Executive Briefing

After months of disastrous military incursions aimed at suppressing the resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta, the federal government appears determined to end the menace but with a new approach, writes Chineme Okafor.

For the months the Federal Government elected to use military force to quell resurgent crude oil militancy in oil rich Niger Delta, it was relatively fruitless and perhaps a waste of scarce resources.

At that time, pundits had observed that holding up two very distinct and peculiar battlegrounds – oil militants in Niger Delta, and Boko Haram in North Eastern states, was quite unwise. They thus encouraged the government to pursue a different and perhaps more productive path to resolving the Niger Delta militancy.

The recommendation of an ideal tactful approach to the issue of militancy in the region was also based on the country’s reliance on crude oil to survive even though the government had mouthed its decision to diversify the country’s revenue base away from oil.

Founded on the outcome of the experience of the government of late president Umaru Yar’Adua, with oil militancy in the Niger Delta, these experts advocated for a robust civil engagement with stakeholders in the region to first dimension the scale and character of their demands, and then attempt to separate criminality from genuine agitations for fair and equitable development of the Niger Delta.

Literally, the region has gained little from oil mined from its earth. It has instead got as benefit for its oil, hydrocarbon polluted environment which has made other natural acts of living quite difficult, in addition to a prevalent rent distribution system that has bred poverty amongst its everyday people.

While the option of a civil engagement was considered a sensible, modern and largely assured means to end the renewed militancy in the region, the government at that time didn’t feel up to it, and thus continued on its choice of military action in the region.

But for as long as that choice of a military engagement lasted, Nigeria continued to lose heavily in terms of low crude oil production volumes (about 700,000 barrels per day (bpd) were deferred at a point), oil revenue shortfalls and meagre electricity generation, all of which were as a result of repeated production disruptions and assets’ vandalism by the militants.

On his part, the president, Muhammad Buhari, appeared quite made up on what he wanted to do with the military, and subsequently warned that decisive military action was still an option he considered best to deal with militancy in Niger Delta if militants continued with the sabotage.

While speaking at the Passing out Parade of 133 Cadets of 63rd Regular Course of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) in Kaduna, the president said at that time, that while his government could commit to cleaning up the polluted environment of the Niger Delta, it would however not tolerate the actions of the militants.

“However, for avoidance of doubt, let me state that other options are still open, including decisive military action. Today, criminal elements disguise in ethnic regalia to sabotage the country, largely for their selfish and parochial interests.

“I reiterate the call on all Nigerians to give peace a chance and jettison negative tendencies and join government’s efforts aimed at addressing the numerous challenges in the task of building a better Nigeria,” he had said.

Military bullets achieved little or no results

But even with the deployment of military action in the region and the government’s brag of its expected deliveries, the brutal impacts of oil militancy became too severe on the country as the militants who to an extent had acquired some form of bravery, refused to balk down.

From reported amplification of their efforts, the militants further depleted oil production volumes from the region’s oil fields, and Nigeria was averaging 1.6 million barrels per day (mbpd) of oil at a time oil prices were also down below $40/b.

This development subsequently required the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, who had maintained that military action was not the solution to the militancy, to initiate fresh measures built on cooperative civil engagements with stakeholders in the region to try and find lasting solutions to the problems of the Niger Delta and her people.

Speaking at an interactive session with a coalition of civil societies in Lagos which was chaired by Dr. Moses Ilo, founder of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), Kachikwu disclosed for the first time, that government had considered opening a robust dialogue with the militants. He noted that this was based on the conclusion that military action in the region would not guarantee an end to militancy in the region.

“The military barrels cannot stop or solve problem of militancy in the Niger–Delta region. I will have to go back to my brothers, they are our brothers we will go and dialogue with them,” the minister said then.

It was however from this period that the window for civil engagements with the region started, and this perhaps gave the government the audacity to set a zero-militancy target in the region for 2017.

Osinbanjo takes over, oils the engagement machine

The outcomes of Kachikwu’s initial engagements with stakeholders in the region paved the way for momentary cessation of hostilities and gradual growth in oil production. This also pushed Buhari to ask the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, to head a special presidential delegation charged with the task of resolving the crisis in the Niger Delta region.

Representing a sudden change of course in the Niger Delta dilemma, Osinbajo, soon began to revisit oil communities which Kachikwu had visited before across states in the Niger Delta to try and firm up their commitments to the government’s plans for the region which was now going to deemphasise cash rewards for militants and focus on an all-inclusive development for the people of the region.

According to a statement from his office on the visits, it was going to be in “further demonstration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s readiness and determination to comprehensively address the Niger Delta situation.”

Starting with Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers State, Osinbajo began to meet traditional and community leaders, shapers of thoughts, as well as other relevant stakeholders in the region, holding civil conversations on the needs and demands of the region, and from which a comprehensive development plan has been drafted for implementation.

So far that Osinbajo has led high-level delegations of the government to interact with leaders and representatives of the oil-producing communities in continuation of the outreach efforts to find a long lasting closure to the Niger Delta crisis, reports indicate that the region has had various levels of representations at the meetings.

These also include women and youths who are most impacted by the instability in the region. Their observations and feedbacks have as told by the government last week, been included in the overall masterplan for the development of the region which the government would launch soon.

While in Rivers for the follow up meeting, Osinbajo stated that the government was committed to ending the troubles with development in the Niger Delta. He noted that the government shared the feelings of injustice nursed by the people and was determined to right the wrongs of the past.

“The people still deserves a fair deal,” he said, adding that: “The President believes that the people of Niger Delta deserve justice and, for me also, it is a very important point.”

The vice president further explained that: “It is the resource base of the country and in spite of the past leadership failure, the Niger Delta people deserve a fair deal. We are faithful to the promises and the spirit of the presidential engagements with the people of the Niger Delta.”

Now that it is clear that dialogue works better than military bullying, the federal government would be well advised to consider this option in dealing with those agitating for a Biafra Republic.

Quote

Representing a sudden change of course in the Niger Delta dilemma, Osinbajo, soon began to revisit oil communities which Kachikwu had visited before across states in the Niger Delta to try and firm up their commitments to the government’s plans for the region which was now going to deemphasise cash rewards for militants and focus on an all-inclusive development for the people of the region.