Uneasy calm returns to the Niger Delta region as militants cease hostilities to dialogue with the federal government
By Bernard Bayo
Hostilities have somehow thawed in Nigeria’s oil producing areas, the Niger Delta following several months of protracted bombing of the nation’s oil infrastructure by angry militants demanding self-determination for the region.The ensuing peace also came on the heels of last Wednesday’s declaration by President Muhammadu Buhari that the federal government will not use force against the agitators. The president disclosed this at a meeting with United States, US Secretary of State, John Kerry, but warned that the government will only resolve to bring down the full weight of force if dialogue failed.
A meeting held by some leaders of the region, including Governor Ifeanyi Okowa in Warri, Delta state on August 19 had proposed a ceasefire with the federal government.
Four days after, on August 23, Niger Delta Avengers, NDA disclosed that it has set up a team led by Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka to dialogue with the government.
The literary icon, NDA said will lead a dialogue team comprising about six other eminent Nigerians nominated by the NDA to meet with the federal government to explore ways of securing a ceasefire and restoring lasting peace in the region. NDA has so far failed to name the remaining negotiators.
Spokesman for the dialogue group, Ballantyne Agiri, said the militants had set up dialogue group to engage the government to end the Niger Delta crisis which has seen Nigerian oil output plummet to a record low. Agiri said Soyinka was chosen based on his integrity as a freedom fighter as well as a credible and detribalized Nigerian. NDA said the choice of Soyinka went through a rigorous process as the militant group has for months been looking for credible persons who are capable of standing for them and present their grievances before the federal government.
Months of tension in the restive region has resulted in collateral damage to the country. Some soldiers deployed to maintain peace and innocent civilians have been killed. Several oil platforms owned by international oil companies, iocs and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC have been destroyed by the militants. The situation has almost grounded Nigeria’s oil production to a halt. Last week, NNPC said the nation’s crude oil production peaked at 1.5 million barrels, from the 2.5 barrels per day before the violence started.
But the intervention of prominent leaders from the region, such as former Information Minister, Edwin Clark who urged the militants to give dialogue a chance seems to have resonated well with the agitators who had earlier warned that they will declare independence from Nigeria on October 1, the day Nigeria won her independence from Great Britain.
Despite the ongoing dialogue, some militant groups have expressed reservation about the talks bringing lasting peace to the region. But the main group, Niger Delta Avengers said it was in support of the dialogue with the federal government. Those opposed to the dialogue said they were not comfortable with some personalities from the region leading the peace talks with the President Buhari-led federal government. They include Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta and the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate, NDGJM.
MEND stated last Tuesday that it was not part of the Warri rapprochement. According to a statement released by its spokesperson, Jomo Gbomo, the group said the elders were not sincere.
“The attention of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has been drawn to a meeting of the Niger Delta Coastal States held in Warri, Delta State on Friday, August 19, 2016. The meeting was jointly convened by elder statesman Chief Edwin Clark and Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State.”
MEND hereby advises the Federal Government to ignore the communiqué released at the end of the meeting for the following reasons: The communique failed to categorically condemn the criminal and treasonable activities of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA). This was principally because notable promoter of the meeting was recently named by the Reformed Niger Delta Avengers (RNDA) as a major supporter of the NDA.
None of the persons who attended the stakeholders’ meeting convened by Chief Clark and Governor Okowa have (sic) the capacity to persuade the people of the Niger Delta region to support the current efforts of the Buhari administration to bring peace and development to the region,” MEND claimed.
Currently, the federal government, critics say, is faced with the problem of harmonizing the interests of various splinter groups in the agitation, though many of them support the ongoing dialogue. Presidency sources in Abuja, Nigeria’s seat of power informed the magazine last Thursday that the government is at a fix on how to bring all the groups together to support the peace initiative.
The Buhari administration is mostly worried, the source said, particularly due to the dissonance that trailed the meeting held by Niger Delta leaders penultimate week. The source also disclosed that the Buhari administration is happy that the most deadly Niger Delta Avengers has decided to seize hostilities in deference to peace.
Other militant groups that support the cessation of hostilities are Reformed Egbesu Fraternities, Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders, Asawana Deadly Force of Niger Delta and Niger Delta Development Movement.
Avengers, however,made some demands on the way forward for permanent peace to return to the trouble region. According to spokesman of the group, Brigadier General Mudoch Agbinibo, the group will only return to hostilities if talks fail.
To reduce the tension in the Niger Delta, NDA stated”we are going to support any collective/negotiation team emerging from the Chief (Dr.) Papa Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, Niger Delta elders and genuine stakeholders’ conference to engage with the federal government of Nigeria.”
In case dialogue fails, General Agbinibo warned “We promise to fight more for the Niger Delta, if this opportunity fails. Therefore, we will give our Niger Delta elders and genuine stakeholders that tacit support to the dialogue table with the government and the Multinational oil Corporations whenever the enabling environment prevails.
NDA welcomed the involvement of representatives from the home countries of all multinational oil corporations and neutral international mediators “that will be focused on achieving the short, medium and long- term frameworks and objectives to de-escalating conflicts in the Niger Delta,” the deadly NDA said.