Friday, July 24, 2009

Niger Delta and Crime Barons

Given the imperatives of peace in the Niger Delta, for which the Federal Government has granted amnesty to the militants, it would be expected that the same government would go all the way, sparing nothing, at ensuring that the peace initiative is not only achieved but sustained.
The recent unconditional pardon to MEND leader, Henry Okah, is a demonstration of the extent government wishes to go in restoring peace in the region. But the statement credited to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, that some powerful crime barons are frustrating the amnesty plan offered by government raises some concerns.
Coming from a government official with access to intelligence reports, that could not have been a false alarm. We believe, like the Vice President, that indeed some influential Nigerians have, over the years, benefited from the roguery and sheer brigandage in the Niger Delta. Many Nigerians share this view too.
But given the advantage of security information at his disposal, we expected the Vice President to go ahead to expose the crime barons. We believe that unless they are exposed, even the release of Okah, as part of the peace deal, may not lead to the achievement of sustainable peace in the region.
Ordinarily, the dropping of all charges and eventual release of Okah, though not entirely a sine qua non for the return of peace in the region, should promote an atmosphere conducive enough to facilitate the return of peace.
But this can only be achieved if all obstacles to the peace deal (including unmasking the crime barons) are removed and dealt with.
The 60-day ceasefire declared by the militants should further promote dialogue and negotiation between government, the militants and other stakeholders.
It is difficult to understand why the government has kept secret the list of the persons said to have been found in Camp 5, the operational base of the militants. We fear that this may thwart the entire peace process, because those who benefit from the crisis may work against the return of peace and order to the region. Many of the persons whose names were found in the camp’s register were said to have had rounds of transactions with Government Tompolo and other militant chieftains. From the history of the Niger Delta crisis, it is not unlikely that some of those caught in the web of complicity are politicians, crude oil thieves and other powerful individuals.
Whatever it is, government has shown lack of courage in confronting the reality of this case. We fear that government has not demonstrated enough courage to getting to the bottom of the crisis, which has cost the nation huge human and material resources. We believe that the release of such names will not only serve as deserved embarrassment to the persons concerned, it will force down the level of the rage in the creeks.
Indeed, we suspect that many of the “Big Men” involved in the support and even sponsorship of the militants are beneficiaries of the crisis.
Given the quantum of ill gotten wealth such cartel operators receive from the crisis, they are most likely to work against any plan that will end the crisis, because if the crisis ends, then their source of ill-gotten wealth would have ended too.
In the light of the above, we call on all parties to pursue the peace deal with all sincerity. We commend the ceasefire declared by the militants and hope it will lead to final cessation of hostilities in the region. The release of Okah and the amnesty offer should combine to accelerate not only needed confidence building, but ultimately, the restoration of peace and order in the region. Peace can only be sustainable when those who benefit from the crisis are exposed and punished.