Why is the Nigerian government bringing so much pain on the Niger Delta and the ordinary people of Nigeria? Why is the government subjecting Nigeria through this pain, when it is clear how the Niger Delta crisis can be resolved quickly and permanently? Where are the political historians who could have advised the president that the current crisis was inevitable? Where are the democrats and moralists who should be shouting out to the government to do the right thing so as to resolve the crisis quickly, instead of been miserably quiet?
Where is the Nigerian National Assembly that should be the defender of human rights and justice that have paled into uselessness and have become a department of the presidency? Where is the British government to mediate in order to end the crisis, rather than advising the Nigerian government on a military solution that has brought so much misery to the Nigerian people? Where is the European Union that talks so much about justice, freedom and fair-play, but has been hopelessly quite? Where is the United States, the preacher of freedom, justice and human rights, yet could not caution Nigeria when Nigeria consistently perpetrates injustice in the Niger Delta? Where is the African Union to help resolve this problem in the spirit of Pan-Africanism? For how long will Nigeria refuse to abide by due process that it preaches, in resolving the crisis instead of embarking on a short cut quick-fix approach in dealing with the crisis?
Nigeria is in a serious trouble, with the potential of collapsing, yet the government and its advisers do not seem to see the danger of Nigeria becoming a failed state, but still do business as usual. The Niger Delta crisis is the single most important issue to be resolved, if Nigeria wants to continue as a state with sustainable social cohesion and economic progress. Why is Nigeria so used to not doing things correctly?
There is so much enthusiasm about the amnesty package announced by President, Yar’ Adua, but one could not help but baffles at the grossly inadequate measures proposed to resolving the crisis. Any reasonable person that thinks logically knows that the package is incapable of addressing the issues that caused the problems in the first place. Amnesty should be a tiny aspect of an entire holistic reconciliation process. It is also shocking to see the President dangle N50 billion (and ignoring the real issues) to entice militants to lay down their arms. The president is clearly taking advantage of the level of poverty of the people of the Niger Delta, a people that can be bought quite easily.
Some questions that are worth asking are, what happens when the recipient militants exhaust the money they received, will the government give them more? Exactly how much of the N50 billion will get to the militants? Or will a large part be consumed by political administrators? The danger is that the government may just replace the current militants with new ones. Besides, it is highly unlike that all the current militants will lay down their arms (MEND has already indicated that it will not) because of the gross inadequacies of the current amnesty proposal. It is also highly unlikely that even those who lay down their arms will surrender all of them. This is not rocket science, it is predictable, it is simply human behaviour. There is no trust. The militants may simply reason that, what happens if they give up all their weapons and the Nigerian government changes its mind? Remember, there is a problem with trust. Past Nigerian governments have no history of trustworthiness, so one may understand why the militants may reason this way. Another worry some militants may have is how secure are the arms, after they have been surrendered? Could these arms be sold or passed on by corrupt officers involved in the current disarmament framework?
The Northern Ireland model can guide Nigeria out of this mess. With IRA and other paramilitary groups fighting against British government interest, as many as 3,500 people died during the Northern Ireland conflict between 1968 and 1998. Those who lived in the UK during this period will bear witness to the constant threats from the IRA with bombs exploding all over London and other parts of the country, with huge destruction and human casualties. This went on for 30 years, until former British Prime Minister Tony Blair felt that the government should engage the IRA to resolve the crisis. Though he came under severe criticism for been ‘soft’ on the IRA, he stuck to his guns and pursued a peaceful means to bring the pains of Northern Ireland to an end. How did he do it? He partnered with the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland to pursue a holistic process of peace and reconciliation, as the pain and anger was deep rooted.
As a result of deep seated distrust on both sides, a neutral negotiator, US senator George Mitchell was appointed to negotiate on the political front. Mitchell operated on the following principles:-
· To a democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues;
· To the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations;
· To agree that such disarmament must be verified to the satisfaction of an independent commission;
· To renounce for themselves, and to oppose any effort by others, to use force, or threaten to use force, to influence the course or the outcome of all-party negotiations;
· To agree to abide by the terms of any agreement reached in all-party negotiations and to resort to democratic and exclusively peaceful methods in trying to alter any aspect of that outcome with which they may disagree; and
· To urge that “punishment” killings and beatings stop and to take effective steps to prevent such actions.
On the disarmament front, an Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) was established. In the UK, the IICD was established under the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 and in the Republic of Ireland it was established under the Decommissioning Act 1997. The IICD was made up of:-
· (Ret) General John de Chastelain, the Chairman, from Canada
· Brigadier Tauno Nieminen, from Finland
· Ambassador Donald C. Johnson, from the USA
· Andrew D. Sens, from the USA
The objectives of the Commission, was to facilitate the decommissioning of firearms, ammunitions and explosives, by:-
· Consulting with the two governments, the participants in the ongoing negotiations in Northern Ireland, and other relevant groups,
· Devising and presenting to the governments a set of proposals on how to achieve decommissioning,
· Facilitating the process by observing, monitoring and verifying decommissioning, and receiving and auditing arms, and
· Reporting periodically on progress.
Furthermore, an Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) was created in January 2004, by a treaty signed between the Irish and British governments in November 2003. The role of the IMC includes:-
· Monitoring any continuing activity by paramilitary groups;
· Monitoring the commitment by the British Government to a package of security normalisation measures;
· Handling claims by parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly that a Minister, or another party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, is not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means, or that a Minister has failed to observe any other terms of the pledge of office. .......
The Commission was made up of the following:-
· Lord Alderdice, Peer in the House of Lords;
· Joe Brosnan, former Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Republic of Ireland;
· John Grieve, former head of the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terror Branch
· Dick Kerr, former Deputy Director, Central Intelligence Agency, USA
The point here is that in order to bring about true peace and reconciliation, outside help is essential for the sake of trust and confidence building.
The UK government did not stop at this, as disarmament was only a part of a much wider package contained in the Good Friday Agreement that was signed on Friday, April 10 1998 by all sides to the conflict.
Under the sub-heading “Declaration of Support”, the Good Friday agreement reads:-
1. “We, the participants in the multi-party negotiations, believe that the agreement we have negotiated offers a truly historic opportunity for a new beginning.
2. The tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering. We must never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families. But we can best honour them through a fresh start, in which we firmly dedicate ourselves to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust, and to the protection and vindication of the human rights of all.
3. We are committed to partnership, equality and mutual respect as the basis of relationships within Northern Ireland, between the North and South, and between these islands.
4. We reaffirm our total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences on political issues, and our opposition to any use or threat of force by others for any political purpose, whether in regard to this agreement or otherwise.
Regarding reconciliation aspect of the Good Friday agreement, the sub-heading titled “Reconciliation and Victims of Violence” reads:-
11. The participants believe that it is essential to acknowledge and address the suffering of the victims of violence as a necessary element of reconciliation. They look forward to the results of the work of the Northern Ireland Victims Commission.
12. It is recognised that victims have a right to remember as well as to contribute to a changed society. The achievement of a peaceful and just society would be the true memorial to the victims of violence. The participants recognise that young people from areas affected by the troubles face particular difficulties and will support the development of special community-based initiatives based on international best practice. The provision of services that are supportive and sensitive to the needs of victims will also be a critical element and that support will need to be channelled through both statutory and community-based voluntary organisations facilitating locally-based self-help and support networks. This will require the allocation of sufficient resources, including statutory funding as necessary, to meet the needs of victims and to provide for community-based support programmes.
And under “Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity”, another part of the agreement says:-
“Pending the devolution of powers to a new Northern Ireland Assembly, the British Government will pursue broad policies for sustained economic growth and stability in Northern Ireland and for promoting social inclusion, including community development and the advancement of women in public life.
Subject to the public consultation currently under way, the British Government will make rapid progress with:-
(i) A new regional development strategy for Northern Ireland, for consideration in due course by the Assembly, tackling the problems of a divided society and social cohesion in urban, rural and border areas, protecting and enhancing the environment, producing new approaches to transport issues, strengthening the physical infrastructure of the region, developing the advantages and resources of rural areas and rejuvenating major urban centres; ........
With the total commitment from the British government on implementing these initiatives, Northern Ireland became the fastest growing economy in the United Kingdom.
The promise of a genuine peace and reconciliation changed the mid-set of both politicians and militants alike in Northern Ireland. In 2005, even former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair had to say the simple, but usually difficult word to say “Sorry” to the family of the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven who were wrongly convicted for involvement in IRA bombing activities that killed and injured several people. Their convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal in 1989 and 2001 respectively. They had by this time served 15 years in jail. The prime minister said “he was sorry that the families were subject to such an ordeal and injustice”. Though the prime minister was criticised by many as a political opportunist, the apology brought so much healing to the recipients, their families and those who had fought for justice for many in years in Northern Ireland. Blair was basically steering the peace process on the right platform, a time to sound conciliatory and not
inflammatory. This is a quality that Nigerian politicians lack. Many come across as rude, arrogant and obnoxious, that constantly inflame situations that could have been resolved with public relations and interpersonal skills.
Even the IRA took the unusual step of apologising to the families of the victims of Bloody Friday, when on Friday, July 21 1972, the IRA detonated 27 bombs in Belfast, killing 7 civilians and 2 soldiers and injuring more than 130 people .The apology was made in July 2002, at the 30th anniversary of Bloody Friday. The IRA said:-
“It had not been its intention to kill or injure non-combatants that day....
The reality is that on this and on a number of occasions, that was the consequences of our actions....
It was appropriate that on the anniversary of the tragic events of Bloody Friday that we address all the deaths and injuries of non-combatants caused by us....
We offer our sincere apologies and condolences to their families....
There had been fatalities on both sides. We recognise the grief and pain of the relatives....
The future would not be found in denying collective failures and mistakes or closing minds and hearts to the plight of those who had been hurt....
The future would not be achieved by creating a hierarchy of victims in which some were deemed more or less worthy than others....
The IRA was committed unequivocally to the search for freedom, justice and peace in Ireland......
We remain totally committed to the peace process and to dealing with the challenges and difficulties which this presents.... This includes the acceptance of past mistakes and the hurt and pain we have caused to others”.
This statement brought tears to many families who had lost loved ones in the conflict, now hoping that gradually they could see true peace and reconciliation and an end to their pain. Nigeria should learn from what happened in Northern Ireland and not try to invent the wheel all over again, for mistakes would be too costly. The current amnesty package that has been paraded now will not bring true peace to the Niger Delta. Even if all the militants were to lay down their weapons (which is unlikely), the problem still remains and it will be a matter of time when another Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro or Ken Saro Wiwa or MEND will rise again. This is simply because the pain remains.
Look at the pictures below and guess where Nigeria’s oil wealth is produced. Your answer to this question will explain why the problem will not go away until Nigeria can take the bull by the horn and robustly deal with real issues that have plagued the Niger Delta for over five decades.
Please click on this link to view the full press release with pictures:
Nigeria therefore, has a lot of work to do in order to bring closure to this crisis. Imagine the mess the oil companies are doing to the Niger Delta. They have completely destroyed the rivers and the beautiful rain forest of the Delta. The mangrove forests of the Niger Delta, is the largest in Africa and the third largest in the world with huge environmental benefits to not only Nigeria, but to the entire world. Yes, the Nigerian government remains completely mute in the face of this rapid and vigorous destruction of the Niger Delta by the oil companies. The companies pay no penalties for their irresponsible and dangerous behaviour. What kind of government on earth behaves like this, to deliberately subject her citizens to condemnation and death. In the 18th century, the Escravos river in Delta State (Escravos means “Slaves” in Portuguese), use to flow with slaves. It now flows with crude oil and blood. The same is happening on the rivers Nun, Forcados, Ramos, Santa Barbara, San
Bartholomew, Brass, Middleton, St. Nicholas and Pennington.
Nigeria should wake up from her sleep and tackle these issues with all seriousness, if she wants to survive.
Despite the bleak and depressing future, we believe that Nigerian has a way out of this crisis. These are our recommendations for the President to act upon, in order to save the Niger Delta and Nigeria from further pain and suffering:-
· Assemble a respected and trusted international team to manage and monitor the implementation of the amnesty proposal;
· Assemble an international team to manage and implement a process of peace and reconciliation in the Niger Delta;
· Apologise to the people of the Niger Delta on the manner they have been treated over the past five decades (the symbolism here is very important);
· Quickly implement the recommendation of the Niger Delta Technical Report, with timescales;
· Visibly improving the living condition of the people;
· Enact tough laws to curb the irresponsible behaviour of the oil companies, with tough penalties for default;
· Enact specific laws to protect the Niger Delta and its Eco-system;
· Enact tough laws to jail corrupt politicians (no politician has ever been jailed in Nigeria for up to 3 years for corruption, even though it is universally accepted that they are very many in Nigeria). All this brings pain and anger to not only the people of Niger Delta, but to a lot of Nigerians; and
· Keep talking to all stakeholders in all honesty and sincerity, for any sign of dishonestly will damage the fragile negotiations; and
· Stop using threatening and inflammatory words.
Everyone has a responsibility to be responsible. With a structure like this, even MEND will find it difficult to reject the amnesty package, if it is convinced that the Nigerian government is sincere in its commitment.
If this is achieved, Nigeria may at last be back on track on the gradual process to true and lasting peace and reconciliation in the Niger Delta. If not, Nigeria could be sleepwalking into doom.
Mr Benaebi Benatari Mr Ebiye Asuka
General Secretary General Secretary
Ijaw Peoples Association of Bayelsa State Union of
Great Britain and Ireland Great Britain and Ireland
Web: www.ijawland.com Web: www.bayelsa.org.uk