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Niger Delta: Chasing shadows

By Emmanuel Aziken

The resolution of the Niger Delta question is prominently etched as one of the seven-point agenda of the Umaru Yar‘Adua administration. However, crystallizing a solution to the Niger Delta question remains a myriad like other notable elements of the seven-point agenda such as power, wealth creation and security.

Remarkably, a solution to the Niger Delta issue is generally regarded as pivotal to the essence of the regime.
While many Nigerians have again and again lampooned the seeming docility of the administration towards achieving its cardinal programmes, it is generally agreed that the Yar‘Adua administration has not been too docile on the Niger Delta question.

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From signposting its desire for peace in the region at inauguration, the administration has in the last one year embarked on several initiatives apparently aimed at negotiating a final peace in the oil rich region.
Regrettably, the administration’s convoluted efforts have been largely contradictory.

Following the almost unanimous rejection of a peace summit by stakeholders last year, the administration agreed on the constitution of a Niger Delta Peace and Technical Committee with the precise agenda of harmonizing the multifarious reports on the Niger Delta question and outlining a development programme for the region.

The committee involving some of the most respected stakeholders from the region was remarkably chaired by Mr. Ledum Mitte, an activist and associate of the legendary Ken Saro-Wiwa who himself died in peaceful agitation for the development of the region.

That committee was reportedly sabotaged, under-funded and its report ignored, Mr. Tony Uranta, a leading activist and member of the committee from the region recently told a national daily.

One of the most respected intellectual activists from the region, Prof. Omafume Onoge who was a member of the committee died few months ago without seeing the government White Paper on the committee’s report submitted on December 1, 2008.

Waving away the recommendations of the Mitte committee, the administration in June embarked on a full scale war against militants in the region with a series of aerial and arterial bombardment of civilian and perceived militant enclaves.

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The offensive followed the reported kidnap of some military personnel by some militant groups allegedly arising from disagreements on the quiet but lucrative deal between both sides involved in the escort of oil vessels.

In the course of the offensive, the military Joint Task Force (JTF) overran Camp Five, one of the biggest militant bases in the region in Delta State. The military effort, however, made little effort in securing the oil installations as the elusive militants embedded in the creeks fought back viciously crippling the activities of oil companies.

With monthly oil revenue falling to almost half at the middle of 2009 with its attendant setback for the oil dependent government expenditure, the government again dabbled into an amnesty programme aimed at wooing the militants.

Henry Okah, the putted leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) was released as a demonstration of government sincerity after the militants made their biggest hit on the secured Atlas Cove Jetty in Lagos.

The amnesty programme is aimed at integrating repentant militants who renounce violence, surrender their weapons and accept government rehabilitation programme for them.

A number of key militants including one of the leading militant commanders, General Boyloaf have accepted the amnesty. But skepticism over the amnesty plans cloud the region.

Remarkably, the administration’s amnesty proposals make no reference to the key issues that sparked the militancy, to wit, the quest for the development of the region.

That fact has been repeatedly made by activists from the region who denounce the amnesty programme as a propaganda weapon by the Federal Government.

“The amnesty is unnecessary because if the money used to propagate the amnesty was used to develop the area, it would have been better spent,’’ Dr. Diamond Emuobor, national chairman of the Oil Minerals Producing Areas Stakeholders Forum (OMSTAFOR) told this newspaper.

It is as such not surprising that the amnesty programme is now dubbed a charade as mystifying and elusive as other elements of the administration’s seven-point agenda.


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