Pres­i­dent Buhari sharp­ens fo­cus on Niger Delta

Daily Trust - - OPINION - By Garba Shehu

Out of the blue came a group call­ing it­self the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA. They kill sol­diers and po­lice­men. They kid­nap and kill oil com­pany work­ers. Piracy on the high seas. They asked oil com­pa­nies to stop op­er­a­tions and pack out of the Niger Delta re­gion.

They blow up oil pipe­lines, power and other in­fra­struc­ture. They at­tack and kill prom­i­nent in­di­vid­u­als, ran­sack­ing homes up and down the coastal ar­eas, in­clud­ing lately, Lagos and Ogun states. All these for what? It is still un­clear what they want. From the di­verse, if vague and in­choate voices of the mil­i­tants, some say they want to take con­trol of the oil re­sources in the re­gion. Some­times when the rhetoric gets uglier, they call for the breakup of Nige­ria as a coun­try!

The scari­est part of what is hap­pen­ing is that the me­dia, in their ap­petite for sen­sa­tional sto­ries are egging them on to make a great dis­play of sedi­tious, anti-na­tional sen­ti­ment. In the last stages be­fore her gov­ern­ment’s de­feat of the Ir­ish Repub­li­can Army, IRA Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher likened pub­lic­ity for the ter­ror­ist to oxy­gen needed for sur­vival. “We must deny ter­ror­ists the oxy­gen of pub­lic­ity,” and the in­de­pen­dent English press gave the Prime Min­is­ter a free pass.

In the midst of these un­fold­ing events, Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari had main­tained an un­char­ac­ter­is­tic aloof­ness.

Many had thought for in­stance that he would tackle the new on­slaught on the econ­omy with the same hawk­ish­ness that char­ac­ter­ized his ten­ure as mil­i­tary Head of State in the 80’s. But he did not panic, ei­ther.

In fact sev­eral of the po­lit­i­cal lead­ers of the Delta, them­selves se­verely un­der pres­sure for their in­abil­ity to keep up with salary pay­ments have been in the fore­front of the calls for the “strong­est pos­si­ble mil­i­tary ac­tion” against the ter­ror­ists. The coun­try’s third rich­est state, Delta State gave no­tice a week ago that work­ers salar­ies can no longer be guar­an­teed.

So far, the Pres­i­dent has re­sisted the urge to pull the trig­ger. Yes, the army has mo­bi­lized to the re­gion but mil­i­tary ac­tion has been stayed as the coun­try ab­sorbs the in­cred­i­ble shock that has come with the fall of oil rev­enues. Records of oil ex­ports are at their low­est lev­els in 30 years.

The Punch news­pa­per, in an ed­i­to­rial on Fri­day July 1 warned the gov­ern­ment about in­her­ent “land­mines” in any ne­go­ti­a­tions: “It is like deal­ing with a black­mailer: he keeps mak­ing all sorts of de­mands, rea­son­able and oth­er­wise. Worse, there is a high prob­a­bil­ity that other splin­ter mil­i­tant groups will emerge based on the ne­go­ti­a­tions with the NDA. They will threaten the state ex­pect­ing to be ne­go­ti­ated with. At the end of the day, the gov­ern­ment would have nu­mer­ous groups to con­tend with than it can han­dle.”

In my con­ver­sa­tion on this is­sue with Gen­eral Baba­gana Mun­guno, the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser pre­cisely two weeks back, he in­formed this re­porter that he met 14 groups claim­ing lead­er­ship to the re­newed on­slaught on the na­tion’s eco­nomic jugu­lar vein.

Each of the groups had been brought to him by a serv­ing gov­er­nor or a for­mer one; a serv­ing min­is­ter or one that had left of­fice with as­sur­ances that “this group is the one to talk to.”

The amaz­ing dis­cov­ery he made from his meet­ings is the lack of unity among them as each group that came at­tacked the one that came be­fore it as in­con­se­quen­tial.

Lean­ing on an ed­i­to­rial by the in­flu­en­tial Bri­tish news­pa­per the Econ­o­mist, the Punch rec­om­mended strong mil­i­tary ac­tion. Quot­ing the Econ­o­mist, the news­pa­per said “Buhari should not try to buy them off. Rather, he should ar­rest those who have com­mit­ted acts of vi­o­lence or ex­tor­tion.”

At a meet­ing with the Niger Delta Di­a­logue and Con­tact group led by His Royal Majesty King Alfred Di­ete-Spiff at the State House last Thurs­day, Pres­i­dent Buhari spoke most ex­ten­sively on his own ap­proach to the cri­sis in the re­gion.

He told Di­ete-Spiff, him­self a for­mer mil­i­tary gov­er­nor of the old Rivers State that peace and sta­bil­ity in the Delta re­gion and the coun­try is the pri­or­ity of his gov­ern­ment and there will be no com­pro­mise on this. To show re­spect for the vis­it­ing ruler, Pres­i­dent Buhari re­called that he was “a bloody army Lieu­tenant” when the Amanyan­abo of Twon Brass was a mil­i­tary gov­er­nor.

He dis­closed that his de­ci­sion on what to do deal­ing with the prob­lem of the re­gion will be based on the re­ports he is ex­pect­ing from the Min­is­ter of State, Petroleum Re­sources, Ibe Kachikwu who is in­ter­fac­ing with all stake­hold­ers; the Spe­cial Ad­viser to the Pres­i­dent on the Niger Delta over­see­ing the amnesty pro­gram and the new man­age­ment of the Niger Delta De­vel­op­ment Com­mis­sion, NDDC.

Al­lay­ing fears that he would jet­ti­son the Niger Delta Peace Plan he in­her­ited from the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion, Pres­i­dent Buhari told his vis­i­tors that he had read the agree­ments and the gazette out­lin­ing the amnesty pro­gram.

He said he had asked his of­fi­cials on as­sign­ment on the Niger Delta to look around and see how many of the sig­na­to­ries to the amnesty agree­ment are still around.

“Let them find out what has been achieved and what is left and then write a re­port.

“I have asked the Min­is­ter of State Petroleum to work with the oil com­pa­nies. We need to get as much in­tel­li­gence as is pos­si­ble be­fore we start talk­ing.

“I sym­pa­thize with the in­vestors who bor­row money, half way through, their in­vest­ment is blown away.

“I have en­cour­aged lawen­force­ment agen­cies to con­tact lead­ers like you (Amanyan­abo). When I move in, I will have plenty of in­for­ma­tion so as to deal with the is­sue once and for all. We will talk to as many groups as pos­si­ble. We won’t give up.

“What­ever re­mains of the Yar’Adua agree­ment will be met.”

He then talked about the im­pact of the col­lapse of the oil prices, which av­er­aged about $100 US dol­lars from 1999 to 2015, say­ing that its fall to about $30 a bar­rel some weeks ago was shock­ing. “I would have been in coma if not for the fact that I was in Oil (sec­tor as a past min­is­ter) for three years.”

He then sent an im­por­tant mes­sage at this meet­ing: “We in­tend to re­build this coun­try so that our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren will have a good place. But a lot of dam­age has been done. Tell the peo­ple to be pa­tient.

“When you get to­gether, pacify the peo­ple. Let them be pa­tient. We will uti­lize (their) re­sources with in­tegrity.”

The Pres­i­dent’s con­cil­ia­tory note came a day af­ter he hosted the Na­tional Coun­cil of Tra­di­tional Rulers to a Ra­madan If­tar, at which event he asked the rulers to “beg the mil­i­tants in the name of God to stop their sab­o­tage of the econ­omy.” He ap­pre­ci­ated the ef­forts they and the oil com­pa­nies were mak­ing and said he did not wish to un­der­mine them. This equally sig­naled a highly con­cil­ia­tory di­rec­tion for the res­o­lu­tion of the cri­sis.

It is clear from the fore­go­ing that the Pres­i­dent is tak­ing a bit of time but it is also be­cause he is de­ter­mined to find a last­ing so­lu­tion to the re­cur­ring cri­sis in the Delta.

It is im­por­tant for the coun­try that a les­son be learned from the many past meet­ings and agree­ments be­tween gov­ern­ment groups and the mil­i­tants that have yielded only short term po­lit­i­cal dividends. What is wrong with those agree­ments that they don’t last?

Sec­ond is­sue the Pres­i­dent is ob­vi­ously weigh­ing is the in­tegrity of the coun­try’s in­ter­nal ca­pac­ity for the res­o­lu­tion of crises.

In his de­sire to build a coun­try in which ev­ery part is car­ried along, he is mind­ful of the fact that if any part of the body is par­a­lyzed, the whole body can­not be said to be al­right. The Pres­i­dent is mind­ful of the fact that the Delta re­gion is an im­por­tant part of the whole.

But as he charts his course for a per­ma­nent peace in the Niger Delta, it is im­por­tant how­ever that mil­i­tants don’t mis­take his ef­forts as a sign of weak­ness.

Garba Shehu is Se­nior Spe­cial As­sis­tant to the Pres­i­dent, SSAP (Me­dia and Pub­lic­ity)

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