The drums of war are, again, beginning to sound in the Niger Delta as one of the militant groups, the Niger Delta Avengers, threatens to resume attacks on oil installations in the region. On its part, the military is making it clear that they will meet with maximum force any effort to disrupt oil operations in that region that has continued to sustain the economy. To march words with action, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Abayomi Olonisakin, recently commissioned 20 gunboats in a move to boost security in the region. He said at the commissioning ceremony that the threat by the Avengers has dealt what he described as an unfortunate blow to the collective well-being of the oil-rich region.
Before this recent square up between the military and the militants, a team of elders in the region under the auspices of the Pan Niger Delta Elders Forum (PANDEF), had and is still trying to find a middle ground that will avert the kind of crisis that threw the nation into a recession the other time a similar face-off occurred. Their meeting in Port Harcourt at the weekend, was, in our view, ill-advisedly disrupted by security agencies. It is pertinent to note that an intervention by the elders which include state governors in the region, is not only crucial but can avert the kind of confrontation that is simmering.
In the early days of this administration when the militants went back to the trenches, the effect was very dire for the economy and pushed it into a recession. The vandalism of the Trans Niger Pipeline which affected the export of about 225,000 barrels of crude per day and the security forces response to it affected supplies to the oil market and impeded the flow of oil revenue. If that is allowed by any act of omission or commission to happen again, what it implies is that there will likely be a revenue shortfall to the country, with its concomitant effect on the economy.
Now that the country is technically out of recession, it is imperative that the government take appropriate steps to contain the militancy in the Niger Delta that has continued to present embarrassing situations that cause hiccups in the economy. This latest threat of acts of vandalism is proof that the government has not successfully put its finger on what exactly is making those responsible to persist in their nefarious activities. It also means that the issue goes beyond amnesty and youth empowerment. There has been a lot of talk about economic federalism. That the vandals are still in business makes it necessary for the pervading pretence that all is well to be discarded in favour of a more robust and resolute approach to finding a lasting solution to the matters at stake. And that includes devising more equitable ways of extending the goodies from the oil resources to those who are exposed to the hazards of exploring and exploiting the resource.
We admit that the government is doing its utmost to be fair to those concerned but, a lot more still, is required to reduce the incidences of sabotage in that all-important sector. That such unpatriotic deeds are still capable of igniting confusion in the economic arrangement, makes the need to fast track the policy of diversification of the economy with greater zeal even more compelling.
We acknowledge the efforts in the areas of agriculture – agri-business, agro-processing and solid minerals development which are not, however, yielding the desired results because operations in those areas are not as streamlined as in the oil sector and, therefore, the reward system, especially to the State, is not as pronounced. What the government must do and urgently, too, is to remove any and every draw back on the way to restoring peace in the Niger Delta. Military option may be necessary at some point as the effort to contain the militants progresses but it is certainly not sufficient if a lasting peace is desired. More importantly, it must not be the first option. The government must encourage the elders in the region to play an active role in reining in the hotheads. Disrupting their meetings for whatever reason, in our opinion, is unhelpful at this point.
We are persuaded by the emerging scenario to assume that the commissioning of the gunboats and other security arrangements are intended to serve as deterrent to let the militants know that they could be used if need be. The government must, however, see the urgency and the indispensability of constructive engagement. The authorities should not get tired of talking.