Warning shots from the Niger Delta

MEND pic30 October 2013, Abuja – Perhaps it was a “minor fire incident” that happened at a unit of the Warri Refining and Petrochemical Company last Tuesday. The refinery’s authorities promptly promised to investigate the exact cause of the fire, but they are yet to make their findings available, 10 days after. Terrorist group MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta), on the other hand, claimed it was responsible for the “sabotage” a few hours after the fire.

The group’s spokesman “Jomo Gbomo” said it was targeting the nation’s oil and gas industry to protest President Jonathan’s reliance on “an unsustainable and fraudulent Niger Delta amnesty programme” for peace and security in the region. About the same time, a sister of a presidential adviser linked to the amnesty programme, Mr Oronto Douglas, was in the grip of kidnappers. Two Americans also got kidnapped off the coast of Bayelsa State.

As these events signify, the Niger Delta is set to explode again. There had been relative peace for two years; that was probably because oil thieves were operating unchallenged during the period. Now that the federal government has been crying over losses in oil revenue caused by oil theft (at least 400, 000 barrels of crude per day) and making plans to curtail the theft, the implacable “militants” seem set to resume hostilities in the area. In other words, the Presidential Amnesty Programme has failed.

After spending billions of naira on the programme, the government has achieved nothing but theft and more theft. A few warlords have been placated with “juicy” contracts that have turned them billionaires, so much so that one could even buy a private jet recently.

Having tasted the “forbidden fruit”, the militants and ex-militants cannot be stopped without a big fight. Besides, the majority of youths in the oil-rich Niger Delta — criminals and law-abiding citizens alike — have not benefitted from the so-called amnesty. The nation has a problem on its hands!

Our stance against the amnesty programme has not changed. From the very beginning, we warned of the consequences. Now we have been vindicated. The earlier the initiators of the programme walk back from the brink, the better. The nation already has complex security issues to contend with: currently, there is a state of emergency in three states of the north-east; Boko Haram terrorists have killed more than 5, 000 Nigerians in the past three years. Billions of naira has been sunk into the terror war.

Nigeria cannot afford the resumption of another battle in the Niger Delta from where it derives most of its revenue. With huge security bills and dwindling oil revenue, the economy would be sure to experience difficulties.

A son of the Niger Delta is currently president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Nigeria. He should be able to counter another cataclysm from his home base, even as he seeks to suppress the insurgents in the north-east zone. The country needs peace now, especially as an election year is knocking at the door.

– Leadership (Editorial)

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