Nigeria military build up in the Southern part of Biafra: Nigeria is on the brink of another full-blown war.
- There are fears that Nigeria might witness a major strife, which may even compromise the unity of the country if the federal government goes ahead to declare war against the Niger Delta militants, writes MIKE UBANI, in Port-Harcourt.
Few days ago, President Muhammadu Buhari issued a stern warning to the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) and other militant groups in the volatile oil-rich region to embrace dialogue or face military action.
The President warned that his administration would not continue to watch helplessly as a few aggrieved persons destroyed the country’s oil infrastructure when the issues at stake could be resolved though dialogue.
Indeed, the NDA and other militant groups operating in the region had in the past few months destroyed critical oil and gas infrastructures in the area, thus jeopardizing the country’s already dwindling economy.
According to the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, the country loses N107 billion daily due to the vandalization of oil and gas pipelines by the NDA and other militant groups operating in the Niger Delta.
It was apparently against this background that a distraught President Buhari warned the militants of the consequences of continuing in their nefarious activities. He warned that the Federal Government would use the force of arms to literally drag the militants out of the creeks, almost the same way they dealt decisively with the marauding Boko Haram terrorists in the scorching North Eastern part of the country.
President Buhari said the Federal Government was open to dialogue with the Niger Delta militants to resolve all contending issues in the oil-rich area.
‘‘We do not believe that they (militants) have announced a ceasefire. We are trying to understand them more; who are their leaders and which areas do they operate and other relevant issues?,” said President Buhari.
The President who spoke duringa bilateral talks with the Japanest Prime Minister declared that if the Niger Delta militants refused to negotiate with his government, he would crush them the same way he crushed Boko Haram.
He further told the Japanese leader that with the defeat of the Boko Haram terrorists by the military, the attention of the administration was now focused on stopping the destruction of the country’s economic assets by militants in the Niger Delta region.
“We are talking to some of their leaders. We will deal with them as we dealt with Boko Haram if they refuse to talk to us.
“As a government, we know our responsibility which is to secure the environment. It is clear to us that lenders won’t fund projects in an insecure environment,” said President Buhari.
Even before the President asked the militants to accept the option of dialogue or face military onslaught, the Nigeria Army had readied itself to march to the creeks of Niger Delta to forcefully fish out the militants..
In a ceremony in Sapele, Delta State to mark the official launching of a new military exercise in the Niger Delta code-named ‘Exercise Crocodile Smile”, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, said the army had been mandated to “provide security for residents as well as critical nation economic assets in the region
“We need to keep our country safe. We need to get our economy going without any interruption”, said the army boss. Gen Burata was optimistic that at the end of the exercise, security would have been achieved in the tempestuous oil rich region.
“ We hope that the economy will come up again and the facilities and infrastructures in terms of the oil and gas will be protected and the people around will go about their normal businesses without fear of any attack,” said the army chief.
It will be recalled that “Operation Delta Safe” was set up by the military during the previous administration to also quell the resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta.
Apparently conscious of the consequences of a full-blown war in the Niger Delta region, many organizations and individuals had since appealed to the militants to sheathe their swords and accept the option of dialogue.
For instance, The South-South Peoples Conference (SSOPEC), a socio-cultural group in the region, had appealed to the NDA and other militant groups to dialogue with the Federal Government..
Prof. Sotonye Amakiri, chairman of the association and other leaders of the group drawn from the six states of Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa-Ibom, Cross River, Delta and Edo, said at the end of its recent meeting in Port-Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, that it was better the militants discussed with the Federal Government instead of going to war with the Nigerian Army..
“The militant groups should not ignore the Federal Government’s willingness for dialogue,” said Amakiri.
He pointed out that negotiation was paramount as it would enable government to understand their demand challenges.
A chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr. Ben Nwoye, also said in an interview with The AUTHORITY in Port-Harcourt that dialogue was the best option to resolve the Niger Delta crisis.
He advised the Buhari-led administration to acquaint itself with the Amnesty Programme initiated by the government of late President Musa Yar’Adua, to see whether it could be fine-tuned to meet the demands of the region.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta, and his Sokoto State counterpart Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, had equally urged the militants to dialogue with the Federal Government. Both governors said in Asaba during the just concluded 25th anniversary of the creation of Delta State that an atmosphere of peace would fast-track the development of the oil rich region.
Though a faction of the militant groups has reportedly agreed to dialogue with the Federal Government, indications are that it would take some time before a consensus is reached among the militant groups to pursue the path of peace.
The implication, said one military expert, Mr. Donald Iwenso, is that that the Nigerian Army will launch an onslaught against the recalcitrant militants. Iweneso said that if this happens, “many people, especially women and children would be victims of the impending war.”
The country had fought a civil war between 1967 and 1970, after the then military governor of former Eastern Region, Col Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, now late, declared the region the Republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967.
According to a report issued by the United Nations,the war which lasted for 30 months, claimed the lives of two million people, especially women and children.
“Nigeria cannot afford to fight another civil war, but if it does, it may lead to the disintegration of the country.” said Iwenso.
An environmental activist in the Niger Delta, Comrade Alagoa Morris, told The AUTHORITY in an interview that the militarization of the Niger Delta region “can never be the best option for suppressing the militants in the region. He rather advocated for the declaration of a state of emergency in the region that will be geared towards developing the area..
“If President Muhammadu Buhari feels that increasing military presence in the Niger Delta region that has been militarized since 1999 will be the only option to solve the Niger Delta issue, he should go and ask Obasanjo whether that military option was effective or not.
“According to students of management, every leader has his own style in pursuing goals of the organization, so I cannot choose for Buhari. However, I would like to remind the Federal Government of certain very important historical facts, when visionary leaders like Ken Saro Wiwa saw the coming war in the Niger Delta and urged Nigerians to do something before the curtain falls, the then leadership of the country failed to see, but rather killed him.,” he said.
He said it will be difficult if not impossible for the Nigerian military to fight a successful war in the creeks of Niger Delta.
“Strangers cannot know the creeks more than the locals and so, militarization may not solve the problem. It might only encourage more youths to return to the trenches, and the consequences could be disastrous.”
“While not encouraging militancy in any way, I wish to remind residents that Nigeria is sailing in a democratic dispensation and, it is far better to jaw-jaw than take up arms against each other. Unfortunately former President Yar’dua is late, I would have urged Buhari to go and learn from him”.
Morris also urged the Federal Government to go back to the report of the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta and implement recommendations therein, pointing out that If Boko Haram that killed fellow Nigerians in thousands without any positive reasons are now enjoying protection and the North East is given special attention, there is no reason why the Federal Government should not declare a state of emergency in Niger Delta with the main focus of developing the area.
He said: “Look at the Brass road which even IBB said he will complete in 30 months; it is still in limbo. Are they serious with our development? Even politicians from our region are looting the commonwealth and under- developing us. This is so sad and unfortunate.
Nevertheless, the fiery civil society activist and founder Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), Rev. David Ugolor, accused the Federal Government of lacking strategic plan to develop the Niger Delta region, saying the many years of neglect of the area has forced the youths to take up arms against the government. .
The groundswell of opinion here is that the unity of the country will be seriously affected if the Federal Government declares war against the militants of the Niger Delta.
“Nigeria may not be the same again if there is war in the Niger Delta”, says Chekwube Isioma, an undergraduate in one of the universities in the South-South region.