Monday, June 6, 2016

Would it be NEXIT for the Niger Delta?

As a young boy, one of the things I loved most to do in my spare time was to watch cartoons. I look back and I remember many of them: The Globetrotters, Voltron defender of the Universe, Asterisk and Obelisk, Archie, Richie the Rich, Winnie the Pooh, Mighty Mouse, Tarzan of the Apes, The adventures of Tin-Tin, Tom and Jerry, The Flintstones, and Speedy Gonzales the fastest Mouse in all Mexico. At that time, we would always get inkling if the protagonist was in danger or was going to suffer some misfortune from the struggles of an antagonist. It was the background music, something which would sound like gan-gaaaaaan, and which heightened your sense of anticipation, suspense and expectation and which helped your hormones to pump a lot more adrenalin than your system needed at that moment. As we passed through the motions of growth from teenage to semi-adulthood, we still gan-gaaaaaaned any and every time we expected something unexpected in real life. 

And therefore, when that categorical statement came from President Buhari, that he was going to deal with pipeline vandals the way he would deal with Boko Haram, it immediately produced a gan-gaaaaaan effect. Apart from the fact that the proclamation dragged me back to an epoch in Nigerian history, specifically during the Obasanjo years where a similar agitation by the Salafists led to the brutal execution of its leader, Yusuf Mohammed by the Nigerian police, it produced a lot of worry that while the President was breathing fire and promising brimstone for the Niger Delta militants, he did not promise equivalent fire and brimstone for his kinsmen the Fulani herdsmen who were on a killing spree. As a matter of fact, Mr. President was quoted as saying that the Fulani herdsmen were victims of the rock and a hard place - what that really means is that with the Boko Haram onslaught and the devastating ecological effect of desert encroachment, it was increasingly becoming difficult for the herdsmen to graze their cattle.

Therefore, with the military invasion of the Niger Delta vis-à-vis the so-called inability of Mr. President to visit Rivers State to flag-off the Ogoni Clean Up programme as recommended in the UNEP report, one is left with a very strong sense of gan-gaaaaaan or a sense of foreboding if you like. Here is a President who had a golden opportunity to really become Commander-in-chief and father of Nigeria in much more ways than his just being Sai-Baba after the Avengers fired the first shot. Personally, I thought that he would douse the tension in the region by calling these his children together to listen to the grievances. In the days of Yar’Adua, that is what he did, and the respect and love with which Niger Deltans refer to the late Yar’Adua resulted from his willingness to listen to us and put a programme in place. If Mr. President had done that, he would have heard his children say that they are worried about the perceived one-sidedness of his fight against corruption, the reduction in the allocations to the Niger Delta and the redirection of same to the re-building of the North-East (a place willfully destroyed by terrorists without a known cause), the cancellation of the National Maritime University, the allocation of 60% of oil blocks to more Nigerians who are not of Niger Deltans stock and the near feudal disposition of his administration.  Rather, he has a group of garrulous military spokesmen like General Rabe Abubakar, who accentuate the tensions with their feeble rhetoric and propaganda.

At a security summit which Mr. President organised just after he returned from the UK on an anti-corruption meeting, British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Paul Arkwright advised him to vigorously explore non-military action or an option of dialogue with the Niger Delta boys. We are aware that the non-military action and dialogue which Mr. Arkwright gave Mr. President cannot be separated from a dire need of the British government to secure its oil assets in Nigeria in the face of the fantastically corrupt charge that PM David Cameron charged Nigeria.  Even in the face of that, I am of the view that Mr. Buhari should have taken the Yar’Adua apian way instead of the Olusegun Obasanjo recipe which eventually created the Boko Haram Frankenstein.

One curious international dimension to the autonomy demand of the Niger Delta region is the idea of Britain leaving the EU, the Brexit. On June 23, 2016 Britain will hold an in-out referendum on its membership of the EU.  What this means is that UK GDP may fall by nearly 3% by the year 2030 if Britain decides to leave the EU. What is however interesting in the aspiration of the British to leave or not to leave a strong EU and take charge of its economy and security is that the desire to be autonomous is not new and is not always to be resolved at the point of a bayonet. I recall a similar incident concerning the Flemings and the Walloons of Belgium: the one which had more population but without the income ruled over the lesser populated one but which had the income. When push came to shove, both went solo without hue or cry. I have just been reminded by the much respected Tony Abolo of Development Alliance of the Niger Delta, DAND that the Catalonians in Spain have been fighting for autonomy from Spain for as long as he can remember. In parts of Canada like Quebec, French-speaking residents have maintained their identity through a superior force of argument backed by a willingness of the authorities to sit at the table with dissidence and discontent and come to a compromise.

But the Nigerian case is always a bewildering one. Primordial interests and considerations always come first. The other day, the President was quoted that he would rather die than let Nigeria break up. His argument, together with that of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s is that during the Civil war, many people died and therefore their death to unite Nigeria would be in vain if Nigeria eventually embraces a NEXIT. For some of us however, we believe that you go to a war to try to resolve a problem after diplomacy breaks down. In a war people die fighting for a conviction. And as a matter of fact, most armies are paid, trained and equipped to kill. Therefore, if the same conditions for which Nigeria fought a war still exist more than 50 years, it means then that those who fought and died in that war (may their souls rest in peace) actually died in vain, and the time to appease their souls and really address those issues for which they died has come.

If we have any respect for ourselves as a people, we must listen to Nigeria’s former Vice-president Atiku Abubakar’s calls for the restructuring of Nigeria. Across Nigeria today, it is as if we are in a summer of discontent and dissidence: we were hardly healed from the Boko Haram terror when the Fulani herdsmen unleashed a fusillade of horror in Agatu and Enugu. The initial reticence of Mr. President over these killings became the catalyst which precipitated the evolution of militant groups in the Niger Delta, together with the tremours in the East. Perhaps it is indeed true that the leadership is yet unable to lead and to learn from the past.