Fellow blogger, Reginald Bassey, recently warned that the tension in the Niger Delta required that the region's issues be treated gently and handled with care. In his writing on the Delta he expressed his concern that the problems of the Niger Delta could develop into a civil war that would take the nation by surprise. Unfortunately, recent developments seem to have taken the region and nation one step closer to conflict and the prediction Reginald made.
AN OIL WAR DECLARED
On Sunday, September 14th, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Delta (MEND) declared an "oil war" against Nigerian forces in the area. In a statement released by the group, MEND stated,
"Following a previous warning that any attack on our positions will be tantamount to a declaration of an oil war, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has declared an oil war in response to the unprovoked aerial and marine attacks on a MEND position in Rivers State of Nigeria on September 13, 2008 by the armed forces of Nigeria...Nigeria's Joint Task Force (JTF), a special military unit charged with fighting Niger Delta militancy, responded that it would "flush out" the militants. Speaking on behalf of the JTF, Lt. Col. Sagir Musa said all militants
The operation will continue until the government of Nigeria appreciates that the solution to peace in the Niger Delta is justice, respect and dialogue. This military style bullying belongs to the past 50 years when the Niger Delta people responded only with their mouths, pens and placards.All international oil and gas loading vessels entering the region are warned to drop anchor in the high sea or divert elsewhere until further notice. Failure to comply is taking a foolhardy risk of attack and destruction of the vessel.Again, we are asking that oil companies evacuate their staff from their field facilities because the brief is not to capture hostages but to bring these structures to the ground."
"are advised to come to terms with reality as the status quo must be reversed for the good of all. The time for lawlessness, wanton economic sabotage, kidnap and the urge for quick money will soon be over."
And now, MEND has kept its promise by destroying the Alakiri Flow Station owned by the Royal Dutch Shell company (Shell). MEND announced that it killed many soldiers and workers that were inside. This unnecessary act of murder and destruction has now simply escalated the problem and undoubtedly will definitely lead to more military pressure from the JTF.
NIGER DELTA MINISTRY CREATED
The JTF should not have responded to MEND's declaration of an oil war. In my opinion, it should have left that to the politicians instead of escalation the tension. In fact, Yar'Adua should have immediately responded to the threat of an "oil war". When he came to power, he reached out to MEND and they responded positively by issuing a ceasefire. Therefore, Yar'Adua could have again reached out to MEND and said whatever was necessary to ease the tension. Considering the recent announcement of a new Niger Delta Ministry, it was for Yar'Adua, and not the JTF, to respond to the militants.
Yar'Adua announced the creation of a Niger Delta Ministry on September 10, and in a meeting with a visiting representative of the British government said,
"The Ministry will coordinate our efforts to tackle the challenges of infrastructural development, environment protection and youth empowerment in the region."Despite this explanation for the creation of the new Niger Delta ministry, several questions remain. How exactly does the administration plan to "tackle the challenges" of the region? How will this new ministry correlate with the JTF's threat of all out war with militants and the declaration of an "oil war" by MEND? Why was the creation of the ministry announced with little to no details about how it will achieve its goals? Providing details about the ministry would have fueled more confidence in the move and lessened the cynicism that this ministry will go down the route of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Already, various individuals are criticizing the existence of the new outfit. Some have started a debate over whether the idea to create the ministry belongs to former Vice President Atiku or Yar'Adua. Others are more interested in whether the ministry will be run by a Niger Delta native or not. And, the argument has been made that the new ministry will simply stall any progress in the Niger Delta due to bureaucracy.
WAR IS NOT AN OPTION
If one may borrow from the Swahili proverb, Nigerians should remember that when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. As such, we must ensure that no such battle develops in order to preserve a unified Nigeria that will have a chance at becoming a developed and competitive nation. Furthermore, when will Nigerians themselves put their foot down and demand peace in the nation? No president can solve Nigeria's problems without the active and determined lead of the people requiring change. Until that day comes, Nigerians will be the stomped grass destroyed at the feet of mighty and armed elephants. And, if conflict ever comes to Nigeria, we would have squandered our children's future.
UPDATE: MEND has announced a ceasefire but it has "warned it would end the truce if attacked by the army again." (September 21, 2008)