SUDDENLY sentiments are riotous in the Niger Delta: deploy the military and don’t deploy the military; declare a republic and don’t you dare deploy the military; we are the authentic mediator and your are not the authentic mediator. Since the Niger Delta Avengers and a handful other militants groups emerged to ‘make the country ungovernable’ for President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, the region seems to be in more confusion than its militants are causing for Nigeria as a nation and consequently the self inflicted pain in many folds of whatever persons of other ethnic identities would feel from the ongoing insurrection.
It has not always been like this. The Niger Delta was once part of Nigeria without the appellation of this current moniker or the geo-political designation of South-South as the same area of interest was contained in the then Cross River, Rivers, Bendel and the riverine part of Ondo State. The descriptive names, Niger Delta or South-South, have now become magic world that mean spirited frauds exploit shameless knowing that it evokes that sense of persecution among those who have not taken the pains to understand what the issues are.
The present agitation, if the criminality of militancy can be so qualified, is anchored on the failure of the past governments to develop the area from the humongous oil resources that have been exploited from our land for decades now even with the attendant degradation that means our way of life has lost, irretrievably for some communities that fishing and farming are no longer possible.
However, while we have every right to agitate for greater control of our natural resources we must for a start seek understanding of how we got to where we are and on the strength of that better articulate where we want to go. The agitations as currently shaped, whether it is for resource control, greater regional autonomy, fiscal federalism or most of all the sick notion of breaking up Nigeria are all solutions that will turn out to be worse than the problem if the processes are not deliberate. We could find ourselves being worse off than South Sudan whose people suddenly came to the painful realisation that they were their own worst enemies as opposed to being victims of the old Sudan before an ill advised partitioning.
As an indication, those of us currently lamenting the neglect of our areas by the government and oil multinationals often omit the fact that there were monies allocated from these two stakeholders for several decades now and that a key problem was the self declared contemporary chiefs who abused their influence as the interface for their people to demand that developmental projects be monetized so that they can share the proceeds with equally dubious collaborators in government or the companies not minding that what came to them were mere fractions of the funds that would have developed their communities. When youths started becoming restive, these same leaders were the ones that went into negotiations on behalf of the communities only to further mortgage the future of the region.
More recently, the militant agitation that gave rise to the amnesty programme under late President Umaru Yar’Adua marked a sharp bend from which we can only pray to be able to make a return. While the chiefs and other self styled leaders were able to make some cut for themselves from that negotiation, the militants came away as the largest bounty winners from what to me has turned out to be the greatest misadventure yet of the Niger Delta. It is also the greatest travesty of our modern time as the militants who got cash handouts under what basically became a ‘money for peace scheme’ simply spent a portion of the funds in acquiring more sophisticated arms. This effectively created a new class of ‘militant generals’ that now rank above the chiefs, who are still content with picking up the crumbs that would come from any negotiations that violence can secure. Somewhere in between the two classes are those that have been in government whether at state or federal level, who also have the benefit of diverting funds that should have executed life changing projects for our people or they simply could not be bothered to do anything.
This unholy arrangement is what has created the situation where the rich-poor divided yawns widest in the South-South with two of the states being the epicentre of that chasm. It is a normal sight to have a ‘general’s’ mansion overlooking the most depressing slum the mind can conceive or the fact that so destitute are the poor that they can no longer even form the thought train to question why the chiefs, militant generals or their people in government can have all the fancy boats and send their children abroad when they can barely feed once a day.
If the current agitation where to yield the demands being pursued, under the current configuration the resulting scenario, even if peaceful, would no longer be that of rich-poor Niger Deltans but that of an owner-slave relationship. What has turned out to be the region’s ruling class will not do anything to improve on the quality of life for the larger populace since it was never their intention and they definitely would not want the poor to be emancipated to the point where they will begin demanding accountability. Our South Sudan will come upon us when after getting out of Nigeria they begin to turn the component ethnic nationals of the Niger Delta against each other so that they can keep the population busy fighting needless battles.
We must therefore be realistic enough to accept that some people have misled us and that militancy remains a self inflicted malady. If the militancy is not halted it will continue to drag the region backwards.
We must also purge ourselves of the toxins our brothers in the South-East are feeding us. The Biafra they are asking us to be a part of remains a setback for the Igbos so why should we be invited to be part of a suicide mission. The civil war is almost five decades in the past and they continue to teach the hatred to kids that are not even 20 years old. The saying that anger is like acid that burns the container in which it is kept is glaring in their case as they cannot even see the ridiculousness of their situation. Come on. These people paid a man traveling with Nigerian passport for Biafran passport in Nigerian naira into Nigerian commercial banks and that happened only because bitterness has clouded reasoning. They do not even get to realise or accept that the people egging them on have their investments nicely tucked away in Abuja, Lagos and other world capitals.
What our Niger Delta militants are doing is a war against our own people. They threaten the future of our children and this should not be allowed to continue. There has to be an end to developing the pockets of a very few oil criminals. Allowing acts that are detrimental to the overall wellbeing of ethnic nationalities, diverse interest groups and a people with an age long tradition is in the first place the worst form of injustice a people can perpetuate against themselves. We must all come together to put an end to the growing spate of misguided agitations by criminal elements out to misinform the people of the region. Let us say enough is enough and give peace a chance to flourish while we attract the needed development to our region without becoming slaves to a new master class.
*King, an environmentalist contributed this piece from Delta State.