Militarization of the Niger Delta is a Threat to Peace

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

According to Barry Buzan “the individual citizens faces many threats which emanate either directly or indirectly from the state, including those arising from domestic law-making and enforcement; those arising from direct administrative or political action by the state against individuals or groups; those arising from struggles over control of the state machinery; and those arising from the state’s external security policies.” In this regard, the excessive policing of the Niger Delta is clearly a threat to the region; and indeed the ongoing militarization of the region is not only a threat, it has the potential to further damage the delicate relationship between groups in the region, and between the people and the state.

The case has already been made by this and other commentators that the recent implosion and explosion in Rivers State (and its environs) was as a direct result of weak institutions, corruption of politics, absence of government and the personalization of law and order by individuals in and out of governments. In effect, the government failed itself and also failed the people. This being the case, the government of President Yar’Adua cannot now turn around and militarize the state all in the name of law and order. There may be a change in personality and attitude, but really, this government is a continuation of the Obasanjo regime — a regime under whose watch the rot began.

Sadly, the military occupation extends beyond Rivers State. Soldiers, in all their might, are everywhere. With orders to arrest, dislodge, shoot and kill “bloody citizens,” several cities and villages in Rivers and Bayelsa State are now feeling the heat and the nuisance. Innocent citizens are subjected to inhumane search, unreasonable confiscation of personal property, and, in some cases, physical and mental punishments. There have been several instances where the military and security people simply engage in mass arrest and mass detention. People’s basic rights are being abridged.

Law abiding citizens are being treated like common criminals, grownups are being treated like children, and the innocents are presumed guilty. Why must the people now suffer from the excesses and crimes committed by Peter Odili, Olusegun Obasanjo and their proxies? The government of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua must immediately halt the ongoing militarization of the region. Yes, criminals and or all those engaged in criminal activities must be brought to justice. There must be peace and harmony and law and order in the region. But we cannot have tranquility and stability when we have soldiers everywhere (doing the work of the police).

There are soldiers everywhere. There soldiers everywhere when they should be in their barracks or in some far away places fighting wars or on some UN-peace-keeping missions. The police should do their jobs; not the soldiers. Before you know it, the soldiers may interfere in the act of governance and cease control. If there is lawlessness in the Niger Delta, call in the police and the security services. Not the army! Soldiers are not trained to preserve or promote law and order and harmony. They mostly shoot and exert punishment before asking questions. At this rate, even those who hate the cultists and criminals may sympathize with them (and then turn against the government).

In any democratic setting, soldiers are called in only at the last resort. And so the Chief of Army Staff, in consultation with the Chief of Defense Staff and the Minister of Defense, should immediately impress it upon the President to recall soldiers back to their barracks. The President should know or should have known that the problems of Rivers State are the problems of the Niger Delta; and the Niger Delta crisis has both domestic and international security implications. The underlining problems of the Niger Delta must be genuinely addressed; otherwise, there will continue to be regular mayhem and instability. No amount of militarization will calm nerves, it will only worsen matters.

It cannot escape the lens of any astute observer of the Niger Delta that the government is now reaping what it sowed. The bigger picture indicate that what we have going is a product of several decades of duplicity on the part of the government, the ruling elites, and the oil companies. What did they expect in an environment of ecological distress, social and political ills, economic stagnation, and the general marginalization of the people on whose land the government and the people of Nigeria has been feeding for more than four decades. There cannot be peace where there is no justice.

The land and waterways of the region is being exploited and defaced without any sort of repair and replenishment, and without commensurate compensation to the people. Adding to the economic and ecological injustice of the last four or so decades is the absence of viable political and legal structure to adequately address grievances. A reasonable government would have known that if you added all the aforementioned to a bowl of unemployment, idleness of the mind and body, elite manipulation, private armies, and a feeling of hopelessness the result would be fatal. What’s the point of militarization when militarization is only exacerbating an already delicate landscape?

One of the end results of government inanity and apathy is what we have going in Port Harcourt. There may be more to come. Unwisely, the government thinks the solution rests in the militarization of the region. Dream on. Dream on. Justice, viable institutions, good governance, inclusion and full participation in the political and economic process will be the beginning of a comprehensive solution. Not militarization.

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