By Editorial Board
As steps are being taken to end the vandalism of petroleum infrastructure in the Niger Delta, no stone should be left unturned to ensuring that the situation does not arise again. Sadly, negotiations are being hampered by diverse interest groups instead of the presentation of a common front that can be trusted to cover all interests.
The need for the groups to work together has become very imperative because, everyday discussions are delayed; a lot of things go wrong. Apart from the avoidable impact on the environment, the region remains a war zone with the attendant killing of our youths, some innocent and the desecration of nearly everything that is sacred.
It is sad that after the introduction of amnesty for repentant militants and the surrender of arms, militancy will surface again. It is even more so, that the region has shown to the whole world how disunited the Niger Delta is with the emergence of nearly six militant groups attacking oil installations and threatening the Federal Government and discrediting themselves.
Instead of correcting the errors and presenting a common front, some of the groups would threaten to boycott negotiations if another group was spoken to. This is most condemnable. It suggests that such persons fight not for the Niger Delta but for themselves. The region cannot afford to have criminals speak for her because they will be pursuing their selfish interests instead of the ancient landmarks.
When the Niger Delta Avengers started the current struggle, the average Niger Delta person could not condemn them because of among others, the failure of the Federal Government to keep faith with the Amnesty Programme. The agreement to stop the fight then was in three phases, none was done properly till date. But that silent support is dropping because of the division among the agitators.
Even if the Niger Delta has not been organised enough to produce credible leadership for the region, it cannot afford to lack the voice that can reasonably, peacefully, intelligently put across the true yearnings of the oppressed people of the Niger Delta. That voice cannot be from a senile mind, nor attraction of one with a past glory, nor that of the ignorance of a crass and uncooked militant. But they all have their places.
The Niger Delta needs the voices of those who need no contract from government nor lecture from anyone to tell the Niger Delta story. The region needs voices that can calm and unite the people, especially to prepare them to enjoy the eventual gains of the agitation. We need the mature, educated and responsible voices that can accommodate the concerns of the various groups.
Gbaramatu Voice prays that the traditional rulers, the youth leaders and religious heads will come together and impress it on the various militant groups to present a common front immediately. The group should also suggest some areas of concerns that should be addressed and prepare the people for the outcome.
We insist on only one dialoguing team, we insist on a fair representation of the States, demographic spread, faiths and professional groups with a chairman that is elected by the leadership of the region or at least endorsed by the natural rulers of the Niger Delta.
By now, it should be clear to everyone that the region is not going to negotiate for another amnesty programme. The first one failed for a number of reasons. After the ones that accepted the earlier amnesty nothing was done about the ones that did not surrender, nor was anything done for those who did not carry arms.
Even as there are success stories of the amnesty programme in some areas, some ex-militants were abandoned overseas, where they went to study. The ones that finished their studies came back to no jobs or start-up packages to start a new life, while the post amnesty projects never took-off.
As Nigeria deals with this problem again, it must be thorough and sincere. The bitter truth must be heard and dealt with because no longer should the youth be pushed to take up arms again; it serves no good purpose. The demands this time should not be palliatives, patronages or stop-gap measures. It must be conclusive.
The negotiation would be considered a failure if the Land Use decree is not scrapped, if the Petroleum Act is not abolished and if true federalism is not activated. The dialogue will be deemed a waste if the government is allowed to ask for 10 years to do the things it should have done 30 years ago.
But the most important thing now is if for Niger Delta to be responsible enough to present a common front, appoint credible people to speak and volunteer intelligence that will make it successful.
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