WHY BUHARI CHANGED ‘STRATEGY’ OVER MILITANTS, BUT THEN, WAS THERE A STRATEGY

When  Nigerians woke up, last Monday, to find that Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, had bombed about five oil facilities belonging to the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Chevron Nigeria Limited, CNL, and Nigeria National Petroleum Development Company, NPDC, they were aghast, as there was supposed to be a ceasefire in the Niger Delta.

The incidents   occurred between July 1- 4, but when the militant group claimed to be blown up yet again blew up an NPDC manifold, close to Batan, and two NNPC/PPMC crude oil trunk lines, also in Delta State, on Tuesday, it was palpable that there was fire on the mountain.

Since then, the NDA and other militant groups have, according to them, intensified bombings in the region, blowing up NNPC pipeline in Eleme, Rivers State, on Wednesday, another three Chevron manifolds   at Diogbolo, Dibi Oil Field, Warri North Local Government Area in Delta State, on Thursday,   and Nembe 1, 2 and 3 crude trunk lines in Bayelsa and Rivers states on Friday.

President’s changing tone

The militant group did not give reason for the resumption of hostilities, but President Muhammadu Buhari, in his first major statement after the renewed bombings, while receiving some eminent Nigerians, mostly Muslims, who paid him sallah homage, insisted the Nigeria’s unity was not negotiable.

He said: “We have to concentrate on the militants to try to know how many of them, in terms of groupings, try to get in touch with their leadership to try to persuade them to please give Nigeria a chance.

“I assure them that when were very junior officers, we were told by the Head of State, who was General Gowon, that to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done, we never thought of oil.

“What we were after is one Nigeria. Please, pass the message to the militants that one Nigeria is not negotiable. And I pray they better accept it. The constitution is very clear as to what they should get and I assure them that there would be justice”.

His mien, July 6, was different from his tone 12 days earlier, June 24, at a dinner with leaders and chieftains of the All Progressives Congress, APC, at the Presidential Villa, where he pleaded with the Niger Delta militants in the name of God to reconsider their destruction of oil and gas installations.

Dashed hope

The NDA and other militant groups were said to have waited patiently for the President, who just returned to the country from his medical trip in London, to point the way forward two days after the expiration of the two-week ceasefire declared by government, June 6.   Nevertheless, he remained taciturn.

The expectation of many was that Buhari would make definite declarations on the peace talks, given that the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwku, who undertook a preliminary tour of the region and met with some stakeholders to prepare grounds for the jaw-jaw, would have briefed him on his trouble-shooting mission.

However, the President chose to remain silent on the critical matter. The NDA, during the period, urged him to call a referendum for Nigerians to decide if they would continue to stay together, just like his counterpart in Britain, David Cameron, did.

Unsolicited invitation

Militants vs Buhari
Militants and Buhari

It also invited him to the Niger Delta to see things for himself. According to the group’s spokesperson, Mudoch Agbinibo: “The Nigeria President Buhari should visit   Ugborodo,   host to Chevron   crude oil export terminal/EGTL gas plant, Ogulagha,   host to Shell Forcados crude oil export terminal/tank farm and Bonny Island, host to Shell Bonny crude oil export terminal/NLNG gas terminal…”

Agbinibo went on: “He (Buhari) should also visit Brass, host to Agip/ENI export terminal and Ibeno, host to ExxonMobil Qua Iboe crude export terminal.

“These are just the export terminals not talking about the numerous oil and gas flow stations and the oil wells that crisscross the length and breadth of the Niger Delta.

“Mr. President, come and see for yourself what the host communities are going through in the hands of Nigeria government and the multinationals”.

Buhari, who had sent the Vice President to flag-off the Ogoni clean-up exercise, declined the offer. However, no sensible security team would advise him to visit the areas on the invitation of a militant group.

Ultimate Warriors, others open up

If NDA was being evasive on the reasons for breaking the ceasefire and Buhari not forthcoming on  dialogue, the Ultimate Warriors, one of the militant groups in the region, broke the calabash. Its spokesperson, Sibiri Taiwoh, stated in an electronic mail to Sunday Vanguard before the ceasefire broke down that Buhari was kidding about Niger Delta, saying his policy would boomerang.

The group stated: “It is utterly unfortunate that today Nigeria has a President that is just there enjoying the propaganda machinery of his party the  APC, to the detriment of the economy and the purposeful governance that he promised during the electioneering campaigns.

“Under Buhari regime, like in 1985 when he was thrown out because of this kind of archaic economic policy, Nigeria’s economy has finally slide into recession.   This is because of your hopeless economic policies tailored to favour political associates and family members to the detriment of the entire country, particularly the Niger Delta region that sustains the nation with its oil resources.

“How can the President claim that he will rebuild the Niger Delta region; whereas he is doing everything to annihilate us;    whereas he is fanning the embers of discord in the region using his lieutenants. We are aware that this government is anchored on deceit and propaganda, but if they continue to shamefully pay lip service to us, we will surely protest by any crude means we can, including totally grounding the oil economy”.

Dismissive strategy

It went on: “Mr President, your unserious policy about the Niger Delta will soon boomerang on your head because the goodwill you have been enjoying has expired. You said you needed time and you declared a ceasefire to come out with something.   We gave you time, but you did nothing…

“What we saw is that you started deploying and redeploying soldiers to wage war the Niger Delta communities. You set up a Dialogue and Contact Committee and at the same time started deploying security agents to the Niger Delta. To do what?

“You are using the money that you ought to use to fast-track already started projects in the region to empower committees, political jobbers, who are deceiving you and security agents in a bid to hunt down agitators, instead of doing the needful. That is a miscalculation.

Ploy

“Stop deceiving us because we are aware of every move the government is making. We do not want any committee, we are aware it is a diversionary tactic of the government because for weeks now, no tangible thing has come out of the so-called committee. We want concrete action, we want direct federal government pronouncement to our demands”.

“We are, therefore, saying this to let the world know that President Buhari government is unserious about the Niger Delta and he should be held responsible for all incidents in the region for his missteps.

“If the Buhari government thinks approaching the Niger Delta conflict by divide and rule tactics is the best approach, let them continue to feast on the propaganda machinery of the APC, but we are assuring him (Buhari) that we will make sure he suffers bad luck since he sees us as conquered territory.”

I don’t care attitude

Speaking in similar vein, July 5, the Reformed Egbesu Boys of Niger Delta, in a statement,   said: “Since we called off hostilities in collaboration with the Niger Delta Avengers,   although reluctantly… we have observed the `I do not care’ attitude of the Federal Government on its much flaunted and publicized   dialogue   option   with key actors of the crisis.”

The group’s so-called General Tony Alagbakereowei  said: “The Secretary to the Federal Government alleged that there are numerous groups and interested parties, who want to negotiate with the Federal Government and that there is no clear leadership that the  Federal Government could trust and negotiate with. This is not only preposterous, but smacks off a predetermined mindset.

“In as much as this could be true to some extent, we wish to state that the Federal Government allowed miscreants and meddlesome interlopers seeking relevance in Abuja to gain pipeline contracts and appointments to deceive key actors of the government.”

Meanwhile, on Buhari’s stand that Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable, the Ijaw People Development Initiative, IPDI, a non-governmental organization, said: “Our attention has been drawn to a statement made by Mr President while breaking fast with Muslims leaders in Aso Rock, that Nigeria ‘s unity is not negotiable. He even went down memory lane on how General Yakubu Gowon handled the civil war.”

Anger spreads

National President of the group, Austin Ozobo, in a statement, said: “He then handed down a threat, which will further aggravate tension in the region when he said that he is passing a message to the militants that Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable. This does not go down well with some of us. Nigeria’s false marriage is now incompatible; it is not the duty of President Buhari to decide whether it is negotiable or not, and that can only be determined through a referendum, and that power rests with the electorate, not the President.”

“His threat only implies that, in a nutshell, if the people of  the region fail to see reason with him regarding his rigid position, Armageddon shall descend on the region.

“We find Mr. President’s statement not only repulsive, but totally disrespectful to the millions of Nigerians, who, on daily basis, have been calling for restructuring, true federalism and self-determination, a fundamental right as clearly stated in United Nations Charter and Africa Charter and People’s Rights.

I”President Buhari’s voice most of the time polarizes the country more. As a leader, listening to the cries of your people is far better than forcing your opinion based on ethnic and religious sentiment down our throats.

“Nigerian state came into being through forcefully marriage under Sir Lugard, without  the consent and input of Niger Deltans on how they should be governed and how they want to live with other ethnic nationalities.

“We reject this ‘monkey dey work, baboon dey chop treatment’  from the Nigerian state. We once again join progressive minds calling for true federalism because this is the only way out of the currrent agitations from several quarters”.

Buhari’s metamorphosis

Findings by Sunday Vanguard, however, showed that Buhari was initially excited about the Federal Government dialoguing with  militants and stakeholders in the Niger Delta, but, along the line, seemed to have changed his mind, as he is no longer disposed to   dialogue.

A source said some top security officials and politicians around the President convinced him that negotiating with Niger Delta militants would mean that government succumbed to their blackmail.

The different interest groups mounted pressure on Buhari, who shifted from his earlier position.   The militants, who were, according to sources, suspicious of government negotiators all along, reportedly saw the President’s latter-day reorganization of Operation Pulo Shield, now Operation Delta Safe, redeployment of security personnel from the North to the Niger-Delta on the grounds that those in the region were incompetent and the crackdown on militants, as a sign that government was no longer interested in dialogue.

Our dependable source said: “The truth is that there were intrigues and power play, involved the details of which are better classified in national interest. But the President chose to hold his grounds against militants than yield to them in the name of dialogue.”

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, however, hit the nail on the head, on Friday,  when he said government deliberately refused to discuss with NDA.

Osinbajo, who delivered the second foundation lecture of Elizade University,Ilaramokin, Ondo State,    said NDA members are    not freedom fighters but economic warriors    fighting for their own private pockets.

“The so-called Avengers are not freedom fighters but fighting for their own economic benefits. They are avenging for their private pockets and that is why government is not talking with them”, he stated.

Militants-ok1The Vice President, however, said that the Federal Government had concluded arrangements to tackle the menace of pipeline vandalism in the Niger/Delta.

While condemning the activities of the militants who claimed responsibility for the vandalization of petroleum pipelines in the oil-rich region, said “The previous government neglected the region for several years, hence the current challenges”..

Osigbo said government had put the machinery in motion to curtail the activities NDA.

.He also lamented that attacks by the group on oil and gas pipelines were responsible for the epileptic power supply in the country as well as the inability of state governors to pay workers’ salaries due to the low revenue generated in the oil sector.

Nwuche’s advice

Meanwhile, a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chibudom Nwuche, has appealed to the NDA and all militant groups in the Niger Delta to sheath their swords.

In a statement in Abuja, Nwuche appealed to the militants to cease campaigns of destruction of oil facilities in the region as that would have far- reaching negative effect on the people of the region, pointing out that the average Niger Deltan depends on farming and fishing for sustenance.