s ardent observer of global geopolitical affairs, I have been quite enthused by the unfolding events with the amnesty program in Nigeria for several reasons – not least because I originated from that part of the world and still have deep passion for what transpires there, but also because this could become test-case on how conflicts in modern era can be resolved through preponderance of civility.
Even with the conflagration of arm conflict around the Niger Delta that rattled the global energy market, Nigeria’s political leadership maintained that it was strictly an internal affair and stuck to its guns of not allowing any international mediation. True to its words, the tension seems to have been contained not through force of arms but by sitting on the negotiating table to talk.
Niger Delta crisis by all historical standards was a ticking time-bomb that built up over decades. As in most geopolitical crises one thing led to another – prolonged deprivation, neglect and mismanagement created an atmosphere that bred corruption and crime in the region, resulting in petty arms and oil smuggling, no thanks to politicians who helped sponsor these able-bodied but idle youths. Over time these groups developed tentacles, spread their wings and the rest is history.
The ensuing criminal activities that got entangled with legitimate agitation for equity and fair distribution of oil wealth became almost indistinguishable. At the height of it all, over 200 people a year were taken hostage (including children, women and expatriates) in exchange for ransom payments. The economic toll was even more severe costing Nigeria about $1 billion monthly according to official sources.
More importantly this ugly episode in the nations history stifled activities in the maritime industry in the coastal regions, stunted expansion and existence of hospitality and other sectors of the Niger Delta economy, while depriving Nigeria access to much-needed natural gas supply to fire-up its derelict power stations.
With this incalculable dent on the nations economy, the crisis could be considered the most potent challenge to Nigeria’s corporate existence since the civil war that lasted from 1967-1970. If ignored much longer or managed differently as some radical politicians might prefer, that situation could have simply engulfed the whole country. Already offshoots of kidnapping that was pioneered by Niger Delta militants is spreading fast around the country and no one knows how long that will subsist or who is next in line to be kidnapped.
To say the least, by allowing civility to prevail through negotiated constructive engagement, President Yar Adua has shown deft political tactics that is often rare amongst politicians in developing countries, much less Africa. No matter what you say about Yar Adua’s governance style or decision-making speed he deserves some credit for his handling of this fragile situation. He simply didn’t need to have done anything different from what Nigerian masses have become accustomed to seeing in their political leadership. But he almost stooped to dialogue with erstwhile militant leaders.
True, a lot of activities are simply not progressing at the pace they should in Nigeria to engender desired change (especially in the electoral and economic fronts), but who in his or her right mind can argue that even with little glimmer of hope so far, the sweeping amnesty in Niger Delta is not showing some promise for Nigeria. That effort is already helping recalibrate the economy – in just four months daily crude production has bounced from 1,2 million to 2,4 million barrels according to Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr Barkindo. Anyone who doesn’t see some positive light in this should maybe tell us how else they could have handled such volatile situation.
With much credit to former President Obasanjo for haven kick-started reform process in Nigeria, he simply blew every chance of addressing this most serious threat to the nation’s financial lifeline. What would become of economic reform without money to fund it, nay - vibrant oil/gas sector (that yields 80% of budget revenue) and functioning electric power stations? On this count, I would say, Obasanjo and his close political circle were simply either too self-serving or myopic enough to ignore this threat by assuming that it will ultimately fizzle out like every Nigerian syndrome or at the right time the militants can be exterminated.
No, the crisis wasn't going away, and maybe Yar'Adua recognized that fact. Recent news that President Yar'Adua met with and discussed constructively with the so-called Aaron Team consisting of Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Vice Admiral Mike Akhigbe (former Chief of General Staff) amongst others, commissioned by Movement for Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) is for starters, a political masterstroke maybe not popular amongst more radical elements within the administration. But then, lets wait and see what comes out of the dialogue during the post-amnesty period.
Overall these baby steps underscore the need for allowing civilized and sane methods of governance triumph in Africa through smart political negotiation rather than unnecessary arm skirmishes that characterize the continent. That Niger Delta region had a “raw deal” through the years of oil exploration and production is without question. If left unchecked the festering insurgency in the region might have wrecked the oil/gas industry to the utter detriment of even the ruling class. If current effort therefore will lead to more saved lives, improved economic conditions, justice and fairness then more power to President Yar Adua.