Monday, June 6, 2016

Coming To Terms With Niger Delta Avengers

By Paul Odili
To correct a wrong, it is sometimes necessary to exceed proper limits’. This doctrine is attributed to Mao Zedong by his personal secretary, Lin Ke.

Mao, founder of the modern communist state of China was a man of power, who had no hesitation using whatever means he judged necessary to protect his power and the state he founded. In this context, Mao was justifying the use of terror. 

I do not ordinarily believe in the use of terror by legitimate forces of the state, yet there are times you just ponder what are the options before state actors under certain circumstances. If Mao were to be the commander of Nigerian state, there is no question as to what he would do in view of the dystopia in the Niger Delta area.

The senseless attacks and economic sabotage going on in the Niger Delta by a shadowy militant group( Niger Delta Avengers) claiming to be fighting for the interest of Niger Delta, you wonder if there is no great wisdom in Mao’s doctrine. We don’t have a Mao here of course, we have PMB and PMB is no Mao clearly. And Nigerian state is neither a communist state nor resembling a Chinese society. We are Africans with our cultural mores and social and economic structure. But we are a society that must survive and we are under attack by a merciless force. Nigeria is in a state of war.

In any state of war, economic assets are legitimate targets. So what do we do? Let’s get inside PMB’s head. A retired old school Army General, strict and unbending, prides himself in promoting order and discipline above everything else, is now faced with one of the greatest existential threat yet to his administration. At a period of great economic stress, in which the main source of the government’s economic power is being systematically sabotaged and somehow he is powerless to do anything. This must be his worst nightmare! Naturally, his first instinct would be to use military force and exterminate these saboteurs.

He said as much when he declared that the Niger Delta militants would be dealt with like Boko haram. So far PMB is wrong. The terrain and associated circumstances are different. NDA have called his bluff. Almost on a daily basis one asset or the other has been blown up. Minister Ibe Kachikwu is lamenting the effect of this on oil production down to 1.4 million; the lowest production in two decades. With the hapless situation he is facing PMB must be torn between armistice with the militants or military operation to conquer. With public panic rising and economic downturn worsening with the continuation of this act of war, what should be done and done to end this conflagration once and for all?

As PMB may have realised there is no easy answer. In the short term, war won’t end this and negotiation can only buy you time at some cost with concession. Both have their implications. Military effort will lead to greater destruction and sabotage. Negotiation and amnesty can only provide temporary truce. In any case, what kind of amnesty? Certainly PMB terms will not tolerate the kind of amnesty package that made the militants extremely rich such that some became politicians and power brokers and lived a life of opulence amidst poverty and neglect of their people they claimed they were fighting for.

One of the biggest lie since the Devil deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden was that the militant attacks was to bring attention to the neglect to the region. It is not. It is war for profiteering through bunkering or outsize government contracts to protect pipelines. We know the life style of the ex-militants during amnesty. Lavish parties, fancy cars, expensive cognac at social events, beautiful women bedecked with expensive jewelries, the militants were known to spray dollars at social events—child naming, wedding anything that catches their fancy, no sense of moderation. During President Jonathan administration, his amnesty programme was a spigot that spilled cash endlessly.

It was bazaar, easy money on a scale never seen and which PMB has cut off.  This is bound to get reaction. And the reaction is what the country is facing. The other great disappointment is the failure of Nigerian state not to have found a way to map and establish greater presence in the Niger Delta region in a manner that reduces this scale of destruction. Are we saying that a foreign hostile force can slip into the Delta region, occupy it and control it and we are caught in a rearguard fight? Surely technology exists (drone for instance..etc) that track movement real time within the region.

These militants can’t just move randomly unchallenged if proper deployment of men, materials and technology were in place. Or is there a conspiracy somewhere? Or is the usual lack of rigour and sloppiness in our administration. Overall, the cards are stacked against PMB in the short term. It is either he climbs down and negotiate on a generous terms like other presidents before him he might succeed in deescalating the crisis or he pursues this war of attrition to its conclusive end.

He is no Mao and probably lacks the will to implement Mao’s doctrine. Mao was extremely cunning, extremely charismatic, extremely capable in the act of statecraft and extremely ruthless. He created a state that made it possible for him to thrive. To succeed in the present circumstances, PMB might well use some of Mao’s qualities.  Across board Nigeria is on tenterhooks.
* Mr. Paul Odili, a public affairs commentator, wrote from Asaba, Delta State.

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