As tension mounts in the Niger Delta over the move by militants to resume attacks on oil facilities, there is the fear that the country may soon relapse into recession.
To avert this fresh economic crisis, the Federal Government has been advised to dialogue with the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) and restructure the country.
The government has also been cautioned against a mass deployment of soldiers on the waterways of the Niger Delta amid the growing tension just as the militants have been urged to embrace peace and negotiation.
A former president of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Prof. Kimse Okoko, told The Guardian that it was frustrating to see successive governments pretend as if they did not know what was wrong with the Niger Delta and the demands of the region over the years.
Okoko explained that it was government’s insincerity over the legitimate demands of the people of the area that was responsible for the fresh threat by the NDA.
“At this stage, they must restructure this country along the line of a true federal system before the next election. This country has to be restructured, otherwise they (militants) will start their activities and this government will not be able to satisfy their demand and effectively run the economy.
“Let the federating units manage their resources. Since the discovery of oil, the Niger Delta has been left out. If you go to the creeks, we are just as bare as before, no drinking water, no nothing.
“Until we restructure this country, militants will continue to do what they want to do. In as much as I am not in support of blowing up pipelines, we are going to suffer at the end. But all the same, let the Federal Government be sincere enough. The problems of the Niger Delta are not about the establishment of a maritime university or giving oil blocks to persons; the economic wellbeing of the people must improve,” he said.
The Chairman of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) Joint National Committee on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), Chika Onuegbu, observed that if the militants carry out fresh attacks, the country could relapse into recession.
“The threat, if carried out, will be very disastrous for the economy. If you look at the president’s budget speech that explained our recovery from recession, you will see the role played by oil, based on the fact that production has been relatively stable as a result of the understanding reached with the people of the Niger Delta.
“If the militants renege on that and begin to attack oil installations, it means that oil and gas production and revenue of the country and the investors confidence will be impacted and all these will take the country back recession,” he said.
Onuegbu urged the Federal Government and the militants to continue their engagement in the interest of peace and wellbeing of the people of the country.
A member of the last national conference and Founder of Agape Rights, Ann Kio-Briggs, said it would be unwise to ignore or not to take the militants’ threat seriously.
“If you say you won’t take them seriously and you ignore the threat and something happens, then it will affect the economy and the environment.
“If it will affect the economy, it will be foolish for any government to ignore anything that will threaten the economy,” she said.
According to Kio-Briggs, the solution to the threat is not the mass deployment of troops in the Niger Delta by the Federal Government, but to address the demands of the region, instead of resorting to a show of force that might further aggravate the situation.
“I think the Federal Government must accept that there are issues in the Niger Delta that people want addressed. The government attitude to the Niger Delta is violent. It is violent to deny people equity and justice. It is violent to deny people the space to express themselves.
“The crisis in the Niger Delta, the agitation, anger and frustration of the people should be taken seriously and must be priority of this government. People feel highly aggrieved; they want the country to be restructured.
“It is not true that Nigeria cannot be restructured. The issue of collecting 100 per cent of oil revenue and giving 13 per cent to the Niger Delta is no longer an acceptable and viable option,” she said.
An activist and a former commissioner for Youth in Delta State, Chief Omolubi Newuwumi, also blamed the Federal Government for the current scenario over its failure to negotiate with non-violent agitators.
To Newuwumi, the Federal Government under the late President Musa Umaru Yar’Adua created the “masquerade” that is currently not dancing in its favour, saying in its haste to improve revenue generation, rather than tackle the problem from the roots, it hurriedly created the “masquerade” in the form of the amnesty programme for militants, which has grown beyond them and have produced more children.
He said the Federal Government did not engage those that were not violent, but rather rewarded and pacified the wrong people and those who took to arms without a proper dialogue with the right people.
He said: “The Federal Government is not engaging those that are not violent, but like I said, if they engage those who are not violent, they will get out of these problems, which have become an avenue for groups to make money for themselves.
“You see, what the Federal Government has created for us, when I mean us, I mean other tribes in the Niger Delta, particularly the Itsekiri, is a masquerade. And this masquerade, sometimes may dance in your favour and other times, may not dance in your favour. That is what masquerades do.
“You can see that sometimes it dances in the favour of the state governments or the Federal Government and other times, it comes out to dance its own way.
“That was because, as I have always said before, the Federal Government did not win the war in Niger Delta; it only pacified some people and that wrong pacification led to this masquerade.
“They pacified the wrong people, because we are a tribe (the Itsekiri) whose people were being killed in the crisis that led to the present Niger Delta armed agitation. The relics are still there.
“They killed pregnant women, aged people, children and destroyed communities to become the masquerades they are today and the Federal Government has been encouraging these masquerades and never for once thought about the people killed to build these masquerades.
“That is is why, lately, you have seen the Itsekiri people not able to talk much, because it seems that there is no reward for integrity, there is no reward for those who have respect for the rule of law. There is no reward also for those who recognise that there is a government. It is those who do not care if any government is there that they (government) listen to.”
According to him, it is high time the Niger Delta people changed their approach of destroying oil installations and pipelines because of the damage to the ecosystem and the environment, which leaves the people more impoverished .
“The damage being done to the ecosystem and the environment by the continuous bombing and destruction to oil installations is more devastating and dangerous to the people living there than to the Federal Government.
“And tomorrow, we start calling on the Federal Government to come and clean our environment for us. We can still get these things done without damaging the oil installations and pipelines. There are intellectual ways of agitation.
“I am 100 per cent in support of their (militants) demands, because whether you like it or not, some of their actions have brought in some development to the region. But I think it is time to change approach,” he said.
On PANDEF, he said though he was not against the elders, led by Chief Edwin Clark, he condemned the approach of using some boys in the creeks to agitate and after that, share the contracts among themselves.
“After each crisis or meeting like this and there is a contract, 80 per cent of the contract that will come from the ministry will be for them.
“Every process enriches some group of persons and that is why you will see that the group that will agitate today will not be the group that will agitate tomorrow, and that becomes the business of the day. That is the approach I totally condemn,” he said.
He lamented that the Itsekiri position was not being looked into because of the setting of the government, noting that the average Itsekiri man believes in the rule of law and dispute resolution.
“They have this idea of protesting legitimately and because the Federal Government has no room to accommodate legitimacy and integrity, that is why it seems they have no position,” he added.