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Can Nigeria Be Crushed Into Shape? By Okey Ndibe

May 10, 2016

I was disturbed by a report in last Sunday’s edition of The Punch newspaper. It read, “Buhari orders military to crush new Niger Delta militant group”.

It’s meet to quote the report at length: “President Muhammadu Buhari has given a fresh order to the military to crack down on a new militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers, which has been attacking oil installations.

“SUNDAY PUNCH gathered on Saturday that the President gave the directive on Friday, following the group’s attack on Chevron’s platform in Warri, Delta State, on Thursday and its blowing up of pipelines linking Warri and Kaduna refineries on Friday.

“Following the attack on the Okan offshore production platform on Wednesday by the militants, Chevron said it had lost about 105,000 barrels of oil production in three days.

The oil major said the incident had affected about 35,000 barrels per day of its own net crude production or about 15 percent of its output in the country.

“‘Approximately 35,000 bpd of Chevron’s net crude oil production in Nigeria are impacted,”’ AFP quoted a Chevron’s spokeswoman, Isabel Ordonez, as saying in a statement.

“The General Manager, Policy, Government and Public Affairs, Chevron Nigeria Limited, Mr. Deji Haastrup, confirmed the figure.

“He said, ‘This is a very difficult time for the country because it needs the revenue it can get from oil production. Incidents such as this have the potential to impact that. We do hope that it does not seriously affect the country…The workers said following the attacks, they counted about 10 military air patrols over the pipelines on Saturday…They also added that it had been difficult for fire fighters to quench the fire from the bombed pipelines.

“It was learnt that following the attacks, which has the potential of adversely affecting the revenue of the country, the President instructed the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Air Force to stop the activities of the new group.

“A presidential aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, ‘The President gave special instruction to the military, especially to the Chief of Naval Staff, that this ugly development of vandals in the Niger Delta should end immediately.’

“It was learnt that the President also ordered the Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, to ensure that all waterways and platforms were protected against further attacks by the militants.

“The Acting Director, Defense Information, Brig.-Gen. Rabe Abubakar, in an interview with one of our correspondents on Saturday, confirmed that the military had gotten the directive.

He said, “We have the order from the President and we are monitoring the activities of the new group. All efforts will be made to bring out those behind it.”

“The suspects who perpetrated the first vandalism were apprehended and paraded the day before yesterday (Thursday).

“These ones are not going to be different. We are going out on our operation to stop and apprehend them in accordance with the presidential directive.”

Abubakar was not specific about what measures would be taken to address the current situation.

“We are not deterred; nobody is happy about it but we are not deterred from doing what we are doing. And more proactive measures would be put in place.

“What they are doing is complete economic sabotage; it is economic terrorism,” he said.

“Buhari had in April threatened that his administration would descend heavily on oil and gas pipelines vandals as well as other saboteurs the same way the nation’s Armed Forces were dealing with members of the Boko Haram sect.

“The President who spoke in Beijing during a meeting he had with members of the Nigerian community in China, warned vandals and saboteurs blowing up oil and gas installations in Nigeria to desist immediately or face the same drastic action being taken against Boko Haram by the Armed Forces.”

Let’s be clear. The recourse to the blowing up of oil pipelines is execrable. For me, however, the government’s hectoring—a language of militarism—is just as deplorable. I’d suggest, in fact, that the violence quotient of the Nigerian state’s language (dripping with words like “clampdown,” “crush”) is, in reality, far more problematic than the acts of the pipeline bombers.

Nigeria has an endemic crisis, and it has to do with the fact that it has not formed into a nation. A nation feels like an organic community and is fueled by certain lofty ideals. Nigeria is not a nation by any significant measure. It’s an album of more than 400 ethnic nationalities, but with no sense of cohesion and shared dreams. With the exception of a small coterie of Nigerians who feed fat on their country’s oil wealth, most Nigerians experience their country, at a fundamental structural level, as a violent, coercive experience. The Nigerian military, its law enforcement, and other security agencies are perceived—and act—as enforcers of an unjust order.

I have argued before that, in Nigeria, the biggest vectors of violence are not the “militants” and armed robbers and such like. The biggest villains are the officers and instruments of the Nigerian state. Through their gluttony and inflated sense of entitlement, the Nigerian political class, the cream of the bureaucracy, and the commanders of the private sector have left Nigeria a misshapen, despair-inducing space. Men and women who declare themselves leaders of Nigeria are frequently engaged in the business of dehumanizing millions of their fellows. And the army, police and DSS function as adjuncts of the oppressive system, ensuring that the victims of the Nigerian state never mount a serious resistance against the mindless few whose real occupation is to plunder and loot the commonwealth.

Separatist movements—including those represented by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the new fangled Niger Delta Avengers (which has claimed responsibility for a spate of recent attacks on oil pipelines, “Boko Haram,” the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB)—derive their traction and emotional force from the fact of the inherent, deep-rooted and palpable injustice of the Nigerian arrangement.

Nigeria’s two main writers, Wole Soyinka, and Chinua Achebe, have contended that Nigeria is a far from realized collectivity. If some disaffected youth take to blowing up oil installations or insisting on divorcing the polity called Nigeria, it is because, all their lives, they have experienced Nigeria as an injurious, lacerating organism.

Mr. Buhari did not start this essential crisis, but he is part of the broad political and cultural elite that failed to rise to the task of building Nigeria into a meaningful community. That task must be undertaken, or the whole concept of Nigeria will continue to be hollow.

One hopes that President Buhari has some sense of history. If he does, then he must know how futile it is to wish to “crush” a nation out of Nigeria. Whatever armory the Nigerian state has at its disposal, that state cannot crush people into compliance with an unjust, inequitable order that serves the interests of a few—at the expense of millions.

The Nigerian state killed Ken Saro-Wiwa, foolishly believing that the agitation in the Niger Delta would die as well. It became stronger and more militant in tone. The Nigerian police murdered Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram, deluding itself that it had crushed the group. Abubakar Shekau emerged as the group’s new face, more ruthless than Mr. Yusuf. Nigeria has detained Nnamdi Kanu, spokesman of the Indigenous People of Biafra, but the spirit of the group has refused to submit.

It’s sad if Mr. Buhari thinks Nigeria can shoot the disaffected youth in the Niger Delta into silence and submission. He needs to wake up and assure the youth and all Nigerians that he understands why they agitate.


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