Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Case for Peace in N/Delta

The renewed flare-up in the volatile Niger- Delta region came to a head last week when the military admitted that 12 of its men had been killed or taken hostage by the militants. By Thursday May 21, the Joint Military Taskforce (JTF) charged with maintaining peace in the region, had declared a factional leader of one of the militant groups, the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), Mr. Tompolo wanted. The tone of the statement showed that the Taskforce was determined to smoke out all the militants from their hide-outs. It said it would no longer tolerate the killing of military personnel by militants that have turned violence and hostage taking into an industry. All these forebode ill for the people of the area.
There were reports of massive military attacks on the suspected havens of the militants in which some innocent civilians were said to have been killed or displaced. While some have condemned the attack as high-handedness, the government and the military authorities have justified it as part of measures aimed at restoring order in the region. Last week, the House of Representatives even called for similar military action in Bayelsa and Rivers States. The JTF has denied any deliberate hostility against civilian populations. According to its spokes person, the military action by the taskforce is aimed at punishing killers and hostage-takers that have turned the Niger-Delta into a war zone.
Between those two claims may lie the truth—which is that the militants might have killed some military personnel and that in response the JTF might have hit back and some civilians may have been affected in the ensuing clashes. In that likely circumstance, it is necessary to caution both sides to refrain from actions that could further escalate the violence and fatalities in the troubled region.
Any meaningful solution to the Niger Delta crisis must shun both extremes. The militants must realise the harm they are causing the very same people they purport to be fighting for each time they take one innocent hostage. By killing soldiers on national assignment in the region, the militants are only endangering the lives of the people as has become obvious in the past few weeks. Unless they seek a peaceful means of expressing their grievance they risk losing public sympathy and escalating the violence in the area. This is not only detrimental to the economic well-being of the nation but more so to the survival of the Niger-Delta people.
The aphorism that violence begets violence is particularly true of the Niger-Delta. Each time the militants take a hostage, the JTF goes after them. In the process, some innocent civilians get caught up in the cross fire.
We believe that unless the Niger Delta crisis is handled with greater maturity the line between peace-keeping and genocide may be wiped off. This must be avoided. And to do this, both parties—the militants and the JTF — must refrain from undue resort to violence.
While we condemn the attitude of the militants who have turned hostage taking into a lucrative industry, we urge the JTF to apply targeted attacks on the criminals in order to minimize casualties among innocent citizens. We appeal to both parties not to block access to the wounded who need to be evacuated and rehabilitated. While the government must intensify efforts at alleviating the suffering of the people of the Niger-Delta, the militant elements need to understand that violence will not make that process faster. Instead it will only make things worse.
No government, worth its authority, will fold its arms while criminal elements hold innocent citizens to ransom and disrupt the economic jugular of a nation. The government certainly owes it a duty to defend law-abiding citizens from such criminals. In doing that, however, it must be careful to minimize collateral damage.