Written by Abdullahi Yahaya Bello, Abuja, Muhammad Bello, and Monday Osayande:
For most obsevers of the Niger-Delta crisis, Monday’s bomb blast by Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND) was no surprise. When they blew up a Trans Ramos facility belonging to Shell in February, they promised that other attacks will follow. The amnesty committee listened to and abandoned a potent statement made by Joshua McIver , an ex-MEND leader from Southern Ijaw local government area of Bayelsa State during the arms surrender last year, that “if our demands are not handled with all seriousness, this entire situation will give birth to a different baby in the Niger Delta.” This is the first time MEND is attacking a government house in such a daring manner.
Though the Delta State government launched a manhunt for MEND leader Henry Okah yesterday, they are not likely to recover from the shock of the attack soon. At exactly 9am on Monday, journalists in the Niger-Delta got emails from MEND that they were going g to attack the post-amnesty parley jointly organized by the Vanguard newspaper and Delta State. At exactly that time the twin blasts set off, killing three people. Firstly, MEND was irked that Delta State governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan had referred to their group as paper tigers. Their second reason was that the oil-rich region was being short-changed in order to favour Northern elites. “The lands of the people of the Niger Delta were stolen by the oil companies and Northern Nigeria with a stroke of the pen,” Jomo Gbomo, MEND spokesperson wrote.
MEND has since indicatedthat a third bomb that was not detonated Monday is being preserved for use in a different attack, at an unstated time and place. The Joint Military Task Force (JTF) told Weekly Trust that despite the fact that it was not privy to the post-amnesty meeting which was disrupted by dual bomb blasts, it aided the evacuation of governors and guests who were near the scene. JTF spokesperson, Timothy Antigha, told our correspondent on phone that the task force also assisted in the clearing of the wreckage of the blast. Mr. Paul Odili, Communications Manager to Governor Uduaghan told Weekly Trust that the action of MEND was uncalled for, saying it did not portray members of the group as rational beings with foresight. “Agreed, there is a little delay to place food on their tables, as promised by government, but unfolding events at Aso Villa for quite some time, may have caused the delay, declared Odili who cautioned MEND to tread the line of dialogue, at all times, to fast-track the development of the region.
Mr. Abere Funbo Brideba, General Secretary, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Asaba branch told Weekly Trust that the bomb blast would have been averted if notable militants were invited to participate in the dialogue. “They should have involved the militants because the core essence of dialogue should be that the militants are being properly involved”. Although the legal practitioner described the explosion as unfortunate, he said leaders from the region are to be blamed for our woes. Reacting to the Governor’s statement that MEND only exists on newspaper pages, Barrister Brideba had this to say: “The governor is trying to deceive us and give a wrong picture of what is happening in Niger Delta”. According to the legal practitioner, militancy can be stopped in the region if corruption is fought to a standstill. “Once that is done, every other thing will flow quietly and successfully”. Popular opinion in the Niger Delta reflects the mindset of MEND although those expressing them may not share the modus operandi of the movement. King Joshua Iyekorogha Igbagara of Sagbama who is also the chairman of the Bayelsa State Council of Chiefs said from Kolokuma to Yenagoa, there is no superior healthcare system of any kind. “Pregnant women have to travel for six to seven hours to getproper medical attention”, he emphasized. He also complained that the sanitation condition in the rural areas ofthe state is very poor. “We go to toilet in the river at the same time that others are fetching water for drinking and cooking,” he explained.
The tendency for community leadership now is drifting from gerontocracy to ‘militantocracy’, he told our correspondent, indicating that jostling for CDC positions are a do-or-die affair as those aspiring for those offices want to get their own share of the‘community cake’ at all cost.
Hon. Otobo Noah Opusiri a lawmaker in Bayelsa state pointed out thatdespite the injustices done to the region people here need properenlightenment so that they can understand issues properly. “When a place is driven and steered by sentiments and petty biases there is a problem”.
Spokesperson of the Amnesty Programme, Dr. Karipomo Agary told Weekly Trust that contrary to the insinuation that President’s health problem caused the delay in implementing the programme, it has always been on course. “It is not correct to say that because Mr. President is sick that is why there is a delay in the implementation of the amnesty. The amnesty programme is a huge success because up till now there are still militants surrendering their arms.”
On the claim that those who bombed Warri were dissatisfied with the amnesty, Agary said in every group there will always be people who are dissatisfied over an issue.
There is a fundamental lacuna in the way the Nigerian state has been handling the issue of development in the Niger Delta. Two years after oil was discovered in Oloibiri in Bayelsa State, it was recommended that the area needed special developmental attention. In 1960 the pioneer effort to improve the lives of the people in the area was made with the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB).
NDDB managed the affairs of the region focusing on Yenagoa province, Degema province, the Ogoni Division of Port Harcourt and the WesternIjaw Division of Delta Province. All these are in the oil crucible ofthe present day Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers states.
Seven years after the military coup of 1966 and the civil war halted the negligible milestone of the board. Some pundits believe the funds available then for the board to succeed was diverted to arresting the fratricidal conflict that threatened the unity of the country.
In 1980, about two decades later, the Shagari administrationinaugurated a presidential task force, known as the 1.5 percentcommittee, the percentile being a reference to the initial allocation accruable to the region from the federation account. The figure stoodat that uptil when Gen. Ibrahim Babangida took over. Babangida’sinertia in addressing the problem of the region rested the committee,which like the NDDB was a cash cow of some sort for some faceless bureaucrats.
Barely a year before he left office, Babangida created the Oil and Minerals Producing Areas Commission (OMPADEC). He did this in reaction to the agitations from groups in the area and the bellicosedispositions of the youths there. For instance, in the late 1980s Ijaw youths mounted a vigorous media campaign and ceaseless protests. All these culminated in the birth of the Ijaw National Congress (INC) in1994 and the simultaneous birth of the Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC) out of the Kaiama Declaration of 1998. Then the creation of the NDDC heralded the idea of having a master plan for the region. Currently, we are in the first phase of its execution, yet over N1.7 trillion, being backlog of funds that were supposed tobe paid to the commission are still hanging. It seems the idea of turning over the fortunes of the region in 15 years is still inthe cooler. In Nembe area of Bayelsa state for instance, the Otuegila-Nembe road has been on the drawing board now for more than 15 years.
Probably, this is due to the lack of political goodwill on the executors of the master plan or oil conglomerates exploring oil in the region. However, another significant factor that stalled many genuine efforts was the creation of MEND in January 2006, the same year that the implementation of the master plan was to commence. Since then, criminality has risen to terrifying proportions and economic activities have nosedived while the mono-economic structure of Nigeria has hung precariously in the balance as a huge chunk of revenue accruing to it from the sale of crude oil has been evaporating.
Although over 40 ex-commanders of MEND have embraced the federal government amnesty and in reality, turned in a behemoth cache of weapons, cataclysmic events involving the vandalization of oil installations and the recent bomb scare gives credence to the ominous existence of the organisation. It may seem that authorities are complacent in checking the proliferation of arms in the region. During the window period of the amnesty, former governors of Bayelsa and Delta States, DSP Alamieyeseigha and James Ibori cautioned that more arms could still be out there.
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