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» » THE NIGER DELTA AND CHALLENGE OF PMB’S DIPLOMACY By Louis Okoroma
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The tension and uncertainty in the Niger Delta caused by recent violent attacks against oil installations and facilities in the area by resurgent militancy has created doubts about the diplomacy and peace-making ability of President Muhammadu Buhari. In the minds of some people mostly detractors of the President and even ordinary Nigerians whose views are coloured by the prevailing and excruciating hardship in the country, the President is seen as something of a war-monger. This however, is far from the truth.

President Buhari’s attitude, posturing and utterances about the Niger Delta situation is affected by the fact that as a lover of Nigeria, who is pained by the sorry state of the nation, the anti- corruption crusader finds it difficult to make the link between any form of agitation for restitution for wrongs done any group, with the destruction and damage of national infrastructure especially those that benefit everyone let alone, infrastructure and national property cited in those parts of the country from where the agitations are coming.

Yet another reason why PMB is perhaps piqued with the militants and for which reason, he loses his cool, is because as a young man, he was a participant in a brutal civil war that led to the death of several thousands of Nigerians and many years after, some people are taken steps that could lead to a repeat of that experience. Happily, there are several voices of caution coming from Nigerians of all walks of life prescribing and urging restraint on all sides to the Niger Delta problem and demanding for dialogue.

This writer would like to appeal to our fellow country people in the creeks of the Niger Delta, to give peace a chance and not further compound the present world economic downturn that has hit Nigeria hard with a recession.

No doubt, the Niger Delta and indeed other parts of Nigeria has not been fairly treated over the years by successive governments but the way to go is not to make prosperity and governance impossible through violence and confrontation with the government.

It should be noted that the problems of neglect affecting the Niger Delta today strictly speaking is not PMB’s doing, but the summation of poor and irresponsible governance over the years. PMB is now at the receiving end of demands for restitution because governance and government is a continuum; the onus is on the government of the moment to be held responsible. Nonetheless, restitution and justice in our society cannot come overnight and there is not so much a government, any government can do in the short space of a year and a few months of a four-year mandate! Thus the best approach is peace and dialogue and the willingness to allow a spirit of give and take.

On the side of the government however, it is important that the latter eschews sending uncertain and ambiguous signals as well as make utterances that do not promote trust, confidence and the foundation for fruitful dialogue. One expects the body language of PMB on the Niger Delta issue and the agitation by separatists in the South east to be one that shows that the President believes in the unity of Nigeria and is prepared as leader of the nation, to deploy his best endeavours to build consensus and defeat the pull of centrifugalism in the polity.

This writer challenges the President who clearly is a passionate nationalist to employ and deploy the body language that is changing the ethics and values of Nigerians in the fight against corruption and in his diplomatic endeavours to apply to domestic issues so that the unity of the country will be embedded in the hearts and minds of Nigerians and not something that depends on threats and the ability of the Nigerian Army to enforce. Such unity cannot stand and would be tenuous at best.

Being an elderly and wise man, the President can do this and score excellent results the way he has been able to charm the international community to buy into his anti-corruption campaign and desire to elevate and diversify the nation’s economy away from oil.

The Niger Delta problem cannot be resolved by military action. Recently,   retired Colonel Abubakar Umar was on point on this. Of course it is right for the President to say that if the militants currently engaged in economic sabotage fail to embrace peace, the government would have no option but to use violence.

The government however should be wary of sending signals that it prefers a showdown by goading the militants into confrontation. The point is that in a real military encounter, the nations’ army would surely overwhelm any group of armed persons no matter how well armed, they are.

In the process of engaging them militarily, two things would happen; one, the option of dialogue would have been foreclosed given the impression that the channels of conflict resolution in the polity is weak or non-existent and that the parties are now implacable enemies and second, in seeking to teach the militants a lesson, the nation’s army would inflict more damage and destruction on the economic infrastructure of the nation through aerial bombardment thus committing a similar crime like the militants. In this connection, the militants would have succeeded in provoking the government to cause more devastation with its own hands.

Bearing in mind that the militants are not the government, the present administration would still be saddled with the unpleasant task of embarking on reconstruction of these facilities, or a successor government would be tasked with the unpleasant and expensive assignment.

On a balance this would extend and deepen the woes of the nation which military force was intended to deal with. It should be noted that since after the civil war, more than 40 years ago, the South east which suffered most from that war in terms of destruction of lives, properties and infrastructure is still yearning and waiting for reconstruction, rehabilitation and restitution. The country cannot successfully tread the same part again on the Niger Delta issue.

Many Nigerians who watched proceedings and read reports of the outing of the country at the recent Tokyo International Conference on African Development which took place in Nairobi, Kenya last week, were full of pride at the performance and conduct of President Buhari.

As the leading salesperson of the country, PMB did very well and won Nigeria not only admiration but many friends. The Nairobi conference sponsored by the Japanese government showed the Nigerian leader as a confident diplomat and crowd puller and has reinforced the successes and expectations of his earlier foreign trips in quest of foreign help in the area of investments, capital inflow, repatriation of stolen assets and monies of the country, and the fight against terrorism.

Following the above, it cannot be said that such a magnet in international circles, PMB cannot apply the same charm that has yielded pledges of cooperation and assistance from World leaders to the domestic arena in dealing with manifestations of discontent to give the nation the peace, unity and harmony it desperately needs to overcome its present challenges.

Louis Okoroma, a Public Affairs Analyst writes from Abuja and can be reached via iheokoroma@yahoo.co.uk

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