By Sonny Atumah
There is hardly any news report that has altered public perceptions of politicians that they take people for rides by building castles in the air. For that citizenries seldom take politicos for serious-minded people; ironically many experienced politicians are revered as statesmen. Statesmen are respected for integrity and impartial concern for the public good. They have hearts as sincere as their words. The universal attributes of statesmen are that they play significant roles in government or international affairs. In Nigeria statesmen have the statuses of elders.
Many statesmen have mortal reasons to become tainted with visionary novelties and frantic doctrines. They find it extremely difficult to extricate themselves from members of the highest class in the society. They lose their grips on critical issues because iron curtains are often times created by the administrative elite to separate statesmen from the people. Nineteenth century British historian, Sir Arthur Helps captured it thus: “There is one statesman of the present day, of whom I always say that he would have escaped making the blunders that he has made if he had only ridden more in omnibuses.”
Many statesmen are prevented from riding in omnibuses so they make embarrassing mistakes.
President Muhammadu Buhari had an omnibus ride recently? That was my question when news filtered in from the Presidential Villa Abuja on Christmas day that the President had offered the olive branch to the Niger Delta region for peace to reign. He was said to have extended the hand of friendship when some residents of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, led by the Minister Alhaji Muhammad Musa Bello paid him Christmas homage. The President said: “For our friends in the Niger Delta area, we will persuade them that they should please sit down with us and agree to manage our resources rather than think of fighting it out.”
It was heartwarming and indeed gratifying that the President broke his Olympian indifference to genuine conciliation on the Niger Delta question. Observers express distrust because in a national broadcast to mark his one year in office on May 29, 2016 he made same call for dialogue with the Niger Delta communities to find lasting solution to the spate of vandalism of critical energy infrastructure. In the same breath, his posture to fish out the perpetrators, and their sponsors brought to justice made the people’s comprehension of his conciliatory gesture fraught with suspect.
The crocodiles sent to the creeks of the Niger Delta were indeed not smiling but making sounds like weeping to attract prey. One never supported criminal activities but cannonades and heavy military deployments escalated tensions in an area where covert operations against the state have taken its toll on everybody. Nigeria lost that opportunity to inflexible stances which caused colossal economic losses to Nigeria.
The economy has been strapped for cash occasioned by militancy and low crude oil prices. Securing the country is paramount and he has made a milestone in Boko Haram insurgency but most of the President’s campaign promises have not been met. The three critical programmes promised in his campaign for the presidency are tackling insecurity, corruption and unemployment. He has not had a firm grip on the economy to engender policies that would effectively stimulate growth and development.
President Buhari may have also realized that time was running out to commence another round of electioneering if he decides to run for a second term in office in 2019. Even if he decides not have a second shot he must have legacies to justify his second opportunity to rule Nigeria. He is the second after President Olusegun Obasanjo to have the rare privilege of political reincarnation in Nigeria, so it is imperative for him to avoid a smirch.
The country has been hemorrhaging of cash for the 2016 budget implementation which performance was no better than average. Precariously the kernel of the 2017 appropriation of N7.3 trillion is benchmarked on the sale of crude oil. The President must have done a soul searching that he is now self-effacing and no longer on delusions of grandeur. The President’s recent approach is statesmanlike and commendable.
One has always suggested on this column that the solution to the Niger Delta problem required genuine dialogues as well as attempts at developing the area. There are serious developmental problems begging for unpretentious solutions. Mistakes were made initially and we should not paper over the issues. There must be genuine dialogue, with a period set aside for crimes to be admitted, or illegal arms handed in without prosecution which was personified in the amnesty programme.
The seriousness of the negotiations would be determined by the physical and social infrastructural agenda to act as a fillip for the people’s empowerment which must have timelines. The numerous petroleum exploration and production activities of International Oil Companies, IOC should be effectively regulated especially gas flaring that makes Nigeria lose millions of dollars daily. For about 60 years IOCs have alibied on environmental ruination and that would not soothe shattered nerves in the region. They must be actively involved in remediation to have smog and soot free Niger Delta.
The President launched the remediation of environmental ruin, oil spillage with farm lands and aquatic lives destroyed in heavily polluted Ogoniland signaling the takeoff of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Report. The exit of Amina Mohammed as Minister of Environment to assume duties as the United Nations Deputy Secretary General should not be the end of that brilliant effort to clean up the region.
It now behooves on the President to show genuine commitment on his new found love for peace in 2017. He should make his plans explicit to avoid a misinterpretation of his olive branch for olive drab. The quest for physical and social infrastructures should be uppermost for the Niger Delta. He should be unequivocal in his approach that his recent orders to intensify exploration and production of petroleum in the north is not to say an alternative have been found in his geographic north for he is the President of Nigeria.
It should be underscored that the President’s move at peace should not be seen as throwing in his hand; or accepting defeat. He is indeed being a statesman for his legacy as President would not be based on his tantrums or the number of insurrections he was able to quell; from Boko Haram insurgency to Niger Delta militancy. The Niger Delta people should embrace peace to enable the development of the region. The olive is an ancient symbol of peace. That President Buhari chose the Christmas day for a conciliatory gesture was symbolic and should not be taken for granted. The pleasantness of it all was the acceptance by the various groups in the Niger Delta agitations last Tuesday that peace was paramount, and Nigeria is the greatest beneficiary.