Thursday, July 24, 2008

How to Stop Hostage-Taking in Niger Delta


From a hitherto exclusive Mephistophelean pastime in turbulent climes, hostage-taking has burst forth on our shores with a sneeze that is reminiscent of the asthmatic Baboons in virgin forests. Its advent on our shores is no doubt an effusion of anger, provocation and unrestrained emotions at our swelling failures and inadequacies in nation-building as well as the age-long distinctive contradictions in the Nigerian State.

The cumulative cost of quasi-military resistance by the Niger Delta youths has been enormous in terms of human, financial and economic sacrifices. The impact of hostage-taking, which has come to be regarded as a national malady, afflicting the soul of the nation’s economy can only be hazarded as the nation’s oil output is the worse hit with the loss of 600, 000 barrels per day (BPD) and even more as at last year. It was initially 556, 000 bpd, but with an addition of 75, 000 down, Nigeria’s daily oil revenue loss for 2006 was a whopping $700, 000,000!  With the incidences of hostage-taking recorded this year already, it is expected that the national budget is already running short of $1 billon.

These huge losses will definitely translate into another occurrence of needless deficit budgeting with a snowballing effect on the already empty stomach of the common man. This scenario will in turn, provide our Leaders with an omnibus excuse not to fund our educational aspirations, provide social security, transform our ‘consulting clinics’ to apex referral hospitals, provide infrastructures, roads and incentives that will engender societal transformation through agro-allied activities, and translate the Nigerian nightmare to the Nigeria of our dreams.

Hostage-taking, for all it has come to represent, must not be allowed to continue as we cannot afford a sustained bonfire of our hopes and aspirations to greatness on the altar of youth recklessness and Governmental insensitivity. We, the people of Nigeria must arise and speak anew in boldness and courage to the people of the Niger Delta who live in depravation, that inasmuch as we will neither ignore your oppression nor excuse your oppressors, we can only stand up for your liberty and stand with you in an atmosphere devoid of reckless exuberance, mindless violence and inarticulate posturing.  

In the same vein, Nigerians must also rise and put their Government to task on proffering lasting and workable solutions to the seemingly intractable Niger Delta question as previous and current interventionist attempts at providing lasting and meaningful solutions to the restiveness and general instability in the region have come to oscillate between taking two steps forward and three steps backward. We should make our Leaders to understand that a genuine effort by the Federal Government of Nigeria in directly intervening in the Niger Delta region with a view to giving them a sense of belonging and partnership in the Nigerian Project remains the most cogent and penetrative panacea to the problems of the beleaguered region.

Such an effort must encompass a complex whole of strategies and steps that when implemented fully, will assuredly address the decades of neglect, exclusion and abandonment experienced by the inhabitants of the region and it will also restore hope and impart a sense of collective fulfilment. As an important overture, Government should as a matter of necessity embrace the time-tested ideals of genuine dialogue which are sincerity of purpose, sense of collective importance, patient listening, readiness to implement decisions, faithfulness and focal commitment to progress and not rely on the current Aso Rock choir of cheerleaders of Niger Delta extraction which has since become as potent as a dialogue with the deaf. 

For a meaningful dialogue to hold, Government should cease further hostilities against the Niger Delta people by the Armed Forces in order to create conditions necessary for genuine dialogue aimed at addressing the underlying factors for violence in the region. The planned use of chemical and aerial bombardments of positions believed to be occupied by the militants should be denounced for what it is: anachronistic and unproductive.

With 2007 as an electoral year, Government should commence the full implementation of the recommendations of the Lt. Gen. Alexander Ogomudia-led Special Security Committee on Oil Producing Areas. The committee which was inaugurated on the 8th of November 2001 had all the then service chiefs I.G of Police, SSS DG, NSA, Representatives of Niger Delta States Oil Companies and Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) as members and it submitted its report to the President on the 19th of February 2002. 

Among the key recommendations which are very germane to the resolution of the present impasse in the region are: upward review of the minimum 13% derivation to not less than 50%; Training of Niger Delta indigenes for employment in oil companies; Provision of infrastructures such as electricity, water, roads, e.t.c, Repeal of the Land Use Act, Petroleum Act, Gas Re-injection Act and other laws which dispossesses oil producing areas of their land; and the full industrialisation of the Niger Delta region.

The above recommendations, to say the least, are very realistic just as they are attainable looking at the long years of neglect of the Niger Delta vis-à-vis Government’s knack for implementing far-reaching reforms which taste like bitter pills today but solve the problems in the long run. Moreover, for the cynics of the Government to be proved wrong that the “ongoing reform programme” is not just an esoteric swansong for witch-hunting, societal dislocation and self-serving actions, Government must adopt the same mentality of reforms that presently oils the wheels of governance in adopting the eight democratic proclamations by the peoples of the Niger Delta with regards to claims of ownership, resource access and control, environmental justice and clamour for true federalism. 

This should be done with a view to implementing the relevant aspects that do not run contrary to the spirit and letter of the 1999 constitution. These proclamations include that of the Ogonis, (a bill of rights), Ijaws (Kaiama declaration), Ikwerre (charter of demands), Urhobo (resolutions of the Urhobo Economic Summit) Isoko (charter of demands), Oron (bill of rights) Egi (Aklaka declaration),  and Warri ( Warri accord).

2007 should also see Government at all levels taking concrete steps in ensuring that oil companies protect environment, monitor and verify oil companies’ contributions to community development with a view to plugging observed leakages and arresting senile excesses of Niger Delta Elders, embark on a comprehensive road network to open up the isolated region, establish specialist Health institutions throughout the region, make the Niger Delta “Liberation Project” unattractive and less lucrative by providing jobs for the vast army of youths, provide scholarship for training in oil industry-related skills, full implementation of the NDDC masterplan as mandated by the Mr. President and increased funding for NDDC which presently subsists in tokenism.

However, Government must be commended for the seven major policy decisions it has implemented in the region within the past seven years. These are the implementation of the 13% derivation; setting up of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC); constitution of the Ogomudia Committee; constitution of the James Ibori Presidential Standing Committee on the Niger Delta; the NNPC-Niger Delta Youths Standing Committee, constitution of the Major Gen. Mohammed Presidential Committee on Peace and Reconciliation in the Niger Delta; and The Niger Delta Peace and Security Strategy (PASS).

Also worth commending is the appointment of worthy Niger Delta sons into commanding heights of the Oil and Gas sector with particular reference to Dr. Edmund Daukarou OPEC President and Energy Minister. Equally worth commending is the involvement and recognition of Youths in the Government’s quest for peace and development in the Niger Delta as evidenced in the recent appointment of Mr. Maxwell Oko, the former central zone Chairman of Ijaw Youth Council, Field Coordinator of the Niger Delta Peace and Security Strategy (PASS) and the National Coordinator of the Ijaw House, as the Special Assistant to the Energy Minister. With this appointment, there is no gainsaying the fact that Government recognises the unassailable role of the youths in stemming the tide of hostage-taking and other violent acts as Maxwell Oko’s tenure as IYC Chairman saw to the facilitation of a harmonious working environment for oil companies as well as the active involvement of Ijaw Youths in vocational trainings, entrepreneurship and investment management programmes.  

It is hoped that these steps will go a long way in dousing the angst in the Niger Delta and terminate the reign of hostage-taking on our shores as they will decisively and positively address the foundational raisons d’être for this unfortunate tide in our nation’s history with a view to permanently correcting and eliminating same.

Atâyi Babs 
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