An Oputa Panel for the Niger Delta Crisis

“Where you have injustice, you will have rebellion” (Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, former Chairman EFCC, 29th May 2009.)

My sympathies go to the relations, families, friends and well wishers of those who have lost their lives in the Niger Delta crisis. These include both the solders and the indigenes of the Niger Delta area. The writer has once lost someone close to this crisis. My heart is bleeding as am writing this article. My heart bleeds because of the senseless killing of Nigerians by fellow Nigerians over an issue that can be settled using an honest approach and dialogue. War has never solved any problem in the world. Dialogue is the only solution.

I totally disagree with the backing given by the House of Representatives for continuation of military operation in the Niger Delta. Besides the president needs the approval of the National Assembly before deploying solders. The House of Representatives should draw lessons from what happened in Odi and Zaki Ibiam where the Nigerian military reduced the entire community to mere rubble. About 2000 people died. Many more were displaced. Thousands are yet to recover from the military attacks. “War never leaves a nation where it found it, the same goes for the individual” Edmund Burke. The Niger Delta crisis is equivalent to a war. Like in all wars, you only know how the crisis will start but definitely not the course it will assume or how it would end. Therefore there should be immediate ceasefire on both sides and let genuine dialogue begin.

I want to join voices with other Nigerians who have called for an end to hostilities. As a way forward towards making peace. I want the federal government to immediately set up a truth and reconciliation commission for the Niger Delta crisis. The purpose will be for the federal government, Niger Delta state governments, Local government councils, communities, traditional rulers, village heads, all the youth groups in the Niger Delta, and various stake holders in the oil industry to come out and tell Nigerians how much they have committed towards improving the development of these regions. Nigerians deserve to know what has really happened in terms of previous government development plans in the region. Nigerians deserve to know who is to be blamed. Am sure this crisis is not far from the environmental degradation suffered by this region which various stake holders claim to be addressing. Therefore the world wants to know the truth.

Nigeria has lost so much from this crisis. Many Nigerians are directly and indirectly affected by this crisis. This is a threat to our national security. This crisis has an impact on the international oil market prices. Whenever there is a crisis in the region, the price of crude oil goes up. Nigerians will then pay higher for their petroleum products since the federal government imports its refined petroleum products from abroad. The entire world is watching how Nigeria will solve this problem. So setting up a truth and reconciliation commission might be the answer. This is in addition to the amnesty which the federal government claims she has offered.

The terms of reference of the proposed truth and reconciliation commission should be to investigate the Niger Delta crisis, to find what happened to various royalties paid by the oil companies, to find out the causes of oil company-community conflicts, to find out the role of the oil companies in the crisis, to find out what happened to federal government agencies like the Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC), Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), to find out means of achieving lasting peace, to find out what the Niger Delta ministry will do, to find out the militarization of the region and the emergence of small arms etc.

Am sure the Niger Delta crisis claims about 1000 fatalities/casualties yearly. If this crisis continues, there might be total break down in our oil production. Nigeria depends on this oil as her major source of foreign exchange. A total break down will almost be like a disaster to Nigeria. A truth and reconciliation commission should be able to reveal the truth about the whole crisis. As would be expected there has been the criminal elements in this crisis. The criminal elements of this crisis are also because the government has not addressed the crisis properly. But an honesty approach by the federal government to address the issues of the Niger Delta will tackle the criminal elements.

The financial costs of this crisis to both the federal government and Nigerians should run into billions of dollars. Nigerians and the Nigeria government can no longer afford to continue losing this kind of money. This is made worst was by the present global financial meltdown. Already Nigerian oil production has fallen from a capacity of more than 2.7 million barrels per day to about 1.6 million(less than Angola)

This truth and reconciliation commission should revisit the issue of resource control. Am aware that this conflict cannot be resolved without revisiting the resource control issue. The Oputa panel was very useful to Nigerians. It helped to reveal what transpired in Nigeria. In South Africa truth and reconciliation was used to reveal the human rights abuses that happened during the apartheid era. It was also a means of healing the wounds of the past with a view to reconciling every one for future developments. In Northern Ireland, truth and reconciliation was used to know the truths in order to heal their violent past. In Chile, truth and reconciliation commission has also been used to establish the human right abuses with a view to reconciling Chileans.

A truth and reconciliation commission solely designed for Niger Delta crisis will be a necessary exercise to enable the people of Niger Delta, Nigerians and entire world to come to terms with the causes and solution to this crisis. It will form a morally accepted basis to advance the cause of reconciliation. It’s also needed at this point in time especially because a court in New York has decided to hear a case against Shell. Shell Oil Company has been accused of collaborating with Nigerian authorities to execute Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other Ogoni people. The case has started in New York. Truth and reconciliation is needed to make peace in the Niger Delta.

Finally, if the federal government hesitates or declines to constitute this commission, the civil society groups, non governmental organizations (NGO’s), human right groups, etc should set up this commission and invite various stake holders. This is in consonance with the views of Professor Wole Soyinka when he outlined the powers of the civil society groups, and individuals at a public symposium in London on the state of the Nigerian Nation. This symposium was held on 29th May 2009, at the London Metropolitan University. We need peace and reconciliation. May God bless Nigeria.

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