Thursday, June 25, 2009

Reflections on the Niger Delta

WHAT, actually, is happening in the Niger Delta? Is it an armed political rebellion, or armed banditry? Is it a legitimate and justifiable liberation struggle or sheer criminality? Has any state - ancient or modern - ever recognised any armed challenge to its power as legitimate? Put more directly, which state has ever portrayed armed rebels as better than, or rather, different from, bandits and criminals? We may be more historically specific and concrete. Was the armed group led by Isaac Adaka Boro to challenge the power and authority of the Nigerian State in the Niger Delta in January and February 1966 a legitimate liberation movement or an ordinary criminal gang?

You still remember how history resolved the matter? The leaders of the group were found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. But before the sentences were to be carried out, the government was overthrown. The new government not only amnestied the condemned men, but accorded them the status of freedom fighters and later enlisted them into the Nigerian army to fight a new and bigger rebellion. Is there a link between the Isaac Adaka Boro Movement and the current fragmented and "crime-infested" rebellion? How, exactly, did the victors of the Nigerian Civil War - I mean the forces that amnestied Isaac Adaka Boro and his group and enlisted them to fight under the Nigerian Flag - resolve their grievances? What did the rebels and the Niger Delta people they represented gain from the victors of the Nigerian Civil War?

Taking a long view of history, will it be plausible to say that for the people of the Niger Delta the "resolution" of (1966-1970) was a huge deception? If the ruling bloc in Nigeria - the heirs of the victors in the Nigerian Civil War - can afford to look at the truth - because it is before all of us - they will see that what is happening now is a stage in the long struggle to correct the deception of (1966-1970). Is a repeat deception possible? No, history has closed that option. You have to negotiate. Forget about criminals. For there are criminals everywhere in Nigeria, exploiting the situation they find and using the means available.

I did a lot of talking during a particular period of my recent hospitalisation. That was when my two hands were used in passing fluids into my body. Since there was no hand to write, or even to hold a book to read, I used the only organ that was free: my mouth. The main listeners were my spouse and the two young persons who assisted her, in turns, to cater to my needs. There was also one particular comrade whose visits always inspired instant lectures.

The subject of my lecture one early afternoon was the difference between, "treaties" and "protocols" in relations between states and, in particular, in war and peace. My case study was the famous treaty between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany on the eve of the Second World War.

Simply put: Treaties are agreements that are signed publicly by Heads of State under television cameras, with journalists and diplomats in attendance. The texts of treaties are also always published, sometimes even before they are signed. In short, treaties are open documents. On the other hand protocols are secret appendixes to treaties. The agreements embodied in protocols are often reached in direct meetings between the Heads of States themselves or their closest assistants. In almost every instance, protocols are the incentives of treaties.

While officials spend their time arguing over the wordings of a treaty, their principals busy themselves hammering out the terms of the protocols.

When Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany was labouring to sign a non-aggression pact (treaty) with Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, his main objective (embodied in the secret protocol) was a guarantee that Stalin would not intervene when German troops invaded Poland and would accept the division of eastern Europe into two "spheres of interest" - one for Nazi Germany, the other for the Soviet Union. Well, Hitler got his way in Poland but Stalin violated the terms of the protocol by incorporating the Baltic states into the Soviet Union in the opening months of the war. Since the main issue - the protocol - had collapsed the so-called treaty could not stand. Nazi troops attacked and invaded the Soviet Union at dawn on June 22, 1941 with fury and maximum force.

But why am I remembering this particular "lecture" now? The answer is that I believe, very strongly, that the massive bombardment to which the Nigerian Army subjected the Niger Delta rebels and unarmed civilians from May 15, 2009 came in the wake of a breakdown of an undisclosed protocol between elements of the Nigerian state and elements of the Niger Delta rebels and their "backers".

Since formulating this hypothesis, I have read as many accounts of the creek war as are available to me. I have discussed, and I am still discussing with people. To my dismay, I found that the more I read the more confused I became and the more the questions that needed to be answered. My frustration continued until I saw a report of the fighting in the May 30, 2009 edition of The Economist of London. (Page 46). Titled Fighting in Nigeria's Delta: getting desperate, the report asked the question: Will the government's latest effort to bash the militants get more oil flowing? The report, in seven short paragraphs confirmed some vital information that strengthened my hypothesis. Let me offer some excerpts from the report.

Excerpt 1: "After the government made overtures towards the Delta militants nearly a year ago, about eight months of relative peace ensured. As oil prices fell, so did the rate of theft and pipeline sabotage. But local human-rights campaigners say that since May 15, helicopters and naval gunships have killed hundreds of civilians and displaced thousands more. Government forces, they say, have shown scant regard for civilians".

Excerpt 2: "The militant camp the government is smashing is run by a local man known as Government Tompolo who had been aligned with MEND but fell out with it after he was rumoured to be negotiating with state officials trying to persuade him to close his camp in return for handsome pay-offs for him and his friends. But the army comes under federal authority and is removed from decisions by officials of the state. No one is sure what sparked the latest wave of attacks but it seems likely that Mr. Tompolo's "boys" engaged in a series of skirmishes, provoking it to hit back as hard as it could".

Excerpt 3: "MEND says it is fighting for a fairer share of the country's oil revenue to go to the dirt-poor people who live in the area. But the Nigerian government says that MEND and other named groups in the region are just criminals who sow chaos in order to steal vast amounts of the country's crude oil, about a tenth of which is reckoned to be stolen before it reaches the export terminals. Aerial photographs of the Delta show tankers illegally linked to pipelines, siphoning off millions of barrels of crude for sale abroad. According to security experts, theft on such a scale require the co-operation of large number of senior people in Nigeria's navy".

Let me end this fragmented piece on this note. Nigeria's Foreign Minister and the youthful Speaker of the House of Representatives have been in the forefront of state functionaries explaining to the world the Federal Government's policy in the Niger Delta and, in particular, why the government had decided to crush the rebels ("militants)" once and for all. No responsible government, they say, can fold its arms and allow criminals to hold the country hostage and destroy its economy. Fantastic formulation! The Foreign Minister may simply be reminded that in July 1967, he himself took up arms against a "responsible" government.

As for the Speaker, if it is true that he is a de-commissioned officer of the British army then there is not much I can say to him. I was particularly shocked when I read a report in which the Speaker was drawing attention to the fact that the Chief of Defence Staff and the Inspector-General of Police are from the Niger Delta. What was the No. 4 Ctitizen trying to prove? Will someone please ask him where the army officers conducting the real operation on the ground are from: I mean the Commander and the Propaganda Chief. What of the Chief of Army Staff? What of the Defence Minister? What of the National Security Adviser? Indeed, what of the President who gave and signed the order for the operation? Where are they all from?

In any case where exactly in the Niger Delta are the Chief of Defence Staff and Inspector-General of the Police from? I would advise the Speaker to talk less and enjoy the honey that history is dropping into his mouth - at least for now. We all know that the power of Nigeria's ruling bloc rests desperately on the crude oil that gushes out of the Niger Delta. Block this access, and that power collapses. So, the war the Nigerian state and the ruling bloc that controls it are waging in the Niger Delta is a "war of survival", so to say.