The recent bombing of oil facilities by the new group which calls itself Niger Delta Avengers has added another dimension to the violence in the country. Another cat-and-mouse chase between them and the security operatives has begun. Our economy, which has been worsened by the fall in oil prices, will receive a bigger hit and the masses will be the major victims. It seems our fate has become synonymous with “one week, one trouble.”
For decades, there seems to be a recourse to violence as a way of solving problems in Nigeria. And most times, bloodshed accompanies it.
When two people of different ethnic groups have a normal person-to-person misunderstanding, it soon snowballs into an inter-ethnic crisis with people killed and houses and places of worship burnt. Usually, the government will set up an enquiry into the crisis but nobody will be punished. So, in a matter of weeks or months, another group feels that nothing will happen if it starts killing other people or destroying property as a way of registering its displeasure with a particular issue.
When some people feel that they don’t like the way things are going in the country politically or that they have lost political power, they stage a coup d’etat. If they succeed, they become statesmen and join the league of the rich and the powerful for life. If they fail, they get executed. But the reward for staging a successful coup is too rewarding that many risked their lives to plot coups. Thankfully, since 1999, even though there has been high violence during campaigns and elections, no group has staged a coup to grab power. Nigerians seem to have silently agreed that no group should be allowed to seize power by force or unconstitutionally again, no matter how displeased they are with the electoral process.
In addition, there are groups of ethnic militias, religious militias, cult groups and motor park thugs who resort to violence and killings to prove their supremacy. Most times it seems as if the Federal Government is helpless before these people. That was why the Federal Government initiated the amnesty programme in 2009 to stop the Niger Delta militants after many years of attacks on oil facilities. The administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo fought the militants without success. The government of Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua fought them between 2007 and 2009 and decided to adopt a carrot approach of the amnesty programme. It worked. At least, the militancy and economic sabotage stopped. Nigeria started full exploration of oil.
Maybe, that was why there were calls years ago from some quarters to offer Boko Haram the same amnesty in exchange for renunciation of violence. Although it sounded shocking and tasted sour that those who had killed even schoolchildren in cold blood should be pardoned and paid some money, the government of Dr Goodluck Jonathan was willing to give them that amnesty if they had agreed to lay down their arms. The government of President Muhammadu Buhari has also said that it is to have a deal with members of the Boko Haram sect both for the sake of ending the insurgency and also freeing the abducted Chibok girls. These acts of amnesty and readiness to cut a deal with the Niger Delta militants and Boko Haram are an indirect admission by the successive administrations that the Federal Government does not fully own the instrument of coercion and force.
This realisation that the Federal Government does feel stretched out by militant groups emboldens other groups to take recourse to violence when displeased. It has made life short, brutish and non-precious in the nation. The killings of compatriots in different parts of the country no longer shock the people. For example, 12 people were reported to have been killed over the weekend in Taraba State by suspected Fulani herdsmen. The news of the killings went past without much attention from the public. One would wonder if it was not human beings that were killed. But it could also be a way of letting Taraba State and other states that had suffered the brunt of the herdsmen attack but chose to play politics by joining the Northern States Governors Forum to complain about the demonisation of the Fulani rather than laying emphasis on the persistent killings of their people that they are on their own.
Violence is not to be tolerated by any country. The blowing up of oil facilities by the so-called Niger Delta Avengers is therefore unacceptable. The government should not allow itself to be intimidated with violence by any group. But the government must be seen as treating all violent groups the same way. It should not be seen as barking when one group commits a crime but keeping quiet when another group commits even a more heinous crime. Such will puncture the moral fibre of the government.
Every group has a right to feel aggrieved or short-changed by the nation in the scheme of things. It has a right to complain or protest. And the government should not use an iron fist on those who are protesting without arms. That is a way of encouraging people to adopt nonviolent ways of registering their displeasure. That is how to deepen and promote democracy. Government must also show that it does not prefer to listen to violent groups than nonviolent groups. That is also a way of telling people that if they want to be listened to, they must bear arms and engage in violence.
The decades of violence in Nigeria are a pointer to the fact that the method successive administrations have used to resolve the national question has not worked. Crushing uprisings is good but uprooting the cause of this continuous discontent is better and cheaper. That is why many Nigerians have asked for a national conference or the implementation of the decisions of the 2014 National Conference. The argument has been that the structure of Nigeria has been fuelling discontent, violence and bloodshed. So, rather than always trying to cure the symptoms, let the cause of the problem be treated. That way, the illness will stop rearing its head.
But sadly it seems President Buhari does not believe that a national conference is important as a way of solving most of our numerous problems and reducing the discontent and violence in the land. He seems to think that corruption is the cause of national retrogression, and once corruption is tackled, things will fall in shape. His lack of interest in national conference can be deduced from the fact that he has never supported such an idea since he was removed from office as military head of state via a coup d’etat in 1985. During his campaign for president from 2002 to 2015, he never campaigned for a national conference or fiscal federalism. Even those who work with him, who for decades had championed the convocation of a national conference and adoption of devolution of powers and fiscal federalism, have gone quiet on the issue. The excuse some give on their behalf is that it is too early in the life of the administration; that they need to make the country prosperous first before a national conference. But that argument falls flat on its face. It is obvious that even the erstwhile advocates of a national conference are more concerned about not rocking the boat now that they are in power.
As a way of curbing this recurring violence, Buhari should take heed of the Chinese proverb that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is now.