A new champion of the Niger Delta has hatched out of its polluted creeks. It is armed to the teeth with assault rifles, bombs and ocean-wide expectations of becoming the next militant-multimillionaires through government pay-offs to ensure peaceful oil and gas production. But more important, it is also armed with barrel-fulls of recycled but legitimate grievances of the Delta’s boiling marshes. It calls itself the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, mockingly echoing the acronym of the Nigeria Defence Academy. Its ancestry can be traced directly to the training camps of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force of self-acclaimed Mujahedeen Asari Dokubo, Egbesu (which, in solidarity, has sired the Red Egbesu Water Lions), and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. MEND which commandeered the Niger Delta cause from 2006 to 2009 — as virtually all the old, bourgeois-ified avengers of the oil creeks — has dissociated itself from a seemingly unlovable baby, making of NDA an orphan in the crib with the pitiable task of declaring, as it were, that it gave birth to itself from its own head, like a god. But that is all right: it will make all of them proud after it wins sovereignty for the Niger Delta, not to mention Biafra.
I’m a dispossessed, marginalised and disgruntled denizen of the Niger Delta, but I doubt that the Niger Delta Avengers can avenge me. What a difference a decade makes! Ten years ago when MEND declared its war of sabotage for similar reasons as NDA’s, I wrote, in an op-ed in The Guardian entitled “Fuelling Acts of Desperation in the Niger Delta,” that I had been “unsure of my feelings about the sabotage of an oil terminal belonging to Shell, even though I have long held the view that rather than the inhabitants of the Niger Delta letting their oil continue to be hemlock to them, but ‘milk and honey’ to the thieving ruling elite and their foreign collaborators, it had better remain in the ground.” But I overcame my unease to give qualified support for their rebellion thus: “[W]hen I finally decided I could hesitatingly applaud the recent acts of desperation, I could do so mostly by recalling the words of that great anti-colonial revolutionary thinker, Frantz Fanon. ‘As for we who have decided to break the back of colonialism,’ said Fanon, ‘our historic mission is to sanction all revolts, all desperate actions, all those abortive attempts drowned in rivers of blood.’ For ‘colonialism,’ you need only substitute the internal colonialism of successive Nigerian governments.”
More recently, in “So Now What Becomes of the Niger Delta?” (Vanguard, 6 May 2015), I urged then President-elect Buhari to ensure that the Niger Delta would “underline every domestic policy consideration.” It would “be a grave error,” I said, “to mistake the current calm in the creeks for the Niger Delta’s acceptance of its political annihilation to go with its economic expropriation and environmental despoliation,” adding that if any socio-political issue “poses a highly inflammable problem and a potent pitfall” to his avowed vision of change, “it is the still simmering anger of the Niger Delta.” Well, NDA has shattered that calm. Renewed militancy in the creeks now adds to plummeted oil prices to create a perfect storm for an economy in tatters.
No, the Niger Delta Avengers will not, cannot, avenge me. Despite their self-vaunting as “young, educated, well travelled,” they could only manage to put out a manifesto riddled with grammatical and punctuation errors that would make a kindergartner squirm. Coming after the more articulate MEND, NDA betrays a shocking lack of mastery of policy and propaganda. But I have firmer grounds for disbelieving in their cause. Thomas Sankara of blessed memory said that a soldier without political consciousness is a potential criminal. And by consciousness he did not mean a cursory awareness of personal or collective deprivation but a deeply informed knowledge of its historical and dialectical causes and the logical means of bringing that unacceptable state of existence to an end.
I do not see any evidence of that quality in my would-be avengers. Worse, they are not part of a pan-Niger Delta political movement with goals and a vision formulated by or with the popular participation of the very victims they claim to be out to avenge. As it is, they merely appropriate the name and long-festering cause of the Delta. Just as it was with “Mujahedeen” Asari Dokubo and “High Chief” Government Tompolo who became, as it were, governments unto themselves and ended up fabulously wealthy as a result of being freestyling freedom fighters. Tompolo even graduated from being the most feared Delta avenger to a political godfather, boosting candidate Ifeanyi Okowa beyond all of his rivals in a keenly contested Delta State PDP governorship primaries with waves of dollars, as the story goes, and earning for himself the right to install the deputy governor.
As I see it, and I stand to be corrected, the politically unmoored Niger Delta Avengers can only be militants for and on behalf of themselves. Their modus operandi is violent vigilantism or opportunistic militancy such as would compel the federal government to send the presidential jet to fly them to Abuja for “dialogue.” It sounds a tad uncharitable but they seem to me at this point as the Niger Delta Scavengers. They wait to prey on the writhing collective body of the Delta.
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