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Why Militancy May Return to Niger Delta — Ledum Mitee

Says FG tackles effect, not the cause of insurgency.

Why Militancy May Return to Niger Delta — Ledum Mitee
Ledum Mitee

Ledum Mitee needs little or no introduction. An environmental activist, he is a delegate at the on-going National Conference and Chairman of Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative, NEITI.

As successor to the late President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), he narrowly escaped former maximum ruler Sani Abacha’s hangman. He spoke to Sunday Vanguard on controversial issues at the confab and the high level of insecurity in the North.

What can you say about the high level of insecurity prevailing in certain parts of the country?

It is quite disturbing that in recent times, we have found ourselves in this kind of situation. Terrorism and general insecurity have become the number one problem the nation is facing today. My regret is that so much politics has been introduced into the issue.

When there is a serious situation like this, I think politicians should become statesmen. Everyday, what you hear is one party blaming another and the other responding. This kind of situation makes me feel sick. I think the people who are being killed everyday in the North-East, Nyanya and Jos are ordinary Nigerians who may even be supporters of the two rival parties in the country.

We should put politics aside in order to tackle the situation effectively.
I think the security agencies should do more in terms of intelligence gathering. This is because the Boko Haram terrorists seem to be telling us that they have the capacity to strike anywhere. I think that to a large extent, the intelligence gathering capacity of our security agencies has not been fantastic.

However, there have been noticeable flashes of hope which I think we should also commend. I don’t think we should only condemn their efforts. For instance, the fact that they were able to arrest the masterminds behind the Nyanya bombing within a short time is commendable.

They even tracked one of them to far away Sudan. That is quite encouraging. I also understand that they have arrested some suspects in respect of the recent Kano bombing. I think this shows that they have achieved some successes.

When you also consider the fact that Boko Haram is demanding that some of their members who are in detention should be released, it means that there have been some successes in arresting the terrorists.

But what is worrying is that we thought at some stage that the terrorists had almost been overwhelmed but in recent times their attacks have become intensified.

I believe that Nigerians should also assist in this fight against terrorism. In the first place we should stop the blame game and start dealing with the situation we are facing. We should device ways of passing information to the security agencies.
Another aspect of the problem is that Nigerians as a people are very impatient.

I say this because if you could recall, there was a terrorist attack during the marathon in Boston, United States about a year ago. One thing I noticed then was that the people did not abandon the marathon. They continued.

The message they sent to the terrorists was that ‘in spite of what you are doing, you can’t intimidate us’. That was one lesson that I learnt from that incident. The lesson was that we must stop the terrorists from achieving their goal which is that of intimidating us. Secondly, the people of Boston were prepared to make some sacrifices. The whole city was shut down because their police was looking for two terrorists.

But if Abuja is shut down because of the bombing in Nyanya, you know what will happen. Nigerians will start to scream. For instance, after the first bomb blast at Nyanya, people began to complain over the security checkpoint that was put along the Nyanya-Abuja Road.

If you stop Nigerian motorists along the road and ask them to open their car booths for routine checks, people would complain. But the truth is that the security operatives may need to subject us to some type of discomfort in order to do their jobs of providing security.

Nevertheless, the security agents must also be reliable and trustworthy for the people to be able to relate with them. It is quite worrying when you hear that even within the security agencies there seem to be leakages of information.

This is not good because when someone wants to pass information to a security agency, you want to be sure that the person you are passing the information to would not compromise your safety. These are real challenges and I would like to appeal to Nigerians that this is not the time for the blame game. We need to see what we can do to get ourselves out of this situation.

A terrorist may attempt to strike 99 times and fail but when he succeeds once, it may appear as if the security agencies are not working. We may not know how many strike attempts by terrorists have been foiled by the security agencies. Such foiled attempts don’t make the headlines.

But the security agencies need to dig deeper to expose those who are supplying the terrorists weapons and other logistics. For instance, when there is a bomb blast, we need to know who supplied the vehicle and whom he sold the vehicle to. There should be a way of tracking even the movement of their funds.

What is your expectation at the resumed plenary session of the confab?
My expectation is that there would now be a consideration of the various committees’ reports. I expect that members who participated in those committees, need to take a back seat during the consideration of their reports.

This is because they had the opportunity of contributing in preparing the reports of committees they belong to. Those who were not members of a committee who may have something to add or oppose should be allowed to contribute more during debates. But since the plenary resumed, I have seen committee members also speaking maybe to buttress their reports.

I had expected that the contributions of such members should be explanatory or come at the end so that those who have other ideas could also contribute. At the end of the day whatever comes after this stage becomes the decision of the conference.

What is your reaction to the position of the North with regard to the proposal of a new revenue sharing formula for the nation?

In the first place, I don’t even know what is the position of the North even though I saw a certain document which was reported to be the northern position paper. However, I did not see the formal presentation of that document as the position of the North by anybody.

I know that people who may or may not be members of the conference could circulate some literature among delegates. There are many of such documents in circulation. But what should be considered as a position paper of a region has to be presented by somebody or through a committee.

It is difficult to say what is the position of the North at the confab. For instance, you have delegates from the Middle Belt who do not share some of the views that have been associated with the North. In the same way, you cannot talk about a Southern position, because not everybody shares the same view.

But beyond that, I saw the document as an attempt to indulge in posturing. This can happen when somebody wants something and he postures so that he can bargain with the other person. Some of those positions were outrightly unreasonable.

Some of the arguments contained in that document were clearly anchored on ignorance. I have found that there is an appreciable degree of ignorance about the position of others among delegates at the conference. This often leads to mutual suspicion on the part of delegates from different parts of the country.

However, some of this ignorance has fizzled out especially after various delegates have become better informed about the positions of their colleagues from other parts of the country.

For instance some delegates did not know that there are parts of the Niger Delta where you have to first do sand filling before you can even talk about building a road. So, if you did not know about that kind of situation and you engage in posturing, the people of Niger Delta could consider such posturing as insensitive to their plight.

At the same time, delegates from the South may not know the kind of situation people living in the arid North are facing. They may therefore not fully appreciate where delegates from that part of the country are coming from when they make their own contributions.

Can you respond to an aspect of that document which advocated the reduction of 13 percent to five percent for the derivation principle in sharing national revenue?

That is what I mean by posturing. For instance when you go to the market and somebody says he wants to sell a particular item to you for N100, you could respond by offering to pay N5. The idea is that the two of you could finally settle for a price somewhere in between his own price and what you have offered to pay.

I think that even this debate on revenue sharing has not even gone as deep as I thought it should go. When I chaired the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta, we gave this issue a very serious and deep consideration.

Why Militancy May Return to Niger Delta

We looked at it from various points of view and spoke to several stakeholders including very important people from the northern part of the country. We listened to some of their arguments which we considered valid.

For instance, some of them said they didn’t see the problem of the Niger Delta as requiring allocation of only more and more money. They raised the issue of corruption and demanded to know what had been achieved with huge revenue allocations that had been made to the Niger Delta in the past.

They raised the issue of how the governors of the Niger Delta now buy more private jets for themselves while their people don’t even have roads. We considered that to be a valid point and we then posed the question of how to handle the situation.

We advocated that rather than just allocating funds to the region, such revenue could be attached to things like infrastructures to ensure the funds are used for the benefit of the ordinary people. Another proposal we presented was that such revenue allocations could even be invested on behalf of the affected states in a manner that would promote national unity.

For instance, the Emirates Stadium in the United Kingdom was built by the United Arab Emirates as an investment in London. They used their oil money to invest in that project and they are now getting returns from it. But the investment also provides jobs in London. There could be an arrangement whereby the Bayelsa State Government could fund a textile factory in Kaduna.

That would be an investment by Bayelsa State Government but it would provide jobs in Kaduna which that state would benefit from. I think these are some of the things that are lacking in the on-going conversation. You need to hear the other side. When some people argue that there should be no increase in revenue allocation, you could ask them why they say so.

You could meet those who are opposed to your proposal half-way. If you are opposed to increased revenue allocation to the Niger Delta, we could then ask you to consider the cost of building a road in certain parts of Rivers and Bayelsa states.

Such a person may then realize that what is needed to build a 100-kilometer road in some other parts of the country may only be enough for a five-kilometer road in the Niger Delta region. There is need for affirmative action in certain parts of the country.

Some of the views that have been expressed by delegates is based on ignorance and the fact that there hasn’t been adequate consultation on how to handle some of these issues. I am also aware that there are delegates who have fixed positions on issues which is a confirmation that such positions were actually handed down to them by the people they are representing. Such delegates find it difficult to be flexible and pragmatic during debates. This is quite regrettable.

There is also need to explain that the application of 13 percent derivation formula is not restricted to crude oil alone. It applies to natural resources generally. For instance if a state has gold, it would be entitled to 13 percent of the revenue realizable from mining the gold.

I think that our concern should be how to exploit all the resources in different parts of the country so that all other states that have different natural resources in their land could also benefit from this 13 percent allocation. We should stop focusing on oil and gas alone. That is why it now looks like a Niger Delta formula.

Can you comment on the proposal also contained in the same document advocating for the scrapping of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Ministry of Niger Delta, the Amnesty Programme and component c of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme ( SURE-P) of the Federal Government and even the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB?

Like I said earlier, this is all part of the posturing. To suggest that the NDDC should be scrapped is insensitive to the problems it was created to solve. The creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta was like an administrative response to what was considered a special area.

For instance, in the United Kingdom the government of that country created a department to look after the affairs of Northern Ireland with a minister to handle it. The purpose is for the government to have a focal attention on an area that is considered to deserve affirmative action. I do not think that those who are advocating this kind of position have given sufficient thought to what could be the consequence.

It looks like some people believe that since they are from one part of the country, they must oppose any proposal that emanates from other parts of the country without considering the basis or rationale for it. Whatever arguments they may have about those bodies must have to do with their effectiveness. I think that could be addressed. Most people have argued that the operations of some of these bodies have not been the best.

I was privileged to attend the last retreat of the Board of NDDC where both the new Chairman and other members admitted that the Commission hadn’t functioned the way it should. I think the approach we should adopt is that if something has not worked well, then we need to do something in order to make it work well. I think that is a better argument.

Can you throw more light on the position paper of the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta which you talked about earlier?

When the late President Umar Yar’Adua assumed office in 2007, the activities of Niger Delta militants was at its peak. The situation was so bad that it seriously threatened the Nigerian economy. This is because production of crude oil declined significantly. This resulted in a substantial revenue decline for the nation.

Yar’Adua then set up the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta. President Yar’Adua proposed that the committee should organize a conference. But we told him that many conferences had been held on the situation in the region in the past.

He now directed that the Committee should review all the past resolutions and agreements on Niger Delta that had been reached in the past. We were also directed to consider the reality on ground at that time and come out with a simple implementable road map that would holistically address issues in the region.

I was the Chairman of the Committee. We spoke to all stakeholders not only in the Niger Delta, but also in other parts of the country. We eventually submitted a report which I think was the most comprehensive and realistic road map for the addressing the problems of the region.

Unfortunately, the only thing the Federal Government did with that report was to pick the recommendation we made on amnesty for the militants. The problem of the Niger Delta was not just about the conflicts brought about by the activities of militants.

Militancy was a reaction to the problems of the Niger Delta. So, to deal with the consequence without addressing the core issues did not solve the problem. My regret is that most of those recommendations have not been implemented.

One of the issues we handled was that of revenue. We addressed the issue of how to raise money to address some of the problems the region was facing.

With regard to the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, currently before the National Assembly, what needs to be considered is that whatever revenue allocation any tier of government or institution is getting could only be possible if there is something to be shared.

For instance, if your allocation is one percent of N100 billion, it is better than one percent of nothing. At the peak of the Niger Delta militancy, there were real fears over the economy because revenue realized from the sale of crude had shrunk seriously.

So, even 13 percent of the revenue we were getting at that time was small. So, the conversation then shifted to how to ensure that we maximize oil production so that even if anybody is allocated one percent, it would still be big.

People seem to have forgotten that the Yar’Adua government was under serious pressure to do whatever it could to increase oil production and correspondingly national revenue at that time.

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