By Philip Agbese
Bayelsa state recently played host to a meeting of ex-militants with some stakeholders to discuss issues that participants find pressing. Among these issues are the follow up on post amnesty, peace of the country, anti-poverty agenda for the region, progress of the Niger Delta Region and securing the environment in the face of dwindling oil revenue accruing to the country.
The State Governor, Seriake Dickson must be commended for this initiative of bringing the ex-warlords together in an atmosphere of dialogue. It is a departure from the past where things are allowed to go pear shaped before efforts are made at restoring peace with the attendant human and material
cost of any crisis as well as the rebuilding that must follow.
The recent threat to the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan by the Mangrove Boys of Bayelsa, Bayelsa Youth Vanguard via SMS and press briefings is an indication that there is need to continue engaging the youths of the region in the aftermath of a government amnesty to militants. Dickson must thus be commended for giving a local touch to the programme with this latest round of engagement through the meeting he hosted.
However, the calibre of attendees of this should be of interest to anyone who is keen on monitoring development in the region once known for its volatility that was then driven by these ex-militants who made the creeks a no-go area to operative of the Nigerian state. While the Yenagoa meeting discussed progressive issues, one should rightly be worried about the other potentials that such gathering can be put to. Given the ceaseless fireworks of divisive and inflammatory comments that have been flying around the February general elections, one should ask if this meeting of ex-warlord signals a kind of regrouping of the fiery men, who not too long ago laid down their arms to embrace a Federal Government Amnesty Programme.
The likes of the leader of Niger Delta Volunteers Force, Mujahid Asari Dokubo have been engaged in war of words with the north with constant threat of instability to the nation if President Goodluck Jonthan, one of their own, is thrown out of Aso Rock even through an election. The widespread response has been for people to dismiss Asari’s position as mere ranting but this could prove to be a costly mistake. It will now be a costly mistake going by the calibre of ex-warlords like Tompolo, Atele Tom, and all the high profile names in the creek who came out to attend this meeting at the instance of Gov Dickson for anyone to think that they cannot unite in one second in one second at any call for brouhaha. A cursory look at the past will reveal that prior to the granting of amnesty to militants, the reach of these groups had spread beyond the South-south geo-political zone to other areas. The riverine areas of the South-west have embraced militancy while the kidnappings that spread to the South-east have not let up even after the originators of the dastardly laid down their arms for amnesty. This clearly demonstrates that the dangers to the nation go beyond the sabotaging of oil infrastructure but also touch on the stability of the entire country.
Those, particularly my siblings from the north, angling to cause trouble in this case should beware of the existing armies in the Niger Delta. Our rhetoric around the election would suggest that we are kind of geared for a showdown but we must not delude ourselves into thinking that any one region has the monopoly for violence. It is certain that the ex-militants handed over their arms for the amnesty programme, no effort was spared to confirm that in a country of mutual suspicion and unfortunate alliance of diverse ethnic groups. But we must not forget that these warlords already have experience with arming their militias so it could be easier for them to do again.
What we must not give to them again is the excuse to get angry but this is exactly what we are doing with the endless barrage of inflammatory comments and actions. For instance, our uncle, the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari was able to freely campaign in Rivers state and even had a conducive atmosphere in Bayelsa, president Jonathan’s home state. In both instances he Buhari and his entourage were recipients of the southern hospitality. However, the campaign buses of President Jonathan could not even move from one city to the other as no driver was willing to drive one of them for a fee. Youths were instigated to chant against him in Sokoto, so called hoodlums stoned his convoy in Katsina and his billboards have to be under 24 hour surveillance in Gombe.
The way we treated our president is already yielding negative consequences as we have succeeded in belittling him on the international scene and yet we expect respect from foreigners as Nigerians.
These acts of intolerance are what we must collectively speak against as a block from the north. If Nigerian electorate want to exercise their right to sack a government through the ballot, it is crucial that the decision of the people does not come out not just like an ethnic agenda particularly when it is apparent that the north does not have the wherewithal to prosecute any resulting crisis from such misadventure. These guys have the militias and they have the oil resource. Any victory procurred by molestation, threat and intimidation is a clear violation of the electoral a negation of free, fair and credible elections anywhere in the world and we must stand up against it now. The unity and peace of our nation is far above the interest of any group and should be protected beyond 2015.
Comrade Philip Agbese is National President, National Democratic Front and contributed this opinion piece from Abuja.