Sunday, July 26, 2009

Nigeria at the Mercy of MEND

Section 14 (2b) of the Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution says “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. Unfortunately, the government seems to have abdicated this crucial responsibility going by the high state of insecurity in Nigeria. If there is doubt in anyone’s mind about how insecured Nigerians are, the bombing of Atlas Cove jetty in Lagos on July 12, 2009 by Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) must have erased such. That a handful of militant group can pull a surprise attack on Nigeria’s oil facility far from the core Niger Delta environment shows that we are done for. Since 2006 when the MEND and other militant groups commenced serious act of sabotage: bombing oil facilities, taking oil workers hostage and kidnapping innocent citizens, one would have thought that a serious and responsible government would have nipped the emerging tragedies in the bud but that is expecting too much from a government which is in perpetual state of inertia. Not even the hurried assemblage of Joint Military Task Force popularly called JTF has been able to curb the MEND’s act of internal insurrection. Pray, what will happen in the event of exernal aggression?
I keep wondering why none of our security chiefs has deemed it fit to resign their position or get sacked for their abysmal failure in the discharge of their duty. Nigeria boasts of Police, Army, Navy, Air Force, State Security Service (SSS) and National Intelligence Agency (NIA); yet with these plethora of security apparatus, militants are having a field day: maiming, killing and destroying our commonwealth and national patrimony and nobody is being made to answer for this gross negligence and ineptitude. That MEND was able to carry out a successful attack on oil distribution jetty in Lagos exposes the underbelly of Nigeria as an unsafe and insecured country. Unless urgent proactive measures are taken, all the corporate headquarters of our financial institutions, many of which are on the Atlantic Beach as well as the sea ports in Lagos are at grave risk of attack. In no distant future, I won’t be surprised if MEND or any of the militant group launch attack on the Three Arms Zone in Abuja where we have the State House, National Assembly and the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal. I am not an alarmist but many people will agree with me that in the last three years many unprecedented things have happened and are still happening. Initially, we all thought hostage taking and kidnapping for ransom is a Niger Delta phenomenon, now we know better, there have been reported cases of kidnapping in Kaduna, Abuja, Imo, Abia, and Anambra among many other places which are considered hinterland. Ironically, the realisation of improved power supply, just like the country’s oil supply, is at the mercy of the militants. The gas that will be used to power many of the multi billion dollars thermal electricity generating companies being built across the country is in the Niger Delta region. Isn’t it high time for government to diversify Nigeria’s energy sources from thermal to coal, solar and hydro power stations?
President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces will do well to sanitise our security agencies by relieving those whose acts of negligence and docility have put the country in this state of anomie of their jobs and restructure the security agencies for better efficiency and effectiveness. There is no gainsaying that failure of Nigeria’s Custom Service to effectively patrol the country’s borders led to the proliferation of arms and ammuntion in the Niger Delta region and Nigeria as a whole while lack of reliable intelligence report by the security agencies made it impossible to preempt and forstall some of these militant attacks.
There is need to enter into sincere negotiation with MEND and its affiliates even as the current grant of amnesty to militants who are ready to abandon armed struggle against the Nigerian State is commendable and should be sustained. The release of Henry Okah is a laudable step but beyond that, there is need to pursue agrresive development of the Niger Delta region. Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the creation of the Niger Delta Ministry are good initiatives but there must be adequate funding for their developmental projects. A situation where NDDC budgetary allocation is not being fully released does not augur well for the peace process. The government also need to reign in the excesses of the oil companies who operate in the Niger Delta as some of them continue to degrade the environment through oil spillage and gas flaring. Good governance holds the key to peace in the Niger Delta. A situation where the governors of the Niger Delta states line their pocket and embark on personal aggrandisement at the expense of the suffering majority in the geo-political zone must stop. There must be accountability for the funds received by the governors either from the federation account or the internally generated revenue. Niger Delta political and community leaders must make peoples money work for them. On the part of MEND and other militant groups, there can be no development in a volatile environment. It is time to cease hostility to pave way for the development of their communities. It is easier to destroy than to build and further destruction of national assests may deprive the government the resources or wherewithal to develop the environment. It is also ironic that militants are taking construction workers hostage and demanding heavy ransom in exchange for their release. It would be recalled that this made Julius Berger, the German construction company to abandon some of the contracts being executed in Rivers State. This does not augur well for the development of Niger Delta. Acts of brigandage and criminality will only exacerbate the already bad situation not only in the Niger Delta but in the nation at large. Let us all give peace a chance.
Jide Ojo is an Abuja based Public Affairs Analyst