The Oasis Reporters
February 8, 2019
By Tony Abolo
May I sincerely thank the newly appointed National and State Executive members of the Divine Peace For Niger Delta Youth Initiative for the honor of inviting me to be a guest speaker on this auspicious occasion.
I was invited to speak, but left to choose what topic to speak on. Coming from the Niger Delta myself and knowing the history of the Niger Delta in a close up way, I choose to speak on “PEACE AS A BUILDING BLOCK TO NIGER DELTA DEVELOPMENT.”
Peace is a sine qua non for Development. I am sure I am one with the Youth Initiative, in this. If we can see the link between enabling peace to reign and how that can speed up the Development of the region, and with the youth particularly understanding the nexus, then a brighter future awaits us all.
The peace we are speaking of is not the total absence of any form of occasional conflicts, violence and disruptions. It is acknowledging the possibility of such occurrences, how to mitigate and resolve such upheavals and how we can all – old and young, private and government, as well as security agencies look at the bigger picture of an environment where conflicts are rare and war absent and so investors, and many folks in their daily engagements, tourists, travelers and visitors can find in us in the Niger Delta, a different narrative.
Because whether we like it or not, Niger Delta is synonymous with pipeline vandalization, bunkering, kidnapping, violent agitations, illegal money collection in form of “Deve” toll, picketing on oil companies and occasional demonstrations of blocking the highway so as to make our feelings and concerns known.
In an open way, I would like to ask, are wars, terrorism, bombings, violent demonstrations inevitable in this world?
Are conflicts inevitable?
Is Peace possible and Sustainable in the Niger Delta?
This is our wish, which confirms that peace starts with the mind. If we can construct peace, in our mind and construct the future as we want it to be, peace and development is possible.
Dubai was once a desert and a sea. Today it is a wonder, with the world’s tallest building in Dubai, located on an island in the sea. So why not the Niger Delta? Why can that similar picture of Dubai not be possible in the Niger Delta?
The seeming recent troubles of the Niger Delta started before Independence. And hence there was a Willinks Commission which then recommended the Niger Delta Development Board. This was superseded by OMPADEC Commission in the General Babanginda era. And years after, due to agitations, we now have NDDC. But has all the name changes of state interventions brought us any nearer to peace?
The reasons are numerous but we can distill them into four causes
(a) The Federal Government is not just to the Niger Delta
(b) The States and Local Governments have shown no fairness.
(c) Within the Communities there is no equity and love and hence the individuals exhibit aggressive behaviours, display an entitlement mentality and are easily prone to violence and
(d) The old neighborly compactness of love – your -neighbor has since disappeared. These have been replaced by individualism and extreme greed.
But can the Niger Delta entirely blame itself for its woes?
The entire country now is over militarized. Banditry in Sokoto, Katsina and Zamfara. North East in its protracted Boko Haram insurgency; North Central States with its spate of unexplained killings by herdsmen. The South Eastern States with unending Python Dances. The Niger Delta with operation Crocodile Smile. The Western States with ever rising spike of ritual killings, a phenomenon that is also found even in the Delta; Occasional herdsmen marauding acts in Edo, Delta, Enugu, Cross Rivers, concentratedly in the Middle Belt and strangely, even in Bayelsa. So who indeed is free?
Added to all these woes, are years of injustices by major ethnic nations over the others; years of political corruption, census manipulation and violent and false election outcomes. All these have encrusted anger, feelings of alienation in Nigerians and which has impacted on the poor indices of growth and development in the country.
But should we in the Niger Delta throw up our arms in the air and succumb to the pervading seeming nothingness in Nigeria? Not at all. If there is anything we have learnt from the North East of Nigeria, it is that war, bombings and general insecurity is Bad; Bad for the people, Bad for the local economy. To put it very bluntly, in the words of Sarkin Kano, Emir Lamido Sanusi, the Emir of Kano in 2016 – if the North East and North West of Nigeria were to be separate countries, they would be the poorest countries on earth. I am sure we in the Niger Delta would not wish ourselves that specter. Therefore we have no alternative, but to embrace peace.
But peace is not something in the air. It is not something you order from the shelf like from a supermarket. According to Bola Akinterinwa, a columnist in This Day Newspaper and a former Director General of the Nigeria Institute for International Affairs:
“It has been argued that war begins from the mind and that solution to any war must also be found in the mind. How do we find peace in the mind? This is where the issue of communication comes in.
Communication can be verbal or written. Verbal and written communication can be aggressive and therefore unfriendly. In many cases, misunderstanding arises from how information is perceived and particularly how it is interpreted”.
We therefore must commend the Divine Peace for Niger Delta for your organizational effort and it is dialogues like these that formally communicate the need for peace and its benefits to members and to society at large. To deepen this knowledge, we will now emphasise how to resolve conflicts, the science of Peace, the Development path and the politics of securing peace in the Niger Delta.
Let me start with the Politics of Peace.
We in the Niger Delta seem very naïve and do not seem to understand the art of politics, the games the major ethnic groups play with us. At every twist and turn, we resort to bombing the pipelines to show our anger and we agitate for increased percentage of derivation. This has not provided the right results. We have to develop a superior tactics to overcome the game. We can only up the ante by a greater sense of unity. The Niger Delta is one and not just Edo, Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers States, Cross River, Akwa Ibom. If we think “States”, we miss it. Our enemies find us broken and they come in.
Look at the Justice Walter Onnoghen’s case. Whereas everyone came together in a clear case of ethnic war by the Fulani Ethnic supremacists, Edo claimed it was a PDP affair. Wherever such a behavior occurs, our enemies see us as disunited.
Again if we want to chant :”RESTRUCTURING” as a political and economic tool, it must be a loud and joint push. Just as the Fulanis resist “restructuring”, we too must resist their “RESISTANCE”. It is in that balance of resistance that compromises may emerge. But then we must stand as a united Niger Delta. Whether you like it or not, the economic justice we seek and the huge development we seek, cannot come about without restructuring the country. Let us use this election to make our voices heard. Let the leaders find alternative channels to communicate with the major ethnic groups. We seek justice and in justice, we shall find peace.
However in the meantime, we must begin to hold our people accountable. The net flow to our states and local governments are immense. But the politicians in the name of governments merely fritter the financial resources that should percolate and be invested in our people. What methods do we use to investigate and query our governments (state or local) or our politicians? Until we do, the pervading extreme poverty will grind on. And as it does, there will be more unrests and there cannot be peace.
We must begin now to think investments. We should no longer continue to wait and look up to governments, unendingly. If they have disappointed us over the years, what can we as a people do to attract investments to our various localities? The investments need not be huge capital outlays. Small, cottage industries that utilize local raw materials for small scale manufacturing will create massive turn around and create huge employments.
How has China been able to solve its challenge of a huge population of 1.3 billion people and create firms, industries and employment?
In the last 10 years, China has lifted 100 million people out of poverty, at a time, Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world. We the people must seek alternative means to generate employment and growth, through invitations to other Nigerians, our Niger Deltans dispersed in other parts of the country and in the diaspora. We are folding our hands and waiting for those in government who do not spend time thinking of us or understanding the needs of people or the concept of development.
Why is creating employment going to be crucial to building peace?
Let me give an example with the failure of the $20billion Ogidigben Gas Plant Project, a project proposed in Goodluck Jonathan’s last days. It grounded because of the impacted complex host communities sour relations, between the Ijaws and the Itsekiris. A poor host community engagement strategy floundered the project. Today, neither the Ijaws nor the Itsekiris have benefited from a huge project that never saw the light of day. It is that kind of mini ethnic acrimonies that have stalled development in the Niger Delta. And with it, deepening unemployment and poverty.
In concluding, I want to say that just as the Divine Peace for Niger Delta Initiative is seeking for peace, so is the world in search for peace in those troubled times. If you recall, at some point, I did say that peace starts from the mind. Indeed, when many more minds and organizations such as yours are in search for peace – certainly peace will come – the Divine Peace, this organization speaks about. But to secure that Divine Peace, Robert Oates has written an excellent book, where he talks about the Science and Technology for securing Peace. It has worked elsewhere and there is no reason why, if we put our hearts and mind in the Niger Delta to peace, God will not speak to us, and use us in more ways than we can imagine to secure the PEACE we desire.
Robert Oates says:
Like ripples in a pond, radiating outward from a pebble’s splash, ripples of orderliness and harmony radiate outward from concentrated groups (of concerned groups in a network in search for peace) through meditation and thoughts for peace.
Consequently, not only do signs of social disorder go down, such as violent crimes, fires, traffic accidents, warfare, and terrorism – but signs of coherence and progress go up.
From evidence where this Doppler and Messier effects have been applied, society gets more peaceful, more coherent and more progressive.
In other words, the Divine Peace for Niger Delta Initiative is right on its Motto – Unity and Progress. In other words, let us all think peace in our hearts and minds.
I thank you.
This is a paper presented to the National and State Executive members of the Divine Peace For Niger Delta Youth Initiative by TONY ABOLO, a former University Mass Communication lecturer, former BBC Correspondent in Brussels, African Service Producer at BBC, Bush House, London and a media consultant.
Charles Majomi – 2018 – How conflict stalled the project – Majomi, Gas Expert, Business Sunday, December 30th, p34
Bola A Akinterinwa – 2018 – Critical Issues in Communication Policies and lnternational Security; the Laspotech School of Thought, This Day, Nov. 4th, p79
Robert Oates – 2002- Permanent Peace, Institute of Science, Technology and Public Policy, Henn Mansion, p12-13