Friday, February 9, 2007

"Playing With Fire" by Olusegun Adeniyi

Here is a profile on Asari-Dokubo (the subject of Olusegun Adeniyi's article) published by the BBC in 2004. Does the rationale of Adeniyi apply to MEND as it does to Asari-Dokubo? Are they viewed as being one and the same? And should they be viewed as being one and the same in light of the Koinange (CNN) vs. MEND transcript we published below? What does everyone think?

Many thanks to Nkemka for drawing this article to our attention. In it, a lot of mention is made of the role Obasanjo has played in this crisis, added to which is even more detail about what his role should in fact have been. On another dimension the article eludes elements of sympathy and understanding for the causes of Mujahid Asari Dokubo and other "terrorists" alike. It is unclear whether this sympathy extends to MEND. Is anyone able to offer up more insight into the issues underlying the Niger Delta crisis? What is the best peaceful avenue for tackling this problem? Through the Government? (Federal? Or State?) Or through the oil companies? Are the Niger Delta groups so overrun with corruption in themselves that one should dismiss them as being undeserving of cooperation?

Feel free to send an email to The Afro Beat inbox if you've formed an opinion on this issue that you would like other members of The Afro Beat to assess with you on the Blog and develop. Its very important that as a group we develop a set of cohesive ideas even though we can't avoid differences of opinion.


Playing With Fire

... After my interactions with top guns in our oil and gas industry who operate in the dangerous terrain, I came away with the firm conclusion that the future of Nigeria depends on how we handle the Niger Delta tragedy. But what shocked me more was that oil workers, who are at the receiving end of the activities of the militants, seem to sympathise with the frustrations of Niger Delta youths...

[A top multi-national company] official, like many of his other colleagues, all senior oil men, said the [militants] have a genuine case to sell. "Just look at the Niger Delta and all you see is poverty and criminal neglect and you can check the 2007 budget, the proposed spending from the excess crude account and the miserly amount allocated to development in the zone.

In another contribution, a participant said: "The militants have not stopped taking hostages, in the process some are left dead while others are released on payment of a huge ransom." Coming from a senior official of a multinational company which operates in the region, that is a confirmation that huge sums of money now change hands between the oil companies and these militants before hostages are released and one can now see the real danger in that the more money in the hands of the militants, the more arms they also are able to procure while the vicious cycle continues.

While most of what goes on in the Niger Delta today in the name of militancy is actually criminality masquerading as agitation, government neglect has more or less given legitimacy to the activities of the growing army of mercenaries who live off illegal bunkering and now, kidnapping, for ransom. And it is that neglect which provides a fertile ground for the fire that would come if we are not careful. It is against this background that one considers it unfortunate that the Tuesday stakeholders meeting meant to deliberate on the insecurity of oil workers and vandalisation of oil pipelines failed to hold because President Olusegun Obasanjo could not attend “due to pressing state matters”.

According to the Labour Minister, the president was "unavoidably absent. But he is here with us in spirit. Insecurity in the Niger Delta is insecurity in Nigeria”. Just what does that mean, that the 'spirit' of the president is what we now need to resolve the fundamental problem in Niger Delta?

Reacting to Obasanjo’s absence at the stakeholders meeting, PENGASSAN president, Peter Esele, stated “we are very, very disappointed. This is not what we bargained for. This is not why we are here. When the President finishes with the other pressing state matters, we are here. The issues in the Niger Delta have assumed a political dimension which only the political muscle of the President can handle.” Fortunately, that meeting will hold this morning. Those expected to attend include the Governors of Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Delta and Bayelsa States as well as the Ministers of Energy and Labour. Others are the NNPC Group Managing Director, Chief Executives of the major oil companies in the country, security chiefs and representatives of NUPENG and PENGASSAN.

The timing of the meeting could not be more auspicious for the president in view of the insinuation in town, and many were saying it yesterday in Port Harcourt, that he wants an explosion in the Niger Delta so he could stay on in power; a way of securing from the creeks what the National Assembly refused to offer him in Abuja. While that sort of conspiracy theory sounds far fetched, the recent allegation by Atiku, which has been denied by the military, of a $2 billion arms purchase to suppress people of the region, worsens his case. It does not sound credible but that such disclosure would come from the number two citizen has been unhelpful to put the situation mildly. Now, what we need are practical solutions that would help douse the tension.

As we have continued to argue, the Niger Delta needs massive federal government intervention while political, rather than military, solution is what is needed at this critical period. That, I suppose is the idea behind today's meeting. But if past efforts are any guide, the session would not achieve any meaningful result if the president continued with his hard-line posture. For instance, one of the issues that must be sorted out is the fate of Asari-Dokubo. The federal government must recognise that treason has always been a political charge and very difficult to prove while the continued attempts to perpetually keep the militant leader in detention will resolve nothing...

I do believe that [Asari-Dokubo] can still be tamed if the federal government is ready to listen to the voice of reason that keeping the militant leader in detention causes more harm than good. And that it is better to accommodate him in a negotiation in which he can be useful in ultimately disarming the militants. Of course, this can only happen after the government must have accepted to intervene positively to address the problems of neglect that have for decades been the bane of the region. The question now is: will president Obasanjo seize the moment or will he continue with his posture that will achieve no meaningful result?

Unfortunately, the last time a delegation of Ijaw Elders and Leaders Forum visited him in Abuja to seek Dokubo's release, Obasanjo could not seize the moment to extract some commitments from them while shunning their demand. That respected community leaders from the Niger Delta would go to Aso Rock to seek the release of Asari-Dokubo should have signaled to the president that in the region, the militant leader is not perceived as a criminal but a hero of sort hence their concerns about his travails.

Against the foregoing, today's meeting therefore offers another window of opportunity to come up with fundamental solutions to problems that would just not go away. I also hope it does not become another boring session with our president lecturing everybody on what they must do. But not what he should do.
Yet on this vexatious Niger Delta issue, the buck stops on the president's table.


Olusegun Adeniyi is a columnist for This Day


Misan said...

Hmm, lots going on here. One immediate question that arises from this article is why Obasanjo has not resolved the ND crisis since his first term. Who's gaining from the crisis? Certainly not the oil companies...our governors maybe? the local chiefs who allegedly get the settlement mone? Baba himself? Is there any weight to the conspiracy theory pointed out by Adeniyi, that Baba "wants an explosion in the Niger Delta so he could stay on in power; a way of securing from the creeks what the National Assembly refused to offer him in Abuja"(Adeniyi)?

Another issue is whether this MEND militants should be tried for treason if/when caught?

I'm not sure the rest of Nigeria is treating this issue with the urgency it requires. Manifestos of gubernatorial candidates (well, I've only seen one to be honest) in the region, have no solid, clearly-outlined plans for how ot resolve the issue. Current governors seem occupied with other "activities" and the gas flaring goes on. The fact that CNN and other international media are taking a closer look is great, but we know it's only becuase of the repercussions it could have on their welfare.
Nigerians as a whole need to demand from this outgoing administration, a solution to this problem...fine, they didn't start it, but they have been complacent in its deterioration.
Does anyone know if MEND has a clear list of its demands up somewhere online? would be nice to go through them and see why exactly Baba has been holding off on at least compromising with them. Or do we have a no-negotiations policy, like the US?

Bitchy said...

Agreeing with Misan almost completely, I just wanted to ask if anyone knows what other "pressing state matters” President Obasanjo had to attend to, that would prevent his participation in a meeting of which I am sure he had ample warning?

I don't believe the conspiracy alluded to by Adeniyi, but it really does look as though OBJ is sitting on the fence where the Niger-Delta is concerned. Is it because Odili (one of the main culprits in this siphoning of oil funds business) is his publicly-acknowledged "best friend"?

I'm asking these questions, not to suggest anything, but because I'm really rather confused. I don't understand why he isn't rolling up his sleeves and doing his best to resolve what is in fact a very serious national crisis. As we watched the CNN interview yesterday, a friend of mine expressed the opinion that the government is just biding its time till it blows MEND up completely. Meanwhile Adeniyi's article suggests that OBJ really couldn't care less?? Help!

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