By Fred Brisibe
The Niger Delta Question has never lost its footing anytime in the several years of the struggle by way of changing its course of agitation for equal rights and justice. Each agitator, in his own turn, endeavoured to sustain this primordial question with great verve and gusto. The variegated shades of activist voices, in the past, have all gone in the direction of a consensual drift to attain economic, political and social freedom from an existent internal imperialism. The landmark of consistency is appreciable. In the same spirit, the stream of demands, recorded from the time of Major Jasper Adaka Boro to the present regime of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), rises to high tide with the legitimate agitation for a right to exist with dignity. In fact, records of the fact that the principal object of the Niger Delta people is subsumed under the two alternatives of either to remain in the Nigerian state as an autonomous REGION – Niger Delta Region -with full control of all resources of the land within its domain with payment of an agreed percentage tax to the Central Government, or break up to form a separate sovereign state – Republic of Niger Delta – are safely archived in libraries and other study centres all over the world for those in search of the knowledge. This demand is sacrosanct, and it is the sacred philosophy with which the NDA is guided.
The self-rejuvenating rebellion, which is currently being championed by the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), still carries the breath of life because, despite the age of the struggle and the many occasions of economic and human losses, the Federal Government and the international oil and gas companies have continued to obstinately refuse to lift the petitions away from the desecrated altars of contempt and neglect. The same attitude of disdain, as was in the previous times, is still being carried on the head with so much pride by the present administration towards the Niger Delta question of equity and justice. It has become obvious as a pattern set in place by past leaders to keep the region perpetually in the shackles of internal slavery. This is apparently the fate the militants of the OXYGEN region fight to change.
The militants, who are spuriously nicknamed “economic terrorists” by government authorities to gain sympathy from other regions and countries, are confronting a bad fate tied around their neck by the so-called majority tribes of Nigeria with a view to breaking free. It is incorrect to insinuate that they are motivated by greed or a quest for recognition to venture into this risky expedition. It is a struggle to bring Nigeria to the stark realisation of its imminent collapse resulting from the grave structural defects at the foundation. It is a fight to make respect for indigenous rights as one of the most fundamental ethos in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Avengers are attracting the world to the Niger Delta through the sounds of bombs on pipelines because it is their avowed belief that an opportunity should be created for all Nigerians to participate in the repositioning of this amorphous UNION. There is absolutely nothing so sacrosanct in the present forced marriage called Nigeria. Therefore, it is a blatant insult to the intelligence and sensibilities of any reasonable Nigerian, particularly those bearing the Oxygen chambers of the Union, for anybody to proclaim that this Union, which was foisted on us by some imperialists for their own administrative convenience over a century ago, is non-negotiable.
The messianic Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) has pushed the vision with action to a point of near success, but MEND springs with strange songs that seem to have been composed for the purpose of spoiling a good dance. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has been lying prostrate since 2009 until just recently when the world began to reckon with NDA as a true liberation-organization. The resurrection of MEND is not only sudden but it also comes in a manner that quickly tells of a tendency to obfuscate the main issues and obliterate the efforts of the NDA. The nauseating big-brother posturing would not have provoked suspicion if MEND had acted so with clear intention to reconcile and align itself to the philosophy of self-determination for which it once stood. The MEND body was well-organised with definite operational departments before the Amnesty crumbs crumbled its voice out of existence. The dream died with it without coming to fruition. It made great fame for itself, but apart from the Greek-gift of amnesty, the efforts of MEND brought no significant achievement to the region. It has appeared once again simply to crush it before the seed produces the desired fruit.
MEND conscripted Tompolo into a group of negotiators boldly christened Aaron Team 2. This betrays its purpose as one solely and unnecessarily to expose Tompolo for arrest, humiliation and elimination. There are other former leaders of MEND who are alive, free and members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) that are capable of running such undignified errands. Why seek to distract a man whose thoughts are currently undulating? It is also highly unconvincing to state in defence that Tompolo was added to the list to give credence to the lame claim of superiority, because an appeal for his pardon would have been sufficient.
In the sight of the Niger Delta people, MEND is dead. It returns to life without a soul only when there is a sinister role to play for the enemies of the region. The reincarnated MEND is out on the singular mission of not only getting Tompolo exterminated, but former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan humiliated and the Niger Delta plagued continually with the deleterious effects of environmental pollution and economic strangulation. A sensitive intelligence system should know from the sound of the drum where the procession is marching from. Unfortunately, the Government, to further promote its overt insincerity, is flaunting unflinching dependence on the competence of MEND to resolve the problems confronting the oil economy. This is most unfortunate but expected of a nation where sound advice is treated with despise.
The Federal Government is not prepared to undertake any profound dialogue regarding the issues leading to the hostilities in the area. The Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has made clear how it is opposed to restructuring the country which will lead to the greater good of the masses. The fear of the Northern cabals that they may plunge into bankruptcy should the country is properly delineated was recently represented by President Muhammadu Buhari who considers ownership of oil by the people whose land produces it and restructuring of the country as two devils. This is outright death sentence to the Niger Delta question. It defines unrepentant hatred for the region and an intense and selfish desire to oversee the revenues from the sales of crude oil and gas for many more generations.
It is better to adjust early to the fact that the proposed dialogue is a hoax than building castles in the air. MEND is already playing out its role as consultant/facilitator by urging the Avengers to ceasefire, setting up a negotiation team and giving a template for discussion. A prophet is not needed to decipher the mind of the government and to tell what the end holds. In the end, a list of irrelevant and diversionary demands will be presented to the President and his heads of security agencies before the unsolicited presence of members of the European Union (EU) and US who are already working behind the facade as negotiators instead of mediating. Seeing the war as conquered, Mr. President will consult with MEND and the Hausa/Fulani hegemony to nominate amenable statesmen for appointment as chairman, secretary and members of a “Technical Committee” to review the report on the Niger Delta crisis. After a month, and as usual, the Committee comes with flimsy suggestions. Three items such as immediate commencement of academic activities in the Maritime University at Ekerenkoko, unconditional release of the Okah brothers (to spite Goodluck Jonathan) and a promise to resume work on the East-West Road, will be suggested for immediate action. The government will jump at the opportunity and will gladly accept to announce the approval and implementation without delay. Every reference to Tompolo will be underlined. If any appeal is included for his unconditional pardon, the government spokesman will address the world by giving the caveat that his case will be considered in line with the extant laws of the land and with the principles of the much-hyped fight against corruption. The core question remains unanswered and the circle pauses awhile to start itself again. Indeed, it would remain a vicious circle for as long as the symptoms of a deep-rooted illness are treated as its causative agents.
This is the sad reality. To avoid this scenario, we must take in our hand our collective destiny as a people. We should be steadfast and stand firm enough to resist the compromised stance of MEND. The people so far nominated are credible in all standards, no doubt, but he who pays the Piper dictates the tune. The delegates can only wait until the coast is clear. The President must indicate seriousness to holistically address the issue of restructuring of the country in line with the principles of fiscal federalism. There has to be on the table a formula to distribute the oil blocs to the oil and gas producing host communities. Honest commitment must be demonstrated by showing the willingness of the international community and countries of the various multinational corporations to mediate and witness respectively.
By all standards, this is the sure way to bringing sustainable peace and guarantee of security for the teeming inhabitants of that region. It is more civilized and a better democratic approach than soliciting the assistance of Saudi Blackwater militants to come and attempt to crush the entire population of the Niger Delta. That would be too callous and primitive to do to your own citizens whose lives and rights you have taken an oath to defend and protect. It would also help to put a final end to the agitation for self-determination. To be able to succeed, the evil counsels of the minute group of sycomphatic party faithfuls from the Niger Delta who are notorious for their passion for falsehood and distortion of truth should not be given honour at the risk to the unity of the country.
Fred Brisibe, Coordinator -Ijaw Human Rights monitors
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