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Thursday, August 7, 2008


The Niger Delta region is fast becoming one of the most unsafe places to be on earth today.
Respected Journalist Simon Kolawole wrote a piece which caught my attention on the Thisday Newspaper of 3rd August. The piece is extracted below for you to read and form your own opinion about the whole crisis altogether. Enjoy!

"We’re back to the Niger Delta issue again. If anybody had told me 10 or 20 years ago that the Niger Delta would be such a hot item on the world’s agenda today, I would have accused the person of not only exaggeration but “over-exaggeration” – if the Queen would allow me to do such grammatical damage to the English language. Now we are here. We need to get out. How do we get out? Nobody should be surprised that there is no consensus on this. Many favour military action as the militants continue to strike at oil installations onshore and offshore. Others believe dialogue, or a stakeholders’ summit, is the way out. Some have argued quite passionately that what is happening in the region is nothing but criminality which must be crushed with military precision. A few people have also argued that the militants are fighting a just cause and deserve a listening ear. My own argument, which I have often canvassed in this space, is that something bred the criminality over a period of time and the root issues must be addressed squarely. Except those issues are addressed, the criminality will continue to fester. Unfortunately, because criminality is now so profitable, it will be extremely difficult to clamp down on it. What kind of job can you give to somebody who is already making hundreds of millions of naira from an illegal activity?My argument also suffers on one count: how do you address the “real issues” when bombs are being splashed all around? How do you tackle the problems of, for instance, physical development when construction works are being sabotaged and workers kidnapped for ransom? How do you build roads, bridges, hospitals, schools and water treatment plants under such an atmosphere? How do you even make efficient use of resources when billions are going into payment of ransoms? So, in a way, we are in a dilemma. But I want to insist that name-calling and scapegoating will not bring the kind of peace we seek – except we want to settle for the peace of the graveyard. Having said that, I want to identify with those who argue that the first step to achieving development in the Niger Delta is peace. Peace as in peace. Get the militants to lay down their arms first. There are various factions and tendencies among the militant groups, but we must get the core groups to openly agree to lay down their arms. That is key. When there is an open declaration of ceasefire, this has the potential of alienating the criminal gangs – that’s if you agree with my argument that it is wrong to dismiss all that is happening in the region as “criminality”. Some believe all the militants should be treated as criminals – I strongly differ on this. That attitude will be unhelpful and unfruitful.The opportunistic criminals can only be effectively dealt with by their own people. I’m not saying the military cannot do the job – but local knowledge is certainly a better option. The moment the criminals are alienated by their own people, it makes the job of the state security forces easier. There will be no more hiding place for those who are taking advantage of genuine agitations to foment criminality. So the strategy will be to get the locals to help in tracking down the criminals. I’m not unaware of the fact that the militants themselves are accused of crude oil theft; that is why it is very critical to secure their co-operation in the first instance. It’s a delicate task, but worthwhile. Local knowledge works quite well. In my village, if any crime is committed, we can easily narrow down on the likely perpetrators and smoke them out. If the crime is committed by “outsiders”, the “insiders” can tap into their “network” to fish out the culprits. How then do we secure the co-operation of the locals? This is where Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan has to pull all of his weight. I believe his choice as VP was influenced one way or the other by the role he was expected to play in bringing peace to his “region of origin”. I’m aware he has been working underground on the militants for a peaceful resolution. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, I was told, specifically saddled the VP with the responsibility of coordinating processes and designing a roadmap towards achieving peace and development in the oil region. This passes the “local knowledge” test, at least. The process of resolving the Niger Delta problem should be Niger Delta-driven, with a national consensus – we are all stakeholders in this matter, after all. I’m also aware that Jonathan has held consultations and discussions with virtually all the stakeholders and interest groups in the Niger Delta – including militants, pressure groups, elder statesmen, youth leaders, community leaders, opinion leaders, representatives of oil firms – in trying to accommodate them. He has met with various ethnic nationalities in the region. I was reliably informed that the release of Asari Dokubo and freedom deal for ex-Bayelsa Governor DSP Alameyeseigha last year were products of these meetings which, initially at least, contributed to dousing the tension in the area at the time. The VP also held wide-ranging consultations with Nigerians both at home and abroad – he travelled to the United States and then to the United Kingdom and South Africa, reaching out to as many influential people as possible.Jonathan also visited the creeks to meet with the dreaded militants. He seemed to be making some headway as a result of these meetings and consultations. I remember there was a time we saw less of militant activities. But as soon as Henry Okah, the leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), was arrested and put on trial for gun-running, the relative peace was shattered. Threats and ultimatums were being dished out and now there is complete chaos again. The recent pronouncement by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown that he would offer “help” to Nigeria in dealing with “criminality” in the Niger Delta has obviously poured petrol on the peace process which was already in flames. We can see how the militants have stepped up attacks on oil installations in response to Brown’s offer.To kick-start the process, Okah must be freed – no matter how it hurts the ego of Yar’Adua and the Federal Government. There must be some compromise. It’s a gesture of goodwill. Then we can begin serious discussions or dialogue. The VP has the responsibility of driving the process and he must see it to a logical conclusion. He must build on the relative success he had garnered before the Okah case. My argument is: whether or not they are criminals or militants, we first must win the peace in the Niger Delta by using “local knowledge” – from where we move on. The militants must “buy in”. They are in a better position to tame the criminality. So while the government should not relent in its obligation of providing security for the citizens of this country, the other options for the peaceful resolution of the conflict must be pursued with equal vigour and tenacity. We all need the peace so that at least one problem will disappear from our bundle of problems. Maybe we can begin to think clearly thereafter."

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