By Tony Momoh

Only one little pin prick ends the life of a balloon.  Yes, one little pin prick.  When you hear the pop, you look in the direction of where, some moments ago, the balloon was dancing to the music of the wind.

But it is no longer there!   Lifeless on the floor are shredded pieces of the delicate rubber that a minute ago was the balloon.  You, like others, heard the disturbing sound, to you just a pop, but which is the balloon’s way of giving vent to pain that leads to death, that forces it down from its airy perch, to the floor, silencing it! I am striving to paint a picture of what happened in Warri, Delta State, on March 15, the day Vanguard newspapers had every reason to be happy that they were adding one more medal to their collections in recognition of the performance  of the media’s  constitutional role to set agenda for those who govern.

This particular one was targeted at the Niger Delta. Hadn’t there been many promises since 1958 when the issue became a subject-matter for a commission that addressed it before independence?

Haven’t we since then had volumes and volumes of documents containing suggestions and recommendations on what to do with the oil-producing areas, and  promises by many administrations that the deprived area and people had to be taken care of?

Were we not all witnesses to the attention drawn to the Niger Delta in the 1999 work-programme of Olusegun Obasanjo when he tabled what he would do on May 29, 1999; and is the Niger Delta not a specific item on the seven-point agenda of the Yar’Adua administration?  Were there no committees set up by President Obasanjo on the eve of his departure and the marching order he gave on the number of the deprived people of the Niger Delta that he said had to be employed and placed in specified places?

And when he left and the struggle was getting messier even after the government discovered that they could not win any lasting peace in the area without carrots, were we not there when amnesty was declared?  And in spite of the fact that many were pre-occupied with the semantics rather than what we really wanted achieved in the region, did we not all say let’s give this experiment a chance?

The appearance of the Vanguard group to establish a dialogue to discuss work in progress can therefore be seen as one agenda-setting role the media has the constitutional right to play in the monitoring of governance.

This agenda-setting role which, to my knowledge, is the only one since the Vanguard started publishing in 1983 that was directly programmed for the benefit of one geo-political zone was, aside from the worth of emphasis on its merit, was something a home-boy would be happy he put together for his people. But that enthusiastic effort championed by highly empathic Sam Amuka, publisher of the Vanguard titles, was blown to pieces in Warri by MEND (Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta) who planted and exploded two bombs that sent their parents and compatriots diving for cover!

The programme was unmistakable in its mission to get the amnesty project going.  It was a post amnesty dialogue.  In other words, a work-in-progress outing.  Six committees in which people from different walks of life would serve, including leaders of the militants, retired generals, and members of the Joint Task Force in the area were Rehabilitation and Infrastructural Reconstruction; Security in the Niger Delta; Women and Youths Development; Economic Development and Reconstruction; Resource Control, Equity, Justice and Fair play; and Capacity Building and Industrial Development.

In these six sectional groups, I saw listed, among the 60 leading lights of the geo-political zone,  names like Brig-Gen Dominic Oneya, Gen. Alexander Ogomudia, Admiral Mike Akhigbe, AIG Azubuko Udeh, Alhaji Asari Dokubo, Gen Tompolo, Gen. Boyloaf, JTF Commander, FOC Eastern Naval Command and Chief Ateke Tom. The militant leaders listed are mentioned so we can douse the fear that those who knew where the shoe pinches were ignored in the putting together of the outing titled Vanguard Post Amnesty Dialogue – Restoring Hope in the Niger Delta.

Of course political leaders from the zone, traditional rulers, the academia, and governors from the Niger Delta were all to be there, to play one role or the other in the two-day programme of dialogue in which the Acting President was to give a keynote address.  So, apart from a few officials, the bulk of those who were listed to make contributions were stakeholders mainly from the Niger Delta.

All these were the ones whose lives were put on the line by those who planted and exploded the bombs.  I have always had a soft spot for MEND but a statement credited to them for doing what they did diminished the group in my estimation. They said they wanted to prove to the Governor of Delta State who had reportedly written them off as a creation of the media that they are as deadly and alive as their statements in the media claim. But on assessing their existence and effectiveness, they may have lost a friend.  Many areas are listed in favour of the Vanguard group in their agenda-setting role for the polity.

This effort has been one through lectures and discussions which are comprehensively published in their papers.  The Post-Amnesty Dialogue meant to restore hope in the Niger Delta was shut down by the group that has been most loved for promoting an agenda of equity, fair play and justice.  I don’t know what to do now, where to draw the line between service to a people and self-love and ego-nourishment.  I am confused. The MEND has a lot to do to mend its relations with the Media.  If they like, they can continue to say they owe nobody any apology.

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.