The people of the Niger Delta region of the country have at various times requested dialogues so that the region gets a fair share of the wealth derivable from their God given crude oil but their compatriots from the other parts of the country do not want to hear talks about the vexatious matter of true federalism.
It is pertinent to know that with the creation of the regions: North, West and East in 1954, the country operated true federalism before the diabolical truncation of the system by the military in 1966. Derivation on money derivable from palm oil, groundnuts, cotton, cocoa and rubber was 50 percent. This undeniably promoted healthy competition among the regions then. But then military head of state, General Yakubu Gowon ceased derivation under the guise of seeking money to prosecute the Nigerian Civil War but never reversed this policy before he was toppled.
The people of the Niger Delta started the call for true federalism owing to the devastation of the environment by oil companies that were careless about the remediation of the damaged environment. Nigeria is probably the only country where gas is still being flared! The federal government overlooks this heinous crime after collecting fines from the oil companies yet such fines don’t go to the region! So, to get ample share of the money derived from crude oil, the people of the region have always demanded for a higher percentage of derivation so as to mitigate their sufferings but successive governments have often opposed such demands!
The peaceful agitations for increased derivation and the development of the Niger Delta have caused the death of many innocent people of the region. Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa, a renowned playwright, environmental and minority rights activist who led the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) in a peaceful manner was hanged along with other eight people of Ogoni under questionable circumstances! Earlier, in January 1966, Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro, having foreseen the devastation oil exploration and exploitation would cause the region, declared the Niger Delta People’s Republic. The Niger Delta People’s Republic existed for 12 days before Adaka Boro, the Head of the Republic was killed on May 16, 1966, in a moot situation.
After the numerous deaths that followed the peaceful agitations by the people of the Niger Delta, other agitations became violent leading to the outbreak of militant groups such as Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) etc. Militancy in the Niger Delta region is usually confronted by military brutality. The invasion of Odi and Gbaramatu under the administrations of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and late President Umaru Yar’Adu, led to the deaths of about 5,000 people and loss of property worth billions of naira.
During the face-off between the military and the militants, oil output dropped from 2.5m bpd to a mere 1.2m bpd. However, late President Umaru Yar’Adua rejiggered his pragmatism and introduced the Amnesty Programme which coaxed the militants to lay down their arms. The ceasing of hostilities by the militants also led to increase in oil production, moving upward from 1.2m to 2.2m bpd! The amnesty programme was also sustained by former President Goodluck Jonathan, making oil production to remain stable throughout his tenure.
Nevertheless, in February, 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari stopped the payment of stipends to the ex-militants. Likewise, the budget of the Amnesty Programme was also reduced from N63b in 2015 to a mere N20b in 2016. The Maritime University located in Delta State which was one of the nine universities established by former President Goodluck Jonathan was also revoked while the remaining eight are still in existence! These anomalous actions of the government spurred another round of militancy leading to the bursting of oil pipelines across the region! But in the last quarter of 2016, the militants embarked on a ceasefire and later, the leaders under the auspices of Pan Niger Delta Forum, presented a 16 point demand to the federal government.
It is needed to note that dialogue is much better than military conflict against a people whose means of livelihood has been taken from them. It is also interesting to note that it is a herculean task to conquer the aboriginal in their own land! The killing of innocent people of the Niger Delta can’t stop the agitations because no reasonable human beings maintain quietude when their means of livelihood is taken away from them! To this end, President Muhammadu Buhari should tread with caution and dialogue with the people of the Niger Delta so as to achieve lasting peace in the region.