By Dayo BENSON, Political Editor
AsÂ Federal Government continues its implementation of post-amnesty programmes to ex-militants, Imo State governor, Dr.Â Ikedi Ohakim, yesterday advised the government not to exclude political leaders in the Niger Delta in finding final solution to the regionâ€™s crisis, just as he blamed escalation of Niger Delta crisis on negligence of past leaders in the country.
Specifically, Governor Ohakim said if past reports on the regionâ€™s issues had not been neglected by successive administration, the crisis would not have assumed the dimension it did.
The Imo governor spoke at a lecture titled â€œAmnesty: Quick Fix or Silver Budget?â€ which held at Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos during public presentation of â€œNews Digest International Magazineâ€.
In attendance at the event were ace industrialist, Chief Molade Okoya who was the chairman of the occasion, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, President of Nigeria Guild of Editors, Mr. Gbenga Adefaye, former ace broadcaster, Mallam Danladi Bako, former Ambassador, Prof. Jide Osutokun, among others.
â€œThe mistake must not be made in dealing with the militants exclusively without the political leadership of the region, no matter the fact that some of the leaders had become discredited. It will spell disaster for the politics of the region should the militants be made to believe that they are the new godfathers in the region,â€Â he stressed.
He also called on oil multi-nationals operating in the region to take their corporate social responsibility programmes beyond the level of â€œbuilding of civic centres,â€ adding they should put back much more to the communities where they explore.
According to Governor Ohakim, â€œIn the report of a democracy assessment conducted in Nigeria between 1999 and 2000 by Sweden-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (I-IDEA) titled â€˜Democracy in Nigeria: Continuing Diaiogue (s) for Nation Buildingâ€™, the Niger Delta received a focused attention. Among other conclusions, the report recommended that there is â€˜a need to establish a basis for future dialogue both among the people of the Niger Delta, and between the Delta and the rest of Nigeria.
â€œThe dialogue should address the problem of (a) poverty including unemployment; (b) perceived alienation from the Nigerian state and inequitable access to resources, especially petroleum resources; (c) oppression, exploitation and exclusion of women; (d) lack of infrastructure; (e) irresponsibility of the oil companies, especially in dealing with the environment and (f) intra_ethnic and inter-ethnic conflictsâ€™.â€
Continuing, he said: â€œThe I-IDEA report was submitted to President Obasanjo in 2001. That these very issues, left unattended to, provided the basis for escalation of violent agitation in the Niger Delta, till the recent Amnesty, is negligent on the part of past governments.
There is hardly any answer to our national problem that is not in a book or in a report lying somewhere. But often attention is not paid to them, or they are implemented haphazardly, without input from the stakeholders, until there is bigger crisis.â€
However, commending President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s approach to the Niger Delta crisis, he said: â€œPresident Yarâ€™Adua, in his wisdom decided not to go to war against the militants. On assumption of office, the President had also promised to tackle the Niger Delta crisis.
He made it a cardinal issue in his Seven_Point Agenda. Thus, instead of outright military response to the problem, he came up with the novel concept of granting Amnesty to the militants and, once again, Nigeria taught the world a lesson in conflict resolutionâ€.
He added: â€œWhile we may understand those who criticized it out of past experience of previous governmentsâ€™ half-hearted interventions in the region, we cannot ignore those who criticized clearly out of mischief. We must remember that in any situation, there are winners and losers. Even as it was, the Niger Delta crisis had many vested interests that profited from the misery of the people.
â€œAs Machiavelli said, â€œthe reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new orderâ€.â€
The governor who berated those who refer to Nigeria as a failed state said: â€œâ€œToday, it has become popular to dismiss Nigeria as a failed state. The media are copiously used to propagate this self_immolation of our nation. It will be necessary to remind all those who are busy ridiculing this nation that there are Nigerians out there â€” our armed forces â€” men and women, who have placed their lives on the line to protect us. I think their sacrifices deserve to be appreciated and respected.
â€œThe view of Nigeria as a failed state is the opinion of frustrated, tiny, aging political elite, whose past activities messed up this country. Nigeria is not made up of politicians alone. Nigeria does not belong to politicians alone.
The view of a failed state insults those other Nigerians working hard everyday and holding our flag high; our private sector entrepreneurs, our scholars, our artistes, our Golden Eaglets and Super Eagles! It is an insult to sweepingly write these good Nigerians off as failed.â€
Renowned scholar, Professor Jide Oshuntokun, attributed the Niger Delta issue to â€œâ€œstructural problemâ€â€. He canvassed for a fiscal policy that allows resources derived from states belong to them while they pay heavy taxes to the federal government.
Former director general of Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Mallam Danladi Bako called for exploration of oil in other parts of Nigeria, saying â€œâ€œwe are fighting ourselves because we think oil stops in Niger Delta.â€
He said injection of more funds to the region would only create more frictions, while advising stakeholders in the region to embark on enlightenment campaign to enable Nigerians really understand the issues at stake.