The Niger Delta is in ferment and with it the Nigerian state and the entire world oil industry. For now, the hottest issue in international oil politics is how to deal with the cyclical Niger Delta problem. The task is exacerbated by the failure of consistent policies of coercive contention, employed in the past, which rather deepened the crises and have contributed to make it the seeming intractable problem it has assumed at present. The worsening problem is not helped by the apparent confusion and lack of clarity that had marked the Nigerian government appreciation of the Niger Delta crisis and the dangers it poses to the entire entity. This has misled it into adopting a futile approach that favors the enforcement of orders on the region, without caring of the sentiments of the people of the area.
At present, the Niger Delta presents the current government with a complex matrix of problems and it has caught it in the very wrong footings where it has put every feet wrong in its attempt to contain a mismanaged situation. From the ignorant and witless deployment of brute and tactless force during the military era to the cunning and impervious diversion of attention from the real issues during the Obasanjo years, the present Yar’Adua government dithers from inaction to obvious confusion on how to contain a man-made crisis that would have been better managed if the country’s leaders have adopted sincerity in dealing with the Niger Delta crisis. For one thing, the present government under-appreciates the enormity of the Niger Delta crisis and this has accounted for why it had proved grossly inefficient in dealing with it. There is an apparent confusion as to what the problem is all about and with this mindset; it is just normal that it had faltered in every manner in finding a solution to the problem. The lack of conceptual clarity of the Niger Delta crisis though predates the present government and has been the reason why no noticeable progress has been recorded on the issue.
While the military deemed the problem as a little anomie that could be solved by throwing its weight brutally around the region, the Obasanjo government had a queer impression that the problem could be dealt with through maintaining an illicit liaison with some of the region’s governors and squelching those voices that never accepted this pedestrian way of solving a deep-rooted crisis. Occasional jamborees and road shows the regime saw as an advertisement of its commitment to the Niger Delta issue only woke the distilled anger of the Niger Deltans and combined with the scorched earth policy of the military era to rouse the dormant militant angst of the region’s youths and introduced a dangerous dimension to the gritty battle between the government and the indigenes over the rights to the oil revenue from the region.
When Yar’Adua came, waving the bandana of peace, many people thought that with the added advantage of having one of their own as Yar’Adua’s deputy, the Niger Delta crisis was about to be resolved. The Niger Deltans themselves saw the emerging scenario as favorable to their cause and gradually flagged their own resistance. But with time and the feeling that their son has only been a newspaper-reading Vice President, that most of the rhetoric spewing out from the presidency were couched in hypocritical tenor, the region has once again, relapsed into internecine strife and the disruption of the main oil business is gradually spreading. The exasperation and confusion of the government is palpable, as it seems to misread the history, context and meaning of the struggle. It seems to misplace the feelings of the people and what they are fighting for. In this state, it misapplies the stick and carrot and has been getting horrible results from these wrong efforts. There has been no effort to reach at the very fundamental problems and issues that stoke the Niger Delta crisis and much has been invested in fangling and sustaining fire-brigade panaceas that had barely survived the diversionary intent they were intended to serve.
What more, the activities of the intervention agencies that were empowered to address the developmental needs of the region have left much to be desired. Building of few over-celebrated classroom blocks, tarring of few kilometers of unused and unusable roads and drilling one or two boreholes are merely scratching a deep wound on its surface. Much of what have happened in these agencies like the present NDDC have been the fertilizing of a huge corruption complex that have targeted party roughnecks, space-fillers at party rallies and briefcase-wielding accomplices of those in power for stupendous enrichment. Over-inflated contracts and those that were never ever executed become the ready avenue the NDDC has employed to enrich these fringe elements that bear no direct impact on the resolution of an intractable problem. The majority of the people that should be the primary target of such intervention continue to hover endlessly on the very fringes of deprivation and want. The people that matter in the region are left as high and dry as when the agitation started and this has only gone to deepen the anarchistic fissures that have developed since the agitation started. Thus, the Niger Delta has become one huge cocktail of rising anger and conflagrant tempest the government has found too hard to crack.
At present, however and driven by acute frustration, borne of its own ignorance of the entire Niger Delta struggle, goaded by narrow sectional interests, and selfish international considerations, the Yar’Adua government has announced that it would go to war to flush out the agitators in the Niger Delta. Although, it never gave an impression of how it will achieve this feat given that it had been dealt a real bloody nose by the intransigence of these agitators so far, it leaves no one in doubt that this is its last card in dealing with the issue. Its deep frustration is palpable in its present posture but this is because it had not devoted genuine attention to knowing what the problem is all about. It has not yet freed itself from the bellicose mentality of its predecessor that saw the crisis snowball out of control and it has allowed itself to be manipulated by its own sectional interest and its weakness to handle complex international political options.
But Yar A’dua needs no convincing of the foolhardiness of adopting such strong arms tactics as he is doing now to the Niger Delta problem. He needs nobody to tutor him on the fact that the Niger Delta may be the needed elixir that would free the ennui of sectarian and ethnic implosion that has been hovering over the country for years now. He needs nobody to let him know that the adoption of war in the Niger Delta may be the needed fire to ignite the tinderbox of the unsuppressed desire for nationalism, which has bred the popular demand for division among the ethnic divides in Nigeria. Yar’Adua’s government must know that by levying war on the Niger Delta just because his single-tracked palliatives have failed in the region, he is quickening his own downfall and he cannot manage the fallout of such war. He should arrest himself before he bites more than he can chew because that is certainly what his ill-advised predilection to war in the Niger Delta translates will lead to. He should rather seek ways and means of adopting a sincere and holistic approach to the problem that would free any intervention from the corruptive influence and manipulation of politicians. Such measures would reach directly to the common people in the Niger Delta, address their environmental and infrastrutural needs, empower them through a feasible poverty alleviation programme, find employment and fitting vocations for its youths and guarantees free and hitchless education and Medicare for its youths. Indeed, the goose that lays the golden egg must be tended for better results.
All said, let the Yar’Adua government discontinue its war-mongering inclination on the Niger Delta, shorn the international pressure to levy war against his people, damn the selfish sectional interests prodding him to suicide on the Niger Delta issue. He should do what is right and this must be based on a deep knowledge of the issues concerned in the Niger Delta crisis. This is the only sure way of walking away from a certain precipice his latest attitude is prodding the entire country, not only the Niger Delta or his rudderless government, into.