Wednesday, June 8, 2016

For Peace In South-East, South-South

By Wale Sokunbi
Nigeria has, for some weeks now, been reeling under protests by Niger Delta militants and pro-Biafra groups demanding self-determination and a number of other things from the Federal Government. Hardly any day has passed in recent weeks without gory reports on the bombings of oil pipelines, destruction of other critical oil facilities and killings of protesters, that are capable of distracting the government from the very serious challenges confronting the nation.
(*pix: vanguard)
With the incessant protests and destruction of oil facilities, the impression that is being created is that some of our compatriots are tired of the continuing existence of Nigeria as one country and would prefer to opt out of the Nigerian arrangement. The response of the security agencies to this unfortunate scenario is only succeeding in further hardening the agitators. Scores of protesters were reportedly killed by soldiers in Onitsha, Anambra State, during the celebration of the 49th anniversary of the declaration of the Republic of Biafra by the late Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu, on May 30, while the military also laid siege to the Gbaramatu hometown of one of the leading Niger Delta militants. The government’s response to this situation has not stopped the Niger Delta militants from continuing with their bombing campaigns and threatening the Federal Government and the entire country.
Whatever the problem is, one thing that is clear is that the best way for the militants to achieve their objectives is not by destroying whatever is left of the country. They will do much better to channel their grievances against the state through their recognised leaders and National Assembly members to the appropriate quarters so that they can be addressed and resolved.  The problems that are currently blowing against the soul of Nigeria are such that can topple the nation’s ship of state, if not immediately and properly addressed.  As things stand, the nation’s economy is walking a tightrope on account of the fall in the price of crude oil in the international market.
The delay in the passage of the 2016 Budget has thrown the economy into a bind. Power supply is getting more epileptic, while inflation has gone through the roof. The pump price of petrol has almost doubled.

With all these challenges facing the nation, Nigeria cannot afford a conflagration of either an ethnic or religious hue.  This is why the government must take a more reconciliatory view of the present agitations by the pro-Biafra groups and the Niger Delta militants. The way forward is for the authorities to dialogue with them with a view to addressing their grouses. Nigeria cannot afford to add other theatres of conflict when we are just seemingly getting a respite from Boko Haram terrorists. Already, the attacks of the Niger Delta militant groups have led to a serious reduction in Nigeria’s oil output and the money accruing into the Federation Account. This has affected the capacity of the Federal and State governments to meet their financial obligations to their workers and their other statutory responsibilities.
Even beyond the financial implications of the attacks on oil facilities is the need to get all Nigerians back on track as one nation. It is sad that Nigeria is a country and not a nation. If it is at all a nation, it is lacking in nationals who love it and have a strong sense of commitment to its well being and continued peaceful existence.
Unfortunately, the country is sorely lacking in initiatives that can bring its differing peoples together as one. Most ethnic groups in the country feel they have been marginalized and shortchanged in the scheme of things. Even our leaders mostly see themselves as ethnic jingoists who are in office to promote the interest of their ethnic groups and not the interests of other groups.
Our country is little better than orphan child, only to be serially raped and exploited by its component groups and their leaders, to their individual advantages, and not nurtured and developed for the present and coming generations of Nigerians. Not even our leaders are enamoured of the need to nurture the country. Instead, everyone asks: what can I get out of this arrangement for myself and my tribe? This is a very sad state of affairs, indeed, and the country will remain in its present state of under-development unless we can change this mindset and begin to think of what we can do in our little capacities to think as one, and do our best to make the country work better in the interest of all its peoples.
I think the National Orientation Agency (NOA) has a lot to do in this regard. It has on its hands the task of re-orientating Nigerians to see themselves as one people and not from the narrow prisms of their own ethnic groups. It would appear that President Muhammadu Buhari also has to get into this big picture and begin to think of how to bring the country together. He must overlook the distractions of the agitators and find a way to carry them along on his plans for the whole country.  He will need more of the carrot than stick approach to get all Nigerians on the same page so that he can concentrate on the task that he has set for himself, if he wants to be on the right side of history.
The agitations from the South-East and South-South are quite different from the one in the North-East and they require different approaches because you cannot chase a bull out a China shop with a gun as you would chase it out of Sambisa and any other forest.  The chasing of a bull in a China shop has to be done with tact and diplomacy, so that it does not upset the applecart of the national economy.
It is bad that so many people in different parts of the country feel disgruntled about the state of affairs in the country, which is well within their rights. The government has a responsibility to make every Nigerian feel happy to be a part of the country.  Any challenges that it has as it strives to achieve this objective must be respectfully communicated to the people and sincerely addressed.
It is good that the Federal Government is, at last, thinking along this line as indicated by its decision last Monday to inaugurate a committee to negotiate with the Niger Delta Avengers that has been bombing oil facilities in the country. The team that will handle the negotiations will be coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) with the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Usani Uguru, as well as selected kings and other influential persons in the region, as members. There is also a plan to scale down the military operations in the area to give room for negotiations.
Let the Niger Delta activists give room for negotiations. It is hoped that the negotiations will lead to peace so that the people of that region can get their lives back and live in peace in their communities and with their fellow citizens in other parts of the country. Nigeria can only forward in an atmosphere of peace, not crisis.
*Ms. Sokunbi could be reached with (08111813039)

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