What is your view on the agitation of the Niger Delta Avengers?
It is the fundamental right that is constitutionally guaranteed by the constitution of Nigeria for citizens of this country to demonstrate, criticize and engage government when they feel their rights are being trampled upon, either by way of government overt or covert actions.
Now if you bring it down to the issue of the Niger Delta Avengers, it is correct to say that the Avengers as Nigerians have the right to question some of the actions of government, especially as it pertains to the extraction of mineral resources from their environment.
That is from the moral perspective vis-a-vis the level of criminal neglect that successive governments have made against the people of the Niger Delta.
Now in agitating, everything has be done in accordance to the law. If you demonstrate or speak up, it should be in accordance to the law. If you write, criticizing government, it should be in accordance to the law. Free speech, freedom of thoughts and opinion are all constitutionally guaranteed. But where the elements of criminality can be said to have crept into the agitation is the wanton destruction of pipelines in the agitation.
Barrister Onome Oboh
Let me put it this way; I am very sympathetic to the agitation of the Niger Delta people because I am one of them and I have seen how oil has devastated the environment. Like if you remember the Ogoni clean-up, going by the assessment of the United Nations, it will take 30 years for anything to grow, and there is one environmentalist that said that even the clean-up is not going to go beyond a certain level of the soil. If you plant anything beyond that level of soil, it will not grow.
The implication is that the federal government has deliberately or unknowingly made the people of the Niger Delta perpetual slaves to them because if I cannot plant, I cannot fish, then anything I want to do, I have to go cap in hand begging for it.
By the actions of the government, they have successfully made owners of the oil wells beggars in their own land. Coming back to the issue of blowing pipelines, I believe strongly that the elements in the struggle are geared towards drawing government’s attention.
Because if you write, if you criticize, government, as we know in Nigeria, governments do not take you serious until you hit them at a place that is closest to their heart, especially in relation to the oil industry which is Nigeria’s mainstay.
Now where we have people blowing up pipelines, that in itself is criminal. But their actions are actuated by the fact that people who engage government on a non-violent means, they have seen what happened to them. An example is Ken Saro Wiwa, who only criticized and wrote. He was never engaged in violence, but look at the way he was killed like a common dog.
tribunal who already had the mandate to convict him whatever the outcome of the proceeding. While he still had the right to appeal, he was executed. We call that state-sponsored murder. So, the generation of agitation in the Niger Delta has history of different struggles that our people have been subjected to.
Peaceful engagements have never brought anything good to the Niger Delta, so that may be the reason why most of them have now resorted to hitting Nigeria where it pains the country most. I can tell you that if it were in the west and they burn cocoa farm, it does not concern the government because government does not have anything from it like the Niger Delta. Or you go to Ogun state and begin to destroy their limestone, it doesn’t concern them because it does not affect their revenue. But because this one affects their revenue, they have to come in.
So, what I’m saying in essence is that though blowing oil pipelines is criminal, I want to submit that their actions are precipitated by the history of the struggle of the Niger Delta, where people who have peacefully engaged the powers that be have been killed. And because this generation of the Niger Deltans do not want to fall into that category of persons who were killed by government mercenaries, they decided to hold Nigeria at the jugular where it pains the country most.
And because actions like these are being taken, that is why the government is planning ways to engage them in dialogue. I can tell you that if it were another sector like agriculture, nobody would have called anyone for dialogue. So, on that premise I will say that while I support the agitation for the Niger Delta liberation, I do not support the action of blowing up oil installations.
Now some groups are of the view that dialogue should not be considered but rather the federal government should look at the issues leading to the agitation. They argue that if dialogue is held, certainly there will be financial inducement, which will lead to the resurgence of more groups craving for financial gains.
How do you see that?
I will want to say that the agitation has gone beyond dialogue. The problem of Nigeria is man-made and it is only by man that such problems could be solved. Amend the provision of the Petroleum Act; give the people who own their resources the right to appropriate what is under their soil. You cannot stay in Abuja and begin to tell the man in Kalabari, Oghara or Gbaramatu how his own natural resource should be used.
For me, dialogue with them will lead to more criminal elements. Because if you negotiate with this Niger Delta Avengers, once there are pecuniary gains, another group will spring up, so government should muster the political will to give owners of this resource the right to administer their resources.
And the state government can start paying a percentage to the federal government. For me, this dialogue is just postponing the day and buying time. We need to sit down and talk on resource control. Resources should be controlled by the states and pay percentage to the federal government.
Nigeria is one of the countries that practice anachronistic system of giving ownership of resources to government. In other countries of the world, it is the man who owns the land that controls the resources. Government cannot sit in Abuja and determine what should go to Gbaramatu or Oghara; it’s not right.
This piecemeal approach cannot help the problem, it will only postpone the doomsday. It will only take others to take to arms after the dialogue because of pecuniary gains. Another 10 years’ time, another group will rise up. Dialogue is not the solution. Resource control should be enshrined in our laws.
What is your view on the agitation of the Niger Delta Avengers?