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Niger delta, Umaru Yar’Adua and the militants

June 8, 2009

In the LEADERSHIP of June 7, 2008, Sam Nda- Isaiah in “Umaru’s opening to make history” praised President Umaru Yar’Adua for his offensive in the creeks of the Niger Delta saying; ‘This was something he should have done much earlier’, and added, “this might be another defining issue for the president, and he alone can determine his legacy in this respect”

What “legacy”? Over the past two years there has been a worrying increase in armed attacks by militants on oil facilities and kidnappings of oil workers and ordinary Nigerians in the Niger Delta. This has led to a marked increase in the militarization of and general insecurity in, the Delta and on May 2009, the Nigerian military launched a major military offensive against militants in the creeks of Delta State.

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In the ensuing “operation cordon and search”, there were widespread loss of lives, property damage and the displacement of residents. Amid the claims and counter-claims by the military authorities and the militants; on the basis of the reported killings, enormous dislocation of the social lives of helpless villagers and destruction of properties, and viewed from all dimensions, what is happening in the Niger Delta is a national tragedy.

Deaths are simply counted in dozens and displaced persons in thousands. Photographs of hapless children and old men and women who have been displaced, rotting corpses and destroyed houses filled the news. Defenceless folks are fleeing the spots where soldiers are battling it out with militants. Evidently helpless and largely innocent people as always bear the brunt of the crisis.

For clarity, the government has the responsibility for security in all parts of the country. And no sane person can justify the activities of criminals who kidnap persons, vandalise pipelines and steal oil.

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Truth is; the criminals operating in the Niger Delta have distorted the legitimate struggle of the people for justice and equity in the administration of the revenues from oil for which Ken Saro Wiwa was murdered. The activities of the criminals should be separated from the justifiable protest against the neglect, poverty and underdevelopment of the region. However, security and law enforcement forces should be able to deal with criminals without wreaking havoc and destroying whole communities

Nda-Isaiah asserted that the Yar’Adua government behaved very irresponsibly by initially treating the thugs and rascals in the Niger Delta like statesmen. The government allowed Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, to operate a mini sovereign state in the region. Amidst the frightening poverty in the creeks, Tompolo reportedly lived there like a king and ‘operated something that was truly sovereignty within the Nigerian state’.

But there were other areas in which Yar’Adua behaved in a far more irresponsible manner; His administration failed to address the worsening situation in the Niger Delta. His offer of amnesty to militants, military offensives, and the creation of a Niger Delta ministry-utterly failed to address the root causes of the violence: endemic corruption by government officials, the resulting lack of development in the region, and the sponsorship of violence by government officials.

Many of the armed groups’ active today gained their experience and power as hired guns for ruling party politicians. Since at least 2003, politicians and government officials have used armed gangs to violently rig elections, including the 2007 elections, and to provide security for illegal oil "bunkering" operations. The July and August 2007 violence in Port Harcourt, for example, was carried out by armed gangs competing for access to illegal patronage doled out by government officials.

The Vanguard reported that some retired generals have been fingered in the escalating theft of crude oil and the perpetuation of the air of insecurity in the Niger Delta. On Monday March 30, 2009, Major - General Sarikin Y. Bello, the commander of the Joint Task Force on the Niger Delta said the task force will go after retired military Generals and other military officers involved in oil bunkering in the Niger-Delta with a view to bringing them to book but nothing happened.

Yar‘Adua cannot claim ignorance of the fact that the unending fuel bunkering and sponsored crisis in the Niger Delta is the handiwork of a cartel operating in the nation’s oil sector, Although his administration has ratcheted up military pressure on militant leaders in the Niger Delta, he has remained unwilling to apprehend and bring to justice the state agents, such as former Rivers State governor Peter Odili, who have armed and mobilized criminal gangs in the Niger Delta.

Meanwhile, the Yar’Adua administration has failed to take effective steps to address the endemic corruption that sustains the ongoing poverty and aggravates political discontent in the Delta, as the oil wealth is squandered and embezzled by ruling party politicians.

According the Human Rights Watch, “The four leading oil producing states in the Niger Delta received 38 percent of state government allocations in 2008, while the remaining 32 states in Nigeria-which account for 88 percent of Nigeria's population-shared 62 percent of the allocations. In Rivers State, for example, the state government's US$3 billion annual budget last year far exceeded the entire central government budgets for most individual West African nations”. Yet there is shockingly little in these Niger Delta states to show for all this wealth. Abject poverty there remains among the worst in the world.

As Nda-Isaiah himself admitted, some state governors in the Niger Delta dutifully hand over a chunk of their monthly allocations to the militants, and when a governor like Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State refused to be part of the disgrace the militants declared war on him.

According to LEADERSHIP, the governor of Bayelsa State recently publicly acknowledged the amount of money he dished out to militants monthly and actually complained that, in spite of that, the militants had refused to keep their own side of the deal. That is the level to which governance in Nigeria has degenerated under Umaru's watch.

Now the military’s Joint Task Force (JTF) last week claimed to have unearthed some incriminating documents linking some governors, top politicians in Delta State and even senior bank officials to the activities of Tom Polo when it stormed Camp 5, the operational base of the militants. According to reports, the list includes names of some of the militants' sponsors, minutes of meetings held and account details of the bunkering money paid to prominent chiefs and politicians.

Rather than releasing the names of the sponsors of the militants, President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua organised a meeting with South-South governors and the leaders of the National Assembly to present to the South-South governors reports from different security agencies that allegedly link some of them to the criminal activities of the militants operating in the Niger Delta.

Why? So that “Yar'Adua would ask a particular governor to explain all he knows about his political and business dealings with militant leader Tom Polo, who is believed to have introduced and orchestrated a criminal dimension to the Niger Delta question in the last few years”. Are you laughing?

Why must Yar’Adua have the meetings first before making the names of the ‘real criminals’ public? Attempt at concealment? Does he need the permission of these real criminals - some of whom are accessories to the oil bunkering, kidnappings, election rigging, treasury looting - before releasing the names? So, then, will he bow to their wishes, if some of these governors plead with him not to make the names public? Is this another political mago-mago, attempt at blackmail?

There is a very simple reason for this meeting; there is no way the presidency and top security chiefs could distance themselves from the activities of the militants. According to reports, the list as scrutinised by security chiefs shows that there was no way some persons, including present and past governors could absolve themselves.

According to sources, "It was the same Federal Government and oil companies that awarded over N6.7 billion pipeline contracts to Tom Polo, all in an attempt to maintain peace in the Niger Delta”. Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, Peter Odili – all had at one time or the other gone to "Aso Rock", the seat of power among the terrorists in the creeks, to pay homage.

It is irresponsible of LEADERSHIP and Sam Nda-Isaiah to write so vehemently against the declaration of ceasefire in the creeks to give room for some of the criminals to seek amnesty and bring the destruction and displacement of innocent civilians to an end. The fallen soldiers were Nigerians just like the killed militants and thousands of other civilians killed, maimed or dislocated. What callous insensitivity!

Nda-Isaiah wrote: “The president needs to know he is also on trial here. And if he eventually listens to some of the characters around him who are currently urging him to order a stop to the operation in the creeks, then he would have finally confirmed that Nigeria has indeed been taken over by rogues”. To him therefore, the JTF must be allowed to finish the job totally “just like the Sri Lankan government” committed genocide against the Tamils and massacred the Tamil Tigers in a war that lasted 26 years, and “Angolan armed forces killed Jonas Savimbi” in a long debilitating civil war. Wow! Is Sam Nda-Isaiah a Nigerian?

The scale of the present military operations shows that Yar’Adua urgently wants to bring the debilitating effect of the Niger delta insurgency to an end. We must quickly add however, that there are other areas in which government should also show a sense of urgency.

Yar’Adua should not stop at flushing out militants out of Camp Five and Iroko Camp, he should move swiftly to implement policies that would flush out inequity, poverty, and underdevelopment in the region. The government should immediately respond to the humanitarian consequences of the operations in the Delta creeks and take immediate steps to protect the fundamental human rights of Niger Delta residents and to address the root causes of the violence:

I support the HRW call for Yar’Adua to ensure that civilian life and property are respected during military operations in the Niger Delta and allow humanitarian agencies full access to the affected areas.

He should Investigate, arrest, and prosecute according to international fair trial standards state and local government officials in the Niger Delta who are responsible for embezzling public funds.

Finally, he should launch an independent inquiry to establish the links between government officials-including former Rivers State governor Peter Odili- for criminal activities in the Niger Delta such as oil "bunkering" and the sponsorship of criminal gangs and prosecute those found implicated in arming and sponsoring criminal gangs.

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