Faced with the possibility of Niger Delta militants carrying out their threat to bomb strategic public institutions and locations across the country, acting President Yemi Osinbajo yesterday met with service chiefs, Niger Delta governors, some ministers and agreed to scale down military presence in the region.
It was, however, resolved that the military would remain largely on the waterways to provide security against social miscreants and criminals that had made the routes unsafe for socio-economic activities.
The high level meeting’s decision came against the background of a United States of America’s statement expressing concern over the escalation of violence in the Niger Delta region, and urging a peaceful resolution of the crises.
A new group, the Niger Delta Liberation Force (NDLF), had joined the fray and threatened to launch missiles on strategic public institutions, including the State House, Abuja and others in Lagos, Kaduna and Benue States.
Before the advent of the NDLF, there had been the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) whose violent activities had led to several shut in of oil production in the region, reducing the nation’s output to an all-time low of 1.6m bpd from its 2.2m bpd OPEC’s allocation.
Following the debilitating effect of the militants’ activities on the nation’s income and economy, the federal government, which had responded with massive deployment of military personnel in the troubled region, had to back down on Monday, agreeing to scale down its show of force in an effort to court peace.
With President Muhammadu Buhari away in London on vacation and for ear infection check up, Osinbajo stepped in yesterday to avert the deepening of the violence that threatens to shut down not only the economy, but the entire nation.
“We have agreed that there is a need to de-escalate military operations by helping communities where the military needs to actually remain on our waterways to ensure that we adequately man the waterways while we engage the communities and that engagement will start any moment from now,” said Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, who briefed State House correspondents after the two-hour meeting.
At the meeting with the acting president, were all the governors of the region — Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Adams Oshiomhole (Edo), Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta), Olusegun Mimiko (Ondo), Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa) and Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia).
Others were the Minister of Defence Dan Ali; Minister of State for Petroleum Ibe Kachikwu; and Gen. …Boroh, Special Adviser to the President on Amnesty Programme.
The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, led the Chief of Army Staff (CAS), Lieut. Gen. Tukur Buratai; and Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, and …, Chief of Air Staff to the meeting.
Okowa told the reporters that they received briefings on the situation in the Niger Delta from the security chiefs and the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, adding that they also took cognisance of the unhealthy developments in Delta and Bayelsa States.
Assuring Nigerians that a solution to the problem is in sight, he said it was agreed that the military action in the region be stood down.
He said that the outcome of the meeting, which extensively sought collaboration with the states, would be implemented immediately.
Okowa said: “We, governors of the oil-producing states, security chiefs and ministers, who are concerned, met with the vice-president and I believe we had a very fruitful meeting.
“One thing we identified is the synergy between the federal government and the states which is very important and this meeting has raised a lot of issues and we believe that the collaboration will help us to tackle the issues in the Niger Delta.
“Of course, we were briefed by the service chiefs and the governors also have their own perspectives along with the Minister of State for Petroleum.
“We have taken a lot of decisions which will help us mitigate what is going on currently in the states, particularly Bayelsa and Delta. We believe we are going to find a solution to it.
“One of such decisions is that there is a need for us to share intelligence information, which is very important and for us to be proactive, working together with the various stakeholders in the states to achieve a better result going forward.
“Right from today, there is a meeting right after this and we are going to be collaborating even as we return to our various states.”
The Delta State governor said as part of the efforts to achieve peace, the Amnesty Programme instituted in 2010 by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to calm frayed nerves in the region was still being reviewed.
“I don’t think the amnesty has been put to a stop. I think the process is still ongoing, we have a Special Adviser in charge of amnesty and he is doing very well. He did brief us today and I believe amnesty is going to be maintained,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the US had in a two-paragraph statement by the Public Affairs Section of the United States Diplomatic Mission said it was monitoring reports of attacks and other incidents in the Niger Delta and stated its support for all efforts, including the promotion of dialogue to address the grievances in the oil-rich region.
“We encourage all parties to resolve their disputes through peaceful means and emphasise that human rights of all Nigerians must be protected,” it stated.
Apparently mindful of the enormity of the crisis, the US said: “We continue to call on all Nigerians to persevere in efforts to achieve common goals: to end violence and curb the activities of criminal elements; to establish conditions and mechanisms for profound, positive, and lasting changes in the region; and to provide economic opportunity and needed services for residents of the Niger Delta.”
Meanwhile, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has criticised former President Goodluck Jonathan and other Niger Delta leaders, accusing them of keeping silent in the face of the violent activities of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA).
In a statement yesterday, the group said the avengers’ attacks on oil production facilities in the region were unprovoked and wondered why the Niger Delta leaders had not reined in the restive youths.
“What is more worrisome to us is the ungodly conspiracy of silence of the region’s elite and their tacit support of the NDA’s conduct under the pretext of a so-called ‘Niger Delta struggle,’ which went to sleep in luxury hotel suites in Abuja and around the world for the entire duration of the six years of Mr. Jonathan’s binge and unmitigated disaster as President,” MEND said in the statement signed by Jomo Gbomo, its spokesperson.
The group, however, expressed concern over the disproportionate use of force by the military, which it said had done serious damage to the social and economic lives of the people of the region.
While commiserating with the affected persons, families and communities, MEND called on the international community as well as the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to dispatch relief materials to the region, as a matter of utmost priority.
While commending President Buhari for his commitment to clean up Ogoniland, it warned communities in the region against harbouring criminal elements even as the group urged the military high command to stick to the rules of engagement and international best practices in their attempt to enforce the rule of law.
Also reacting to the situation in the Niger Delta yesterday, Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State commended President Buhari for listening to wise counsel by agreeing to scale down the military operations and negotiate with the militants.
“The president must face the reality that democracy is about negotiation and concession,” he said.
Fayose, however, said the federal government must display absolute sincerity so that the militants would have trust in the process.
According to a statement issued by his Special Assistant on Public Communications, Lere Olayinka, the governor maintained that “the Niger Delta region as at today is still the golden goose laying the golden eggs on which all other regions are surviving and it will be suicidal for military action to be sustained against the militants.”
Fayose who, in a statement last week Thursday, advised President Buhari to talk with the militants, said he was happy that “for the first time, the president took to advice and suspended military actions in the Niger Delta and opted to dialogue with the militants”.
He maintained that the president’s approach to civil unrests of any kind had caused more security problems in the country, adding that “the president must stop talking tough on issues that dialogue can resolve”.
The governor said the hard-line approach of President Buhari had already cost Nigeria billions of dollars in revenue, adding that: “If our daily crude oil production of 2.2 million barrels per day had been sustained, Nigeria would have been having savings in the Excess Crude Account by now.
“Crude oil bench mark is $38 per barrel while the oil is now being sold at $50 per barrel, meaning that we would have been having $12 per barrel saved in the Excess Crude Account.”