Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Security jobs for militants?

Two recent events in the oil sector have, once again, highlighted the precarious state of the nation’s security and the seeming helplessness of the government to stem the dangerous tide in that critical area of our economy. The first is the report that Nigeria has now been identified as a piracy hotspot by the International Maritime Bureau on account of the recurrent piracy in the country. According to reports, Nigeria accounted for 10 out of 49 attacks registered worldwide in the first quarter of 2008, thus putting it on the unenviable first position in the piracy chart.

As if that is not enough, the report had it that officials concede that the government is ill-equipped to combat the pirates who ply the seas by modern speedboats, machine guns and radios targeting tankers, trawlers, barges and oil industry backup vessels.

The second is the equally worrying report that the federal government is considering the involvement of militants in manning oil pipelines in the Niger Delta region. According to the Minister of Defence, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, under the arrangement which is part of the government’s policy of constructive engagement with the militants, they will be expected to form Limited Liability security companies to be given the onerous duty of protecting oil installations and check bunkering. The new policy is expected to check vandalism and bring about lasting peace in the region.

What can deduced from the two reports is the enormous loss in revenue accruing to the government on account of the menace of pirates and the vandalism of the militants in the Niger Delta region. Equally self evident is the seeming hopelessness and helplessness of the government to provide effective solutions to the menace.

That is why Nigeria has now assumed the embarrassing position of the number one piracy country in the world. That is also the seeming rationale for the ridiculous proposal to fan out the security job for the protection of the nation’s oil industry to vandals who go by the tag, militants.

And, if the government has found it impossible to check the piracy, bunkering, sabotage and vandalism in the oil sector, why not entrust that responsibility to those at the centre of these unwholesome activities?

But that is where the problem starts. First, it would amount to an admission by the government that it has been overwhelmed by the security problems in the Niger Delta region and does not have any more answers to the problem. We do not accept this position. To do so will amount to questioning the very essence for the existence of modern governments. And if a government is no longer in a position to maintain its basic social responsibility to its constituents, what else is there left in it? The difficulty in providing answers to the serious theoretical issues that are bound to be thrown up by this question should instruct that the proposal is not only contradictory but absurd.

It will not only amount to legitimizing an illegitimate body, it is equally laden with a tinge of appeasement. The policy has the potent danger of encouraging illegality and this must be discouraged. At any rate, there is even the problem that is bound to arise at the implementation level especially in determining who a militant really is. Above all, even among the so called militants, the proposal is bound to be viewed with utter suspicion as one of them has already kicked against it.

In effect therefore, the nation can do without the purported new thrust of constructive engagement which seeks to entrust the security of the oil sector in the hands of vandals. It is a ridiculous proposal that should not see the light of the day.

Rather, the government should address the objective conditions that give rise to militancy in the region. The solution should be both political and military. The government must rise to the security challenges posed by the current rating of the country as number one in the piracy ladder and the obvious menace of militants in the Niger Delta region.

The government must muster the courage, using the Army, Navy and the Air Force to effectively police and provide security to our oil installations and other activities in the oil sector both at the seas and within. We must show the capacity in very unambiguous terms not only to effectively police our territorial waters but guarantee the security of lives and property. To do the contrary will amount to government abdicating its cardinal responsibility. It can ill afford to do so.