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Youth Restiveness, Militancy and the Intractable Problems of the Niger Delta, By Austin Emaduku

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The most important way of ensuring sustainable growth is through infrastructure. So, as a short time measure, the Federal Government should mobilise massive funds for immediate investment in basic infrastructure across the region. This will not only raise the standard of living but will boost economic activities and employment generation. There must be marked departure from those amorphous programmes that do good to the pockets of individuals rather than help the region.

The effects of the Niger Delta crises on the economy are clear, present and vividly biting. To the extent that they have almost crippled the government of President Muhamadu Buhari. Understandably too, Nigerians are beginning to blame the harsh effects of the economy on the Buhari administration. The change mantra of the APC/Buhari Government is now associated with hardship even in our places of worship. My eleven-year-old son came home from church the other Sunday and said the pastor prayed that “Buhari should not be our portion in Jesus name”, and the church chorused a thunderous “Amen!” Obviously, the effect of the crises occasioned by the disruption in oil production and the accompanying fall in the price of crude oil in the international market has also taken its toll on tithes and offerings in the church.

Definition of Key Terms

Youth Restiveness: According to Peter Osalor in an article published in the December 24, 2012 edition of the Vanguard newspaper, “a sustained protestation embarked upon to enforce a desired outcome from a constituted authority fits the label of youth restiveness. It could also be a combination of any action or conduct that constitutes unwholesome, unacceptable activities engaged in by the youths in any community.”

Militancy: The free Dictionary (Online) defines this as “having a combative character, aggressive, especially in the service of a cause; a fighting, warring, or aggressive person or party.” A ‘militant’ according to the Cambridge dictionary is “active, determined and often willing to use force.”

Niger Delta Region: According to John Vidal (The Observer of May 20, 2010), what comes to mind when you mention the “Niger Delta Region” in relation to any issue today, is “that Petroleum-rich region that has been at the centre of National and International controversy over issues of pollution, corruption and human rights violation.” Whereas we all know the Niger Delta to be a geographical location, the region is now more popularly defined by oil production, deprivation, violence, environmental pollution and lack of development and poverty rather than history and cartography to include the states of Akwa Ibom, Edo, Imo, Abia, Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers, Cross River, Anambra and Ondo. With the recent discovery of oil, Lagos State is on its way to being a Niger Delta State.

Causes of Youth Restiveness and Militancy In the Niger Delta

The Niger Delta is Nigeria’s goose that lays the golden egg. While its egg is cherished and feasted upon, almost solely, to give and to sustain the life of the Nation, the goose itself is left unfed, malnourished and abandoned.

Years of oil exploration and pollution have totally destroyed the environment and can hardly sustain the means of livelihood of the people of the area whose main sources of subsistence is farming and fishing. The Niger Delta has given its all to the nation without any corresponding recompense in return. There is the total death of basic infrastructure and social amenities such as roads, schools, electricity, pipe borne water and hospitals. The people’s sources of drinking water are polluted by constant oil spillages, their farm lands have been destroyed and rendered unfit for agricultural purposes. Even the air they breathe is unsafe due to gas flaring and the emission of carbon monoxide and other noxious substances that are daily released into the air due to oil and gas exploration activities. Coupled with these is the lack of job opportunities for employable and active youths from the area. The Niger Delta region and its inhabitants are therefore bombarded from the air, land and water. The region is said to be one of the most underdeveloped and poor oil producing regions in the world.

While the Human Development Index of the Niger Delta, according to a 2013 United Nations Development Programme report, is put at 0.433, other oil producing communities like Gabon, Libya and Malaysia stood at 0.668, 0.791 and 0.791 respectively. Even access to youth literacy in the Niger Delta is lower than that of non-oil producing communities within the Nigerian nation. Take for example the figure of 87.9 percent for the Niger Delta and 94.7 for the South West. The Niger Delta also has the highest rate of unemployment when compared to all the other regions in Nigeria. While the unemployment level of the region is put at 9.5 percent no other region, except the South–East has a figure that is as high as 6.6 percent.

While the region festers in squalor and decay, resources from its bosom have been used over the years to build and develop two world-class national capital cities. This disparity in development between non-oil producing areas and the oil producing region, was one of the reasons that led to the agitation for resources control. If the Federal Government cannot develop the region, then the people should at least be given the right to harness these resources for the development of their region and at worst pay royalties to the Federal government.

Despite decades of protestation and even appeals to the Federal, State Governments, oil corporations, and the international community, the core issues of the region remained largely unattended to. Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Niger Delta environmental rights activist was murdered in the course of peaceful agitation for the environmental clean-up of the region by the Abacha regime. Violence they say begets violence, and as the saying goes, those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change possible.

The people were not only denied the right to development, either from the centre or through resource control, they were increasingly denied the right to life and existence, as the environment from which they could eke out a living became rendered unfit for any such activity and the Federal Government wasn’t ready to do anything serious to address the situation.

There is no violation of human right than can be more than the violation of the right to existence. It is this abiding condition that gave rise to what is called the Niger Delta problem. The recurring rounds of violence that continues to hold the nation by the jugular is therefore a manifestation of the deep rooted frustration of negligence on the part of government and multi-national companies over the plight of the region.

The Approach to Solving the Problem So Far

While it can be said that the government’s intention of setting up the various intervention agencies looks good on paper, same cannot be said of its efforts to ensure that the objectives of setting up the agencies are achieved.

Beginning from the time of the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) to the creation of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by the Obasanjo Administration in the year 2000 and the establishment of the Niger Delta Ministry by the Yar’Adua Administration, all the interventionist agencies have been deliberately starved of funds by successive administrations. The NDDC first Quarter Report of December 18, 2015–March 18, 2016, bemoaned the poor financial situation of the Commission, which it blamed on “the failure of the Federal, member States Governments, and several oil companies to fund the Commission in accordance with Section 14 of the NDDC Act of 2000.”

Corruption and mismanagement of received funds have also been a huge factor. Equally rampant and most disturbing is the half-hearted implementation and or criminal circumvention of laudable programmes for self-enrichment.

Efforts and emphasis have always been focused on nebulous human capital development programmes mostly because they are soft areas where funds can be siphoned without any noticeable and measurable impact. Human capital development is laudable and direly needed in the region, but concentrating on human capital development without first providing the basic infrastructure to facilitate and sustain economic activities, is like putting the cart before the horse. According to Otega Okunono, Dani Salleh and Badariah Hj Din, “Human development is not about enhancing capabilities through education alone, rather people must adequately be integrated into society”.

Over the years, billions have been pumped into this area of human development, through the award of scholarships and training of thousands of youths and women in different skills at various skills acquisition centres. While this is laudable, the effect has not been felt in the lives of the people and the condition of the environment. For it makes no economic or development sense to train a youth in welding, carpentry, hair dressing, and give him or her starter packs or even rent a shop for him or her to ply her trade without first ensuring that the basic infrastructure needed for that business to strive, such as electricity, and running water is available. Most youths trained this way have had to sell off their starter packs, give up their shops and return to the streets or creeks to begin their criminal activities. The simple reason, in most cases, being that these businesses rely on electricity and within a year, the cost of buying fuel and diesel had practically wiped out whatever earnings they made. In an environment where even established business concerns are folding up due to the lack of basic infrastructure, it is inconceivable that a youth trained and empowered in this manner would survive such a hash operating environment and go on to be an employer of labour. But as long as the business of training consultants and contract for supply of starter packs thrive, no one gives a single thought to the sustainability of the programmes or how the huge funds allocated to this sector can be better channeled to providing more enduring projects for the communities. Human Capital development encompasses a process by which a society usurps the natural surroundings to its advantage for development. An environment has to be conducive for a people to usurp it for developmental purposes.

Efforts by successive administrations at solving the regional question have always been like this. As the saying goes: You cannot apply the same method to solving a problem and expect different results. It is time for a new thinking and a new approach.

The Role of Regional Governments

While the Federal Government must, as always, retain giant blame for the crisis in the region, the various state governments have not also done their best to redress the issues as they affect the region either collectively or in their respective states. They have been more concerned with receiving and appropriating the 13 percent derivation fund according to their whims and caprices without applying it judiciously towards the real physical and infrastructural needs of the oil producing communities.

Even those who have set up special agencies for the utilisation of the 13 percent fund have also slipped into the ineffective approach of the NDDC. These agencies are being used for political patronage and are hamstrung by lack of independence to truly carry out their mandates. Some of them, like one we all know very well, exists to pay salaries to staff who practically do no work throughout the year. It is time governors of the region realise that the region and the people are theirs and they owe them a primary responsibility of development. Investors require a peaceful and stable environment to operate. No state can develop without the presence of investors. Whether we like it or not, in the final analysis, the strife affects us all.

The Role of Militant Groups

In discussing the Niger Delta crises, we cannot fail to recognise and give kudos to the militant groups, especially the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) for rekindling and sustaining the plight of the Niger Delta in the consciousness of both the national and international community after the lull that was created by the cruel murder of late Ken Saro-Wiwa by the draconian regime of late General Abacha. Whether they were mobilised for political reasons or not, the fact remains that the condition of the region was ripe for such an uprising. MEND maintained an effective propaganda machine that put the issue on the front burner of international consciousness through constant heart-piercing releases by a guy that goes by the unlikely name of Major Jomo Gbomo. If Gbomo has not been promoted a General by now, I recommend that he be so promoted by the High Command of MEND.

There is no doubt that a struggle of that type and scale was always going to require some form of illicit funding and elements of criminality. So the illegal sale of crude oil (bunkering), highjacking of oil vessels on the high seas, kidnapping of expatriate oil workers for ransom, were therefore considered tolerable crimes in the eyes of sympathisers to the cause, as long as it could lead to the redressing of the issues of the region.

Again there was always going to be a thin line between this type of noble criminality and a descent into full blown criminality. With the rise in violence, the international oil and their servicing companies folded shop and relocated. The few multi-national expatriate oil workers who did not run away bought up our security and became “unkidnapable.” Government devised more effective ways of curbing large scale oil theft.

It wasn’t too long before the effects started showing on the region. Unemployment spiraled upward. Poverty increased and gradually the violence turned inwards. The militants being unable to reach the oppressors turned inwards and became oppressors of their co-oppressed. They started terrorising their co-sufferers through acts of piracy on the water ways. They kidnapped and violated our mothers, sister and daughters. A practice that has put a blight on the agitation and cast it in an unfavourable mould in the international community and even in the eyes of the locals.

The Presidential Amnesty Programme

In our attempt to proffer a new thinking and approach to solving the issue of the region, it is only proper that we examine the effects of previous programmes aimed at addressing the issue, especially those that have elicited high attention and attracted humongous volumes of funding. The Presidential Amnesty Programme remains one of the highest profile programmes in the history of the Niger Delta. It was instituted by the Yar’Adua administration in 2007 when Niger Delta militants almost brought the nation to its knees through the disruption of the country’s major sources of income and foreign exchange – the production of crude oil. consequent upon the kidnapping of expatiate oil workers, bombing of crude oil pipelines and gas facilities, the nation was gasping for breath.

The programme has been running in the past five years till date. According to General Boroh, the Special Adviser to President Buhari on the Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, it has been extended for another two years till 2018. General Boroh has highlighted a major constraint that is preventing the government from bringing the programme to a close to be the lack of exit plans for the ex-militants – an admission that the hurriedly packaged programme was not well thought through from the beginning. General Boroh has also decried the high cost of running the programme and asserted that there is nowhere else in the world that such a programme is being run. A total of 30,000 militants were captured in the programme, that is those who give up their arms and embraced the programme. 17,322 of them have benefitted from the programme. There are complaints by others that they have not been captured and hence would want to be included in the programme.

So if you put out the figure of ex-militants yet to be captured and add it up with the 30,000 already in the programme, you may come up with a figure not less than 35,000 ex-militants. Anyone who tells me that, even at the height of the bombings, that there were up to 35,000 arms bearing youths in the creeks of the Niger Delta from Cross Rivers to Ondo State, tells a lie. And if over 17,000 of these militants, out of the 30,000 who embraced the programme and signed for peace, have benefited, who then are the militants bombing oil facilities today and what roles are these ex-militants who must know their ex-colleagues and modus operandi playing to help the Federal Government secure the region? What impact has the programme had on the region if the issues that led to its institution are the same issues of agitation today? Shouldn’t the huge funds that have gone the way of the programme have been better utilised if channeled into creating an environment that can generate jobs for the teeming youths?

A frank and honest answer to the above posers will underscore the success or otherwise of the Amnesty programme with regard to addressing the core issues that led to its establishment in the first place. The truth remains that the amnesty programme was one designed by our oppressors to entice the Niger Delta militants to cease hostilities so that the Federal Government can carry on with its oil exploration activities, while pollution and degradation of the environment continues. It was conceived as a bribe and operated as such. If we were wiser, we would have demanded for more enduring and sustaining solutions. But through a combination of greed and lack of foresight, we bit the bait and here we are today.

While the amnesty lasted, we became emergency contractors and consultants on all manner of trainings. We smiled to the banks without a thought for our environment. “Ex-Generals” were awarded multi-million naira contracts to secure oil facilities and pipelines, as well as huge maritime contracts and forgot all about the struggle. Magnificent buildings of “Generals” and other ethnic leaders sprang up over-looking the slums and shanties in which the rest of the people dwell. Even the traditional rulers were not left out.

For the six years of the President Goodluck Jonathan Administration, the issue of the Niger Delta was kept at the back burner. Even the most important road in the region, the East-West Road could not be completed. The Ministry of the Niger Delta, headed by a Niger Deltan under the Presidency of a Niger Deltan, was under-funded. Meanwhile, incidents of kidnapping for ransom, which is an offshoot of militant activities, continued. We completely turned away from the struggle and joined with the oppressors to oppress our co-oppressed. An otherwise legitimate struggle was turned on its head, terrorising our own co-suffers through sea piracy. We kidnapped our mothers, wives and daughters and violated them. We demanded ransom from those who can hardly feed.

This was the situation until the Niger Delta Avengers started the latest round of bombings that have brought us back to the pre-amnesty stage. People have had to ask questions about the true motive of the Niger Delta Avengers. What exactly are they avenging? Are they avenging their loss of contracts and patronage? What has suddenly changed in the condition of the region in the Buhari administration that wasn’t there in the Jonathan administration? Going by the way the Niger Delta issue has been appropriated and personalised in recent times, it has also become necessary for the question to be asked; is the Niger Delta issue about an individual, group or an ethnic nationality? Must the peace of the region be tied to the pecuniary needs of individuals or groups? The answers to these questions as they say, are blowing in the wind.

The Niger Delta issue has been used before and is again being used for political leverage. This is why the Federal Government must be wary of all those masquerading themselves as leaders and justling for recognition to represent the region in negotiations with it. They do not mean well for the region. They are the same old people who have shortchanged the region. They are after their pockets. They are the emergency contractors, ethnic supremacists, conflict resolution experts and resource control intellectuals whose roles in the past have done little or nothing to address the real issues of the region. We do not need them, neither do we need another round of negotiations. It only provides avenue for corrupt leaders and criminal elements to enrich themselves. The issues are as clear now as they have always been. Nothing has changed. The region is in need of basic infrastructure. The Federal Government should move in with massive funds to do this. The Niger Delta Regional master plan is a good strategy. Government should start implementing it in the areas where tangible results and effects will be felt.

Perhaps it also important to mention the critical negative effect that the Amnesty programme had on the youths of the region that is often overlooked. It created a culture of receiving payment without doing any work. Many youths in the name of training were lodged in five star hotels for months and sometimes years, while undergoing training, and were subsequently released into society to receive monthly stipends without doing any work. This attitude of expecting payment without work has permeated the entire region. Only years of re-orientation and availability of jobs can reverse the trend. The Amnesty also inculcated the belief in youths that the best way to easy wealth is through violence. Rather than hard work, as was in the days of old, violence is now a constant part of our daily life. The Federal Government must therefore show and exhibit resolve to deal decisively with all forms of criminality whether under the guise of freedom fighting or not. As with Boko Haram so must it be with terrorism in the region.

The Amnesty Programme was not totally a failure though. Many youths were trained. Some even went abroad for studies. We congratulate them and wish that when they return home that they will apply their newly acquired skills for the betterment of the region and meet an environment that enable them to put their newly acquired skills into practice.

The Way Forward

There is no doubt at all that addressing the Niger Delta problem requires a new thinking and approach. First, we must start by communicating the problems in a new language. A clear and transparent language that is devoid of deceit and self-interest. The most important way of ensuring sustainable growth is through infrastructure. So, as a short time measure, the Federal Government should mobilise massive funds for immediate investment in basic infrastructure across the region. This will not only raise the standard of living but will boost economic activities and employment generation. There must be marked departure from those amorphous programmes that do good to the pockets of individuals rather than help the region. The Federal Government must stop forthwith the application of half-hearted political solutions to the region’s problems. Niger Deltans must also begin now to resist and reject such programmes that portray them as internal colonisers and co-conspirators in shortchanging the region for selfish motives. Fundamentally, the only way to put a stop to the Niger Delta agitation and indeed all other regional agitations is to restructure the Nigerian federation. We practice a highly unitary government, which we tout as a federal system. We need to encourage competition and creativity amongst the federating units. The practice of states sitting back and waiting for federal allocation or going cap in hand to Abuja to beg for handouts in the name of bailouts has encouraged laziness amongst states. Just as the Amnesty Programme created indolence and a horde of lazy youth in the Niger Delta region, so has this practice of federal allocation created lazy states and local governments.

There is too much power concentrated at the centre. This has been the source of all the schisms in Nigeria. Name these, whether Boko Haram, Odua Peoples’ Congress (OPC), Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), MOSSOP, MASSOB or IPOB. All these arose over feelings of marginalisation or feelings of being left out of the centre. If the people are allowed control of the resources within their states, no one will hold the centre responsible for marginalisation.

If the federating states must exist as centres of developments, rather than wasteful bureaucracies, then they must be empowered to develop at their own paces. There are serious efforts by the Buhari Administration to diversify the Nigerian economy away from dependence on oil. This is good but can at best be only a short time measure, while we commence the process of truly fashioning out a new federal constitution that is agreed upon by all constituents. Diversification without true federalism will in the long run reverse us to this same position tomorrow. You cannot build on a faulty foundation and expect the structure to stand the test of time. The Federal Government should not be afraid of a true conference of the people to discuss the future of the federation. This is the only way forward. It is the discussion that has been denied that is being carried out with bombs and guns. Let’s put out this fire before it consumes us all. But let me sound a note of warning to those who feel and await this as an avenue for break away from the Nigeria State. Look at your backyards very well before you attempt this. Do not forget the states of the Balkan Peninsular, Bosnia and Herzegovina or Sudan and South Sudan. There is strength in our being together on agreed terms than being fragmented in uncontrollable strife.

Our “Avengers” and other similar groups must know that their current actions can only lead to what they are fighting to prevent. A new strategy to redress the years of degradation is urgently required and that time is now, before the Niger Delta loses its influence on the economy. It may be a long time before oil dries up but that time must surely come. Diversification from an oil dependent economy may come even much earlier with the ongoing efforts.

There have been stories about majority, if not, almost all the oil blocks in the region belonging to non-Niger Deltans. This can be addressed as a short term measure of calming tempers and assuaging the feelings of marginalisation but this really shouldn’t be the argument. The argument and the lasting solution lies in state ownership of resources. Local governments must also be empowered in a restructured federation to have more autonomy. They are the closest to the people and should be engines of development. Money coming from the centre is seen as money belonging to all, and people don’t really have that sense of connection and ownership to it, hence the funds are easily mismanaged without any one raising much of a concern.

Other short term measures pending the restructuring to a full fledged true structural and fiscal federalism should be as follows: the upward tweaking of the derivation formula from 13 percent is required but the governments of the region must be held accountable for how they apply the fund in the development of the area. The Federal Government, as regulators, must enforce all regulations that require international oil companies to discharge their responsibilities to their host communities. Passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill in such a manner to enhance the greater capacity and participation of oil producing communities in oil production and exploration activities.

Finally, we must desist forthwith from acts that further destroy the environment. We cannot behave like the mad man who sets his house on fire to solve the problem of rats.

Whether other non-oil products become the mainstay of the nation’s economy now or in the future, the Nigerian nation owes the Niger Delta region the responsibility of cleaning the mess it has made of the region. And the time to start is now.

Austin Emaduku, a human resources consultant, wrote from Delta State.

This was lecture delivered on October 1, 2016, as part of activities by the National Association of Seadogs (NAS), Rainbow Deck, Effurun, Delta State, to mark Nigeria’s 56th independence anniversary.

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