Like Boko Haram, Like Avengers, By Dele Agekameh
Let the Avengers start from their leaders who have all these years sold the Niger Delta people into slavery, before they start blaming the present government or any other person for their misfortune.
The Niger Delta region has been embroiled in fresh crisis in the past few weeks. It appears that what initially looked like the usual “shakara” (the late Afrobeat king, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s word for intimidation) embarked upon by some faceless but deadly militants in the region, is gradually snowballing into a major conflagration.
It all began in the month of April, 2016, when some desperate indigenes of the region under the aegis of Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) started blowing up oil installations in both Delta and Bayelsa states, South-South, Nigeria. Recall that millitant activities in the region have been on for several years. During these years, the economy of the country, particularly the socio-economic activities of the Niger Delta region, almost came to a standstill.
This was the situation until 1999 when Nigeria returned to democratic rule after several years of military interregnum. Olusegun Obasanjo, who was sworn-in as president on May 29, 1999, attempted a solution to the endemic crisis by setting up an interventionist agency – the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) – to fast-track development in the nine states making up the region. The commission quickly swung into action and tension was reduced.
The late president, Umaru Yar’Adua who succeeded Obasanjo, mounted the saddle on May 29, 2007. One of the first things he did was to proclaim a amnesty programme for Niger Delta youths who, by that time, had been rampaging everywhere. As oil is the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, Yar’Adua knew quite well that his government needed peace and tranquility in the country to enable him perform well as president rather than confront the “boys”, so he merely tamed them a while and later came up with his amnesty gambit. The amnesty programme was intended to disarm, demobilise and give the warring boys a sense of belonging by taking them off the streets or trenches and giving them adequate training to prepare them for a responsible life in the society.
The programme became an instant success. The millitants were taken off the streets and trenches, rehabilitated and catered for through training, both locally and outside the country. Many of the hitherto ‘bad boys’ willingly embraced the programme. Stipends were also paid to the beneficiaries of the programme scattered all over the place. Those who were selected for training, especially in several countries across the globe, came back full of gratitude for the country with a promise to live descent lives and refrain from bad behaviour henceforth.
One thing to note is that the pipeline surveillance contracts turned out to be a sort of bribe or financial inducement that the Jonathan government used to keep the militants in the Niger Delta at bay. Now that the largesse is no longer forthcoming, the boys have realised that the honeymoon is over, thus, they have gone back to the trenches to foment trouble.
Regrettably, Yar’Adua, the architect of the magic wand that cleared the boys off the creeks, suddenly succumbed to death. His deputy, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, himself a son-of-the–soil (he hails from Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta region) took over. Jonathan continued with his boss’ programme and pursued it with vigour because since he was from there, he surely knew where the shoe pinches. He knew the evil oil has caused his people (apology to Professor Steve Azaiki who titled one of his numerous books on the plight of the Niger Delta indigenes, The Evil of Oil).
But Jonathan soon introduced a novel but reckless innovation into the Niger Delta issue when his appointees started huge cash disbursement to the ex-Niger Delta militant leaders and their cronies. This was done under the guise of pipeline surveillance contracts. This was how Government Ekpemupolo, otherwise known as Tompolo, one of the miscreants that had caused the government and security agents sleepless nights before the amnesty programme was initiated, became prominent. Not only did he become stupendously rich, he became a thin god and godfather to several old and upcoming politicians in the region.
By this time Tompolo was a regular face at Aso Rock presidential villa, even as he was consulted on many issues that had to do with the Niger Delta. His operational base in Okporoza, the headquarters of Gbaramatu kingdom in Delta State also became a Mecca of sorts where all manner of politicians flocked to, to be anointed by him or to be recommended for appointments. It was Tompolo that nominated Patrick Akpobolokemi, a former classroom teacher at the Niger Delta University, Amassoma, Bayelsa State, as Director-General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
While all this was going on, all manners of people, especially former office holders from the Niger Delta region that could get the ears of the villa or that of Diezani Allison Madueke, the then petroleum minister and one of Jonathan’s highest cash dispensers, were swimming in money – hard currency. Each got a whopping sum of money every month as pipeline surveillance fees. They, in turn, had some other categories of boys working for them and they sustained them heavily from their monthly or quarterly financial windfalls. For instance, if the main man collected, say, five to 10 million dollars, he paid between five and ten percent out of this to the boys. The boys’ supervisors received a large chunk but the peanuts that trickled to the boys beneath was still mouth watering enough according to their levels.
One thing to note is that the pipeline surveillance contracts turned out to be a sort of bribe or financial inducement that the Jonathan government used to keep the militants in the Niger Delta at bay. Now that the largesse is no longer forthcoming, the boys have realised that the honeymoon is over, thus, they have gone back to the trenches to foment trouble. They must have acquired their arms and ammunition through their ill-gotten wealth. Even when they said they were monitoring pipelines, they were actively involved in smuggling crude oil out of the country or aiding and abetting the smuggling of the product. So they were making money from all directions.
What is baffling is that this problem has been there for decades. Why are the Avengers just realising that they are being cheated? Before 1999, what was the standard of living of many of these ex-militant leaders now building universities and living in opulence all over the place?
Since they know all the creeks very well and by extention, the strategic oil installations in the region, therefore, sabotaging the flow of oil becomes an easy task for them. And the security agents posted there have always been sucked in by the oil barons who usually part with cartons or sacks of money in hard currency to them who, in turn, look the other way while these nefarious activities are going on.
This is the reason security agents struggle to be posted to the Niger Delta. They, in turn, make returns to their bosses back at the headquarters out of the heavy rewards provided to them by the barons for allowing an “enabling” environment to operate without hindrance. Occasionally, when you hear the news that barges carrying crude oil illegally are confiscated, it is a mere gimmick. What it simply means is that those involved did not give the security agents enough money to have a free way.
Taking a critical look at the Niger Delta conundrum, it is true that the area has been neglected for too long. The people there are suffering and living in excruciating poverty. But quite a negligible few they call their leaders, live in splendour and stupendous wealth. What is baffling is that this problem has been there for decades. Why are the Avengers just realising that they are being cheated? Before 1999, what was the standard of living of many of these ex-militant leaders now building universities and living in opulence all over the place? That is why people are saying that the Niger Delta Avengers is to Buhari’s presidency, what Boko Haram was to Jonathan’s presidency.
For justice and fairness, the so-called leaders in the Niger Delta, some of who are behind the Avengers, should share in the blame for the rot in the region. The reason is that they simply sold out. Let the Avengers start from their leaders who have all these years sold the Niger Delta people into slavery, before they start blaming the present government or any other person for their misfortune.
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