By Les Leba
The priorities of government in the short and medium term maybe discerned from the size of sectoral revenue allocations in its annual budget.Â We observed in our article titled: â€œYarâ€™Aduaâ€™s Embattled Presidencyâ€ that the Niger Delta security allocation of N440bn was the largest single sectoral vote in President Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s debut 2008 budget.
The projected expenses for the critical areas of health, education, transportation, water, agriculture, etc, were modest fractions of the huge vote for security in the Delta.Â Obviously, governmentâ€™s hope was that the deployment of such a huge direct expenditure for heavy and articulated security weapons for use in the Niger Delta would produce the essential atmosphere of peace that would justify the huge investment.
In turn, the exploitation of the oil resources of the area by the Nigerian government and oil corporations would yield tens of billions of dollars which would redeem the â€˜paltryâ€™ sum of about $3bn (N440bn) necessary to keep peace within the region.Â This was the game plan sold to Yarâ€™Adua by his political and strategic advisers and Mr. President quickly committed to the plan by allocating N440bn for implementation.
The views of well-intentioned critics that Nigeria is not in a state of war and that Nigeria should not wage a war against itself were considered to be the rantings of anti government agents!Â Â The government was unwilling to recognize that direct annual allocations to such interventionist agencies such as NDDC had never approached a tenth of the 2008 vote for keeping militancy against perceived federal oppression at bay!
It was unnecessary distraction to draw governmentâ€™s attention to the accrued ecological fund of over N300bn which remained undisbursed in spite of the ardent pleas of the region and the â€˜charitableâ€™ posturing of the ruling class!Â Needless to say that the N440bn from 2008 budget and N300bn ecological fund would have gone a long way in building vital infrastructure, regenerating despoiled lands and rivers and putting hundreds of thousands of the idle youth force into gainful employment, and consequently redeeming the nation from the evil machinations of idle minds and social deprivations.Â Surely, such a strategy of youth engagement and infrastructural capacity building would have provided a more enduring platform for sustained peace and the facilitation of crude exploitation in the region!
But no, the â€˜patrioticâ€™ advisers and ethnic hawks in government preferred the option of an investment of N440bn on the instruments of violence against fellow Nigerians, with body language which as much as said, â€œmilitants are criminals, who must be taught a lesson; by the time the communities in the region are cowered by superior weapons of war, it will be business unlimited for crude oil exploitationâ€!
The weapons funded with the 2008 budget votes had largely been consolidated by the first quarter of 2009 and about mid May this year, the Military Joint Task Force (JTF) was sufficiently emboldened to embark on a major resurgence of its operations in the area; villages and erstwhile sleepy communities were ravaged, innocent men, women and childrenÂ were slaughtered, community leaders and chiefs were arrested while others fled into the bush; the mansions of local beneficiaries of the proceeds of oil bunkerings were razed and these erstwhile government political collaborators were declared wanted and remained at large!Â Government reported the recovery of diaries, accounting records and other documents which listed the affiliates of the hunted â€˜militantsâ€™.
Governmentâ€™s reluctance to release the content of the seized documents has give rise to doubts about governmentâ€™s sincerity in these escapades!Â Two months or so into the renewed JTF surge, it is clear to all that governmentâ€™s expectation of early success has become largely misplaced!
In spite of the increased and extensive bombardment, militant activities in the Niger Delta remain unquelled and instead have become more strategic and destructive of oil installations and by extension inflicted serious leakages in our nationâ€™s treasury!Â The 2009 budget expectation of daily export of about 2.5m barrels has become largely unattainable, and at best, may be less than 50% of this target!Â It now seems that government may have chosen the wrong option of spending N440bn for securing liberal access to the oil of the Niger Delta.
The governmentâ€™s spontaneous extension of amnesty to militants and miscreants in the Niger Delta can only be seen as an admission of failure of JTF resurgence and the recognition of the reality of negative returns from the huge 2008 budget investment for security in the Niger Delta.
Perhaps, the obvious success that can be attributed to the JTF push is the separation of the men from the boys in the Niger Delta struggle.
The ostentatious illegal oil merchants parading as militants and other criminal affiliates in the supply chain have readily come forth to disarm while N40bn has been earmarked to implement amnesty.Â However, the real Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has demonstrated that in spite of the unconditional release of the MEND leader Henry Orka and the discontinuation of treason charges against him they are not particularly enamoured by the hastily contrived government amnesty.
From their perspective, the issue of amnesty is misplaced!Â They maintain that amnesty is appropriate as a lifeline for criminals, but not for militants whose motivation is the emancipation and survival of their lands and people.Â They maintain that it is inapplicable to grant amnesty to victims of oppression and they insist rather that the oppressors who have committed crimes against their people all these years should rather atone for their sins by immediately removing the JTF from their communities and providing a comprehensive agenda for the regeneration of the despoiled lands, rivers and other waterways that have always served as the lifeblood of their people.
They further insist that Nigeria must return to the adoption of true fiscal federalism since this was the only social contract willingly endorsed by their people at the time of independence in 1960.
Other citizens of the Niger Delta who may not display the same aggression or have media access as MEND, however, also feel the pain from the series of injustices they have endured and have consequently become suspicious of governmentâ€™s sincerity with regard to their welfare.Â They are quick to identify the consistent postponement of gas-flare-outdates by government over the last two decades, in spite of the life-threatening environmental and health hazards to their people.
They also wonder why the government has refused to disburse the over N300bn ecological fund for ameliorating the sufferings of their people, some of whom no longer know the difference between night and day, and have no farms for food or clean drinking water!Â These hapless citizens also wonder why their children are required to score much higher cutoff marks than other kids before they can be admitted to colleges and universities which are predominantly funded from revenues derived from their own backyards!
Those Deltans who have visited Abuja and major urban areas in Nigeria are amazed at the construction of highways, mansions and other infrastructure from the funds derived from the Niger Delta while they are deprived of their livelihood by the activities of oil companies which generate Nigeriaâ€™s wealth from the Delta region.Â Those who cannot travel read and see exotic pictures of Dubai, Qatar and the Emirate states which are also oil producing regions but were less preferred destinations to life in the Niger Delta 50 years ago before the discovery of crude in Oloibiri.
Ordinary Niger Deltans also see something wrong in governmentâ€™s acquiescence to the oil companiesâ€™ practice of locating their head offices and providing jobs far away from the Niger Delta where they operate and derive their profits and these Deltans are even more confused when a petroleum University is taken to far away Kaduna when the already existing petroleum institute in Warri is left to decay!
The majority of the victims of oppression in the Niger Delta have lost their voices, but they wait endlessly for beneficent change that refuses to come before they are completely quietly decimated in fulfillment of the wishes of some fellow Nigerians whose fortunes are tied to the elimination of communities in the Niger Delta!
To those Niger Deltans, MEND will be seen as saviour and its recent attack on Atlas Cove, one of Nigeriaâ€™s major oil depots outside the Niger Delta may be a wakeup call to recognize the difficulties for a regular army to triumph in a guerilla war spurred by self preservation.Â It is now time to talk with justice and fiscal federalism as the agenda.
SAVE THE NAIRA, SAVE NIGERIANS!