NIGERIA – There were mixed reactions, weekend, across states in the South-South to President Muhammadu Buhari’s Independence Day speech threatening to deal with Niger Delta militants.
Some leaders, who spoke to Vanguard, said they completely agree with the President, while others rejected what they termed as provocative comments at a time everybody expected him to be temperate in his utterances. They maintained that the President should personally lead the much talked about dialogue with the stakeholders in the region to agree on the way forward.
President Buhari had said in his Independence Day broadcast that: “A new insurgency has reared its head in the shape of blowing up gas and oil pipelines by groups of Niger Delta militants. This administration will not allow these mindless groups to hold the country to ransom.
President Buhari participates at the 56th Independence Anniversary programme Presidential Change of Guards Parade at the Statehouse on 1st October 2016.
“What sense is there to damage a gas line as a result of which many towns in the country, including their own town or village, is put in darkness as a result? What logic is there in blowing up an export pipeline and, as a result, income to your state and local governments and consequently their ability to provide services to your own people is reduced?
“No group can unlawfully challenge the authority of the Federal Government and succeed. Our administration is fully sympathetic to the plight of the good people of Niger Delta and we are in touch with the state governments and leaderships of the region.
“It is known that the clean-up of Ogoniland has started. Infrastructural projects financed by the Federal Government and post-amnesty programme financing will continue.
“We have, however, continued to dialogue with all groups and leaders of thought in the region to bring lasting peace.”
Force not the solution
But former Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier-General Idada Ikponmwen (retd.), who hails from Edo State, said in his reaction: “All well-meaning people, both Nigerians and foreigners, including Britain and America, have made it clear that the answer to the problem is dialogue.
“The idea of Mr. President threatening to use force or wanting to use force in this matter is an anathema, particularly when the boys have demonstrated their preparedness for dialogue and given their fathers the power to dialogue and negotiate on their behalf.
“This fact is known to the President and his security chiefs, so why is he saying he is ready for dialogue and threatening to attack on the other hand? There is need for him to maintain a clear stand on dialogue and let us proceed on dialogue, which is what everybody is waiting for. No need threatening force because that is not the issue here.”
Fire Brigade approach
On his part, Presiding Bishop of Christian Chapel International, Calabar, Bishop Emmah Isong, said: “Talk about attacking militants by the President is just a self-serving effort, which will lead us nowhere. Right now, we do not even know the number of militant groups that exist. We have lost count of them.
“We do not even know where these groups are and in which state of the Niger Delta they are operating from. The last camp discovered in Ogun, which is far stronger than the Niger Delta Avengers, said they have 98 camps in the creeks. Some of them said they are still about 4,300 men in the creeks. So how do you fish out all these men in the creeks with bombs?
“Is he saying he is going to bomb every creek in the Niger Delta because of militants? Right now, the Avengers are about four splinter groups, so which group is the President going to attack?
“Look, militancy has become employment forum for the unemployed youths. Youths of our nation are hungry and unemployed. Militancy comes from very simple circumstances and if you can address those circumstances such as hunger and idleness, which should be the focus of the government, the problem will be solved and not talk of attacking them.
“Is he saying the farmers should not go to bush again or fishermen should not go to the creeks again because he wants to attack militants? He should think of something better to do, not attack, which is fire brigade approach.”
Return fire for fire
Cross River State political activist, Cletus Obun, however, said: “Militancy in the Niger Delta is an orchestration of the political intolerance by some disgruntled political elements.
“These people have been granted amnesty and a Ministry for Niger Delta Affairs created to assuage the pains of the region, but they have returned to armed struggle and when somebody given an amnesty returns to armed struggle, he is asking for military action, which the President said he was going to undertake.
“These people are just three per cent of the population of the Niger Delta, who now hold the entire population to ransom by destroying oil installations and in such circumstance, what do you want the President to do other than return fire for fire?
“Niger Delta is an Ijaw creation, which has refused to key into efforts of the present government to change the Niger Delta. Look at the clean-up of the Delta by government, which was commended by the United Nations Conference on environment.”
From Delta State, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who represents Delta Central senatorial district in the Senate, disagreed with those berating the President.
He said: “First, I commend Mr. President for the maturity and patience with which he has handled the insurgency in the Niger-Delta. This is obviously as a result of his military upbringing. He knows the consequences of the use of force.
“I want to counsel more patience, while dialogue is encouraged. I want to use this medium to appeal to our brothers to stop these senseless attacks and channel their legitimate grievances through their elected representatives. That is why we are there.”
Buhari not against dialogue
All Progressives Congress, APC, Governorship candidate in Delta State in the last elections, Olorogun O’tega Emehor, concurred with Omo-Agege.
He said: “In the first place, the President was upfront, he identifies with the issues of the Niger Delta and he will continue the dialogue. He is already having talks with leaders and groups in the region. He, however, emphasized that he will not be held to ransom by criminal elements, whose objectives are not that of developing the region.
“I believe, however, that all sincere men of goodwill from the Niger Delta will support the President on this. Let us have peace with no conditions attached. What we already have, including NDDC, Amnesty Programme, and Niger Delta Ministry, should be reinforced to develop the region.
“Individuals should not hold the region back and this is what the the Minister of Transportation, Chief Chibuike Amaechi’s initiative is all about.”
President should not threaten citizens
But Timi Tonye, who represents Patani Constituency in Delta State House of Assembly, disagreed with them, asserting that presidents, anywhere in the world, were assumed to be statesmen, who would not threaten their own people under any guise.
He said: “Protests of any form in a democracy are signs of dislocations. Straighten these dislocations and the protests fizzle out. The most effective means of straightening dislocations in democracies are through constructive engagements, which cannot be too much in a democracy.
“This is what we shall continue to advocate for Mr. President when dealing with either Boko Haram insurgents, Niger Delta agitators or any other such groups that use violence as instruments of drawing attention to their plights.
“It is more effective than issuance of threats. Suffice it to state here, however, that one totally abhors violence as instrument of agitation, no matter the circumstances.”
President, Niger Delta Security Watch Organization of Nigeria, Dickson Bekederemo, posited: “The President by his comments, has demonstrated clearly his insincerity in his quest for dialogue as a means of resolving the age long issues of oil governance.
“At one point, he sought for dialogue and the oil rebels obliged him by constituting a team to dialogue. As soon as the team was constituted, he declared war against them. The Niger-Delta Avengers are simply saying by their action, ‘stop exploration and let us agree on how to live together and on what terms.’
“This is a non-violent approach in the resolution of Niger-Delta issues. A sincere President ought to have constituted his own dialogue team by now.”
Nothing to cheer
The Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, spokesman, Eric Omare, said in his reaction: “There is really nothing significant about President Buhari’s Independence Day speech, with respect to Niger Delta agitators and resolution of the Niger Delta problem.
“Threatening to deal with agitators and at the same time, promising to negotiate or saying that negotiations are ongoing, has become his trademark. Buhari’s position with respect to the Niger Delta can best be described as a study in contradiction and absurdity.
“He lacks a clear cut idea on what to do about the Niger Delta. I do not take whatever he says seriously. In my view, it is becoming more and more obvious that Buhari does not have the will to resolve any of the issues agitating the Niger Delta people and it is unfortunate.”
Threats won’t solve problems
In Rivers State, former President of Ijaw National Congress, INC, Prof Kimse Okoko, told Vanguard: “These (threats) are old clichés that do not help the matter at all. We agree that no section of the country should hold the country to ransom.
“But more importantly, an unjust society will hold itself to ransom. It is better for the government to start implementation of the 2014 National Conference recommendations, if they don’t want any part of the country to hold the government to ransom.
“That is the most peaceful way of resolving the problem of the country. No amount of threat will resolve the problem of the country, so long as there is injustice, oppression, so long as there is inequality. They should learn from what is happening in other parts of the world. So his clichés do not help the matter.
“The way out is implement the 2014 National Conference Recommendations, using the six regions as the federating units. This way, they would have taken care of the major problem causing the apparent turbulence confronting the system.
“It is now clear with 27 states not being able to pay salaries that the state structure certainly cannot hold in the new arrangement as was proposed at the National Conference. There were 18 states that did not want to go along with regions.
“Now, it is clear that this country cannot sustain most of the states that are almost totally dependent on the centre, that is why I said they should use the six regions as federating units.”
Buhari spoke in past, not present tense
Professor Andrew Efemini of Philosophy Department, University of Port Harcourt, said: “Mr.President spoke in the past; we have crossed that level of his statement. My idea is that anybody who uses force in one way or the other is involved in military activities.
“So, if Mr President was talking about vandals, if he militarizes the region, it will create more problems, more violence. We agree that nobody should hold the country to ransom, but that cannot be achieved by mere statements. Only policies will produce what they intend to achieve, policies that address the root cause of the problems.
“The root cause of the problem is that we are not running a federal system. Any party in power in the country at any time that does not understand why there is crisis in the Niger Delta, that it has to do with the nebulous, parasitic political structure that we have, is deceiving itself.
“Mr. President is speaking in past tense. We have passed that level of statement he is making. That statement portends dictatorship. If he is a democrat, he should bring international agencies, United Nations and all that to help him resolve the issues, just like he intends to do with Boko Haram.
“Those of us involved in looking at development issues in the country know that the President is not about to resolve the problem. I can assure him that militarization of the region is not a solution.”
A’Ibom leaders flare up
In Akwa Ibom, prominent leaders and citizens of the state described Buhar’s statement as unfortunate.
Reacting, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, (retd.), insisted that no other option could work, besides dialoguing with the militants and respected leaders from the region, who the agitators have accepted and recognized to speak for the region.
“We have said severally that use of force is not the answer to this problem. Do not just say you will deal with them because it is not that easy. If it is that easy, I mean it could have been done with a snap of the finger. But you know that we cannot do that. It is not possible, it is not practicable.
“It is not about how many guns and aeroplanes that you have. Look at what is happening with the Boko Haram. Let us be very honest, Nigeria is going with a lot of equipment, which Boko Haram does not have.
“They were using aeroplanes, have you heard any aircraft coming from Boko Haram? But they were still coming out here and there.
“If we have conventional war against other countries, we can overrun some of those countries, but here, you are dealing with people in low intensity conflict. So the answer is not to say you will deal with them because if you do that, you get the issue more complicated.”
Nkanga stressed that what the government of the day should do was to try and find out the root causes of the problem, like most Nigerians home and in Diaspora have advised, to ensure a lasting solution to it.
Similarly, Senator Anietie Okon, who could not hide his disappointment over Buhari’s statement, recalled that it was not the first time he had threatened to deal with the Niger Delta militants and urged him to embrace dialogue, if he was sincere in ensuring a lasting solution to pipeline bombings.
“The United Kingdom, US and other nations have told him (President Buahri) that the path to ensuring peace in the region is dialogue, and he is still keeping to his jaundiced approach to issues and still bent on the 95 per cent corridor, where he said that those who gave him 95 per cent votes will benefit more from his government.
“He said that he will deal with Niger Delta militants, good luck to him. He has this mindset that they are people to be conquered. For him to say that he will deal with them is an unfortunate evidence of a relapse into believing that boots can be solution to the issue, where they can trample upon the people and decimate them by mere strength.
“To say he will deal with them is the most unfortunate term to use. Even if he was going to crush them, he should not come out to say that,” he said.
Lack of diplomacy
In his reaction, the member representing Mbo Local Government Area, one of the oil rich areas in Akwa Ibom, Samuel Ufuot said: “The President needs to adopt more diplomatic approach in the Niger Delta issue.
“It cannot be fought with physical weapon. Let him embrace dialogue as late Yar’ Adua did. There must be negotiations. Let him look into some of the reasons the militants are agitating. I remember one of the reasons was a reduction in the budget of the Niger Delta.
“The President increased allocation to the North East zone to rehabilitate the areas devastated by Boko Haram and because of that reduction, some of our people abroad under the Presidential Amnesty Programme were seriously affected.
“When our leaders cried out then, the President did not listen to them. Also, there is the issue of sharing of oil blocs. The southerners do not have oil blocs and all the oil blocs are here. We had the first President from this region and until he left office, he had no single oil bloc. Some of these things are annoying.
“Let him call the leaders from the region, negotiate with them. I do not think using force can solve the problem.”
Focus on issues
National Publicity Secretary, Ijaw National Congress, Mr Victor Borubo, said: “What the Niger Delta need more than anything is peace. When you talk about militants holding the nation to ransom, are you implying that they just woke up one day and decided to hold the nation to ransom?
“If you look at the country carefully, you will find that it is the various governments that have held the nation to ransom and not the people themselves.
“Because the government has created the conditions that made the unwholesome activities possible. If there had been avenues for peaceful dialogue, useful discussion, definitely people are reasonable.
“The militants have made representation on what their demands are, which are not far from the general demands of the people.
“Nobody is saying that anybody should go and blow pipelines because it is our environment that is getting destroyed. Why not look at what the demands are.
“For me, it is easier and more productive for Mr President to focus on the issues.
“The issues festered for many years, the early signs were there. Our past leaders like Dappa Biriye, Isaac Boro drew attention to the issues but were ignored.
“We want the government to succeed. The government should dialogue with the people to move the nation forward. All these threats will not help us. The other time, Mr President said he was going to treat militants like Boko Haram. At another time, he said he was going to hold dialogue, nothing happened.
“We are encouraging the President to regard the nation as his constituency and treat all as his children, I think it will help the nation more.”