Repentant Militants In Niger Delta: What Yar’Adua Must Do

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aug1209edito8In line with his promise to personally receive Militants that whole-heartedly embrace the federal government’s Amnesty, Nigerian President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua last week played host to the First set of repentant insurgents at Aso Rock, Abuja.

Expectedly, a jubilant duo of Yar’Adua and Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan warmly received each of the more than 30 members of the movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), in what seemed the first real take-off of the amnesty package.

More importantly, the Abuja event underscored the very important role South-South Governors could play in the success of the amnesty package, because, without their support and involvement very little could have been achieved, least of which was the weekend, “surrender ceremony.”

Commendable as the take-off appears and the prospect it holds for many more, to step forward, embrace the truce and subsequently lay-down their weapons, there are still issues President Yar’Adua should not take for granted.

Key more such worries is the apparent lack of a holistic development agenda that would put to rest the near frequent cases of unrest in the Niger Delta.

Speaking recently as Guest of The Tide Round Table,  weekly personality interview programme of the Rivers State Newspaper Corporation, a former President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Onueze C.J. Okocha (SAN) questioned the honesty of the federal government in its repeated promises to address the Niger Delta problem.

In the learned Senior Advocate’s informed opinion, the key issues to address are those of equity and justice in the allocation of funds accruing from oil and a bold political decision that would grant oil producing states 50 per cent derivation, as obtained in pre and post independence Nigeria.

That indeed is the key point to note in addressing the Niger Delta problem, if indeed, President Yar’Adua meant it when he included the region as a key part of his Seven-Point Development Agenda.

The Tide finds it very disturbing that more than two years into his four-year tenure, President Yar’Adua’s actions have not translated into any positive change in the fluctuating fortunes of the area, a reason that has in many ways, contributed to the volatility in the region.

Instead, as it has always been in the past, the federal government seems interested more in interventionist measures, rather than addressing, in a lasting manner, the near frequent cases against marginalization.

What is indeed required is a holistic handling of the problem which many stakeholders agree, the much trumpeted amnesty for Niger Delta militants and the temporary suspension of hostilities by the insurgents will not be enough; it instead, will amount to postponing the dooms day.

This is why The Tide calls on President Yar’Adua to take the bold step forward and stand on the side of truth and precedence by proposing an upward review of  the derivation fund to, not more than  50 percent, as spelt out by the 1999 Nigerian Constitution. That way, every state of the federation will explore more economically viable ways of developing their own resources and pay the requisite taxes to the centre; rather than depend solely on windfall from the Niger Delta.

Happily, that is partly the spirit behind the federal system Nigeria has chosen to operate, a system where, states are allowed considerable independence in managing the resources.

We say so because the argument by some that oil is a natural gift that should not be considered as any particular state’s heritage falls flat on the face of international law on land. Clearly, whoever owns land, owns whatever is beneath. Period.

This is the kind of truth and justice, Niger Deltans expect of President Yar’Adua, if, he genuinely seeks to address the problems of the region. In taking that bold step, what must be considered first and foremost are the hazards of oil production, the denial of arable land for agricultural purposes and the destruction of marine life which was hitherto, a major source of fishing activities.

Perhaps, it must be emphasized that the environmental and ecological impact of oil prospection and production activities pose an even more mortal danger to the people of the region, which remedial needs can hardly be met by the pea nuts grudgingly given to interventionist bodies, like NDDC and the Niger Delta Ministry.

The Tide agrees with the learned Senior advocate that the best solution to the Niger Delta problem are the implementation, without further delay, of the Leedum Mitee Technical Committee Report and the granting of 50 percent Derivation to oil bearing areas.

This is what the peoples of the Niger Delta thought that Yar’Adua would give them, when he made the region part of his 7-Point Agenda. Repeated assurances about timely release of funds are hardly enough. That is the truth.