Posted by By John Ighodaro on
WITH the spate of armed violence which has engulfed Rivers State in particular and the Niger-Delta region in recent times, several peace efforts had been initiated by both the Federal Government, communities, groups and oil companies.
"I can't take govt's insincerity any longer "
WITH the spate of armed violence which has engulfed Rivers State in particular and the Niger-Delta region in recent times, several peace efforts had been initiated by both the Federal Government, communities, groups and oil companies. The reason for such meetings has always been the same: to find lasting solution to the outbreak of violence and restiveness in the region which gives Nigeria its wealth.
But with each passing day, the desire for peace seems to be increasingly eluding the oil rich zone.
Among the peace efforts so far put in place was the peace gesture extended to the leaders of the militant groups in the area in Alhaji Asari Dokubo and Mr Atake Tom, the disarmament committee inaugurated and headed by Governor Peter Odili, the peace moves by the Ijaw National Congress (INC) and the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) as well as other local committees saddled with the responsibility of promoting peace in the area.
But the expected peace appears to be vanishing steadily and speedily, no thanks to recent threat by Dokubo to go back to the creeks because as he claimed, he was "betrayed" by the Federal Government, accusing her of "insincerity" in the peace deal.
Only very few watchers of the unfolding drama in the Niger-Delta were surprised, therefore, when Asari Dokubo announced that his Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF) was pulling out of the peace process. Even if many expected this development, it renewed fresh tension in the place.
Early in the day, president of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Prof. Kimse Okoko expressed doubts about the success of the peace talks. Okoko said that he had no confidence in the peace talks between Asari Dokubo and Ateke Tom on the one hand, and with President Olusegun Obasanjo on the other. "The government is only interested in the continuous flow of oil to satisfy the United States of America and Britain," said Okoko.
One reason the peace talks crashed like a pack of cards, according to informed sources, is the lack of understanding on the part of the Federal Gvernment of the deep issues involved in the agitations by the Niger-Deltans. The area is a pot-pourri of diverse interests and groupings with their distinct aspirations.
Among these interest groups in the region are politicians who have their own agenda. Many of them are interested in taking over government at whatever level and will not be party to the disintegration of the country. These are those who are not interested in a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) because they see in the conference an instrument of cause disaffection and the possible disintegration of the country. They would do everything to remain in Nigeria and have the opportunity to aspire to even the leadership of the country.
If this group are old politicians some of whom have occupied high positions at the centre, and current politicians who are eager to go to the centre or are already there. Among these are the conveners of the recently concluded South-South Peoples Assembly conference, which recently held in Calabar, the Cross River State. But the unfortunate thing here is that the great majority of the people do not see this group as their true representatives. And their moves and motives are suspect before their people.
Secretary-General of the Ijaw Republican Assembly, Mr. Charles Harry said that "I would rather not wish to judge the efficacy of that body, after all it is new and yet to categorically show a distinct vision and mission. But I dare say that I am apprehensive of its motives, considering the antecedents of majority of the actors. I only hope and pray that they read the signs of the times properly and understand that the region would no longer be kind to elders who betray the cause.
"As to the issue of a South-South President ameliorating the anomie, this flies in the face of reason since the president cannot single-handedly amend the constitution whose provisions are the bases for the injustice. It is diversionary to the real quest of the Niger Delta. As far as I am concerned, as long as there is self-determination, the President can come from anywhere."
However, there are indigenous non-governmental organisations (NGO) composed mostly of activists and critics who would not mind being part of Nigeria but would insist on a negotiated agreement with the powers that be for the Niger Delta to so remain in Nigeria.
What they want, according to them, is "a fair deal." They are appalled by the devastation of their rivers and farmlands by the multinational oil companies, and the seeming insensitivity of the government to the pollution visited on the Niger Delta environment through oil exploration. Although some members of this group would not mind going to the extreme, they are prepared to pursue the Nigerian vision if the Federal government showed enough concern to their plight and if the multinational oil companies are prepared to apply international standards in taking care of their environment.
This group is in the forefront in the agitation for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC). Although the Niger Delta people look at this group with a measure of scepticism, majority of them prefer them to the group of politicians.
There is, yet, another group that does not want to remain in the entity called Nigeria. They are aware that the Niger Delta region currently produces over 80% of Nigeria's wealth. The idea that they are marginalised by the Nigerian state is deep-rooted in their minds.
They insist that if the region cannot get what it deserves from the revenue generated from their land, it could as well be highly attractive that we go our different ways non-violently as a nation. The Ijaw Republican Assembly (IRA) belongs to this group. They are also in full support of a Sovereign National Conference.
Of course, there is the other side that believes in arm struggle. They are totally fascinated by the exploits of revolutionaries and would readily talk about the effectiveness of the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) and the armed wing of the Irish Republican Army. This is where Dokubo's Niger-Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF) finds accommodation. They support a Sovereign National Conference and are not opposed to dialogue provided as Asari says, "there is sincerity on all sides." They are the daring young people who seem to have conquered fear.
According to a female member of this group, Mrs. Ankio Briggs, the members "see themselves as already dead. So, it is difficult to fight someone who thinks he is already dead."
It is with this group of young men that President Obasanjo chose to open discussions with, thus throwing up another scenario and a set of new and disturbing questions that have created more ripples in the Niger Delta today. It is now being whispered here that violence may be the only language that the Federal Government understands. The other non-violent bodies now look at members of NDPVF as commanding superior attention.
Granted that the government needed to open up discussions with NDPVF and the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV) at the time that it did as there was the imminent threat of untold conflagration in the region being home to massive network of oil pipelines which were under immense threat, there is the view today that the government should have invited other groups who have been talking about the non-violent approach to resolving the crises in the zone. There is another view that the Federal Government should have opened discussions with the NDPVF and NDV long before it became glaring that the NDPVF was a force to be reckoned with in the Niger Delta region.
But did the government panic in the face of the threat by the NDPVF to blow up oil pipelines and the deadline given to expatriate workers to vacate the zone?
However, the fear today is not about the composition and mode of operation of the various groups. Instead, it is the anger by Dokubo that there was no sense of commitment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict on the side of the government. Today, he laments that government has been insincere in respecting the terms of the agreement reached with Mr. President.
Granted that the peace talks led to partial disarmament, events have shown that it has only postponed the evil day as Asari. Hear Dokubo: "The NDPVF still stands on its demands for a Sovereign National Conference, resource control and self-determination.
"Look, we're angry that government reached an agreement with us and would go back on it. It is this insincerity that we can't take any longer."
Besides this, the Ijaw warlord frowned at the manner that the disarmament was going on. He alleges that Mr. Ateke Tom was being pampered by government. His words: "Ateke Tom surrendered eight rifles and they are saying he submitted 600 rifles. This is unacceptable. I won't take it. If Ateke Tom submitted 600, then how many did the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF) surrender? I can't take this. This is what I have been talking about; this insincerity. That's why I'm pulling out of the peace deal and I want Nigerians to understand that my group and I were not behind its collapse."
Although the Rivers State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Magnus Abe took time to explain to Asari that Ateke, indeed, surrendered arms and ammunition in the early days of disarmament which the authorities did not disclose for security reasons, Dokubo would not be placated or convinced. "They are being insincere," he continued to say.
Meanwhile, Tom of the Niger Delta Vigilante, on the other hand, has also cried out that his men were being attacked at Okrika, his home base "inspite of the fact that I gave an outstanding order to all my men to be very calm and not to engage in any act capable of threatening the existing peace in the area," said Ateke. "Why are they still attacking my men in places like Ogoloma, Kalio-Ama, Ogan, Dutch Island and Ibaka? They are also being threatened by some mischief makers who have now resorted to sponsoring physical attacks and constantly intimidating and blackmailing these boys who are peace-loving members of the Niger Delta Vigilante."
Commenting on the current situation in the state, secretary-general of IRA, Mr. Charles Harry said: "yes, there is a resemblance of normalcy prevailing in the state at the moment and I commend all those who have made this possible. But I crave their indulgence to note that though we have peace, the reasons behind the restiveness must be seriously addressed to prevent future recurrence."
The fear-filled people of Niger-Delta are, therefore, calling on the Federal Government to arrest the situation now by engaging Dokubo and his likes at the negotiating table to prevent them from retreating to the creeks because such a situation would mean a return to warfare which, in the first place, was responsible for all the apprehension and panic in government and in the entire Niger Delta region before now."