The sudden threat to resume hostilities in the Niger Delta region by Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) is something to worry about. The reason is simple. If such an outing, which they promised would be brutal, brutish and bloody, is allowed, it will again portray us as a nation that has not learned any useful lesson from history. It will also mark the commencement of another vicious circle of chaos.
As a people, we have travelled this road one time too many. We have journeyed through a path consistently without result. Yet, we have refused to make a detour. As a nation, we have traveled to the South-eastern part to watch the Python Dance. To the South-south, to witness the ugly Crocodile Smile. And the recent episode of these drama series Codenamed: “Operation Octopus grip” as declared by the Nigerian Navy in the Niger Delta region.
All these ‘dances, smiles and grips’ share but a common outcome called chaos. They have a way of leaving in their trails, sorrow, tears and blood. The recent unprovoked invasion of the peaceful Ajakurama Community in Edo state in a drill code-named Operation Crocodile Smile 11, bears eloquent testimony to this fact.
Despite all these unpalatable signals and feedbacks from the targeted ‘beneficiaries’ of these operations, our nation’s handlers have not deemed it necessary to appraise the entire process in order to know if the strategy is achieving the desired result. But instead, we have pushed on, focusing on trivial concerns while forgetting to address the fundamental issues. Now, this systematic abandonment has succeeded in giving birth to the Avengers’ declaration which, if handled with levity, may plunge our economy into chaos.
One point our military and the federal government fail to remember when opting for the military option is that, when soldiers are deployed for such operations, the resources of the state are depleted.
These endless operations coupled with maybe a decision to go after the Niger Delta Avengers may further deplete our nation’s socioeconomic resources. Hence, it is my opinion that the hour has come for us as a nation to seek real victory via dialogue and not through conquest.
To illustrate this position further, the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC), in a recent release, stated that the government is in need of money to carry out its programmes in the Niger Delta region. Even the N2 billion initial grant to the Maritime University at Okerenkoko for the school to commence academic activities last October has not been released. If the military has so much money to waste, why can’t it assist the government in carrying out those projects?
This statement portrays a group that is development hungry and wants to see resources channeled to development-oriented projects and not military operations. Expecting victory through military operations will remain elusive as history has shown. Again, I am well aware that the Nigerian military as an institution has public relations units or departments that function prominently in information dissemination. This is commendable but looking at PR as a practice, what is expected of this good office is much more than mere press statements. A glance through the Mexican statement postulation on PR will reveal that it involves analysing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organisation leaders and implementing planned programmes of action which will serve both the organisation and the public interest.
The above should be the way to go. It will not be out of place if the military PR units go a step further to monitor and analyse these incessant agitations with the aim of unraveling their root cause and advising the constituted authorities, which may include the federal government. Who knows, their findings may also point in the direction of the ceaseless calls for the nation’s restructuring that have refused to abate.
Already, the masses are aware that the asymmetrical posture of our political space is fuelling these agitations and the efforts to calm the agitators using military operations have resulted in this vicious season of threats. It is also a worrisome development that a reputable organisation such as the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has not been able to make a statement stating its position on this restructuring debacle. I have not heard about the association’s position on this all-important issue. This is not good for our polity and such silence is, to my mind, not golden. It is a betrayal.
Very recently, Frank Luntz, an American political pollster talking about the United State’s federal system, remarked as follows: ‘Federalism is about taking power away from Washington. It’s not about smaller or more limited government. Almost no one I interview cares about the size of government as much as the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of government. Americans want to empower states and governors to take a more active role in that governance because they’ve given up on Washington – Trump or no Trump.
This is a statement of fact which we must learn a lesson from. If federalism is still viewed as work in progress in the United States, it will not be out of place if it takes the front burner of our political discourse. It is time to empower our states and make them less Abuja-dependent. Whichever way, no matter how long we live in denial as a nation, the need for restructuring has come to stay and the theatrical dramatisation of ‘operations’ by our nation’s military apparatus shall remain a mere distraction.
But, to make this piece valid, it is important to note that to an average Niger Deltan, development of their region is synonymous with fiscal federalism or outright resource control. So, to avert these perennial crises, I believe that the time to return the ‘monkey’ to its owner is close at hand. If not, chances are that this vicious circle of chaos will continue.
Utomi writes from Abuja