The move by President Muhammadu Buhari to dialogue with leaders of the Niger Delta Region as part of measures to address the lingering Niger Delta question is facing fresh hiccups, writes John Oghojafor, South South Bureau Chief.
While it is difficult to ascertain whether the Federal Government is really serious with its expressed goal of achieving peace in the restless Niger Delta region or it is merely buying time and avoiding dialogue with the militants who have visited mayhem on oil pipelines and facilities since January 14, 2016, the fact is that the crisis is one that the nation cannot just wish away.
President Buhari, right from the word go, had not hidden his disdain for the Niger Delta militants and had vowed to crush them as he is doing currently with the North East-based terrorist group, the Boko Haram. Along this line, hHe had deployed military personnel and hardware in the troubled creeks of the region a few months ago in what has been tagged as “Operation Crocodile Smile”, which according to the leadership of the army, is just a training exercise for its personnel.
It would be recalled that militancy activities resurfaced in the Niger Delta around January 14, this year when a new militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) blew up gas pipelines in several locations in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State wrecking maximum havoc on gas supplies to power generating stations in some parts of the country. From January till September end, The New Diplomat can confirm that there have been a total of 42 such attacks on oil installations in the Niger Delta. Consequently, oil production has been plummeted by more than 50 percent from its pre-January 2016 output of 2.4 million barrel per day. The telling effect on the nation’s economy has been devastating even as the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Mr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu recently attributed the current economic recession to the militants activities in the Niger Delta.
To arrest the wanton destruction of oil installations which remain the economic nerve of the country, two possible options are open to Mr. President: one is pure military option which in effect, means smoking out the militants from their hideouts in the creeks and mount security around the facilities or to restore peace through dialogue and negotiation. President Buhari had chosen the former, but from the look of things, it has not succeeded in routing the boys nor protected the oil installations from being blown up. In fact, the casualty on the side of the “Operation Crocodile Smile”, is on the rise as a section of the militants casually described the exercise as “Operation Crocodile Tears”. This apart, there is also evidence of large-scale collateral damage on the environment on a scale which experts believe may be comparable to the Ogoniland oil spill proportion.
If the military option has failed to restore peace in the Niger Delta perhaps, dialogue and negotiation might just be the only option left, after all, the Yar’Adua/Jonathan administration adopted it and it did work. Perhaps, it is this line of reasoning that may have convinced Mr. President to reluctantly accede to the option of dialogue and negotiation. The current Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Mr. Kachikwu kick-started what some described as shuttle diplomacy to reach out to the militants and talk them into accepting dialogue but he could not go far enough because of what looked like an obstacle by some of his colleagues, namely the Minister of Transport, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, who though is believed to have the ear of Mr. President, but certainly not on the same page with Kachikwu. To, Kachikwu, inviting the militants for dialogue is not only tantamount to cowardice but also, over-pampering of criminality. It is still not clear if Kachikwu’s disagreement with Amaechi was what caused him his position as the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the NNPC, but all the same, having been relieved of that position, Kachikwu who remains a junior minister for petroleum has not given up his conviction that only dialogue could resolve the Niger Delta crisis to a win-win situation.
Clark’s Latest Moves
On Friday August 19, 2016 a former Federal Commissioner of Information and Leader of the Ijaw nation, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, initiated another attempt at restoring peace in the Niger Delta through dialogue option. He convened a one-day consultative stakeholders’ meeting of traditional rulers, elders and leaders of the Niger Delta Coastal States which held at the PTI Conference Centre, Effurun in Delta State, ostensibly to find a way of dousing the tension in the creeks. The meeting which attracted representatives from across the Niger Delta States, was also attended by the Delta State governor, Mr. Ifeanyi Okowa who delivered a keynote address on the occasion appealing to the militants to give peace a chance.
In a five paragraph communiqué released at the end of the meeting, it was agreed that a committee comprising of selected representatives from all the coastal states in the Niger Delta be constituted to interface between government and the militant groups to seek for a dialogue timetable. Few hours after the meeting, the Niger Delta Avengers unilaterally declared a 60 days ceasefire, accepting the proposal of the Leaders and Elders from the Coastal states to interface with the federal government on their behalf. Barely one week after the PTI Conference meeting, the Nigerian military deployed troops in the Niger Delta signaling the commencement of “Operation Crocodile Smile”, an operation which the army explained was a training exercise. They have since remained in the Niger Delta with more troops and military hardware arriving every other day. Does this development signify lack of interest on the part of the government for dialogue? A key participant in the E.K. Clark’s meeting and chairman of the communiqué drafting committee, Prof. G.G. Darah, retorted thus: “So, in the language of war, they would say that is a part of negotiation because in a war situation, each side, even when they are talking, are still showing their capacity. So, I don’t think the Federal Government is averse to dialogue.”
In what appeared to be a favourable disposition towards the peace initiative, one week after the meeting at the PTI Conference Centre, Effurun, the Minister of State for Petroleum followed up with another interactive session with leaders, monarchs and elders of the Niger Delta at Kiagbodo where he created the impression he was acting on behalf of President Buhari. The New Diplomat gathered that at the meeting, the minister pledged to meet the President along with Governor Okowa to facilitate a timetable for dialogue. But there were signs that the E.K. Clark’s group might be doomed as it began to receive knocks from different directions. First was the Itsekiri-based Warri Study Group (WSG) which strongly criticized the Clark’s group, warning the Federal Government to be wary of they called “Ijaw leaders and sponsors of militant groups”, adding that the Clark’s group is laced with a hidden Ijaw agenda much different from the Niger Delta’s. And when it was thought that a meeting between the Clark’s group with the federal government had been arranged for September 26-27, has been perfected, the latter suddenly postponed it for an undisclosed reason.
As if just woken up to the realization that the Niger Delta was on fire, the Minister for Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, on that Friday night that Clark’s meeting with the federal government was postponed, suddenly emerged from the blues with his own version of a conference for the resolution of the Niger Delta crisis. The New Diplomat gathered that some important guests invited to the proposed Monday-Tuesday Clark’s parley with the government pushed their way to Amaechi’s conference which eventually held on Wednesday September 28.
As expected, Chief. Clark did not hesitate to warn the Federal Government of what he called the antics of the Transport. “Amaechi is one of the problems of the Niger Delta who is seeing himself as next to the President,” Clark said. According to him, the Niger Delta people were prepared to work with President Buhari, but he must not listen to Amaechi and his ilk who he alleged are in the habit of hiding the truth from the President about the Niger Delta. Also expressing their rejection of the Federal government cum Amaechi summit, The pan-Niger Delta Coastal States Stakeholders Consultative Forum, led by Chief Edwin Clark vowed not to attend the event and they did not. They made their position known on the occasion of the visit of a three-man delegation from the U.S. who were on a fact-finding mission to the Niger Delta. The delegation met with the Clark’s group at Effurun in Delta State, during which they called on the US government to prevail on President Buhari to keep to the agreement to dialogue with the militants.
Former Minister of Police Affairs, Chief Broderick Bozimo, who represented Chief Clark at the closed door meeting, noted that the issue of the Niger Delta cannot be resolved by summit, instead the Federal Government should revisit the agreement to dialogue with the militant groups.
However, in spite of the opposition by the Pan Niger Delta Coastal States Stakeholders Consultative Forum, Amaechi went ahead with the two day summit which held on September 27 and 28. Speaking with The New Diplomat on phone, a former Urhobo National Youth Leader, Alh. Mumaka Unagha who attended the Amaechi summit, noted that the Minister of Transport was best suited as a Niger Delta Leader to convene any meeting for the purpose of resolving the Niger Delta crisis.
While the rivalry between Amaechi and Clark rages, the Senator representing Delta Central in the National Assembly, Senator Obarisi Ovie Omo-Agege on October 3 convened a stakeholders’ meeting in Ughelli, Delta State, where emphasised that although there are many agitations in the Niger Delta, his mandate was to protect the interest of the Urhobo people whom he is representing in the Senate as a first priority.
Senator Omo-Agege stated that the Urhobo do not need any other channel than himself to forward their request to the President, stressing that he was elected for that purpose.
“I believe in legitimate grievances that could be channeled through proper communication with the federal government. By proper communication, I mean the elected representative of the people. The Urhobo people do not need any other person to go and tell Mr. President what we want. I’m their mouth-piece, I have a one on one relationship with Mr. President. I don’t need anybody and that is why we called this meeting,” he said.
N/Delta: A Divided House in Making…
As it stands now, the Niger Delta is a divided house and nobody seems to be benefiting from the confusion that is prevailing from the leadership tussle. Neither Amaechi nor E.K. Clark nor indeed any one individual can claim to be a leader that would represent the entire Niger Delta before Mr. President. If there must be dialogue to find a lasting solution to the problem of the area, such dialogue must be all-inclusive and that is the only way peace can be restored.
Some of the Actors…
E.K. Clark – Former Federal Commissioner, ex-Senator and Leader of Izon
Rotimi Amaechi – Former Governor of Rivers State & Minister of Transport
Ibe Kachikwu – ex-bigwig of Mobil, Publisher & Minster of State(Petroleum)
Broderick Bozimo – Former Minister of Police Affairs under Obasanjo
Ovie Omo-Agege_– Senator Representing Delta Central in the Senate
Ifeanyi Okowa – Executive Governor of Delta State & former Senator
Timi Alaibe – Former Managing Director of NDDC/pioneer Special Adviser to Yar’Adua on Amnesty/Niger Delta
G.G. Darah – Eminent radical Scholar, Journalist Member of the 2014 Confab
Ikponmwen Idada – One-time Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army & retired Genera.