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Two cheers for Mr. President

By Doun Kogbara
I AM very happy with Mr President at the moment and have decided that he deserves two hearty cheers.
One hearty cheer should be directed at Mr President for possessing the humility and foresight to meet with Niger Deltan militant leaders and offer them an amnesty deal in a bid to secure peace in a region that was becoming increasingly uncontrollable.

The second hearty cheer should be directed at Mr President for recognising the need for justice to be done and promising to infrastructurally develop oil-producing areas and economically empower oil-producing communities.
So, since I believe that the President has honest intentions, why am I rather stingily recommending only two hearty cheers?

Why am I not going for the Full Monty and calling for three hearty cheers? Why don’t I insist that a traditional trio of rip-roaring “Hip-Hip-Hoorays” be immediately lavished on Mr President?

Because many Nigerians and foreigners are extremely sceptical. Some onlookers strongly suspect that the amnesty will be so badly mismanaged by the Federal Government (and/or by recalcitrant militants) that it will collapse.

Others are absolutely convinced that our VIPs (whether they be from the South-South or other geopolitical zones) specialise in cynical window-dressing exercises and hidden agendas, and cannot be trusted to administer public funds uncorruptly; and I’ve frequently heard it said that ordinary Niger Deltans will wind up gaining little or no benefits from the initiatives that are being launched in their name.

I prefer to give Mr President the benefit of the doubt and I am seriously excited by the possibility that the people whose lands and creeks have delivered most of this nation’s wealth will soon be partially compensated for over five decades of suffering and receive a l0 per cent stake in the NNPC/IOC (international oil company) joint venture.

But these are early days indeed; and my excitement may turn out to be premature. As British sages sometimes say: There can be plenty of slips between cup and lip.

A friend who regards the new proposals and measures as cosmetic and ultimately doomed because of the shortcomings of our rulers, makes a valid point when he says that: “Getting the money that has been pledged is the primary battle.

But people keep talking as if ensuring that the money is spent properly will be the secondary battle. What they don’t realise is that ensuring that the money will be properly spent is actually fundamental…and part of the primary battle”.

The bottom line is that there is often a big difference between theory and practice. And it is because of the yawning gap that often exists between grand-sounding ideas and the realities on ground that I’ve concluded that Mr President will only have earned a third hearty cheer if he handles the considerable challenges ahead effectively, displays sincerity consistently, forces everyone concerned to do the right thing and proves the pessimists and critics wrong.

Let me round off with some responses I received when I wrote, last week, about my brief encounter with Ateke Tom, the militant leader. I said that I didn’t have enough evidence to decide whether he was a freedom fighter or a villain. I spoke about how everyone – dignitaries included – instinctively stood up when he entered the room (a phenomenon I ascribed to a special aura I felt was almost palpable).

Reader’s reaction

From: Godwin Madubuko <>
Dear Donu,

On a lighter note, I’m just curious to know how u sprang to attention at mere sighting of Atake Tom. Was it with military precision or NYSC aju wire. On a serious note that incident is the picture of the rotteness of our decadent society.I know that nobody in that audience would have recognised the presence of a colonel of the Nigerian army but all cowered in the presence of a mere militant.Even you Donu! Well I believe Atake Tom was not born a militant.

It was the the elites that made him one.I have always traced the problem of this country to the rivalry of the elites.They created Ateke Tom and his peers for the attainment of their inordinate pursuit of political control and access to oil bunkering.Along the line he slipped from their firm grip.He became his own master and the elites went after him to rein him in.

This they have acheived now.He is with them now,wining and dining with a lot of backslapping and hugging.The standing up was just to massage his ego so that he will not feel intimidated while in the midst of such eminent personalities.

It is back to business.Donu it’s just a vicious cycle.The struggle has never been for the emancipation of the masses of Niger Delta.It is purely for personal aggrandisement.The real meeting started when you left the gathering.All that happened in your presence was a mere smokescreen.

I also received several text messages from readers who condemned Ateke, poured scorn on anyone who socialises with him or shows him respect and complained about my failure to categorically state that he is a monstrous killing and thieving machine.

Only two of the readers who texted me shared my view that those who do not have concrete evidence against Ateke should adopt an open-minded attitude. Not one reader expressed the opinion that Ateke is a misunderstood minority hero.

So I guess the ball is in Ateke’s court. If he cares about public opinion, he will show the world that he can make the transition from outlaw to law-abiding citizen.

But the ball is also in the Federal, state and local governments’ courts. An entire generation of Niger Deltan youths has been traumatised and criminalised by the soul-destroying unfairness that has been inflicted on them.

And I have never totally blamed the oil bunkering boys and kidnappers for refusing to meekly tolerate poverty. They will only change if the people who run the show also change.

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