| By Maureen Chigbo |
NIGERIA is a country where nerve racking events happen with dizzying speed. Before one could comprehend an outrage that has taken place, another one surfaces with screaming headlines in the media. The happenstance, most prevalent in the month of August, painted a portrait of a country mired in self-inflicted crisis nationwide. From the ill preparation for the just ended Olympic games where Nigeria’s Football team snatched a surprise bronze medal prize, reports of more heinous killings from herdsmen, starvation in the internally displaced persons, IDPs, camps in the North East, where terrorists attacked UNICEF officials who were rendering help to the displaced and food meant for them stolen by some officials of government agencies, the missing Chibok girls saga to the militancy in the Niger Delta, there has not been a dull moment since the beginning of the month. Of all these, as the month ends today, the Niger Delta militancy and the missing Chibok girls have continued to engage global attention with good reasons.
For one thing, the missing 217 Chibok school girls is a dent on the ability of Nigeria to provide security for its citizens. It must also be weighing on the conscience of leaders of Africa and the World for failing to rescue the children who are now 870 days in captivity. Hopes were raised mid-August when the “Plea-for-Rescue” video was released by the terrorists, who still hold the girls after the abduction on April 14, 2014.
Seventeen days after, apart from the usual sound bites, the Federal Government of Nigeria has not made any categorical statement to reassure the parents and the citizens at large that the girls will be rescued any time soon. It was only in far-away Kenya that President Muhammadu Buhari, on the sidelines of the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development, TICAD VI, last week, said: “If they [the terrorists] do not want to talk to us directly, let them pick an internationally recognised non -governmental organisation, convince them that they are holding the girls and that they want Nigeria to release a number of Boko Haram leaders in detention, which they are supposed to know”.
Apparently, the president’s statement did not go down well with the Bring Back Our Girls, BBOG, activists who have been campaigning hard to get the federal government to take concrete actions to rescue the girls. On Tuesday, August 30, members of the BBOG led by Oby Ezekwesili, former Nigerian minister of Education, made their third attempt to engage with President Buhari on the Chibok girls’ case but were denied access to the Presidential Villa by the Nigerian police.
The group, like most Nigerians, could not understand why the federal government is giving the initiative for dialogue to the terrorists. The group insists “the President has the powers to assemble ALL RELEVANT INTELLIGENCE ASSETS required for determining the best action in terms of LOWEST RISK Option.”
Indeed, the BBOG believes that many countries with superior capabilities have indicated willingness to help Nigeria gather security and intelligence assets on this and other related North East challenges. “We were therefore extremely shocked to read Mr. President state that ‘Some of the information about the division in Boko Haram is already in the press and I have read in the papers about the conflict in their leadership.’ Are we right to conclude from that statement that our President merely relies on newspaper reports like the rest of Nigerians for information on such an important and monumental tragedy? This is the basis of our concern.
“We are out again because no evidence of persuasive, deliberate and result-targeted action has been conveyed by our President and the federal government. We must as always, however, first acknowledge the courage and gallantry of our soldiers in the Multinational Joint Task Force, MJTF, and the Civilian JTF, and urge them to remain resilient in these attacks,” a statement signed by Aisha Yesufu and Ezekwesili, for and on behalf of BBOG said.
Apart from the concerns of the BBOG, many Nigerians were also worried when the Boko Haram insurgents alleged that the Nigerian Air Force bombed the area where the terrorists were holding the girls hostage in Sambisa forest. The Nigerian military was also quick to refute the allegation. The military stressed no such incident took place because it carries out its combat missions with precision. So far there is no evidence to sustain the allegations by the terrorists whose words cannot be vouched for and no independent rights’ group have stated otherwise.
But even if the Nigerian military did not commit the atrocious act, its action in the Niger Delta region is also a source of worry. Apart from the “Operation Safe Niger Delta”, the current “Operation Crocodile Smiles” which has started simulation of amphibious exercises in the area has also heightened tension amidst the ceasefire declared by the Niger Delta militants.
The “Operation Crocodile Smiles” is part of the federal government’s strategy to rid the creeks of the Niger Delta of militants who have been bombing oil installations. The destruction of oil facilities has reduced Nigeria’s oil production from 2.2 million barrels per day to about 1.4 million barrels per day as at July, further depleting the revenue accruing to the government which is already down because of the decline in the international price of oil.
The resurgence of militancy in Niger Delta started February 2016 with an explosion in a pipeline operated by Shell Petroleum Development Corporation, a Royal Dutch Shell subsidiary to the Shell Forcados export terminal. The company halted both production and imports. On May 11, Shell closed its Bonny oil facility. Three soldiers guarding the installation were killed in an attack. A bomb had closed Chevron’s Escravos facility a week earlier. On May 19, ExxonMobil’s Qua Iboe shut down and evacuated its workers due to militant threats.
The nefarious activities of the militants, especially the new Niger Delta Avengers, which birthed in March 2016, are not just a nightmare for both the federal government and international oil companies. It is also making life difficult for innocent citizens who inhabit the Niger Delta. These are the people who are caught in the cross fire between Nigerian soldiers who have been deployed to safeguard the oil facilities and the militants. This is also why the Nigerian military must exercise caution in checkmating the militants to ensure no innocent life is lost. There have been allegations of killings of innocent people by the army in the region. It is also alleged that the army has violated traditions of the people and desecrated their sacred cultural symbols.
It must be stated that the federal government has to do all its power to nip the threats in the Niger Delta in the bud. Hence, the government has justified the massive deployment of military equipment and soldiers to the region. This may scare innocent people of the Niger Delta to scamper. But the diehard militants who are engaging the Nigerian state in this sordid guerrilla war may not be easily defeated.
The federal government with its huge war arsenal will do well to remember that America with all its might and superior weapons did not win the war in Vietnam which has a similar terrain like the Niger Delta. This means that before the escalation of hostilities between the federal government forces and the militants, all efforts at dialogue must be exhausted to avoid total war in the country where the citizens are already worn and weary by all the miniature crises across the country, which have negatively affected their socio-economic, political and total wellbeing.
— Sep 12, 2016 @ 01:00 GMT