ON Saturday, August, 29 2016, the much-dreaded but well-envisaged showdown between the Nigerian Armed Forces and the various militant groups operating in our oil-rich Niger Delta region was formally launched by the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buaratai, with military fanfare in Warri, Delta State.
The core mandate of the operation is to provide adequate security for the residents and the strategic national economic assets of the nation in the embattled region. When General Buratai paid a courtesy visit to the state Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, he stressed the need to keep our country and its people safe and ensure that its economy is protected from miscreants and malcontents bent on sabotaging and destroying critical infrastructure to prolong the economic woes the nation is experiencing.
Though the Federal Government has, for some time now, been making peaceful overtures to the recalcitrant militant groups, the most prominent of which is the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), it has decided to assert the might of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, at least to show that the peaceful overture aimed at addressing the openly-voiced concerns of the militants through dialogue and negotiation is not seen as a sign of weakness and helplessness.
We had , on several occasions, called on the militant groups to toe the path of peaceful resolution of their agitation, especially as the President Muhammadu Buhari regime had thrown open its doors for dialogue. Unfortunately, some of these groups continued to bomb and demolish oil facilities, sounding ever more defiant, proliferating and making demands that were sometimes quite unreasonable.
We had hoped that efforts on both sides towards a negotiated settlement, which brought leaders, traditional rulers and other stakeholders in the region to series of meetings among themselves and with the Presidency, would result in making the deployment of military personnel unnecessary. We still believe it is possible for this sabre-rattling on both sides to end uneventfully as we saw in 2008 when the militants accepted amnesty from the President Umaru Yar’ Adua regime in exchange for rehabilitation.
The armed forces must keep to their promise of conducting their operations within the rules of engagement, which guarantees the safety of innocent civilians and their property. We totally forbid the harassment and victimisation of innocent civilians, as this might escalate armed confrontations and defeat the core objectives of the operation. This is not a revenge mission, and it must not be allowed to result in acts of criminality by those sent to pursue criminals.
Meanwhile, efforts at dialogue must take on a more urgent note. Any peace agreement must not be abandoned as soon as calm returns to the region.
This will amount to merely postponing the evil day, yet again.