Niger Deltans warn Buhari on tactics
• Say B’Haram war strategy won’t work
• ‘It’s ploy to emasculate region’
Much as activities of pipeline vandals have hampered electricity and petroleum product supply across the country, recent statement by President Muhammadu Buhari on how he plans to solve the problem might not be the best approach.
Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Mr. Nnimmo Bassey, has said Buhari’s statement is extreme; besides, it is pregnant and worrisome when seen in a historical perspective.
He noted that there has been a general criminalisation of the Niger Delta communities and this has led to the destruction of communities such as, Umuechen (1990), Odi (1999), Odioma (2005), Oporoza and others.
In Beijing for a working visit, last week, Buhari had told members of the Nigerian community: “The government is still being dared, but those who are sensible should have learnt a lesson. Those who are mad, let them continue in their madness. I am aware that in the last two weeks, the national grid collapsed a number of times. I hope this message will reach the vandals and saboteurs who are blowing up pipelines and installations. We will deal with them the way we dealt with Boko Haram.”
Having initially performed dismally in the war against Boko Haram, the Nigerian military, following new impetus by the Federal Government, has been able to reclaim 14 council areas earlier held by the terrorists.
The president of the Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC), Udengs Eradiri, criticised Buhari for showing a lack of understanding of the precarious nature of problems facing the country, especially, the Niger Delta issue.
He said: “It will do him good if he sits down, looks at the Niger Delta situation, engages stakeholders and understands the true situation. He must also understand that there are different dimension to oil theft.
“We have people sitting with the President in Abuja, who are the kingpins in the business of illegal oil bunkering and other forms of oil theft.
“If he thinks that it is to come and bombard our communities and get peace, it is not going to be possible. The thieves are with him there in Abuja. So, he should look inwards if he wants to find solution to the Niger Delta problem.”
Bassey said the comparison is extreme and could lead to the escalation of militarisation and occupation of the region. “That would neither secure the pipelines nor protect the environment,” he remarked.
The environmental activist stated that isolated individuals, who could be stemmed through joint policing by communities and security forces, cause pipeline vandalisation. “Some of the so-called vandals, especially the technically savvy ones, are possibly embedded in the petroleum sector, rather than in the communities.”
According to him, “criminalising an already harassed populations will not end the crises in the oil fields. We need holistic solutions. We need positive change. The gun will not solve the crises. The solution will include the clean up of the Niger Delta and restoration of livelihoods, as well as, a careful plan to ensure that economic incentives directly reach the communities.”
At the weekend, Vice President Yemi Osibanjo had also echoed Buhari’s stance, saying: “All of us must agree with the President that the vandals must be treated in the most severe manner and should not be tolerated at all.”
Speaking after he inspected bombed pipelines at Forcados Terminal in Burutu Local Council of Delta State, Osinbajo said vandals are “as bad as any type of terrorists or saboteurs” and “should not be tolerated under any circumstance.”
He added: “We would have to deploy even sophisticated weapons to ensure we contain the vandalism, overhaul security and permanent pipeline security force might also be an option to look at.”
But Mr. Tonye Timi (Patani), a member of the Delta State House of Assembly, described Buhari’s declaration as unfair and an attempt to lay foundation for a calculated emasculation of Niger Delta people.
An ethnic Ijaw, Timi said it is totally off the mark for anyone to equate Boko Haram’s bloody activities with the Niger Delta’s legitimate struggles against marginalisation and a determination to have a say on their God-given resources.
He said: “It is trite that the Niger Delta struggle is focused on development, while Boko Haram is a meaningless struggle targeted at destruction.”
Timi said Niger Delta people would resist any attempt to visit them with presidential might, which should rather be directed towards driving Boko Haram out of Nigeria.
He advised the Federal Government not to dissipate energy and scarce resources in a futile effort to militarise the Niger Delta, but rather focus on taming the sect in the Northeast.
Former president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ledum Mitee, said without justifying pipeline vandalism, it would be absurd to place offenders at par with those who are actually involved in armed insurrection against the state.
Mitee, who is the immediate past chairman of the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) and chairman of the sub-committee of the National Economic Council on Pipeline Vandalisation and Oil Theft, said instead of awarding pipeline protection contracts indiscriminately, the government should award them to communities in the Niger Delta, because they have local solution to the problem.
He regretted, “all the time, we play into the hands of security agents who want to make money when there is a threat to security. Now, they will claim oil vandals are destroying the economy, ‘Give us so, so billion naira and we will stamp out oil vandalism’.”
On his part, the director, Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Anyakwee Nsirimovu, wants President Muhammadu Buhari to investigate why after more than 20 years, the special security Joint Task Force that has been operating in Niger Delta has not been able to end pipeline vandalism.