Should Buhari negotiate with Niger Delta militants?

Unfortunately, Nigeria has been on this issue for a long time now. It is a recurring decimal in our national life, and it is not going to stop. The only way it could be resolved is for Nigerians to sit down and discuss it. Otherwise, the people will continue to be confused by a government that is, itself, confused.
People have been saying the same thing for over 50 years. From the time of amalgamation to 1958 when they went to London to discuss the issue of minorities, the issue has been there. We have had Isaac Boro, Ken Saro-Wiwa and several other agitators. Today, we have the Niger Delta Avengers.  Even we, the Niger Delta people, are not happy about what is happening but we have no choice.

Ann Kio-Briggs, (Environmental right activist)
                                                  Ann Kio-Briggs, (Environmental right activist)
When you look at the Niger Delta issue — either from government or Niger Delta perspective — you will agree that people have taken different approaches. For one, I am a non-violent agitator for justice and equity. Now, the question is: Is Nigeria going to stay together as a country? We can no longer dismiss that question.

We must restructure Nigeria if we are going to stay together. We need to sit down to discuss with whoever is in government, whether today or in the future. The sooner we discuss the Niger Delta issue, the better. The sooner we discuss ownership issue, the better. The sooner we discuss fiscal federalism and self-determinism issues, the better. There is no point sweeping the issue under the carpet anymore.

Recently, the government restructured the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, and almost everybody on the board is from the North. This would fuel agitations.

Dialogue is a viable way out of any crisis. Dialogue is the way out of the Niger Delta crisis. We need to find out what the people want. We should conduct a referendum in the various geopolitical zones to find out what the people want. A single group cannot dictate for 170 million people.

That is why the 2014 National Conference, as far as I am concerned, is the last opportunity for us to discuss anything meaningful about the country. Shelving the report is what puts us where we are today. We must sit down to discuss if we are going to live together.

The problem I have with the current government is that it is not consistent. To that extent, one begins to doubt its sincerity in any dialogue. Of course, dialogue is worthwhile because a responsible government should not be seen to be fighting its citizens, killing them every time. You must make provision for dialogue.

Those who feel they want to repent and return home must be given hope with all sincerity. But when there is inconsistency on the part of government and people are calling for justice to be done without sincerity, there is a problem.

We have seen what the late President Umaru Yar’Adua did; the sincerity of purpose and what he achieved. But a lot of those working with President Muhammadu Buhari are not sincere.

Dialogue is welcome. But are they sincere — considering their attitude to governance and other issues? That is the fear.

I was a key player in the discussion that led to the amnesty programme during the Yar’Adua administration.

We took leaders of different groups, about 18 of them, to the late President. I could feel the sincerity as they discussed extensively in my presence.

That was before amnesty came into being. But those who are in this government are not sincere. What they do is that they spend taxpayers’ money through the backdoor while they keep telling the President what is not true. That was the same thing they did in the case of Boko Haram.

Negotiation cannot be done in isolation. There must be a dispute before you can negotiate. If several options had failed to yield results, then, negotiation could be an option.  The question now is: Was there any dispute between the NDA and the Federal Government? If there was a dispute, at what point did it arise? These are the fundamental questions we need to ask before calling for a dialogue.

As far as I’m concerned, when you talk about negotiation, you are pursuing an abstract issue. There is no dispute to warrant a negotiation.

Who are the members of the NDA; faceless people involved in economic sabotage? Who are we negotiating with? And what is the subject matter?  To me, the debate is ridiculous.

There are a number of recommendations on how the matter should be handled. First, you could treat it as a law-and-order issue.

Secondly, you could treat it as a political issue. If you think it is a political issue, look for a political solution. That would entail negotiation, appeasement and giving of carrots.

But if you consider it as a law-and-order issue, then treat the crisis as a subversion of the economic life of the country. In that case, the country reserves the right to deal with the issue decisively.

My view is that government could engage with the militants but not with a view to bribing and appeasing them.

The purpose of engagement is to dissuade them and let them see that what they are doing is not in their interest or the interest of the society. That is different from appeasing them, giving them money, giving them a sense of recognition in which case they see themselves as power brokers.

Once you do that, there will not be an end to it.

                                                       Jiti Ogunye, a lawyer
                                                                      Jiti Ogunye, a lawyer
If the government wants to play the role of politicians, who do not see beyond their tenures, it could go into any kind of deal with the militants. But if they want to think as statesmen, who know that this thing could be cancerous, it has to deal with it permanently.

The way to deal with it is that the entire country should have a dialogue. We might have had confabs but we may need a more authentic one.

Instead of going into a dialogue with different groups, why don’t we sit down and discuss as a country?

It is quite unfortunate that the government thinks that the anger by the Niger Delta people is inconsequential. The world witnessed how the Niger Delta Avengers observed the ceasefire declared by President Muhammadu Buhari. It was done in the spirit of cooperation but the government was expected to show commitment within the period by calling on the NDA to name its negotiators, set up its own team, appeal for cooperation from the international community to mediate in the matter and demonstrate its willingness to engage in a purposeful dialogue.

If the Federal Government had taken such steps, the world would have joined it to condemn the renewed attacks allegedly carried out by the NDA. The clear reason for the resumption of hostility is because the government failed or refused to initiate a dialogue. The onus is on the Federal Government to commence the process with sincerity of purpose.

Let President Buhari begin to address the core issues on fiscal federalism, resource control and restructuring of the country. These are the demands of the Niger Delta and the other regions. As it is, a dialogue may no longer be necessary. What do we want to discuss? The Federal Government should restructure the country in line with the principles of fiscal federalism or organise a referendum to decide the union.

It is unfortunate that the Niger Delta governors have not been able to come together to discuss the way forward and reach out to the aggrieved youths. Rather than addressing the real issues, politicians are feasting on the crisis.

What are the key demands of the militants? They mentioned the proposed maritime university and called for the restructuring of the country. But the government is not interested in the issues they have raised. And the economy is in a mess partly because of the problem in Niger Delta.

If we are losing billions of naira on a daily basis owing to the crisis, why is it difficult to see the development of the region as a priority? We have to go into negotiation with relevant people because we cannot afford the loss anymore.

If we say that what the NDA is doing is wrong, should we continue on a wrong path too? Can two wrongs make a right?

The United States and its allies used their military might to kill Saddam Hussein. Has there been peace in Iraq since that incident? You cannot solve every problem using military power.

The Federal Government should reach out to somebody like Government Ekpemupolo (alias Tompolo).

Tompolo’s intervention will go a long way in calming the situation.

Compiled by:

Geoff Iyatse and Toluwani Eniola


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