ByÂ Richard Tosanwumi
THE exercise of the surrender of weapons by the Niger Delta freedom fighters or militants, depending on the side of the divide to which one belongs, as part of the amnesty granted to them by President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua has come and gone. It was adjudged very successful by a cross-section of Nigerians.
Heart-warming as the exercise was, it has left many questions unanswered, and this has triggered off anxiety in many quarters, particularly among keen watchers of the development of policies meant for national growth and their implementation within 49 years of independence. Why was the Niger Delta crisis allowed to fester for so long before it led to armed insurrection by the youths of the region? Did the government not see it coming?
The British Colonial Masters recognised the need to fashion ways of tackling the peculiar problems of the minorities in our country far back in 1957, and set up the Henry Willinks Commission to do so. Thereafter, no fewer than 20Â constitutional conferences, commissions of enquiry, and uncountable number of reports have been produced on how to solve the Niger Delta crisis. The latest one being the Ledum-Mitte report submitted about nine months ago to President Yarâ€™Adua. Yet it took an armed revolt by the Niger Delta youths to stir the mind of the Federal authorities.
Is there any wonder then that discernible Niger Deltans and indeed Nigerians are exhibitingÂ anxiety over what is going to happen in the period following the surrender of weapons by the aggrieved Niger Delta youths? Will the Federal Government develop the right strategies and embark on the implementation of programme to the satisfaction of the disarmed youths? Will the state and local governmentâ€™s post amnesty programmes be implemented in a responsible manner?
Before I attempt to answer these questions, it is imperative to first of all examine the wider question of why our country has failed to make meaningful progress since attaining self-rule about half a century ago from Britain. This analysis will put into proper perspective, the high expectations of the freedom fighters who after much arm-twisting and cajoling laid down their arms which they procured at high cost wilfully.
Nigerians must have been shocked by the large quantity of assorted weapons at the disposal of the youths, which they surrendered, an indication of the high level of their grievances and how prepared and organised they were for the self-imposed struggle.
Make no mistake; the so-called militants truly meant business in spite of their short-comings in military warfare. What they lacked in military capabilities, they had in abundance in sheer determination and conviction of their crusade.
Some analysis have placed the dismal state of development of the nation, at the door-steps of poor, unimaginative, greedy, visionless and corrupt leadership. Majority of our leaders, unfortunately were conscripted to their positions and did not possess the right qualities to provide purposeful leadership. Painfully the on-going Fourth Republic is also exhibiting poor quality leadership at all levels. Only the leadership of the late Alhaji Ahmadu Bello( the Sarduana of Sokoto), Chief Obafemi Awolowo(Yoruba leader), and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (the Igbo leader) gave a flash of hope in the First Republic to Nigerians.
However, they were bogged down by empirical issues of tribalism, religion and regionalism which were germane to laying down the foundation of unity, peace and development for the country. Be that as it may, these leaders made reasonable efforts even as inexperienced pioneer of democracy in Nigeria. Evidently, their efforts were not enough in the eyes of some ambitious young military officers, who bloodily toppled the First Republic in 1966.
Since this dramatic ill-thoughtÂ out military intervention, our country has remained a bastion of injustice, inequity, corruption, massive looting of the treasuries and wastage of the nationâ€™s natural and mineral resources. Between the military and civilian regimes, it has been mindless disregard for the welfare of the masses, abandonment of the countryâ€™s infrastructure, destruction ofÂ Â the economy, and woeful mismanagement ofÂ the petroleum industry. They only took care of themselves.
Apart from the Niger Delta crisis, occasioned by the wicked neglect of the region that saw its wealth diverted to the development of other parts of the country, particularly Abuja, the Federal Capital, the Federal roads have virtually collapsed, the four refineries are almost unrepairable; health care delivery still in primitive shape, and education in shambles. Nigerian banks are perpetually in distress and the manufacturing sector extinct. The resultant effects of these are that many Nigerians are jobless and the level of hunger and poverty over 70 per cent.
The political system we practice is akin to medieval dictatorship, and our democracy characterised by absence of political ideology, intra-party democracy, and above all free and fair elections without doubt, many Nigerians have lost faith in their leaders, because their votes do not count anymore. There is a huge distrustÂ between the leaders and followers in all ramifications.
It is instructive that some militant leaders have expressed confidence that President Yarâ€™Adua will ensure he does what he has promised to do in the post-amnesty period. Therefore, we need to give him a chance to prove his sincerity and sense of mission. But the problem as usual may lie with his team of ministers and other persons that will ensure things promised are not done properly.
Truly, our anxieties are not unfounded, and we have no option than to be optimistic and patriotic.
Dr. Tosanwumi, an analyst on public affairs, writes from warri, Delta State.