Understandably, the President Muhammadu Buhari presidency finds it inexplicable and curious that the militant Niger Delta protest group, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), has threatened to resume its suspended attacks on oil installations and facilities in the area, to protest alleged government neglect of the region’s demands.
The presidency’s surprise, as expressed in a press statement by his special adviser on media, Mr Femi Adesina, is that the threat of renewed hostilities by the NDA was made barely 48 hours after President Buhari hosted the leadership of the Niger Delta and the Ijaw National Congress (INC) at the Presidential Villa and gave a listening ear to their grievances.
Mr Adesina noted in particular that the President had responded positively and adequately, especially to the region’s leaders’ advocacy for restructuring of the polity as well as the inauguration of a Board for the Niger Delta Development Commission ( NDDC).
Apparently dissatisfied with the outcome of the meeting between representatives of the region and the President, the NDA declared its readiness to resume bombing of oil facilities in the sensitive economic zone, threatening that “The operation shall be coded ‘Operation Humble’ aimed at bringing down targeted oil installations in the Niger Delta capable of humbling the economy into permanent recession”.
President Buhari’s prompt and mature response to the NDA’s threat is commendable since the country, still reeling from the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on the economy, cannot afford another round of sustained attacks on its critical oil installations. At the height of the militants’ protracted destruction of oil facilities in the Niger Delta in 2016, the country’s crude oil production capacity was pushed down to as low as 1.4 to 1.5 million barrels per day, with devastating consequences for the economy.
One reason for the seeming intransigence of groups like the NDA as well as the sprouting of secessionist agitations in parts of the country is President Buhari’s widely perceived indifference or even outright hostility to the incessant clamour by aggrieved socio-cultural and regional groups for fundamental constitutional changes to devolve greater powers, responsibilities and resources to the sub-national units of government, to enhance their effectiveness, efficiency and productivity. In two major television interviews, the President came across, for instance, as being not positively disposed to such ideas as the creation of state police to enhance the ability of sub-national units of government to protect lives and property within their jurisdiction, or the abolition of open grazing across the country, to prevent destructive and economically debilitating pervasive herdsmen-farmers’ clashes.
Indeed, in his speech at the launch of the Kudirat Abiola Sabon Gari Peace Foundation in Zaria, the President described advocates of restructuring as “naive and dangerously mischievous”, giving the impression that he saw restructuring as a demand for secession in disguise. This kind of rhetoric, coming from the President, only strengthens the hands of extremist and violent secessionist groups, while weakening the hands of more restrained and moderate advocates for constitutional change to deepen the country’s federalism. It is thus to President Buhari’s credit that he told the Niger Delta leaders who visited him that “In addressing your call for immediate restructuring, the National Assembly, whose responsibility it is to ensure that our constitution responds to the call for a restructured Nigeria has already
concluded regional consultations and as soon as they finalise the process, necessary action would not be delayed on my part”.
This is a salutary stance. No less encouraging were the President’s responses on other demands of the Niger Delta leaders such as environmental degradation, creation of at least two new states in the region, as well as accelerated infrastructural development. A particularly sensitive and emotional issue for the people of the region is the need to immediately reconstitute the Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) so that it can more effectively and transparently begin to fulfill its mandate for the development of the area. On this, the President assured that “as soon as the forensic audit is submitted and accepted, the NDDC Board will be inaugurated”. However, the process for doing this should be accelerated as there is no logical reason why a board should not be in place even as the forensic audit goes on. A situation whereby the commission is run by a sole administrator beholden to the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr Godswill Akpabio, is undesirable and cannot inspire public confidence.
On balance, we call on the NDA to take the President for his word, sheathe their sword and give peace a chance. To attack oil installations as they have threatened will not only devastate the national economy, it will also have deleterious consequences for the people and environment of the Niger Delta that they claim to be fighting for. The bottom-line of the agitations and demands in the region is the accelerated development of the region; violence is certainly no way to achieve this. This why we consider the proposed change in the nomenclature of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) for ex-militants in the region to the Niger Delta Stabilization Programme, as hinted by the Interim Administrator of the (PAP), Col. Milland Dikio (read) as immaterial. What is critical and paramount is rapid transformation that positively impacts the lives of the people.