The report that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) is initiating dialogue with the President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, on unresolved issues affecting the region would have otherwise been a welcomed development but for the timing and matters miscellaneous arising from the announcement. At best, the reported readiness to re-negotiate the Niger Delta issues could best be described as a poorly-timed and badly delivered good initiative. 

How true is the saying that “Knowledge is knowing what to say but wisdom is knowing how and when to say it.”

As said in the MEND statement, “A new team (Aaron II) is being assembled to dialogue with the new government of General Buhari over the root issues that gave rise to militancy as those issues have not been addressed long after the government signed the fraudulent amnesty deal.

“President Goodluck Jonathan abandoned the blueprint prepared by late Yar’Adua which could have provided a holistic solution to the region’s many problems.

“He even refused to dialogue and rather preferred to court a few commanders to abandon the struggle, employed divide-and-rule tactics and used the fraudulent Niger Delta Amnesty programme as a smokescreen. The new initiative for dialogue by the group had nothing to do with the defeat of Mr. Jonathan at the presidential elections.” 

The question is: what makes MEND think that the new government to be led by Buhari will behave differently towards them? The Niger Delta protest in the first instance was against the federal government and not individuals that lead government. So if the man that headed the outgoing dispensation took a stand for the federal government, is MEND thinking that the incoming head would be very different?  Infact he may even be worse because for sure he has his own ideas on this how thing should be done.

Agreed that from day one MEND did not subscribe to the Amnesty Programme initiated by the Federal Government on the ground that it did not address the core issues that led to the armed struggle in the region. However, thinking through their new proposal raised some serious suspicions. Most concerned Niger Deltans would agree that the recent MEND’s reported proposal is curious as it raised several issues that borders on sincerity of purpose and genuineness of intent.

How come MEND could not even wait for the president-elect to be sworn- in before going public with the expression of its willingness to sit down with the government to discuss? Why the haste?

First if there is any need for another round of dialogue (this time, a very sincere one) on the issue of the continued neglect and marginalization of the Niger Delta region- the nation’s oil producing areas, should the proposal come from MEND, a militant group or from the new government when properly constituted?

Did it occur to the proponents of this initiative that their public disclosure could put Gen Buhari on the hot spot factoring-in the abnormal fraternity as expressed by the militant group towards him right from when he was the All Progressive Congress (APC) presidential candidate? Is it not curious, no matter how anybody may wants to look at it, that MEND should suddenly open-up to Buhari even before the man is sworn-in as president of the Federal Republic?

First, it was an unusual endorsement by the group when it threw its weight behind Gen Buhari as the presidential candidate of the APC while at the same time, launching a scorching attack on President Goodluck Jonathan.
It would be recalled that in a three-page statement signed by Jomo Gbomo, MEND said it endorsed and fully supported Buhari, after what the group described as “careful consideration of the state of the nation.”The group said the decision to support the APC presidential candidate stems from the pathetic level the Jonathan administration has brought the country.  

As said, “The Niger Delta region has experienced excruciating poverty since Mr. Jonathan, an indigene of the area, became Nigeria’s president. The president does not deserve to be given a second at the Aso Villa immediately his tenure expires because of his continuous and blatant disregard for the people who voted him into office. While multinational oil firms have continuously exposed the region to worst levels of pollution and environmental degradation, and the president has failed to openly condemn such criminal acts or sanction irresponsible oil firms.”

Secondly, the day Buhari was declared winner of the March 28 presidential poll, MEND was quick to send a congratulatory message to him saying: “President-elect, General Mohammadu Buhari’s message of hope, freedom and opportunity resonates with our group, as it does with the Nigerian people. The Niger Delta region has the Ministry of the Niger Delta, the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP and the largest percentage in oil revenue allocation, yet the region has nothing to show for all these due to a very corrupt government and systems in place. We are confident that a General Mohammadu Buhari presidency would probe these agencies and divert all stolen revenue back to the development of the region and Nigeria as a whole.” 

How true was Prof Sabella Abidde, an Ijaw who teaches at the Alabama State University, in his posit as reported, that  instead of a holistic development and comprehensive empowerment which were promised by the federal government to the region, the outgoing administration doled out cash and juicy contracts to some Ijaw in the struggle and abandoned the entire region.

The Niger Delta struggle issue unlike the ongoing amnesty and empowerment of a few wasn’t about the Ijaws alone. It was about every ethnic nationality that calls the region home — including the Isoko, Ndokwa Anioma, Ibibios, Itsekiris, Urhobos, Binins, Esangs, Ogonis, Efiks, Ikweres and many others.”

Many oil bearing communities across the region are still drinking polluted water and fishing in waters flowing with spilled crude. They are still cultivating farms with thick parches of crude and nobody is doing anything about it.
Whether some people want to hear this or not, the Niger Delta struggle in itself is in seriously troubled waters. This is the truth and nothing but the stack truth!

For instance, some people may want to ask: which MEND is now trying to reach out to the president –elect? Is it the vestige of the original conscription; the billionaire faction that enjoyed the amnesty largess and juicy contracts; or the new emerging generals that are already stamping their authourity in several points in the region? These are some of the very pertinent issues to be clarified because for sure, we have all sorts of people who now wear the MEND tag.

It is proper that rather than hurry to reach the president-elect, MEND (the original or whatever version) should first make efforts to reconcile the various blocs dissidents or rather bunkering area commanders in the region. If this is not done first before any dialogue with the new government, definitely some groups would do whatever it takes to outrightly undermine the efforts of the authentic MEND and even the federal government in the region. It would be a very costly mistake and a strategic error to ignore even invalid dissidents especially as we have in the Niger Delta. Mark my words!

IFEANYI IZEZE: [email protected]; 234-8033043009)

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