The Niger Delta Avengers has shown its willingness to dialogue with the federal government and has appointed Chief Edwin Clark to leads its negotiation team.
While this display of ceasefire is a welcome relief for the region and the whole country, the carnage done by the militants has left more troubling questions than answers and one wonders whether any solution is possible in the nearest future.
The Avengers are not the first or only militant group in the region but their atrocities caught the eye of the federal government and Nigerians due to their method of operation.
The group employed a detailed sophisticated mode of operation which without doubt made it unique. It ran a functioning website that detailed plans of and later execution of its vandalism.
It also marked pipelines and gave precise location of oil and gas pipelines that have been destroyed which set it apart from other groups.
It set precedence in vandalism which was a testimony to its access to fund and sophisticated weapons.
The group claimed to avenge the wrongs the federal government had committed against the Niger Delta region and while a negotiation seem to be in place, here are some critical questions the militant’s and their supporters need to ponder upon.
1. What do we do about other mushroom militant groups? The activities of the Avengers and the support they have received from some people from the south east and south south has influenced the establishment of other mushroom militant group who have assumed similar names and led by self-styled generals.
These groups in other to show how important they are to the Niger Delta discourse have also carried out vandalism of oil and gas pipelines.
Following the declaration of ceasefire by the Avengers, different militant groups refused the planned negotiation and bombed pipelines as a way of making the government to take them serious. I
t is clear now that the number of militant groups has quadrupled and the government has to contend with the growing criminality in the Niger Delta region. Each group hopes the government would grant amnesty and like MEND, offer them financial settlement so they can be the next Asari Dokubo.
2. How do we tackle the growing criminality? The rise in militancy has spelt doom for the Niger Delta region and the danger lies in the flow of weapons and ammunitions that have found their way into the region.
Sponsors of militancy who provide weapons and explosives have put the region at risk because when militancy ends, these same weapons will be deployed for criminal use.
It is no coincidence that kidnapping has risen in the region while gun crimes are also expected to rise.
The United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa in its latest report revealed that there was a rise in the circulation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) in Nigeria especially in the north east and south south.
The Boko Haram insurgents are using these weapons to pursue their terrorism while in the south south, militancy has grown.
Without mincing words, Boko Haram and militants have turned their regions into hubs of weapon distribution that will later haunt them.
Part of the UN report reads:
“As alarming as these figures seem, it is very clear that if left unchecked, this scourge will not only jeopardise the developmental gains achieved over the last 50 years, but will also impede the nation’s capacity to achieve its developmental targets and therefore, negatively impact on the future generations”.
Do Avengers and their supporters have solution to this impending problem?
3. How do we invite investors? One of the demands of militants is that headquarters of oil companies be moved to their region.
According to them, this will provide employment opportunities for people in the region. While this is true, it is important to ask why Asari Dokubo who received amnesty fund from the federal government used the same money to build a university in Benin republic and not in the region he claimed he was fighting on its behalf for.
Nigeria did not instruct or compel oil companies to set their headquarters in Lagos or Abuja but these private companies chose these locations due to the ease of doing business and security.
It is not uncommon to hear of kidnapping of oil workers for ransom in the Niger Delta region so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the executives of these companies refer Lagos that is not only good for business but has a track record of safety.
A few weeks ago, the United States warned its citizens who might want to visit Nigeria to be wary of 20 states. While Boko Haram ravaged states were part of the list, the rest belongs to the Niger Delta region due to the activities of militants.
Militant groups have destroyed oil production infrastructure in Bayelsa and Delta states.
U.S citizens are advised to avoid the areas of these states where these incidents have occurred.
Also, investors consult Ease of Doing Business reports to know safe regions where they can invest that will also translate to employment for people in the region.
It is no surprise then that the south west which has a relatively low occurrence of organized crime has been the choice of investors.
Do the Avengers have plans to change this stain that has defaced the region?
4. Do militants have a cure for cancer? A medical report has predicted that by 2025, cases of cancer in the Niger Delta region will rise due to the activities of militants that have led to oil and gas spills that are harmful to humans.
This study was carried out by Norway and the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Science Centre in Seattle and was funded by the Research Council of Norway, the VISTA Foundation, and Norway’s Institute of Marine Research.
The exposure to oil and gas spill already spells health danger to Niger Delta people and one wonders if militants are aware or just chose to ignore the looming danger.
The question now is not whether the region will be plagued by danger but how will the danger and effect be minimised. For many who are daily exposed to the effect of oil and gas spills, do militants have a health plan ready for them?
5. What is the future of fishing and farming? Oil spill has been a problem in Nigeria due to oil exploration and related activities. However, sabotaging of pipelines has contributed a great deal in recent times.
Fishing and farming which are the notable occupations of people in the region especially in the rural areas has suffered badly.
The pollution has not only affected agricultural produce but has contributed to the reduction of aquatic life. A few months ago, Timi Oluba who is a youth leader in Makaraba oilfield, Gbaramatu Kingdom in the Warri area of Delta begged the militants to stop bombing pipelines as innocent people were greatly affected by it.
“The attacks on pipelines and oil facilities by militants have brought pain and hardship to the people of Gbaramatu and that is why we are appealing to them to allow peace to reign because our people are suffering”
The Federal Government and its assets may be the target of the militants but honestly our people are the main victims”
Most of the people living within the affected communities have been subjected to hunger and can longer feed themselves.
It is true that oil production may have reduced and is telling on the country’s economy, but a careful assessment also indicates that the attacks have destroyed the little economic activities in Gbaramatu Kingdom and this is making life unbearable for the people of the kingdom. This must not continue.
6. Why haven’t you held your leaders accountable? The annoyance of militants has been directed towards the federal government who it accused of neglecting the region.
However, reports revealed that more than N700 billion has been spent in the Niger Delta ministry and the Niger Delta Development Commission with just a single project executed.
Meanwhile, the ministry and commission were established and are controlled by people from Niger Delta to bring development to the region.
Similarly, host communities receive fund from oil companies and most times, these fund end up in private accounts and the region is left to rot. The development in Lagos that has been the envy and reference point of agitating militants is due to good leadership and not biased support from the federal government as militants insinuate.
Are militants ready to boldly hold their leaders who have impoverished them accountable? As the federal government and militants inch closer towards a ceasefire, there are more questions and answers as while some damages have already been done with dire consequences, some mistakes await to be repeated.