Like the roof that receives heat from the fire in-house, and the sun above, the Nigerian economy is pummelled internally by renewed sabotage of oil and gas facilities by Niger Delta militants, and externally by a tumbling demand for, and tanking of the price of, crude oil in the world commodities market.
In response to the sabotage, President Muhammadu Buhari directed the Chief of Naval Staff to reorganise and strengthen the military Joint Task Force. He however hints that the Amnesty Programme initiative of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua will extend to 2017.
The President’s assurance coincided with the May 2016 blowing up of the Escravos-Lagos Gas Pipeline that feeds gas to Egbin Thermal Power Plant that supplies electricity to Lagos, the hub of Nigeria’s economy. The Escravos-Warri-Abuja-Lagos Gas Pipeline, and as well as Warri-Kaduna crude oil pipeline, had been blown up earlier. The Niger Delta Avengers that started out in February 2016 took credit for the blow-up.
Their name reminds you of the “The Avengers,” made up of Iron Man, Captain America, Ms. Marvel, Nova, Spider-Man, Thor, Wasp, all fictional superheroes that fought foes that no single superhero can withstand. The team, with the battle cry, “Avengers Assemble!” featured humans, mutants, robots, aliens, supernatural beings, even former villains, in “Marvel,” a children’s comic strip magazine created by cartoonist “Uncle” Stan Lee.
Like the NDA, The Avengers are masked or costumed crime fighters and adventurers. But while these superheroes counter crime, and combat threats against humanity from super villains, the NDA blows up oil and gas installations, to gain the attention of the Nigerian state.
The NDA, whose members boast that they are young, educated, well-travelled, better armed, and more civilised than past militants, is driven by the need to settle economic and environmental grievances on behalf of the Niger Delta region. Their modus operandi is to work in teams, and carry small arms and explosives, to sabotage oil and gas pipelines and facilities.
They take advantage of their intimate knowledge of the Niger Delta’s complex, creek-filled terrain, to stay steps ahead of the Nigerian military, and its JTF vehicle, that is engaged to dislodge them. Their activities have plunged Nigeria’s crude oil production from 2.2 to 1.6 million barrels per day. Their success has encouraged the Red Egbesu Water Lions, and others to join the fray.
While some argue that the Amnesty Programme failed to address broader concerns about development and political inclusion, it has improved the lives of some low-level militants, and helped former fugitives to return to civilian life. Though the training, including tertiary education, offered to the militants has largely failed to lead to jobs, some rehabilitated militants have started small scale businesses.
Yet others, like some leaders of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, reportedly got juicy government contracts. Those who lost out in the big budget pay offs are unhappy with President Muhammadu Buhari, whose war against corruption has disrupted traditional patronages and caused the drying up of “settlements” paid to lesser militant operatives.
This suggests that the resurgence of militancy may not be altogether altruistic, but a settling of personal or even political scores. For Akin Iwalade, a research student at Oxford University, “Many of these guys… got into the amnesty, but they didn’t get half of what they expected.” Iwalade suggests that President Buhari must engage the NDA and other such groups in a serious dialogue.
Some say the government should throw the legal books at the militants because the violence they do against crude oil and gas facilities is economic sabotage. Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, thinks that a government cannot sit idly by and allow renegades, under any form of guise, threaten the livelihood and peace of other citizens.
The impatient ones think that the people of the Niger Delta should stay out of violent agitations, and seek ways of making a living, away from Federal Government doles. They allege that workers in some Niger Delta states do not pay personal income tax. This means there is little or no Internally Generated Revenue to fund local development plans. This is against Nigeria’s laws.
The argument that the region is largely rural, and has a small population of viable taxable individuals (apart from civil servants) and companies is not good enough. However, this deficiency of tax paying economic entities should challenge Niger Delta governors to dedicate their additional 13 per cent of crude oil revenue to improve infrastructure to grow the region’s economy, and increase IGR.
In “Oil, Politics And Violence,” author Max Siollun suggests that “(Nigeria’s) Federal Military Government (monopolised) the oil industry… located either entirely within the former Eastern Region of Biafra which it conquered during the civil war, or in other areas close to Nigeria’s southern coast.”
He adds: “The massive funds generated by the oil boom encouraged the Federal Military Government to embark upon a series of unprecedented and grandiose development projects to rapidly modernise Nigeria.” Former military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, whose government couldn’t manage the new found wealth, is reported to have observed that Nigeria’s problem was not the lack of money, but how to spend it.
In “Taking Nigeria Seriously,” author, poet, and wannabe politician, Odia Ofeimun, states that the departing British colonialists “rigged up Nigeria’s political geography to make sure that the minds of the polity would be on the (British) side after independence.” He adds, ruefully perhaps, that “Oil, and (the) denial of its benefits to the Niger Delta people, was (sic) what goaded Adaka Boro and his kinsmen to secede from Nigeria,” and engage in an ephemeral 12-day war against the Nigerian state.
Ofeimun notes that when a former attorney general of the federation encouraged governors of the Niger Delta region to press for the control of their oil resource in court, they demurred: They came up with the jejune argument that they would not like to embarrass a Federal Government whose head (Olusegun Obasanjo) belonged to the same Peoples Democratic Party as themselves.
There is no doubt that the violent activities, and hard line resolve, of the NDA have now compelled the Federal Government to accept dialogue with representatives of the Niger Delta region. The Niger Delta – and the Nigerian state – should seize this opportunity with both hands.
But if the underwhelming demands presented by the monarchs of the Niger Delta to the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, are no more than mere recovery of the Golden Sword of Gbaramatu Kingdom, return of three traditional council speedboats, release of schoolchildren arrested by the army at Oporoza, and a Maritime University at Okerekoko, the NDA’s efforts would have been for nought.
Whatever happened to demands for restructuring, fiscal federalism, 60 per cent of oil revenue and Niger Delta clean up? Everyone thought these were the issues. The success of the demand for a Federal Government delegation to negotiate cessation of hostilities will depend on the resolve of the militants to end violent agitations.
If the time of octogenarian Prof Wole Soyinka will be spent discussing issues that the army, police and government’s administrative officers can resolve, it will look like the people of the Niger Delta are applying a complex Rube Goldberg machine to solve a simple task.