By James Ibechi
Yesterday at the Chapel of Grace, People’s House, Makurdi, being day three of the two-week prayer and fasting declared by Dr. Samuel Ortom of Benue State to pray the state out of its present state of economic meltdown, the governor lamented the poor economic condition and attributed it largely to the oil price crash at the international market, worsened by the renewed bombing of oil installations belonging to Shell, Cheveron and NNPC.
Beyond Governor Ortom’s lamentation, however, it is war drums that are again being beaten in the Niger Delta by militants after what many see as an Amnesty lull as militants and Federal troops have returned to the battle fields to engage in a bloody confrontation.
It appears a fresh scramble for Nigeria is afoot. And the scramblers are groups and militias intent at forcing the country to lay prostrate to their interest. And President Muhammadu Buhari, a civil war veteran, has vowed to crush the belligerents.
Buhari is not generous with words. But when he does utter them, they are few, blunt and acidic, devoid of nieceties and diplomacy. And so last week when he arrived his largely arid home state of Kastina, he assured his people that Nigeria would not break up under his watch.
And to underline his resolve to keep the country one, the President, said: “For Nigeria to divide now, its better for all of us to jump into the sea and get drowned”. He then promised to ruthlessly crush the renewed militancy in the Niger Delta.
To Biafra agitators, he vowed: “Atleast two million people died during the civil war but today people who were not born during the civil war are agitating for the division of the country. We won’t allow that to happen”.
However, militias and groups primed at sliting Nigeria’s throat are not deterred by Buhari’s remarks. A day after the President’s Katsina outbursts, heavily armed gunmen ambushed and killed three soldiers after overrunning a military outpost at Foropa, Southern Ijaw Council of Bayelsa state.
Biafra agitators, under the banner of Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB also reacted. In their thousands, they took to streets in Aba, Abia’s commercial nerve centre last Tuesday and Wednesday to tell Buhari, in their words, That “he is not God that should be feared”.
The protesters also vowed that nothing, not even the president could stop the actualisation of Biafra.
Social affairs commentators have argued that in one year of Buhari’s presidency, Nigeria’s faultlines-ethno religious rivalries-have become more manifest than ever before.
Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, a new militant group in the region which has declared as its main aim, the crippling of Nigeria’s crude oil production, has been unrelenting in bombing oil installations in the region and has vowed not to stop until Buhari accedes to its demands.
Last week NDA issued notice that it would soon commence blowing up of oil installations in Lagos, Abuja and PortHarcourt.
This immediately drew the ire of little known Oodua Defenders’ Union, ODU, which promised to make mince meat of Ijaws residents in the Southwest should NDA dare attack yoruba land. NDA recently announced its emergence via blowing up of major facilities belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC and Chevron Nigeria Limited.
Shortly after the attacks, the group, through its spokesman, ‘Colonel’ Mudoch Agbinibo, rejoiced over its ‘achievement’: “With this development, the Warri and Kaduna refineries will be shut down and all cities that depend on the gas line for power will all be in total darkness, like the creeks of the Niger-Delta”, it said.
The NDA then warned: “We want the public to know that despite the heavy presence of military operatives, our activities can’t be stopped and it is just a waste of fund and time to make the Nigerian Military protect oil installations… our major goal is to cripple the Nigerian economy”.
Apart from the fire spitting, Biafra-seeking groups-IPOB, MASSOB and BIM- and aside their secessionist bend, they are also posturing as the defenders of the interest of the Igbo, especially over the marginalisation of the race in the Nigeria project, and recently, over murderous activities of marauding Fulani herdsmen in the Southeast.
The media was agog last week with reports that some Southeast states are poised to revive the dreaded armed vigilante group, Bakassi Boys, which before its disbandment in the zone’s states where it was operational, effectively brought criminals to their knees, to help check the menace of herdsmen in the states concerned.
Observers of the unfolding resurgence of ethnic militias and their divisive rhetorics believe that the spate of killings and destruction of farmlands and properties by fulani herdsmen especially, in the South parts of the country and the Middle Belt, especially Benue, and the seeming kid glove treatment being accorded them by the federal government gave rise to the current restiveness in parts of the country.
Many, however, cite what they describe as president Buhari’s lack of tact on his comments on the Niger-Delta militancy and pro-Biafra agitators, as well as his refusal to personally, mention AK-47 wielding Fulani herdsmen as security threat who he will deal with just the same way he had described Niger-Delta militants and pro-Biafra groups.
Godwin Ameh, a social commentator recalls that “early last month, Buhari was in China where he threatened to deal with Niger-Delta militants and pipeline vandals as he vowed to treat them like Boko Haram, the Islamic terror group, but was silent on Fulani herdsmen who have been visiting terror on their host communities in Southern Nigeria and parts of the Middle Belt”.
Ameh argues “that President Buhari’s strongest statement so far against the herdsmen was made on his behalf by Information Minister, Lai Muhammed, another was a statement by Femi Adesina after Catholic Bishop visited him (Buhari). It’s strange that while he personally read the riot act to militants in the Niger-Delta and pro-Biafra agitators, he is shying away from personally doing same to rampaging herdsmen. I suspect it’s because he is also Fulani”.
In Katsina, the President, according to some political analysts alluded to the fact that actions of restive groups in the South such as NDA, OPC, IPOB, MASSOB among others are targeted at the interest of the North hence such groups must be crushed by all means to secure the region’s political and economic hegemony over the rest of the country, when he said: “the way the Sahara (Desert) is advancing (in the North), Boko Haram growing, and number of people displaced and uncertainty over rainfall in a land where we fought a civil war… for someone to just say he will chase us is not acceptable”.
IPOB whose Radio Director, Nnamdi Kanu has been in detention since October last year, and facing Treason charges, has vowed to press on with its agitation, the president’s threat notwithstanding. In his first Presidential Media Chat early this year, the President derisively dismissed Kanu as ‘that one they called Kanu”.
According to inside sources within the IPOB and other pro-Biafra groups, the fact that Fulani herdsmen who reportedly sacked Nimbo community in Enugu state and allegedly murdered about 48 indigenes are yet to be arrested and put on trial while Kanu has languished in prison for close to eight months now, the Army’s maltreatment and dumping into detention, of 76 elderly Enugu men who had earlier gone in search of their women allegedly abducted by fulani militias are some of the factors that have hardened the resolve of the agitators.
With NDA’s ferocious attacks on oil installations in the Niger-Delta and its determination not to stop until certain demands are met by the Buhari administration, which commentators informed this blog, the President can never accede to, it appears a stage for another bloody confrontation between militants and the military has been set in the oil- rich Niger-Delta with its attendant effect on oil production.
Analysts have expressed fear that the situation in the region was capable of slipping out of hand and plunging the country into another civil war thus fulfilling America’s prediction few years back that Nigeria would break up in 2015.
Last Thursday, in what appears as a modification of its goal, the NDA, said it is also fighting to achieve independence for the Niger-Delta.
Though NDA said its agenda is to cripple Nigeria’s economy by stripping it of its oil production to protest neglect of the region by the federal government, it is believed in some quarters that going by its name ‘Niger-Delta Avengers’, the group actually emerged to protest and avenge the defeat of Niger-Delta son, former president Goodluck Jonathan, by an Hausa-Fulani, Buhari at last year’s presidential election. Already, NDA and other sympathetic militant groups in the region are describing the detachment of the Army sent there to crush militancy as ‘Arewa’s Army of occupation’.
Last week, the new militant group issued two weeks ultimatum to Northern owners of oil blocs in the region. “To owners and operators of these oil blocs in our region, the Niger Delta Avengers is giving you two weeks ultimatum to shut down your operations and evacuate your staff. If at the end of the ultimatum and you are still operating, we will blow up all the locations. It will be bloody… There is rumour oil has been discovered in the Northeast. How will you feel if this found oil is being managed by Niger-Deltans? If you do not shut down, we will shut your stations permanently for you”, the group said in a statement.
Bayelsa state governor, Seriake Dickson has however, pleaded with the militants not to give Buhari the excuse to mete out the Odi treatment on communities in the region. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo had in the early days of his presidency sent the army to level Odi, a town in Bayelsa, following activities of militants in the area which resulted in the death of some security agents.
While leaders of other restive groups are known, it’s not yet clear the elements behind NDA. When NDA reared its head, eyes within security agencies turned towards ex-Niger-Delta agitator, Government Ekpemupolo, popular as ‘Tompolo’ who is currently embroiled in dispute with the federal government, but Tompolo has since washed his hand off NDA and even went further to lampoon the group. Last week, NDA hit back at him, threatening to bring the battle to his door steps.
Among NDA’s demands which it issued before it launched the attack on Forcados oil Terminal with the code “Operation Red Economy”, include the immediate implementation of the 2014 National Conference Report, apology from Buhari, the DSS and Timipre Sylva to the people of Niger-Delta and family of the late DSP Alamieyeseigha over his death and harassment because of his party afiliation.
Other NDA’s demands are: 60 percent ownership of oil blocs for people of the Niger-Delta and 40 percent for those from non-oil producing regions, immediate commencement of academic activities at the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, Delta State, and apology from Amaechi over his comments on the location of the University.NDA also demanded the immediate clean up of the Niger-Delta with full compensation to the host communities. It similarly demanded release IPOB Radio Director, Kanu, continuation of Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, and prosecution all corrupt APC members.