The Arewa Consultative Forum and the Niger Delta Conflict

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

Latent and offensive primordial feelings are bubbling. Silent whispers are becoming audible. Even if other Nigerians are oblivious to such sound and fury, those of us in the Niger Delta can hear it loud and clear — more so in the last couple of weeks when decision-makers from Northern Nigeria seems to be singing war songs. These persons are becoming edgy, insulting, disdainful and militaristic in their pronouncements. They speak from the pulpit in the inner sanctum of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF). Are these unguarded statements a prelude to a civil war?

The position of the likes of Alhaji Tanko Yakassai seems to be the position of the ACF. Their thoughts and disposition could be a natural tendency, a sign of frustration, or a signal to Aso Rock to unleash government’s instrument of brutality on the region. It could be all three. No matter. Still, it should be noted that when the day comes when the Federal Government decides to obey the ACF to go to war with the Niger Delta region, Nigeria can be assured that the people of the Niger Delta will be ready; they will not fight on bended knees or on broken backs. The conflict will be unlike any the continent has ever witnessed.

In an exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP newspaper (Sunday June 29, 2008), “the chairman of the ACF, General. IBM Haruna, called on the federal government to deal seriously with the situation. Calling the militants “miscreants,” he urged government not to go into any form of negotiation with them.” Oh heavens, what do we expect from younger and less savvy members of the ACF when a statesman like General Huruna utter such divisive statement? For all avoidance of doubt, justice-seeking groups are not miscreants, they are social movements.

Again, according to the Nigerian Compass newspaper, the Vice-Chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Senator Kennedy Waku, wants the Niger Delta militants “crushed even if it means going to war with them.” He went on to say that “These people (of Niger Delta) have taken five times more than the entire North in terms of federal allocation since 1999, what else do they want? Question for the Senator: how much dollars and pounds and yens has the entire Northern Nigeria contributed to the federal purse since 1999?

Also, according to the Saturday Mirror (Saturday, July 05, 2008), “Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim, has described the people of the Niger Delta region as a bunch of ingrates… Ibrahim said that the “tiny states” in the Niger Delta should be grateful to God for what they receive monthly as allocations from the Federal Government…” It is clear that Senator Ibrahim is out of his league. In this context, the North is actually the ingrate. Where would the North be without the hospitality and generosity of the Niger Delta? In what ways has the entire North contributed to the wellbeing of the nation since 1970?

If the Arewa Consultative Forum has not had the time to reflect on the implication of their unguarded utterances, this is the time to do so. If all the regions — East, North, West, South, and the South-South — were to go their separate ways, how would the North survive (economically and politically)? From all available data, the North would most likely go the way of Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso or some other Saharan Desert-like enclaves in the continent.

For several years now, the people of the Niger Delta have made their stance clear: no unjustified secession; no unjustified wars and other instability-inducing acts; no suppression and oppressive acts; and no master-servant relationships. What the Niger Delta region has been seeking, at least since flag independence in 1960, is justice and fairness vis-à-vis economic, political, social, and ecological development. What is being demanded are reasonable and deserving, and are within the parameters of human rights for all persons who call the Niger Delta home.

But to hear the Arewa Consultative Forum tell it, Niger Deltans are asking for unreasonable share of their own wealth. They say the people of the region are greedy and selfish. And that the Isoko and the Urhobo and the Ogoni and the Ikwerre and the Ijaw and the Ishekiri and the Okrika and many other ethnic nationalities in and around the region are making unreasonable demands. For demanding their rights, these groups have been branded terrorist and many other unprintable names. The ACF wants the people of the region to shut up, to bear injustice and other iniquities.

The Nigerian government recently ordered more military firepower to be used in the region. Should the government, at the behest of the ACF or any other group, escalate the ongoing Low Intensity Conflict, there certainly will be a “victor” and a “vanquished” at the end of the tunnel. But more than that, Nigeria as a geographical entity will be of a different composition — a composition that will not include the Niger Delta and its oil and gas wealth. The mistakes of pre and post-1914 will be corrected. We do not want war, but we shall not shy away from it.

How important is the Niger Delta region to Nigeria? Very! For the avoidance of doubt, let me remind all those who may have forgotten or who may have decided to develop amnesia. Among other things, the revenue from oil was used to fund most of the reconstruction projects after the Nigerian civil war; the money was used to rehabilitee soldiers from both sides of the conflict; petrodollars enabled Nigeria to engage in several foreign policy initiatives; and, the money from the ND was used to build virtually all the universities and research institutions in the country. Without petrodollars, there most likely would never been an Abuja. And high corruption.

Indeed, one could go on and on and on counting and recounting how useful the Niger Delta has been to the country. In return what has the Niger Delta gotten from the country? Mostly pain, injustice, and calamities! For starters, there are problems associated with unemployment and other forms of economic imbalances; ecological problems manifested in unproductive farm lands and poisoned rivers, health difficulties and polluted air; absence of or sparse availability of federal presences in most areas of the region; and the destruction of family units and culturally significant institutions.

In spite of this and my other compositions on the Niger Delta, the fetid conditions of the region cannot be blamed entirely on other groups. It is true that the oil companies, the government, the elites and domestic and international bunkerers all share in the blame. However, the people and the governments of the region also bear some of the blames. In Bayelsa State for example, none of the post-1999 governors laid the groundwork and made available the fundamentals of development. Alamieyeseigha was so power drunk he spent the equivalent of 5 months running from one corner of the globe to another. He was more into the trappings of the office. His successor didn’t perform any better. And the current governor is a failure waiting to happen.

Even so, the Arewa Consultative Forum should (a) desist from abusing our people and our leaders; (b) they should stop calling our freedom fighters underserved names; (c) the ACF should stop singing war songs; and (d) stop provoking the peace and progress loving people of the Niger Delta. The constant abuses and the ubiquitous denigrating statements from the ACF and its members are not helping matters.

And finally, I say this to the federal government: since 1957/58 until 2008, there has been more than a dozen “Niger Delta Development Reports.” The upcoming conference is nothing but a charade — another in a long line of government’s duplicitous acts. Solve the Niger Delta problems for the sake of justice, peace, and stability.

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1 comment

victor igweh October 28, 2008 - 4:54 pm

thank you for being out spoken for the niger deltans.


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