No Alternative to Improved Dialogue


Lekan Fatodu
The public statement recently made by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) detailing remarkable improvements in oil production, sales of crude oil and absence of attacks on oil and gas installations was the subject of a post on one of my social media platforms recently.

In that post, I wrote: “Massive reduction in pipeline vandalism and increasing growth in the production of crude oil. VP Osinbajo is seriously doing the long suggested reaching out, dialogue and strategic engagement with every concerned person in the affairs of the Niger Delta. And kudos to Kachikwu for his effort on that path. The VP must open the MEMO to Baba when he returns and he must emphasise the consequence of any delay to further the step or any alteration in the on-going plan”.

And as is the tradition on social media, a commenter, Chukwuemeka Ojielo, who felt the need to shed more light on the subject swiftly added his voice.

“Very correct Lekan Fatodu, but in all fairness, this outreach started long before PMB went on vacation. VP thanks you for deepening this work. Nigeria go better.”
Actually, the point I tried to make with the post was to emphasise the impact of dialogue that is driven not just by words i.e. as part of policy steps but also in actions which is to have a head of government or an establishment present at critical spots where serious deliberations and negotiations are necessary for peace and progress to take place.

And, of course, this column is aware of the desire and decision of the President to deepen discussions with the Niger Delta. But experts and concerned persons from the region have equally underscored the need for the President to consistently and strategically mark his presence within the region to continually assuage the deep agitations of its people.
Evidently, the talks being held by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo in the Niger Delta is, essentially, fulfilling the yearnings of the majority of the people from that region who feel neglected by the central government.

It is therefore quite pleasing to see that the NNPC itself is attributing the recent advancement being made with its mandate to “sustained engagement with stakeholders by the Federal Government and Corporation.”

This indeed comes as a strong validation of my sentiment that, in the case of the Niger Delta, there are no viable alternatives to improved dialogue. No number of bullets and boots can guarantee the peace that is so needed in that region for the sustenance of the nation’s fragile economy.
For our country at this moment, our capacity to mitigate crisis and secure peace through profound deliberations will surely save more money, preserve more lives to support economic growth and boost investors’ confidence.

In fact, all efforts and strategies of soft diplomacy rather than force should be deployed to prevent the return of the days of relentless bombing and destruction by the new militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers, and other violent elements who succeeded considerably in slowing down economic activities in the country.

At the time of those debilitating attacks, the oil production capacity of Nigeria dropped from 2.2 million barrels per day upon which the 2016 budget was premised to 1.6 million putting further strains on the already poor financial standing of the government.
Thankfully, there seems to be an indication of light at the end of this very dark tunnel and the government has been projecting better days ahead. And the NNPC’s statement on the records of these latest achievements is testament enough.

According to the corporation, only 18 cases of vandalised points on downstream pipelines were recorded in December 2016 as against 43 in the previous month. And it’s also reported that there was a 13.4 per cent rise in oil and gas sales in December 2016 over sales in November 2016. Similarly a total export sale of $195.40 million was recorded for crude oil and gas in the month of December as against the sum of $166.18 million recorded in November 2016.

With onward movement, I reckon the reasonable stance should be: if this much has been achieved largely on the strength of deepening discussions and moving physically closer to the critical stakeholders in the Niger Delta, there shouldn’t by any reason to ever consider a tough approach.

At this juncture, I will have to reiterate my previous stance on this effort that regardless of any provocation and recklessness of the militants, the government shouldn’t lose focus of its resolve. Because there are indeed lots the government stands to gain than lose for considering the approach of wider dialogue with the region.