June 14, 2009

Niger Delta youths: Criminals, militants or freedom fighters

By Henry Ayanruoh

DURING  one of the religious crises in the North, one of our national leaders asked: How did we become so careless and so uncaring to have allowed our senses to be so insidiously deadened by the rhetorics of short-sighted little men who make us accept as normal carnage and exploitation which once ago would have shocked us and forced us to take immediate action?

How could we have watched with unconcernty the glowing ambers of ethnic and religious strifes without taking early preventive action to douse them? How did we allow the birth and development of ethnically based illegal security bodies of unemployed militia youths, well armed organised hoodlums flagrantly and even boastfully, taking the law into their own hands in the full knowledge that they will suffer no punishment?

And I asked myself: Why? In the process of trying to answer the question I found out that ethnically based illegal youth bodies have been in existence in this country for years but never did it gave birth to a new nomenclature. It is evident that violence became legal through the formation of these different self acclaimed youth bodies all over the country.  What were they fighting for?

Were they being marginalised by the Nigeria state? And if yes to what extent? The word militant is now a new nomenclature proudly used by Nigerians when they are discussing the Niger Delta problem. To some it is abhorrent, to others dynamic, to some repugnant, to others exhilarating, to some it is destructive, to others it is useful. One must look beyond tribe, personal styles, verbal flourishes to assess its values, assets and liabilities honestly.

Violence is in the region today because injustice is there and when the people of the region called for aid no body responded. They called because they believed in the interrelatedness of all communities and state. And they came to realise through experience that Nigerians and the Federal Government will not move around the question of genuine development until they are confronted with concentrated violence.

And they also have great documents consisting of all the committee reports that have been in existence since the Willinks Commission telling them that something should be done fast. They have seen people who with great sacrifice and dedication and a radiant faith in the future laboured courageously in the rural areas of the region.

With idealism they accepted blows without retaliating, with dignity allowed themselves to be plunged into filthy, stinking jail cells, with a majestic scorn for risk and danger non violently confronted the powers that be and at the end they were killed.

If there is violence and militancy in the region today please know that it is a cry of disappointment borne out of the wounds of despair. It is a cry of daily hurt and persistent pain. For years they have been caught in the tentacles of multinational oil companies and the federal government because with total control they have been left empty handed. So in reality the violence in the region is a reaction to the failure of the Federal Government, multinational oil companies and Nigerians.

I say Nigerians because we are all tied up in a single garment of destiny whatever affects the region affects all of us. We can no longer afford to live with the narrow provincial idea that they are not my people. They all deplore the violence taking place most especially from the North but their statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the violence. I am sure that none of them would want to rest content with the superficial social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.

It is unfortunate that the violence is now part of the struggle, but it is even more unfortunate that the Nigeria power structure left my people with no alternative. Have they been to the region to collect facts to determine if injustice exists in this region? There can be no gainsaying that injustice envelopes this region.

The region can be likened to a valley filled with millions of people who because of economic deprivation and social isolation, youth restiveness and communal crisis as a result of the crude oil have lost hope, and now see life as a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign.

A valley filled with misguided bloodthirsty illegal militia youths, a valley filled with my brothers and sisters who grow up with the ominous clouds of insecurity and unemployment defining their mental sky.

The wealth of the nation is from this region but it does not reflect. These are the hard brutal facts of the case. On the basis of this we now have two types of leaders in the region. We now have leaders with weak minds and weak hearts. False faith and unstable hands, leaders whom the lust of office will kill, who the spoils of life will buy; no opinion, no will, no honour and will tell lies; leaders who will face the President and could not damn his treacherous flattering and leaders who are opposites of the qualities listed.

After years of many promises the youths came to realise that they were the victims of a broken promise. Their hope had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon them with no alternative except to go deep into the creeks and draw national and international attention to the gulf that separates promise from fulfillment. These youths, I ask: Are they criminals, militants or freedom fighters?

They have many pent up resentment and latent frustration that must be released and if repressed emotions are not released in non-violent ways they will seek expression through violent means.

So they created a constructive tension that will help Nigerians rise from the dark depths of prejudice and oppression to the majestic height of brotherhood. If we have achieved any gain in the Niger Delta today it is because of the activities of these youths.

We in the Niger Delta know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor it must be demanded by the oppressed. We are only asking for our constitutional and God given rights.

This is a regime that talks a lot about the rule of law and I am sure that they would understand that laws exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dam that block the flow of development in the region.

The criminally-minded ones that have corrupted the struggle should be dealt with according to the law but those ones who merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive should be commended.

Mr. Ayanruoh, is a member of Delta Waterways Security Committee, Warri, Delta State.