Osinbajo’s Tour of the Niger Delta and Matters Arising

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POLSCOPE

with Eddy Odivwri

Early this week, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo flagged off a tour of the Niger Delta region, starting from Delta State. No doubt, the motivation for the tour is apparently in search of peace. The peace, not for the sake of it, but so there will be conducive atmosphere that will boost crude oil exploration and exportation, unhindered. In otherwords, the tour has a capitalist drive. That perhaps further explains why the first port of call for the Vice President is Gbaramatu Kingdom, the unofficial headquarters of the Niger Delta militancy. Okerenkoko in Gbaramatu Kingdom is the base of the wanted Government Ekpemupolo (alias Tompolo). Osinbajo had also secretly met with Tompolo during the visit. This is the same person on government’s (EFCC) official wanted list for the alleged crime of corruption. That means that the search for Tompolo is no longer an issue, not when there is a more important search for cash. The visit is in eventual realisation that the tough posture of the federal government in applying maximum force in dealing with the uprising in the region, is counter productive. Yes, the Niger Delta has been on the boil for years, and this has had its hurting economic effects in the nation’s treasury reports. With oil and gas exploration disrupted, and revenue projections badly affected, the federal government has realised, that dialogue, and not force of might and weapons is what will produce beneficial result. Indeed, it has been proven that even if all the Nigerian army is deployed to the region, it will not guaranty peace for maximum oil production and sales. Many had told the government that dealing with the violence in the Niger Delta region requires utmost tact. It is likened to the perching of a tse-tse fly on a man’s scrotum. Smashing it may kill the tse-tse-fly, but the accompanying pain on the scrotum could also have fatal consequences. Thus, merely driving away the tse-tse-fly may be the surest means of stooping to conquer. Reading the body language of the stakeholders at the meeting both at the Gbaramatu Kingdom and the one held later at the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI), Effurun, one could see a measure of distrust and cautious optimism among the people. A veneer that seems to say we have seen all these before and it led us no where. As a proof of this, the militants launched another attack on some pipelines in the Ughelli area, just after Osinbajo left the state, although the military authorities claimed that the pipeline damage was due to bush fire and not militant action.

To get to Okerenkoko, the Vice President had to arrive in a helicopter. This is because there is no road to such an important location. If the same nation could construct the Third Mainland bridge, reputed to be the longest in Africa, why is it difficult for the same federal government to build a road network to the creeks from where the money for the Third mainland bridge was sourced? What is the cost of a bridge network that can connect many of the communities in the creeks? What does it cost government to scale up development efforts in the entire Niger Delta region, as a way of assuaging the frayed nerves and compesating them for the damage to their ecosystem because of oil and gas exploration? Would such a cost be beyond the federal government? In 1999, I was in a tour of oil facilities in the Netherlands. We had travelled to one small oil-bearing community called Pernis, outside The Hague, within the Rotterdam district. Pernis plays host to one of the biggest refineries in the world, owned by Shell. As small and far as the community is from the centre, it had all, yes, all the facilities and attributes of a modern city. I dare say that the huge cost of fighting for peace (with little success) in the region is more than the cost of engendering peace through development of the region. Over the years, governments have come and gone, but the Niger Delta largely remains in its decrepit state. If the succeeding governments have been sincere, the sorry narrative of the Niger Delta would have since been different. The creation of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, was about the boldest attempt to address the myriad of issues related to the region. But it soon got bedeviled by some problems like mismanagement including the refusal of government to even contribute its statutory quota. Aside the several redemptive works done by the commission across the region, the putting together of the Niger Delta Master plan which was launched in 2007, just before former President Obasanjo stepped down, remains the most scientific and reliable roadmap to the recovery and rejuvenation of the oil-bearing region. That document, produced (at a huge cost) by GTZ, a German firm, captures succinctly, all there is to do to develop the region. But it has long been abandoned. The brains behind the master plan are still alive. Messrs Timi Alaibe and Godwin Omene both former Managing Directors of the commission have the capacity and know-how on how to make the region to work. But today, we seem to be groping in the dark, in search of the solution to the problems which should be in our kitty already. To neglect the master plan and look for short cuts on the Niger Delta question is akin to looking for the eye of a fish around its tail. Pray, does Professor Osinbajo not know of the Niger Delta master plan? It’s about ten years now that the document has been gathering dust in the president’s shelves. What is Osinbajo going to be told now in this tour that had not been told to his predecessors in government? What did those ones do? When the rain fell heavily, the bucket was not full, is it the fall of the dew that will fill the bucket? In practical and realistic terms, what can the Buhari administration do to radically change the narratives of the people of the Niger Delta? Here is a government bed-straggled in economic recession, struggling to climb out of its economic woes, bugged down by unprecedented inflationary bite, distracted by huge security challenges, wracked by unrelenting corruption forces, harangued by a colony of unemployed youths, weakened by dwindling industrial growth etc. etc….. where will this administration find the money to rekindle the hope and fortunes of the people of the region? The VP promised the revitalization of the Maritime University in Okerenkoko…. It sounded sweet and soothing. We can only wait to see the activation of the promise. The late Yar’Adua administration perhaps demonstrated the sincerest attention to the Niger Delta issue when he not only granted the militants amnesty, but also set up a full fledged rehabilitation structure that was meant to redeem the militants and the region. The Amnesty Programme was framed in phases. Rehabilitation of the militants and retraining them for productive ventures was just one of the phases. There were other phases on how to grow and develop the region. But the succeeding administration of Goodluck Jonathan, abandoned the other phases, immediately some measure of peace was achieved to boost oil production. Those documents are in the archives of the presidency. Let Osinbajo dust them up and do the needful. Unless there is clear sincerity of purpose in addressing the issues bedeviling the region, the Osinbajo tour of the region would end up like another expensive jamboree. While not supporting the spate of violence that has crippled the oil and gas sector, it must be stated that the anger that has produced such actions is justified. As late Chinua Achebe would write, no one who sits at the bank of the River Niger is expected to wash his hands with spittle.

In tackling the problem, the federal government must this time avoid the mistakes of the past: to think that the Niger Delta region begins and ends in Ijaw creeks and water ways. In fact, the anger that all the attention was being given to those who launched the fiercest attacks recently exacerbated the violence in the region. Many of the attack groups sprang up so as to draw attention to their areas as well. All things considered, Professor Osinbajo was very right to have declared that without peace there can be no justice and vice versa. To engage in dialogue with the stakeholders is laudable. But more laudable will it be to match the outcome of those dialogue with actions. That is only when there will be substance to the dialogue.

Pix: Osinbajo.jpg
Last week, I had hoped that former Gambian President, Yahyah Jammeh
would accede to the final entreaty of the ECOWAS leaders to step down
and handover power to Adama Barrow who won the December 1 presidential
election last year.
My hope was reinforced by the fact that Jammeh had appointed a liaison
between him and Barrow.
But all that was shattered after previous Friday’s meeting with ECOWAS
leaders where Jammeh insisted on challenging the outcome of the
election in a court that wont be ready to sit until May this year.
Clearly, Jammeh wants trouble.
I hardly can understand his argument which lacks rhythm and reason.
Here was a man who called his opponent and congratulated him after the
results were announced and declared that by losing the election, Allah
was telling him his time was up. Here is a man who had ruled his
country for 22 years and massed up great wealth for himself. Why would
he not yield to the wish of his people?
The Gambia is a small West African country with   about 1.9million
people, just about the population of Mushin (in Lagos) alone, daring
the military force of the entire sub region.
Since last Sunday, Barrow had temporarily relocated to Senegal
pending when he would assume power. And in his absence, his 8-year old
son was attacked and killed by a dog. Some queer metaphysics!
Jammeh had simply unplugged his head from reason. He has ignored all
the passionate appeals from within and outside The Gambia for him to
save the nation needless bloodshed, by stepping down. Many countries
had promised him soft landing and asylum, but he still wont leave
without a fight. A bloody fight.
But it is all avoidable.
Tension in Banjul and many other towns in the tiny country has reached
a feverish pitch.  Many of the nationals are fleeing the country in
droves. Six of his ministers, as at Tuesday, had resigned from the
cabinet. Some of the soldiers have even fled their posts and granting
damning interview to journalists. And 48 hours to stepping down,
Jammeh had declared a state of emergency for 90 days, with The Gambian
parliament extending his rule by the same period of 90 days. This
obstinacy has been buoyed by the Gambian army which has pledged to
support him all the way. But that is an army that could just be
crushed with the ease with which a raw egg can be crashed in the palm
of an average adult.
A dog destined to die will naturally not hear its owner’s whistle
Surely the die is cast!
As at Tuesday, a Nigerian warship was already heading to The Gambia,
with about 800 combat soldiers and Airforce personnel being deployed
to the country. Other ECOWAS countries like Ghana, Senegal, Liberia
etc.,  are preparing to send troops to the small country to force the
dictator out of office.
One would have thought that Jammeh would learn from the tragic end of
Saddam Hussein, or more recently Muammar Ghaddafi of Libya. But he
wants to end up a disgraced villain.
The events of the coming days and weeks will be quite interesting in
the tiny West African country.
pix: Osinbajo.jpg

Last week, I had hoped that former Gambian President, Yahyah Jammeh
would accede to the final entreaty of the ECOWAS leaders to step down
and handover power to Adama Barrow who won the December 1 presidential
election last year.
My hope was reinforced by the fact that Jammeh had appointed a liaison
between him and Barrow.
But all that was shattered after previous Friday’s meeting with ECOWAS
leaders where Jammeh insisted on challenging the outcome of the
election in a court that wont be ready to sit until May this year.
Clearly, Jammeh wants trouble.
I hardly can understand his argument which lacks rhythm and reason.
Here was a man who called his opponent and congratulated him after the
results were announced and declared that by losing the election, Allah
was telling him his time was up. Here is a man who had ruled his
country for 22 years and massed up great wealth for himself. Why would
he not yield to the wish of his people?
The Gambia is a small West African country with   about 1.9million
people, just about the population of Mushin (in Lagos) alone, daring
the military force of the entire sub region.
Since last Sunday, Barrow had temporarily relocated to Senegal
pending when he would assume power. And in his absence, his 8-year old
son was attacked and killed by a dog. Some queer metaphysics!
Jammeh had simply unplugged his head from reason. He has ignored all
the passionate appeals from within and outside The Gambia for him to
save the nation needless bloodshed, by stepping down. Many countries
had promised him soft landing and asylum, but he still wont leave
without a fight. A bloody fight.
But it is all avoidable.
Tension in Banjul and many other towns in the tiny country has reached
a feverish pitch.  Many of the nationals are fleeing the country in
droves. Six of his ministers, as at Tuesday, had resigned from the
cabinet. Some of the soldiers have even fled their posts and granting
damning interview to journalists. And 48 hours to stepping down,
Jammeh had declared a state of emergency for 90 days, with The Gambian
parliament extending his rule by the same period of 90 days. This
obstinacy has been buoyed by the Gambian army which has pledged to
support him all the way. But that is an army that could just be
crushed with the ease with which a raw egg can be crashed in the palm
of an average adult.
A dog destined to die will naturally not hear its owner’s whistle
Surely the die is cast!
As at Tuesday, a Nigerian warship was already heading to The Gambia,
with about 800 combat soldiers and Airforce personnel being deployed
to the country. Other ECOWAS countries like Ghana, Senegal, Liberia
etc.,  are preparing to send troops to the small country to force the
dictator out of office.
One would have thought that Jammeh would learn from the tragic end of
Saddam Hussein, or more recently Muammar Ghaddafi of Libya. But he
wants to end up a disgraced villain.
The events of the coming days and weeks will be quite interesting in
the tiny West African country.