By Chioma Onuegbu
ABAK- STAKEHOLDERS at Akwa Ibom State have detected that unfriendly actions taken by the Federal Government to abate conflicts in the Niger Delta region, especially military attacks, not only triggered the formation of the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, and other violent militant groups, but snowballed tension in oil-rich areas.
The participants drawn from 31 local government areas of the state bared their minds at a one-day public dialogue on “Building Host Communities Confidence in the Security Forces through Voluntary Principles on Human Rights’ organized by Community Policing Partners for Justice, Security and Democratic Reforms, COMPPART, at Abak in Abak Local Government Area of the state.
Former Vice Chancellor of the University of Uyo, Professor Akaneren Essien, who led the discussion, identified the use of military options in the face of threats to oil production caused by protests and violent attacks in the region, as part of frosty measures.
They expressed optimism that direct implementation/application of the Voluntary Principles on security and human rights (VPs) strategy would end the lingering conflict between companies in the mineral and energy sectors and their host communities.
Breach of promises since 70s
Essien in his keynote speech said the failure of the Federal Government to fulfill its promised benefits to the region in the 1970s and 1980s further led an escalation of the conflict between the militia groups and multinational corporations in the early 1990s.
“The restiveness in the Niger Delta region is attributed to the politics surrounding the resource control principles by the Federal Government, in addition to policies, attitudes and activities of the multinational oil companies, MNOCs.
“The Voluntary Principles helped government take a proactive stance on conflict prevention arising out of security and human-rights related issues in the extractive sector. Through information sharing, it could help address challenges such as oil theft, pipeline vandalism, oil bunkering, kidnapping, illegal mining by extractive companies.
“Regular consultations as described by the VPs give the communities a sense of ownership and commitment and contributes to peace building and good relationships between stakeholders,” he asserted.
Continuing, he recommended development of VPs strategy to focus on ensuring that multi-national oil companies address all sources of grievances, treat the wellbeing and health of the host communities as a matter of utmost priority, as well as employ youths of host communities in their companies.
He added that government on its part should effectively enforce the regulations on oil spills by making the MNOCs accept responsibility for their actions.
“If these issues are sincerely and holistically tackled, a lot would have been done to reduce drastically the burgeoning security presence in oil producing areas and will similarly reduce the incidence of human rights abuses arising from security breaches”, he said.
Our strategy, A’Ibom CP
The State Commissioner of Police, Mr Zubairu Muazu, who was represented by the Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, DSP Bala Elkana, stated that the command had put in place strategies to bridge the gap between citizens and the police to enhance effective policing in the state.
Muazu in a paper, ‘How Citizens Can Process Complaints for Effective Results to the Police and Other Security Agencies,’ said that the 37 Divisional Police Officers across the state had commenced enlighten programme to ensure the citizens become aware that bail is free in the state
“So we are creating platforms on which the police and the people will be interacting without intimidation or harassment. That is why all the DPOs are here at this event. We are focusing on three main areas of community policing in the state, and respect for human rights. We are working so hard to see that citizens’ rights are not violated and if violated, we have also established platforms in which you can complain for the issue to be addressed,” he asserted.
Community policing involves everybody
His words, “We will listen to your complaints, investigate them and make sure that justice is done. We are also looking out to the extremely poor. How they can have access to justice. Security is for everybody. We are also looking at gender issues.”
He, however, urged citizens, including traditional leaders to be vigilant regarding happenings their surroundings at all times to avert hoodlums unleashing harm on them unawares and getting away successfully.
The police chief noted that the concept of community policing demands that everybody must be practically involved.
Nigerian govt still aloof – Akpan
Executive director of COMPPART in the state, Mr. Saviour Akpan, said the essence of the stakeholders’ public dialogue was to create more awareness on the existence of the VPs and the importance of using the provisions in resolving the lingering conflict in extractive communities in the country, especially in oil producing areas.
He regretted that non-participation of the Nigerian government as a stakeholder was slowing down the implementation of the initiative in the country.
“Through this kind of programme our people are gradually becoming aware of the existence of the Voluntary Principles on security and human rights. The tensions we have in our extractive communities are because of disrespect for human rights. It is expected that this confidence building dialogue will help all stakeholders yet to key into the initiative to do so,” he said.