Thursday, January 19, 2017

President Buhari, Dialogue Matters

By Paul Onomuakpokpo
With an air of imperial finality, President Muhammadu Buhari has ruled out the possibility of holding a dialogue on how to resolve the crises in the Niger Delta. From initially pretending to support a dialogue with the leaders of the region, Buhari has moved to declaring that there are no credible leaders to talk with in the region and now finally that a dialogue is not even necessary. He says the problems of the region are already known.
The position of the president which was articulated by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo during his visit to the Niger Delta seems to be only about the oil-rich region. But it actually reflects the stance of Buhari concerning the whole country. Buhari does not want any dialogue; all he wants is for the citizens to be quiet, wait patiently as he hands them a roadmap for the development of the country. But this approach of Buhari is not acceptable to the citizens simply because he cannot be trusted to take the right decisions on their behalf. Any roadmap for development that Buhari contemplates can only be tilted to suit his askew sense of development and equity.
As regards the Niger Delta, Buhari can only end up like his predecessors whose sense of development without the input of the people from the Niger Delta has paved the way for the gleeful allocation of oil blocks to people from other parts of the country while the indigenes of the region are neglected. Past governments were aware of the despoliation that has resulted from oil exploration in the region, yet they failed to take any significant step to address the situation. From Isaac Boro to Ken Saro Wiwa, the agitations by the people of the Niger Delta for development of their oil-ravaged region have often been met with brutal responses.
Or can the people really trust the president when he has failed to begin the process of the development of the Niger Delta almost two years after he came into office? And now it was not even the president, but his deputy, who went to the region after so much prodding. If the president were really sincere, he should have gone to the Niger Delta himself to understand the urgency of looking for solutions to the problems of the region. And he should have done this earlier. Rather, he has been preoccupied with how to crush agitators in the region. There is a good reason to suspect that what Buhari is doing is just verbal pacification to secure a peaceful environment for him to get more oil to run his government. With the history of Buhari’s lackluster responses to injustices in different parts of the country, the people of the Niger Delta have good reasons to be skeptical about his avowed developmental roadmap for the region. These responses have perpetually diminished our humanity, collective and individual, and thus we are obliged to be eternally vigilant in accepting his promises.

The alarm is clear in Buhari’s growing penchant for squelching opposition by negating adherence to constitutionality that is the veritable cornerstone of our collectiveness. This proclivity is unceasing because Buhari believes he can ever go unchallenged. Two years into his four-year administration he has persistently disdained the warning that this style that does not tolerate the position of the oppressed is a recipe for anarchy.
Instead of genuinely seeking ways to respond to the agitations in the South East, Buhari has since kept the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, in detention. And from prolonged illegal detention, Buhari has decided to subject Kanu to a secret trial. Only Buhari and his supporters can be deluded with the notion that the rest of the citizens see the possibility of a fair trial for Kanu in secret. Buhari himself has expressed a lack of confidence in the judicial system. And this is even when there are open trials. If he is outraged at the perversion of justice in an open trial, it becomes clear to the citizens that the orchestration of a secret trial is only a means of manipulating the judicial system to declare Kanu culpable. And since Buhari has chosen a secret trial, he might as well keep the verdict of guilt it would pass on Kanu to himself.
The conditions that gave rise to the emergence of Kanu are still in the society. Prosecuting and finding Kanu guilty would not stop a replication of Kanu. It is only Kanu who would be consigned to prison who may be silenced. The tragic irony is that his imprisonment would rather serve as an inspiration to many others who would like to be counted with Kanu as the heroes of the struggle for the realisation of the dream of the state of Biafra. After all, his incarceration under the pretext of prosecuting him has not stopped the supporters of IPOB and MASSOB from protesting in the South East.
The people of the Niger Delta cannot trust Buhari to think of their well-being when he has failed to obey court rulings that his security operatives should allow former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki to be released from detention to face his prosecution. Instead, Buhari has kept Dasuki in detention for over year. Even Buhari has ignored a ruling of the ECOWAS Court that Dasuki should be released from detention. To be sure, Dasuki should be prosecuted for his alleged misappropriation of $2.1 billion meant to procure weapons with which to fight Boko Haram. This malfeasance claimed the lives of not only soldiers who were sent to the battlefield not adequately equipped but also the lives of civilians and their property. But such a prosecution must be within the bounds of the laws of the land. It is the same way that Buhari has consigned the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and his wife to detention despite the rulings of courts to release him. Not even a 45-day deadline by a high court has made Buhari to release El-Zazaky. The futility of Buhari’s thinking for the nation was also manifested in his silence as killings continued in southern Kaduna.
What the Niger Delta requires is a clear template with different stages for development. Instead of wasting the nation’s time on the symptoms of a warped system, Buhari should be concerned with how to uproot the conditions that have given rise to them. To do this, all the citizens must reach a consensus on the terms of mutual co-existence. We must all be seen and treated as equal. No other part of the country must be treated as inferior to another. And since Buhari has chosen to disdain the national conference report which has charted a path out of many of the nation’s crises, he is free to propose other ways of resolving them. It is high time he overcame the delusion that there can be peace and development in any part of the country without a sincere dialogue for the well-being of all the citizens. 

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