Several years since the Amnesty Programme unveiled by President Umaru Yar’adua administration brought relative peace to the Niger Delta region, restiveness and destructive militancy have returned through the activities of a new group that calls itself Niger Delta Avengers.
In recent times the group has blown up vital oil and gas installations, leading to sharp drops in both crude oil export and gas supply to power stations.
Its activities have reduced Nigeria’s oil production to 1.6 million barrels per day from 2.2 million barrels. Reduced gas supply to the thermal stations has also caused blackouts all across the country.
Government responded to the Avengers’ criminality by ordering the military to crush the group. Suspected leaders and sponsors of the group have been arrested and detained. Government has a duty to contain any act of lawlessness and threat to national interests which the activities of Niger Delta Avengers constitute.
It is noteworthy that the Avengers do not enjoy any community support. Community leaders in the Niger Delta region have roundly condemned the group’s activities. Among those who have raised their voices were several ex-militant leaders, notably Chief Tompolo who incidentally is having issues with the law as a Lagos High Court had issued a bench warrant for his arrest. Others include Chief Tom Ateke and recently Gbomo Jomo, spokesman of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta [MEND].
The Avengers’ renewed agitation and insurrectionary attacks on vital oil and gas infrastructure baffles most Nigerians because over the years, much political attention has been given to the problem of the Niger Delta and there has been substantial flow of resources into the region.
Beyond the statutory allocations to the region’s state and local governments, other resources flow in through the Niger Delta Ministry, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the Federation Account’s 15% derivation fund as well as sundry interventions by oil companies and multilateral development agencies.
The truth however is that these interventions and resource inflows have failed to change the picture of the region for good. Abject poverty and environmental degradation is still the lot of the region’s people.
This does not in any way justify a return to militancy but it does invite government to reassess the methods and agencies responsible for channelling resources into the region.
They have also been a series of sporadic protests by ex militants who have cried out over their exclusion from the largesse by the administrators of the remediation packages. Even MEND in its condemnation of the Avengers cited the incontinence of the present remedial measures especially the Amnesty Programme Office, which it accused of corruption.
The foregoing points to the need for a new approach to the Niger Delta issue if the region and the country shall enjoy lasting peace. Such an approach should provide for a more sustainable protocol for managing the expectations of the region vis a vis the exploitation of the vital resources there.
Some observers have already likened Niger Delta Avengers to Boko Haram. In some respects that is true but in other respects, Niger Delta agitation can at least be tackled in a rational manner.
For instance, the Avengers are demanding that the 2014 National Conference’s recommendations as pertains to the region should be revisited. One of them is the increase of the derivation fund from 13% to 17%. Another recommendation calls for the setting up of a special intervention fund for the region.
Other parts of the country may not be happy with some of these recommendations and may not view the Conference that made them unfavourably, but the government can still discuss these matters in the National Assembly and other councils. A good starting point is to provide effective coordination for all the ongoing remediation efforts in the region. Niger Delta Avengers should end their violent campaign while a peaceful solution is found to these issues.
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