NIGER DELTA UNDER SIEGE: THE PRINCEWILL'S OPTIONS
Ahamefula Ogbu a Journalist with Thisday Newspapers described the early attack of the militants on the residents of Port-Harcourt the capital of Rivers State thus 'Rambo could not have done better. With automatic rifles in their hands and hate, revenge and murder hanging around their necks, warring cultists took Port Harcourt, Rivers State, by storm yesterday for the second day running. Pandemonium broke out as residents ran for safety. It was sorrow, tears and blood. At the end of it all—or, more aptly, at the interval, for no one knows the end yet—15 persons had been dispatched to their early graves' and true to this unsung prophet no body knew the end as the next few days saw about eighty innocent souls wasted by an agitation uncommon to our people in the Niger Delta.
Okey Ndibe a respected opinion on national issues in Nigeria in his recent article titled 'a blood soaked city' described the current happenings in Rivers State in these words 'That the once idyllic Port Harcourt was now a scarred place, a war zone, a city soaked in blood; the city under siege with thousands of citizens displaced; that its once quiescent boulevards and avenues were now ruled by marauding militiamen and by the fierce soldiers deployed to dislodge them. Sudden death by bullet was now a generalized hazard for the city's trapped and hapless residents'.
COST OF SECURING PEACE AND SOURCE OF DESTRUCTIVE WEAPONS IN USE
At the time of writing this piece, a seven day curfew and now extended with seven more days has being imposed on the people of Rivers State and the Military has not only being invited to quell the uprising in Port- Harcourt but are to stay and maintain peace for the next six months according to the Governor of the State Sir Celestine Omehia after holding meeting at the Government House with the Security Chiefs that comprise the Chief of Defence Staff, Lieutenant General Andrew Azazi; the Chief of the Army Staff, (COAS) Lt. General Luka Yusuf; the acting Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mike Okiro; the Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Naval Command, Chief of Army Training, Nigerian Army Headquarters; Head of Military Intelligence, Director General of the State Security Service (SSS), the Brigade Commander, Brigadier General Samuel Saliu and Commander of Operation Flush out III. Others include the Commissioner of Police, Rivers State Command, the Army Public Relations Officer (APRO) and the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) among others.
With the coming of the Joint Task Force (JTF) the following large cache of arms and ammunition has being seized from the militants amounting to billions of Naira- 1. 57 general pumping machine guns (gpmg) 2. About one million 7.62 CTM ammunition 3. 7,000 of 5.6 mm ammunition 4. 50 cartridges 5. 50 dynamites 6. 5,000 of 9mm ammunition 7. 10 local pistols 8. 2,000 of 7.62 mm ammunition 9. Special 10 SMG Rifle 10. 20 Ak 47 machine guns 11. 20 fragmental jacket 12. 50 machine gun rifles recovered from a man that wanted to sell them to the militants.
One bereted pistol and ten pump action. Efforts according to the report contained in the Nation Newspaper of 19 th August, 2007 to smuggle into the region arms and ammunition worth N6 billion in a couple of weeks in order to intensify the activities of the militants in the region is the offing except if the ship conveying these arms is intercepted there is very possibility that the gun-runner will supply these arms to the region in the next few weeks but the unanswered question is: from where does these militants get these billions of Naira to acquire these deadly weapons according,thesame Nation Newspaper of 19 th August gave an answer ' the Militants in the Niger Delta raise money through political patronage and illegal bunkering which is currently a booming business in the coastal areas'. The aspect of bunkering is in tandem with the position of the Rivers State Government as confirmed by the Hon Commissioner of Information Mr. Emma Okah while at Lagos recently. Throwing more light on the sponsoring ship of the activities of these militants MR. Gbomo Jomo the Spokesperson of MEND recently in Edo State accused politicians in the state of employing the services of warring cult groups in the state to ensure their "victory" in the last elections is sustained. He said further 'what is happening now is that the politicians are merely working against elements that were not in their support during the last election' Alhaji Asarin Dokunbo the Leader of NDPVF in conformity with the stance of Mr. Jomo had at various occasions accused the administration of Sir Peter Odili in Rivers State as the brain of equipping and encouraging most of the activities of these militants in the State.
The Port Harcourt Telegraph a local tabloid published in Port- Harcourt in its edition of August 20-26, 2007 in a front Page report titled; 'The Odili Years of Blood, Tears and sorrow' catalogued the genesis of the modern militancy in Niger- Delta and the caliber of industrious sons of Rivers State killed while Odili holds sway as the Chief Executive of Rivers State for eight bloody years in the State. A patriot and a nationalist, Prof Tam David-West in this report of Telegraph was quoted as blaming Odili for the violence in the State. One George Oraeki in an article published in the Leadership of 21st August, 2007 titled ' Rivers Of Blood: The Challenges before Omehia' affirmed the position of the PH Telegraph newspaper accusing Odili as the mastermind of the activities of militancy in the State .
On the other hand the Inspector General of Police recently as a Guest Speaker at Lagos during activities for the inauguration of National Think –Tank Committees in a Lecture titled ' Security of life and Property lend credence to the above assertions when he said ' politicians assuming the reigns of leadership through a dubious process as well their failure to provide good governance in Nigeria serve to aggravate crime rate in the country' this aptly described the pathetic state of affairs in Rivers State where the people's mandate was stolen in such a way that governance is totally alienated from the people and that is the sacrosanct truth.
Tonye Princewill the Prince and the rising Star of Rivers State Politics in his contributions appealed to our youths that 'we should abhor criminality in all its ramification and stopped any further acts of hooliganism, destruction of lives and acts inimical to the peace and growth of our State not minding that it was the same evil forces that we are fighting today that equipped you people to suppress, intimidate and scare away the electorates from voting in the candidates of their choice during the elections thereby given room to the 'selection' exercise that took place in Rivers State. During the April's election you people were called heroes the same people are today calling you villains and that you should be rooted out! We highlighted and warned of the consequences of using our youths to kill and intimidate political opponents but we were mocked and today the fruits of their evil deeds are trying to consume the entire region the AC's Leader stated.
The major goal of this effort is not to apportion blames but to trace the motives, genesis and highlight the possible options as suggested by Tonye Princewill one of the shinning stars and Prince of Rivers State politics who as a concerned stake-holder in the political happenings in this region proffered in bringing this epidemic roaring to consume not only Niger Delta as a region but the entire country as a whole.
THE CAUSE OF THE YOUTHS RESTIVENESS
That this region that produces about 90% of Nigeria 's wealth has the most poverty reddened people is like over flogging the issue and stating the obvious. In this region so neglected there are no good schools, no pipe borne water, our people can no longer farm due to environmental degradation and pollution through oil spillage and gas flaring by multinational oil companies; fishing that used to be the mainstay of our people has being destroyed because of offshore oil exploration so we now depend on iced-fish. The despoliation of the environment, the short-circuited future of the youth, ravaging illnesses and excruciating poverty that rates among the worst nationwide, destructive acid rains, devastating oil spillage, death of agricultural production have become the lots of our people. Our region today good drinking water, qualitative education, electricity, and hospitals are alien to us thereby fostering a new breed of agitators call militants on Nigeria.
According to an official source, the region has in the last forty years, a cumulative production of about 19 billion barrels of crude oil, making it one of the world's leading petroleum provinces. Our status today as a country as the world's six largest producer of crude oil is a result of the impact and the implication of the oil mining activities in this region.
PAST EFFORTS OF GOVERNMENTS
The major recognition of the plights of our people and efforts to address some of our problems was in 1958 when the Willinks Commission recommended that there should a special development agency to address agenda of the region which led to the setting up of the Niger Delta Development Board in 1960. By 1992 the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) came in and was replaced in 2000 by Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC with an increment of 13% derivation and sadly despite all these efforts there has been no noticeable socio-economic impact in the region due to corruption on the side of our Leaders couple with poor funding that led us to our present state of quagmire in the region. The N30 billion due to the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC) are yet to be released to the commission.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo former President of Nigeria fashioned out a nine-point plan to deceive our people. The agenda rolled out in 2004 had a string of definitive measures to develop the coastal states of the Niger Delta – the agenda was to cover employment generation, transportation, education, health, telecommunications, environment, agriculture, power and water resources. Under this development plan, Obasanjo had promised that the government would resume the construction of the abandoned East-West highway with an estimated investment of N230 billion to link the Niger Delta region with Lagos with the construction of the East-West highway project – all these were grammar and only as good as the paper it was written .
MILITANCY IN THE REGION AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
The efforts of Issac Adaka Boro in 1966 in raising the awareness and consciousnesses of our people over their plights couple with the efforts of Ken Saro-Wiwa and Asari Dokunbo to renew these efforts and the unfortunate hijacking of this noble vision geared towards the emancipation of our people by some of our mis-guided youths who allowed themselves to be manipulated by greedy and evil politicians couple with lack of employment and total neglect of the region and lip service to issues affecting the region by past administrations gave birth to the sad and unfortunate trends of kidnapping exercise in order to extract money from their victims for survival. To Tonye Princewill ' as a stake holder in the Niger Delta issue, the new dimension of indulging in acts of criminality in the struggle for the emancipation of our people is not acceptable to me. This latest ploy has not only brought shame and calamity to us as a region but negates the principles of our struggle for a better Niger Delta. We accept the fact that we produce about 90% of the total income of our country's income and all these years our region has remain impoverished and treated like a pariah geo-political section in Nigeria but this act of criminality by few youths that have decided to hijack and portray us in a very bad light thereby negating the good intentions and noble goals of Issac Boro and others is not acceptable to me as a focused person interested in the greatness of this region. I condemn with the strongest terms this criminally induced hostage taking in our region as it's contradicts any principled strategy of attracting the attention of both the Federal Government and the International Community to the plights of our people. The present Government has demonstrate a enough commitment, vision and focus in attending to some of the problems of the region; we must give them a chance and see how far they can go considering that at the moment, our own son is the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria not minding that the election that brought them in is still before the Tribunal'. 'I urge a total stoppage of any form of further hostage-taking in the region. This unacceptable stance portrays us as unserious and unprincipled people that take pleasure in inflicting pains on innocent families and scaring away investors that have come to assist in developing our region. We therefore call for collective effort by the entire stake- holder in the region to isolate the criminals trying to hijack our struggle before an irreparable damage is done on both our psyche and image as a people'. The upsurge in youth militancy has forced most oil companies to shut down operations and forced many expatriates to pull out of their operational areas in the region. Lamenting this ugly development, the former Group managing director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC), Funsho Kupolokun, made a sobering disclosure on the cost of the crisis. Receiving the Chief of Army Staff (CAS), Lt. General Luka Yusuf in his office, the NNPC chief revealed that about 600, 000 barrels of crude oil is being lost daily to the lingering crises in the Niger-Delta region.
Apart from the staggering loss in crude oil Nigeria is suffering other debilitating losses over the seemingly intractable crises. Foreign investors are now afraid to invest in that region, which they see as a serious threat to their lives and investment. Some countries have warned their citizens not to go to the region for work, which is fast becoming a high loss to the region. Nobody wants to invest in an area where there are crises.
Many concerned Nigerians have variously offered one suggestion or the other on how to get the nation out from this intractable dilemma. To some school of thought the solutions lays on the immediate implementation of the ' master plan' according to them this will see that infrastructures will be seen in almost every community, so that no one will have any excuse to say that we are agitated because government is doing nothing on our plights as a region- NDDC that was set up as an interventionist agency to address some of the plights but not adequately funded – what impact do one expect from such an agency? Apart from the fact that the funding is not forthcoming but even if it comes it is inadequate. In this regard let us consider the 2007 budget that has N24 billion for NDDC whereas the FCT had N67 billion – FCT is one city you are appropriating for. NDDC has nine states operating a budget of N24 billion. If you divide N24 billion by nine, you get how much? What can you do with that? The effect of that budget in one village alone in the region may not be felt.
In the thinking of Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, a member of The Patriot, a group of elder statesmen that voiced against certain constitutional infractions of the Obasanjo regime, proffered two key solutions to the Niger-Delta crisis, "If the real owners are now engaged in the process of determining those given the licenses to explore the oil, then they would have a say about the regulation of the operators in the petroleum industry and on the control of pollution. They should also be given a percentage of the money. I am not talking of 13 per cent derivation that is given to the state. No. In addition to that, I am talking of communities having a direct stake in what happens to the oil in their area. I am talking of a community-by-community involvement.
To Joseph Evah, coordinator of Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG), 'what the Niger Delta people need now is more action and less talk. "If, immediately after Yar'Adua was sworn in, he took steps to correct all the wrongs that Obasanjo has done to the Niger Delta people, like paying the backlog of money due to the NDDC then we would have taken him serious''
Second Republic President, Shehu Shagari, however, came up with a solution to the age-long resource conflict in the Niger Delta crisis. He ruled out the use of force, and advised Yar'Adua to embrace dialogue as a means of ending the problem in the region. Certainly, speaking with the benefit of hindsight, Shagari said dialogue would serve the purpose of healing the wounds in the minds of the people of Nigeria, especially those of the Niger Delta region. He says such dialogue could be achieved through a conference in a neutral ground where all sides to the various conflicts could peacefully exchange ideas. He described militancy in the Niger Delta as the biggest problem Nigeria faces today, but believed it can be resolved through dialogue.
One-time Minister for External Affairs, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, declared that all Nigerians should be ashamed of the current imbroglio in the Niger-Delta region of the country. He said: "We should all be ashamed of ourselves allowing the problem of Niger-Delta to degenerate to this level. I am not talking of shame deriving from individual responsibility, but of shame deriving from a collective responsibility as Nigerians." he noted: "This crisis did not creep on us unawares. We did not wake up one morning to find ourselves confronted by this crisis. We have had enough signposts, some of them dating back to over 40 years, if we use the Isaac Boro 1966 declaration as a major one. Yet we ignored the signals .We went to sleep and left the fire burning on the rooftop. Now we are paying heavy penalties of not being able to sleep".
The chief executive officer of the Newswatch magazine and indigene of the region, Ray Ekpu contributing traced the road to the current crisis in the restive region of the country to 1956 when oil was first discovered in Oloibiri, Bayelsa State. "As expected, the oil industry grew in relevance and revenue but this growth came with a price – the waters of the region were polluted, farmlands destroyed, air fouled and the people impoverished. No noticeable improvement took place in the region and the people commenced a regime of agitation that was led by Boro in the 1960's, which was followed by the playwright, Ken Saro Wiwa, in the 1990's and Asari Dokubo in this decade. Ekpo indicted successive governments for failing to implement various reports on the way out of the crisis. He listed the 1983 NNPC report, and two other committee reports that were allowed to gather dust without being implemented.
To the Benin monarch, Omo N'Oba Erediauwa 'the root of the Niger Delta crisis is traceable to neglect of the indigenes by multi-nationals involved in oil exploration and exploitation'.
Senator David Brigidi, a member of the last two Senates, leading environmental activists in the region and presently the chairman of the Niger Delta Peace and Conflict Resolution Committee, lamented; "despite the huge oil revenue that was accruable to the nation from that region, the economic deprivation forces still persist …so, people over the years built up a pent up anger against the Nigerian political elite, both the military and political structures for neglecting their environment".
As far as Chief Patrick Okomiso, the National Chairman of the Niger Delta Youth Forum is concerned; government should replicate the infrastructure in Abuja in the Niger Delta area. He said: "Infrastructure is lacking in that place yet they produce the money we all use. They went to Abuja and saw the good roads there and then they came to Lagos and saw the third mainland bridge, yet they don't have any of these good things that their money is producing in other areas.
"Do you think they will rest after seeing all these things? We should stop deceiving ourselves, we need to concentrate on the Niger Delta and develop that place too. Let them replicate the third mainland bridge in the Niger Delta; let them construct those types of roads in Abuja there and see if militancy will not stop. How many schools are in the region for the people to go to? How many hospitals are in that place, how many will you count in Abuja alone'.
Contributing, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark an elder statesman and a onetime Federal Minister of Information in the first Republic advocated that the only solution to the lingering security crisis in Rivers State 'I implored President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua not to dilly-dally in imposing a state of emergency on Rivers State, doing so would be tantamount to postponing the evil day' He continued '. Omehia was not fit to be governor of Rivers State in fact he is a major part of the problem and an unserious and insensitive personality; where is the seriousness in Omehia? If he is a serious governor or politician, why should he abandon Rivers State when the state was still boiling to go and take part in a birthday bash in Abuja for his godfather, Peter Odili? We can't fold our hands as elders, and continue watching situation degenerate."
In conclusion we can not ignore the observation of President Yaradua when he addressed the Governors from the region recently at Aso-Rock according to Mr. President ' that with national and global attention focused on the area, the Governors must now commit themselves to a judicious application of the resources allocated to them for the benefit of their people. , apart from working towards improving the living conditions of their people, the governors must make transparency and accountability intrinsic parts of their administrations'.
Mr. President continued "The problem we have in many states today is that of transparency and accountability. Nigerians are yearning for leaders who will be more accountable and live by examples rather than precepts," 'I am very concerned about the state of insecurity in the region and the Governors must give more urgent to the restoration of peace, law and order to the region', Mr. President stated.
Concluding Engr. Tonle Princewill the Prince of Rivers State politics stated " Without doubt, the grievance that arose from many years of neglect and social decay is responsible for the massive unemployment and restiveness among the youths in the region. Yet, the latest ploy of hostage-taking and continued destruction of oil facilities, in the region, can only lead to an avoidable vicious cycle of declining derivation earnings causing more misery, unemployment and frustration.
Having said this, I will like to appeal to the Federal Government to start addressing the genuine concerns of the peace loving people of the region without further delay. what our people need now is not formation of one peace committee or the other but serious intervention on the pitiable situation of our people and a committed and pro-active agenda for job creation, poverty alleviation and infrastructural improvement in the region The Niger Delta problem is our problem and as committed sons from the region' we are capable of solving this heinous and hydra-headed problem once the FG takes the right steps in redressing the issues and major concerns of the region and ready to work with those who are committed towards this course and not politicians not truly elected by our people as presently constituted in the region. Let the FG help us to salvage this sad and unfortunate situation and that way we can all be helped. 'Oil for nothing is no more a fashionable concept'. We must start to put back, sow before we reap and let us preach and practice justice. This applies to all of us and that way peace and development will be brought to this region the lays the golden egg that sustains us as a country".
To demonstrate the lack of vision on how to tackle the Niger Delta crisis by the Omehia's administration, they came with the funny strategy of given the repentant militants the sum of N1 million which they have started implementing as the panacea to solving the militancy which they created but hear what Tonye Princewill has to say on this unfortunate strategy "To me the strategy of giving the sum of one million Naira to any militant who denounces membership of militant group shows the highest level of amateurism in governance and total lack of basic elements of administration by Sir Celestine Omehia and his friends in governance. A child of five years can easily deduce that this step is just another ploy to sustain and encourage the activities of militancy in our State. How many militants do we have in the State and how many millions do we have to give out to these militants? How do we establish who is a militant and even when established how do we prove that the so called militant will not collect the one million naira and still go back his vomit"? As a solution, "I have developed a three blue-print strategy on how to tackle the restiveness in Niger Delta starting with Rivers State which is at moment the hot-bed of crisis and make Rivers State a haven for all Nigerians and foreigners -My strategy for countering the Niger Delta Problem is what I call the Double E C (EEC) approach.
1. Education and Training: Does anybody ask the question "What happens after the oil is finished." Our dependence on oil money is the root of our problem. We forget that our biggest resource is human capital. My government aims to tap it. To do it we will need to go beyond talk to action. Aside from our team very few have the capacity or the vision to do this.
2. Employment and Empowerment: Again how many jobs are being created and how many people are employed? What are the skill sets of the people most impacted by the current problem and how do you (having established these answers) begin to segregate those who are pointed at employment, empowerment, education and training?
3. Crime Resolution: Tough on Crime, Tougher on the causes of Crime: The truth is all these steps must happen in parallel. Which comes first the cause or the action? Provide people with positive options and stand firm in the deliverance of law and order for the security of our people. They are tired of excuses and so any government worth its salt has to be able to deliver peace and security. A stronger law and order structure must form the hallmark of any development. This is what we need in Rivers State". Can anybody fault these? – coming from a genuine and committed leader of our people
Finally, I am convinced that if the injustices during the last election and efforts to implement the master plan and the appeal of Mr. President to the Care-Taker Governments in the region are followed; by the time we assume office very soon all things being equal, the dream and vision of our people will come to pass by the grace of God Tonye Princewill concluded . The ball is now in the court of the Election Tribunal and the people of Rivers State- I have given my options and ready to serve''.
By Eze Chukwuemeka Eze
Eze Chukwuemeka Eze is a Media Consultant
based in Port-Harcourt
Mediaconsultanttpcorivers_07@yahoo.co.uk, email@example.com, 08053469916