Probability of a meaningful dialogue with militants looks dim

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The President has finally succumbed to public opinion – he wants to open a channel for discussion with the militants in the Niger Delta. Surprisingly, the Niger Delta Avengers just issued a statement saying that they weren’t interested in any form of dialogue.

In a bid to show that they weren’t interested in the kind of dialogue the government was proposing, the Avengers went ahead to blow up Chevron’s facility, yesterday, despite the two-week ceasefire that the government proposed or rather obtained, in order to commence dialogue.

Well, the militants might finally agree to come to the table, but their demands could be many and ‘very’ difficult for the President to meet.

Considering the emergence of new militant groups, beside the Avengers, government would have to negotiate with a number of groups, who may have conflicting demands. This would definitely make the prospects of a meaningful dialogue slimmer.

For instance, a new militant group, called Ultimate Warriors of Niger Delta, has demanded that 60 percent of oil blocks in the Delta region be given to the people of the Niger Delta. This new group, also, backed up some of their demands with threats. Even if government dialogues with this group, the best it could have is to increase the 13 percent derivation- this would decrease the revenues of other non-Niger Delta states. This would be a painful concession to give away considering the financial position of other non- Niger Delta states.

Another new group, Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force (JNDLF), has even come up with more worrisome threats and demands. This time, they are threatening to blow up the whole country, not only the Niger Delta states.

Obviously, the team the government intends to set-up, to dialogue with these militants, has its job cut out. Dialoguing with all these groups and harmonizing their demands won’t be an easy task for any government. Besides, the Niger Delta Avengers just issued a statement denouncing any public officer who claims to be able to reach out to them or talk on their behalf.

A group, Niger Delta Advancement Frontier, alleges that the Avengers intend to force Buhari to tone down his war against corruption. Some scholars have even tried to establish a nexus between the government’s fight against corruption and the renewed militancy in the Delta. If this is the case, the negotiation and dialogue, if it holds at all, would be very difficult for the President – considering that the President is fixated on the fight against corruption.

Some reports say the Avengers want the country to be restructured! Interesting, isn’t it? These militants sound very enlightened and are tech-savvy, off course – they are not your everyday touts. These kind of statements, if they are actually coming from the Avengers, might make some believe the militants have strong backers.

Truly, the solution would have been to restructure the country and encourage a truly federal system, but the President is not likely to buy into this. So, what do we do?

Last week, some youths averted an attack by some militants on oil facilities in the Delta. These youths alerted the military of this attack, and the attack was averted. This is state policing in its simplest form. And this is the simplest solution the President can adopt.

Local vigilantes and youths, who know their communities very well, could help government secure these facilities. By awarding pipeline protection contracts to ex-militants, the last government inadvertently installed state and local police. This is the way to go.

Even though the views of some of the members of the defunct Action Congress (AC) about state policing are well-known, I doubt if the views of the President’s former party, CPC, are also well-known on this issue. The APC, which is a marriage between the AC, CPC and some aggrieved members of the PDP and APGA, should use this opportunity to fulfil one of its major campaign promises, which is on establishing state police.

The Enugu State governor is already using local vigilantes to check the menace of killer-herdsmen. This is commendable. The governor could not fold his hands and watch his people being maimed. The establishment of state police would make the governor’s work easier.

The argument that state police could be abused by some governors makes some sense, but, even the State Secret Police has been abused by the federal government at some point – this abuse is more rampant during elections. There is nothing that can’t be abused. Every law has its loopholes.

The benefits of state policing outweighs its disadvantages. Presently, militancy has pushed oil prices up, and Nigeria is of course not benefitting from this rise. Our reserves are hemorrhaging and the naira is on life support. In fact, the naira could be in the intensive care unit for a long time, except our earnings from oil improve.

My thesis is this: while the government fine tunes its strategies on how to dialogue with the militants, it should encourage local vigilantes in the Delta region, which could transform into state police in the nearest future.

First published on: The Cable, 10.06.16

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