When I read that former presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan had travelled to London to meet with President Buhari, in a bid to solve the crisis provoked by the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), I felt pity for Nigeria. Both former leaders had visited Aso Rock shortly before Buhari travelled to take care of his ear infection, so what was it they wanted to “thrash out”? Someone has dispelled the “rumour”; let’s hope they were not in London for a meeting.
Nobody now needs to be convinced that a war is brewing in the Niger Delta. The militant group has cut Nigeria’s oil production by 40 per cent at a time of great economic distress. Yet, the resurgence of militancy in the area was preventable. Obasanjo and Jonathan had a chance to solve the recurring problem while they were in power, but they did nothing. Therefore, they are not the right people to give Buhari advice.
Every day, in published statements of the NDA, I hear drumbeats of war. On Thursday alone: “We have nothing to lose in the battles ahead; justice, they say, is only found within the structure of a nation-state.
“Since the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914 to date, our resources have been used to sustain the political, administrative livewire of Nigeria to the exclusion of the Niger Delta. Finally, we are calling on the international community to come and support the restoration of our right to peaceful self-determination from this tragedy of 1914 that has expired since 2014.
“We want our resources back to restore the essence of human life in our region for generations to come because Nigeria has failed to do that. The world should not wait until we go the Sudan way. Enough is enough.”
The issues that the NDA is now highlighting are not different from the issues Ken Saro-Wiwa had raised 25 years ago. Even the demand for a separate Niger Delta state was first made by Isaac Adaka Boro 50 years ago! Yet, Nigeria has turned blind to an open sore and deaf to the persistent cries of these people. What’s wrong with us?
I was among the last journalists to speak with Saro-Wiwa. During our conversation in his office near Ojuelegba, Lagos, in December 1993, he explained that the struggle he was leading was different from the one led by Boro earlier. He said his people did not support Ojukwu’s quest for secession because Ojukwu failed to discuss with them before proclaiming Biafra. All he was after, he said, was to prevent genocide in Ogoni-land as the activities of oil companies had rendered their land desolate.
It’s ironic that Saro-Wiwa had to suffer Boro’s fate: about three months after that chat, Ogoni 4 happened; Saro-Wiwa and others were arrested, tried and then hanged in November 1995.
With the return of democracy in 1999, Obasanjo had a chance to prevent agitations for resource control. He chose to ignore calls for a national conference until the time he desired a third term or life presidency. Obasanjo’s misguided ambition killed constitution amendment in 2006. Sickness never gave President Umaru Yar’Adua time, but he was able to introduce an amnesty programme that, despite its shortfalls, quietened restiveness in the Niger Delta. Then came President Jonathan, a son of the Niger Delta, who did not see an urgent need for a conference to restructure the nation and redress the injustice of the military years. He probably wanted to implement the 2014 conference’s report, but he probably did not think he could lose the presidential election of March 2015.
President Buhari seems to be following in the footsteps of his predecessors by saying that the 2014 national conference report belongs in the archives. How false! The Avengers seems prepared to wage a war on Nigeria. Does the country have the economic power to prosecute two wars (including Boko Haram) at the same time? Even if foreign governments offered to fight for their oil companies (as they did before), it would be foolish to permit another war on the Nigerian soil.
Nigerians are suffering too much already. A war could consume what is left of the country: the rich and the poor, oil-producing and non-oil-producing areas, the employed and unemployed, warriors and peacemakers. Partly as a result of the hard times, I have learned, the crime rate in Kaduna is now one of the highest in the country. In Port Harcourt, gunmen rule the roost: at Igrita, a low-cost estate occupied by mainly policemen and women, is tormented every night by armed robbers.
The present crop of political leaders in the Niger Delta doesn’t appear capable of stopping the Avengers. The federal government doesn’t have enough funds with which to placate all the restive youths in the area. And how is work going on in Ogoni-land after the much-advertised commencement of its clean-up?
Only three choices are left for Nigeria now: commit genocide in an attempt to let oil companies produce oil for export, abandon the crude oil in the Niger Delta, or begin the process of restructuring Nigeria into a true federation. I have no difficulty in recommending the last option.
–By ANIEBO NWAMU