Buhari’s indirect talks with Delta militants: Repeat of same past mistakes?

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari’s confirmation that his administration was talking to Niger Delta militants is a welcomed development. However, what is not clear at all is how the president is talking with the militants through multinational oil companies and law-enforcement agencies to find a lasting solution to insecurity in the region.

Speaking at a farewell audience with Mr. Michael Zinner, the outgoing Ambassador of Germany to Nigeria at the State House, President Buhari also said that government is studying the instruments of the Amnesty Programme inherited from the previous administration with a view to carrying out commitments made that were undelivered.

A statement by the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu quoted the President as saying, “We understand their feelings. We are studying the instruments. We have to secure the environment, otherwise, investment will not come. We will do our best for the country.”

As aptly captured by my elder brother Senator Shehu Sani in a post he made on this issue, “Federal Government talks with the militants in the Niger Delta is a step in the right direction to secure an end to the attacks on oil infrastructure in the region; but a deeper and broader talks about the region is what is also needed to address the seeds and the sources of the problem.”

Without doubt, the emphasis in the president’s statement was on “security” or rather “insecurity” in the region,” and he has promised to do his best for the country by securing the area. However, the question is: how did we arrive at the current state of insecurity in the oil areas? Is insecurity now the bigger problem of the region or fallout of the big problem?

ALSO SEE: Buhari’s dialogue with militants and MEND’s curious turnaround on NDA?

Without mincing words, the announced use of the oil companies and security agencies to negotiate or rather “settle” the militants could best be described as another progress in error.

At the appropriate time we will bring it up that the Nigerian military-Army, Navy, Airforce and the Police actually worsened the state of insecurity in the Niger Delta for pecuniary gains.

The president and his people must have read the damming revelation of the billions of dollars the military tricked the former petroleum minister, Diezani Madueke, NNPC and even NIMASA, to release to them to fight militancy and insecurity in the oil Niger Delta when she supervised the nation’s oil sector.

How true was The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in their avowed stance that the use of terms could be all we need to ascertain whether the federal government is sincere or not in addressing the Niger Delta question.

In conflict resolution, the proper use of words and terms could just be all that is needed to calm frayed nerves and if we don’t get it clear, we may just be dancing around the real problem. The living reference is the use of Gaza and West Bank in the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

We may need to ask here: is the federal government “negotiating” or “dialoguing” with militants through the multinational oil companies and security agencies? What then happens to the non-militant people of the oil producing Niger Delta? Someone may think that it doesn’t matter which of the words is applied as on the surface they are inter changeable. Truth be told, in the entire Niger Delta issue, these two words mean two different worlds.

Negotiation is one or more meetings at which attempts are made to reach agreement with “pressure groups” and outright criminal gangs through discussion and compromise which most times aim at appeasement. Dialogue involves formal discussion (s)/exchange of ideas, especially between opposing sides on the way forward in a disagreement which most times are political.

There is a marked distinction between negotiation with criminals and fraudsters who force concessions from Government using the strategy of attacks on oil installations, on the one hand; and dialogue with genuinely concerned citizens and leaders of the region who are committed to meaningfully engage Government on the vexed Niger Delta question. Rather than applying the fast-tracked appeasement strategy which, from experience, would only end up creating pockets of billionaires and more sophisticated warlords and emerging “generals,” the federal government should frontally take on by direct intervention the real issue- correcting the development imbalance of the Niger Delta region for the common good of the people of the area.

At least the former vice president and the Turaki Adamawa, Atiku Abubakar no doubt, has shown he has a firm grasp of the crux of the agitation by the Niger Delta region and that the emergence of militancy in the first instance was to force attention to the real issues of criminal neglect and nonchalance of the federal government (including Jonathan’s government) to the plight of the people that bear the direct brunt of oil exploitation activities in this country.

How apt was Atiku’s posit on his facebook page when he said: “Bring peace and development to the Niger Delta and they will stop blowing up pipelines. Then, we will get gas and then power can be stable, but until then, we will not get it.”

So it’s clear that sometimes solutions to most of the socio-political misgivings of this country are not all about party affiliation or tribal sentiments but about a mindset of a nationalist or rather a broad-minded patriot who can be bold enough to think outside the box and also take tangible steps to produce desired results.

Whether he wants to contest or not, as being insinuated in some quarters, can anybody contravene the truth in the posting? Atiku has successful business investments in the Niger Delta and other parts of Nigeria. So he will not joke with the region because he knows the consequences. And indirectly, Nigeria will be better for such paradigm shift in attitude towards physical development of the Niger Delta region that produces the commodity that pays for almost everything that happens in the socio-economic and even political life of this country.

As said by the International Crisis Group in one of its report on the violence in the Niger Delta, the Federal Government’s bark has always been a lot worse than its bite. Their rhetoric has always been pitched to the outside world to reassure international partners that they are doing something.

Instead of focusing on security, what is stopping the government from embarking on a broad and effective campaign to address the grinding poverty, environmental degradation, and political alienation of those living in the midst of the country’s oil wealth? the situation is bound to deteriorate again in a short period of time.

It was the funding of the security/military operation in the Niger Delta from 2006 -2010 that threw the NNPC into its current cash call obligation mess because it was monies meant for the Joint Ventures cash calls and dividends from the government’s investment in the Nigerian LNG Project. Yet, these same fraudulent top military officers and their middle rank cronies could not even stamp out illegal refineries by local village boys.

Nigeria we hail thee!
Whether anybody wants to hear this or not, negotiation to appease militants is a mere temporary breather, as many more and deadlier opportunistic groups will emerge as soon as the moon goes down. Sincere and comprehensive dialogue and resolution of the Niger Delta question is a sustainable solution for all stakeholders. Let the people see government massively move in with genuine development initiatives and see if the very indigenes of the area would not start defending the interest of government and the oil companies in the area. But as long as all we hear is talk and threats, there will be no peace there o! After all na cooperation dey make rice swell, abi?