Warlords Of The Niger Delta

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Warlords Of The Niger Delta
 

By

 

Reuben Abati
 

culled from GUARDIAN, October 4, 2004
 

Mujahid Asari Dokubo, leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF) has been taking full advantage of his invitation to Abuja by the Federal Government, and in so doing has succeeded in further exposing the weaknesses of the Nigerian state, and the extent of the crisis in the Niger Delta. It is now common knowledge that the rebellion in which he is involved is well-organised, and that the objective is to assault the Nigerian state and bring it to its knees. In Ijawland alone, he says there are 312 commanders of different groups, in other words, 312 warlords, all leading angry young men armed with weapons of mass destruction, ready to hit at the soft underbelly of the Nigerian state.

But it is not only the Ijaw who have such groups, a true picture of the Niger Delta situation would include similar groups and warlords in all the other ethnic groups in the Niger Delta. In simple terms, the Niger Delta is a potential war zone in the hands of, I insist, terrorists. These are not "rascally miscreants" as President Obasanjo described them in his 44th independence anniversary speech. Such a mild description underestimates the problem that is facing the Nigerian government in the Niger Delta.

Asari Dokubo's profile is an eye-opener. He has adopted the name "Mujahid". And his hero is Osama Bin Ladin: "I only admire and I repeat, I admire Osama bin Ladin. My last son is named after him. I admire him because he is confronting Western arrogance, the same way we are confronting the arrogance of the Nigerian state. So, there is similarity in our struggle." Dokubo is also prepared to die, if the need arises: "When we started this struggle, we knew that we may die one day. So, we will not be surprised if they want us dead here now. There is no problem. If they kill Asari, have they killed the struggle?" Obviously, Dokubo is well-schooled in the rhetoric of revolt. The Nigerian state should ask such questions as: Is there any link between the NDPVF and the al-Qae'da? Who is funding the Ijaw rebels? What is their source of weapons? Has Dokubo's rebellion not turned the affected region into an "axis of evil"? Who are the Ijaw and Rivers state people who held meetings with Dokubo and his men in Abuja and provided them useful assistance?

Dokubo says: "We got here (Abuja) and the government provided accommodation for us. But Ijaw and Rivers people in Abuja came and said Asari don't stay in government accommodation. They took us to another hotel and provided us with vehicles, computers, money and laundry services. They did all that for us on their own. As early as 4 am, people started coming. They brought people to prepare our statement for us, to look at it, to make it strong and advise us. These are Ijaw from all walks of life including non-Ijaw, Urhobo and so on." Where were the security agencies when all this was going on right under their noses?

I have argued and I repeat the same point that I do not think that the best way to handle the threat of the warlords of the Niger Delta is by inviting them one after the other to Abuja and treating them to Presidential wine and handshakes. This exposes the weakness of the state, which the warlords are bound to exploit to their own advantage. Obviously, the Federal government is afraid. If there is a breakdown of law and order in the Niger Delta with over 300 warlords going after oil installations, the Nigerians state will be crippled. And the worst could happen, afterall Asari Dokubo sounds like a combination of Osama bin Ladin and Liberia's Charles Taylor. But it is at moments like this, with obvious threat to national security that the state must assert itself. Negotiating with terrorists, and producing funny ceasefire agreements will not solve the problem. What is worse is that the Federal Government appears confused.

While the President is talking about dialogue, and he, and Dokubo/Ateke Tom appear to have reached a "rapprochement", military presence in the Niger Delta has been increased and Buguma, Dokubo's village is under siege. In Abuja, Dokubo says he and President Obasanjo struck a "temporary arrangement", under which both sides agreed "not to shoot at them and they will not shoot at us". Was President Obasanjo negotiating with the leader of a foreign army, or a local criminal? This "temporary arrangement" is bound to collapse. For shortly after the meeting, Dokubo told the press that "Operation Locust", the code name for his rebellion will continue: "We will strike at the infrastructure of government anywhere in Nigeria. That was what was contained in our communiquZ and we stand by it if negotiations fail... The ball is in the court of the Nigerian state to end the crisis." I think so too.

Dokubo and all the other warlords that have emerged are creations of the Nigerian state. They are products of the failure of successive governments to address the Niger Delta problem in a manner that reflects the aspirations of the people. It will be recalled that many peaceful groups had emerged in the Niger Delta over the years which wanted a discussion of the peculiar problems of the region. Leaders of thought, and youth organisations in the region also called for dialogue, and specifically at various times asked for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference to address the distortions and omissions in the Nigerian arrangement. Government refused to listen. Palliatives and tokenist measures were thrown in the direction of the people of the Niger Delta.

Meanwhile, the injustices in the Nigerian arrangement grew in leaps and bounds. Now, the chickens have come home to roost. The same government that would not discuss resource control peacefully, the same government that would not grant audience to leaders of thought from the Niger Delta is now sitting down and negotiating with criminals whose charge list covers arson, murder, rape, treason, sabotage, armed robbery, kidnapping! No one can blame the people of the Niger Delta who had tried peaceful means to get the Nigerian government to the negotiating table for having a good laugh in the corner of their rooms. Since Dokubo and his men launched their offensive and found the rhetoric to make it appear like an ideological struggle, has any leader in the Niger Delta issued a statement of condemnation? This is what happens when a state refuses to listen to its own citizens and address their fears.

What is being advertised at another level is the failure of the Nigerian state. How did 312 warlords emerge in Ijawland, and state security took no notice? How did weapons of mass destruction get into the hands of the Mujahidden of the Niger Delta, and no security agency intercepted them? Is it also not laughable that the Nigerian security lacks the capacity to secure the creeks and make it inhabitable for "rascally miscreants"? What is the quality of our intelligence services? At the moment "Operation Flush Out 3" is on in the Niger Delta. One Agwom of the Nigerian Army who says his men are searching vehicles and looking for arms leads the operation. Now come on, I suspect the Niger Delta militants are smarter than that. They are not likely to be transporting their weapons around town so carelessly. What the Nigerian government is doing is no more than the application of medicine after death, and that is why one faulty step is being taken after another.

Asari Dokubo has insisted that the only solution is for the Nigerian government to organise a "Sovereign National Conference." Curiously enough, this was not reflected in the ceasefire agreement purportedly signed by Asari Dokubo, Ateke Tom and Mabuye Kuromiema. The so-called ceasefire agreement is very funny indeed. It is one-sided. It says nothing about what the "terrorists" are demanding from the Federal Government. Could it be that Dokubo and Ateke Tom just went to Abuja and returned conceding everything to the Federal Government? What happened to all that talk about resource control and Sovereign National Conference? Besides, only one party to the dispute signed the document. Did anybody sign it on behalf of the Federal Government? Then, what is the guarantee that the agreement will be respected. I can't see any such guarantee?

Only three groups signed the document: the NDPVF, the Niger Delta Vigilante and the Ijaw Youth Council. And yet we are told that "the groups ask all their militia groups to immediately cease all hostilities". What of the other militant groups in the Niger Delta? Should anyone of them decide that Ateke Tom and Dokubo have sold out to the Nigerian state and then choose to give a new edge to the rebellion, would government also invite them to Abuja? The document talks about "the disbandment of all militias and militant groups as well as total disarmament". This sounds too easy to be believable. One more question: if the Nigerian government made any concessions to the warlords, Nigerians have a right to know the details. For example, is "Operation Flush Out 3" now going to be abandoned? There is a catch somewhere but I cannot place my fingers on it right now, other than to say that no one should take the ceasefire agreement seriously.

We must return to a number of basic principles. The first is that the Nigerian government must not be seen to be violating the rule of law for the sake of cheap compromises. Politics must not be allowed to stand in the way of due process. To the best of our knowledge, Asari Dokubo and Ateke Tom have committed crimes against the state. They have openly carried weapons of destruction without licence, and supervised the destruction of lives and property and the disruption of public order. They have threatened the stability of the Nigerian state, and soiled the country's image. There is a laid down procedure for dealing with such persons. Does the state have the evidence of the mayhem that these fellows organised in the Niger Delta? And are they now heroes simply because they signed a piece of paper that cannot be enforced in any way? How many such pieces of paper did Charles Taylor sign, even in the presence of international mediators?

Secondly, I think that the ceasefire agreement does not in any way address the cause of the conflict in the Niger Delta. It says nothing about the issues at stake or the questions raised above. In his October 1 speech, the President spoke about the crisis of bad governance in the Niger Delta and the failure of the Governors in that region. So, what is anyone planning to do about that? Dokubo spoke about resource control and Sovereign National Conference. Has that also been signed away? If anyone is under the illusion that there would be peace in the Niger Delta on account of the ceasefire agreement signed in Abuja, a few days ago, that would be a mistake.

What the Federal Government has succeeded in doing is to buy time and allay the fears of the oil and gas multinationals. But I should like to know: at what cost? How much, or what did they give the terrorists?

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