialogue on the issue