Avenging The Avengers
The truth about the fast unravelling conspiracy against the Nigerian state from the creeks of the Niger Delta is that like in the past, little, or virtually nothing, was done to hide its target. We woke up one bright sunny day to discover that some misguided criminals and their sponsors have, yet again, developed an allergy to the oil and gas pipelines which criss-cross the region and resolved to blow them into smithereens. And, to add a touch of drama or perhaps even romance to their macabre act, they opted to adopt the dubious moniker of “The Niger Delta Avengers” the underscore the existence of a long nourished grudge.
But even if they had also dared to go by the previously known names such as the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF), or, even any of the factions the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND); the equation, as far as their strategy and methods are concerned, would have remained the same.
The essential message in their manifestation of rage is consistent with the assumption that they possess the capability and capacity to bring the mono-economy which feeds on the vastly diminished petro-dollars to its knees. Once that is achieved, the criminals -I wholesomely reject the use of the word ‘militants’ in the present context- along with the political neophytes behind them, expect the federal government to respond one way or the other.
Under Operation Pullo-Shield, the under-equipped Nigerian military routinely chased shadows in the vain effort to apprehend the criminal kingpins behind the nefarious acts in the creeks. But eventually political expediency always ensued a recourse to the negotiating table was inevitable. Under the late president Umaru Yar’adua, a well-conceived political solution produced the template for the amnesty programme which was expected to achieve a set of mutually beneficial goals. Today, the fact that acts of avoidable criminality have resumed in the Niger Delta suggests that one or both parties was unfaithful to the deal in the first place.
Today, as the nation recoils from the resumed bombing of the oil and gas pipelines with their devastating effect on the economy it is easy not to be amazed at how fast arms and dynamites have resurfaced in the region. As Tompolo continues to deny any suggestion of allegiance to the new group, the ease with which the Avengers have resumed their criminal activities clearly suggests that not all the critical arms and ammunition in the possession of the militants were handed over to the authorities in line with the requirements of the amnesty agreement.
The development should be a serious concern to all peace loving Nigerians. To many observers who were already cynical about the success of the amnesty programme and the sincerity of its intended beneficiaries in the Niger Delta, it is worth noting that a conscious effort – through the adoption of a new name- has been made to distance the new group from the amnesty programme.
What that pertains, in plain terms, is that the ex-militants who huddled with federal authorities at weekend, including of course, the likes of Tompolo and Asari Dokubu, cannot be held culpable for reneging on the terms of the general amnesty as a result of the renewed violence in the region. I find that to be very convenient and expedient.
Similarly, the elected governors of the region, who acted as partial guarantors of the amnesty programme can also claim to be helpless under the current circumstances. The situation has clearly left the federal authorities clutching at straws. Even if the Avengers are to concede to any form of negotiation, we cannot be sure that another group will not emerge in future to rubbish wherever agreement is eventually reached.
The scenario echoes the sentiments I echoed in the weeks leading to the adoption of the current amnesty programme that it is incumbent for the government to always negotiate from a position of strength when dealing with non-state actors such as the militants and Boko Haram. History clearly suggests that in situations such as the nation finds itself, it is always imperative to achieve military superiority in the field before the recourse to peace.
In this particular instance, it is obvious that not only did the nation fail to achieve military ascendency in the Niger Delta before the amnesty deal, after the programme was implemented, the army simply went to sleep. The military failed to follow-up on the amnesty deal by developing an effective programme to rid the region of dangerous armaments. Their failure has now returned to haunt us.
It should also worry the military that a nexus clearly exists between the activities of the Avengers and Nnamdi Kanu’s version of agitation for the Republic of Biafra. The statements credited to the group were no less emphatic. It also leaves the group woefully exposed as a mere pawn in the hands of vanquished politicians who have lost out in the current political order.
Either way, the government cannot afford to fold its arms and watch as things degenerate further. The long suffering people of the Niger Delta have legitimate reasons to protest their current socio-economic conditions, but a clear distinction must be made between their agitations and the unreasonable demands of criminal elements who claim to be fighting on their behalf. How the government proceeds to do that is the major challenge here.
One thing must be made abundantly clear, however. If Nigeria is not to evolve into a failed state, it must urgently find a military solution to the renewed violence in the Niger Delta. This will not be an easy task giving the fact that the Nigerian Navy which will critical in any sustained military action in terrain was deliberately crippled by the last administration so that lucrative pipeline surveillance contracts could be awarded to the pampered ex-militants.
If the attacks persist as the Avengers have promised, then the Buhari administration has no option but to adopt other legitimate means to deal with the situation including the declaration of state of emergency in the respective states to allow for a resolute military pursuit of the criminal elements. He will not be the first president to do so under similar circumstances. The status-quo no doubt calls for the urgent re-equipment of the military to deal with similar emergencies as they occur across the country.
Inevitably, Nigeria’s biggest revenge against the avengers will be for the rapid diversification of the economy to make their serial acts of sabotage less portent and injurious to our collective aspirations and well-being. Nigeria is too big a country to be held down on the whims and caprices of a few disgruntled elements hiding in the creeks of the Niger Delta or elsewhere.
We must avenge the avengers by looking to coal and renewable energy generate power for the critical SMEs that will be crucial to our economic revival. We must look to agriculture and solid minerals to also boost our foreign exchange earnings. It was our failure to do same that has made the Avengers such mortal foes.
It is time to call their bluff by dealing resolutely with the threats they pose to the nation.