By EJIRO IDAMA
NOTHING has exposed the soft under belly and incompetence of the federal authorities in tackling the Niger Delta crisis than the failed efforts to use the military machine to crush militant activities in the region.
In two years, since Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, came into office, promising peace and security, nothing on the scale of destruction and loss of lives of these past weeks had been seen in his state or across the Delta region.
What did he do right and why did his policy succeed, while the option of force by the federal authorities failed so abysmally? These points have not been fully explained, but it is something that needs to be looked at closely.
After weeks of intense bombing, destruction and displacement of civilians in the Gbaramatu area of Delta State, and the expansion of its condone and search operations to other states of the region – Bayelsa and Rivers, the military high command can hardly beat its chest in triumph.
Actually, planners of the creek war should be positively embarrassed. The best they have managed to achieve is a reduction or shut-in of 1.3 million barrels of crude oil for the country. Huge economic losses the country, already in dire straits can hardly afford. What a record!
When the violent confrontation began on May 16 following the ambush of some 11 soldiers, who were killed on May 13 – no one so far has been able to establish what actually happened. Did the militants ambushed and killed the soldiers, or did the soldiers themselves initiate the offensive that led to their being outgunned and killed?
These are loose ends that remain. But the cold war between the combatants found a convenient pretext to explode into full scale military assault supported with both amphibious and aerial attacks at Oporoza and other communities.
For awhile, it looked like the military had an upper hand. The Joint Military Task Force (JTF) enjoyed some large amount of photo-ops and made far reaching claims that in retrospect exaggerated what it actually accomplished.
There were stories about how one militant camp or the other fell to the superior fire power of the military machine. There were reports of JTF blocking the waterways to ensure that fleeing militants were captured and made to face the wrath of angry soldiers, who felt insulted by the so-called unprovoked slaughter of their colleagues in the creeks.
There were photo-ops about captured hardware – astonishing for many non-military people that such arms could be found in the hands of non-soldiers.
Really one amusing coda was the comments by MEND that the arms, were dane-guns which they had stopped using and not the sophisticated ones at their disposal. They accused JTF of staging the whole thing!
Well, after all the bluster by JTF, and it has to be said, if the comments by some prominent Nigerians were scrutinised, you could feel a huge sense of relief carousing through their body that at last the troublesome Niger Delta militants were being cut to size. What a dummy.
Hon. Bala Nâ€™allah (Zuru-Fakai/Sakaba/Wasagu, of Kebbi State) in a fit of Freudian slip said on the floor of the House of Representatives that it was better to kill 20 million to feed the rest of Nigeria.
This fellow has since then apologized and has been sufficiently excoriated for his thoughtless remark, which in embarrassment he sought to disguise as parliamentary joke. What a joke! But within the matrix he represents a school of thought.
The other strand is the one by Speaker of the House, Hon. Dimeji Bankole, who described the wholesale slaughter of civilians and destruction on defenseless civilians as peace keeping. If there was ever a need for a spin, Hon Bankole gave JTF and the military high command enough ammunition.
Between these two schools of thought the imperative is to do whatever needs to be done to secure the stability of oil production in the Niger Delta at whatever cost. Human losses are mere statistics.
One month after, there cannot be many people left, after the initial euphoria, applauding the military initiative. It has turned around full circle to be a complete disaster.
After what seemed like initial displacement, the militants appeared to have regrouped and doing what they know how to do best – economic sabotage.
It was, as this should be clear to everyone, that the assumptions that the confrontation in the creeks was all along a matter between the military and the militants and could therefore be settled using might is right, has collapsed like a pack of cards. Anyone under that delusion may need to visit a mental asylum for evaluation.
A check list after the military assault show an increasing resurgence in militant attacks on economic assets of the country, putting further pressure on the government, which is desperate for cash to fund its activities and meets its promises to the people.
On May 17 at the heat of the military offensive the Nigerian Gas Company pipeline was destroyed; May 18, Escravos-Warri Petroleum products marketing company pipeline was also destroyed; May 24 Abiteye-Escravos 12-inch pipeline was attacked; June 10, Utonna flow station was destroyed; June 12, Makaraba-Abiteye pipeline sabotaged; Makaraba 5 and Abiteye well were attacked; June 14, Abiteye Jacket 1 Christmas tree blown off. Then thumbing their nose at the president, militants blew off Shell pipeline in Bille/Krakrama on Thursday, June 25, the day he was announcing his amnesty to the militants.
So it is pretty much clear the impotence of force. Who takes the blame? My position is that the military should very well take the blame for the thoughtless and less astute handling of the problem. The killing of the soldiers should sadden everyone; actually the killing of any human being is not acceptable.
But the knee jerk reaction of the military was highly unprofessional and exposes their ineptitude. Where one expected them to be systematic they acted rashly.
Passion is a poor guide for policy execution. The military should know that in the mangrove swamps of Niger Delta with 3000 creeks and oil pipelines crisscrossing all over the place, it is virtually impossible to take out an enemy, who understands the terrain and is not prepared to engage you in frontal assault.
The militants are smart enough to know they are no match to the soldiers, but at the same time they know what to do to hurt everyone including the soldiers – Nigeriaâ€™s oil and gas infrastructure. It takes no genius to figure this out.
Governor Uduaghan from his policy pronouncement had made the point that on coming into office he understood very well the thinking and attitude of these boys, and used that to keep them off violence, accounting for the reason why there was relative stability in his state.
He was so successful with his policy, Shell that closed down its operation in Delta State and shut down 500,000 barrels per day of crude oil production, felt confident enough to return and thus accounted for the increase of oil production which by April had made Delta state the second largest oil producing state in the country, up from its fourth position.
Uduaghan as captured in the press insist that his success was anchored on engagement and development. Engagement with the local communities and development by using Delta State Oil Producing Development Commission (DESOPADEC) to reverse neglect of riverine communities. His engagement policy also worked as he was able to get the oil companies to give attention to the communities and the youths contracts and job considerations.
What apparently failed to happen was the federal government initiatives to complement what the Delta governor is doing.
Furthermore, there was real and perceived lethargy on the part of the federal government, in addition to the fact that that they appear not to grasp the real depth of the issues and the anger and frustration of these boys. This is the crux of the problem.
*Idama, is a policy analyst, and wrote in from Asaba, Delta State