• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Arms race in the Niger Delta

Arms race in the Niger Delta

Introduction

On 12th August 2023, the media reported Asari Dokubo, an Ijaw nationalist, as saying, “I don’t have an army but I have a private military com­pany that was engaged by the Nigerian government and I have been doing the work for the Nigerian state. Private military companies exist all over the world; we have Black Waters, we have Wagner; we have so many private mili­tary companies.

“So, I have a private mili­tary company that is engaged by the government and we are fighting side by side with the Nigerian military in many places. Like Niger, Plateau, Abia, Imo, and parts of Rivers State. We were in Anambra too. We are doing a good job and we are being commended by the host communities.”

General Onyema Nwachukwu, director, Army Public Relations, swiftly debunked Dokubo’s claim but Nigerians contradicted him.

In 2021, young virgins were abducted and killed by ritualists in the forests of Etche Local Government Area, LGA, of Rivers State. Unconfirmed reports claimed Dokubo’s boys invaded the forests and purged it of criminals. In the absence of state police, Dokubo complements the efforts of our gallant but over-burdened military fighting insurgents on multiple fronts. What Nigerians are strongly against are rogue private military companies abducting citizens for ransom.

Our thesis is that the current arms race by opposing criminal gangs in the creeks of Niger Delta is recipe for social instability. By posing three fundamental questions covering the period, 1800-2023, in which this phenomenon repeatedly occurred, we stand to understand it better. To tackle it we understudy how militancy was defeated in 2009 by the Dr. Chris Ekiyor-led Ijaw Youth Council (IYC).

Read also: Digitalisation: FG, NDDC, others transforming agriculture entrepreneurship in Niger Delta

Provenance of Regional Arms Race

Question One: How did arms race originate in the Niger Delta prior to British colonialism, 1800-1900? The great Harold Dappa-Biriye adequately addressed this question in ‘Causes of Communal Violence in Rivers State.’ He identified three factors that made arms race the norm. Firstly, the quarrelsome nature of the minority man meant he must create an enemy to fight even when he had none. Secondly, as gateway to the world, the region was flooded with cheap ordnance by foreign merchants. And thirdly, availability of weapons fueled trade disputes among the Ijaw City-States of old.

“With the Rivers man there is inherent belligerency plaguing him all the time,” Biriye observed. “This bogey arose from Arms Dealers who flooded our society for centuries with scrap guns in payment for palm oil products which overseas merchants had purchased from us. Such nefarious facilities naturally motivate their holders to antagonise their neighbours on very slight pretexts.

“Considerable internecine wars characterised the relationships among the City-States of old which ill-will has descended into succeeding generations in varying degrees. Some of these belligerent sources in the 19th Century and the collective punishment systems used during that era can be seen in Paragraph 19 of the Report of Mr. Justice G.G. Robinson on the 1945/50 Kalabari/Okrika fishing disputes.”

Arms Race in Post-Kaiama Declaration

Question Two: If Western incursion led to arms race prior to British colonialism, what then triggered it in the post-Kaiama Declaration Niger Delta, 1999-2009? The answer is recoverable in the Odi Massacre of 1999. According to Goddey Niweigha, chairman of Odi community, the tragedy was traceable to political thuggery by the Asawana Boys, “The gang was formed by a group of thugs used by late former Bayelsa Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. He recruited them for the 1999 governorship elections. He bought them guns they used but after winning the election, the former governor abandoned them in Yenagoa, the state capital so they became violent and notorious.”

The police killed scores forcing them to retreat to Odi where they killed 12 policemen, including a Deputy Commissioner of police, in retaliation. President Olusegun Obasanjo authorised military action. In the invasion that followed hundreds were killed and 1,240 houses torched. This genocide angered Ijaw youths into militancy as they massively procured weapons against the military. The greatest arms race ever witnessed in the region just started. In the ensuing Oil War thousands were killed, especially in Gbaramatu, forcing International Oil Companies, IOCs, to relocate to Lagos.

Read also: NDDC begins job creation drive, pledges digital repository of youths in Niger Delta

Arms Race in Post-Amnesty

And Question Three: If political thuggery gave rise to arms race in the post-Kaiama Declaration Niger Delta, then what resuscitated it in post-Amnesty, 2015-2023? Poverty and despondency occasioned by Buhari’s apartheid are squarely to blame. For instance, he built brand new Lekki Deep Seaport, Lagos, and Dala Inland Dry Port, Kano; but refused to address our aspirations for Ibom Deep Seaport for Akwa Ibom and Aba Inland Dry Port for Abia.

In the name of the 36 states and Abuja, Buhari took foreign loans to modernise the railway. After building the Western and Northern rail lines he took the materials meant for the Eastern line to build rail for Niger Republic instead. But the short-changed South East and South-South, rather than the benefiting Niger Republic, are repaying the loans, anyway. The Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, is deliberately yoked with compromised Sole Administrators compared to the substantive management boards running the holy North East Development Commission, NEDC. This explains why criminal kidnappers, rather than terrorist kidnappers, rule in the region.

Arms Race Risks

Copycat private military companies, polar opposites to Dokubo’s, have mushroomed in the creeks from where they launch their criminal activities. Recent attacks in Rivers alone serve as eye opener: On 17th April 2023, gunmen wearing military camouflage kidnapped Chief Okey Wali, SAN, after killing his aide in the Obio/Akpor LGA. On 12th August 2023, hoodlums from the Oshobele creeks snatched ten villagers from the Isua, JK2 Community in Engenni, Ahoada West LGA.

Then on 8th August 2023, hoodlums from the creeks killed two soldiers before carting away their riffles in the Abua/Odual LGA. On 25th August 2023, near Landmark Hotel in Port Harcourt LGA, gunmen shot dead a police inspector before escaping with his riffle and beret. On 8th September 2023, gunmen killed the charismatic SP Bako Angbashim in Odumude, Ahoada East LGA. And on 26th August 2023, gunmen killed two Ogoni youths at an oil spill site in Bodo, Gokana LGA.

We risk internecine wars capable of endangering lives and oil production. Oil spills occasioned by hostilities will further damage our terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Finally, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, cannot ask IOCs to relocate their head offices to the region when the British High Commission is warning its citizens to avoid Rivers. We need stringent measures, such as used in curbing militancy, to reverse our dire situation.

Read also: Oil theft in Niger Delta made possible by Military cabal – Asari Dokubo

How Militancy was Curbed

By 1999 when Odi was destroyed the newly formed IYC had no mechanism against militancy. But by January 2009, under the leadership of Dr Ekiyor, 4th IYC president, the organisation created the Committee on Security and Economic Development in the Niger Delta. Comprising of the canonical youth leaders who led in issuing the 1998 Kaiama Declaration, the committee set for itself the onerous duty of ending the raging Oil War.

Felix Tuodolo (pioneer IYC President) was chairman of the committee. Members included T.K. Ogoriba, Dokubo (2nd IYC President), Oyeinfie Jonjon (3rd IYC President), Dr. Ekiyor, Sgt Weri Digifa, Dan Ekpebide, Mike Wenebowei, Udengs Eradiri and Claudius Egba. The committee dialogued with the Ijaw National Congress, INC, Niger Delta governors/parliamentarians and foreign embassies. Finally, it entered the creeks to convince the militant commanders to stop fighting.

As far back as 2006, Allen Onyema and hisFoundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria, FEHN, converted Dr Ekiyor and the powerful IYC he led to the Kingian Non-Violence Philosophy. The security committee, in truth, was dominated by non-violence converts. Without its good work amnesty would have been impossible as the militants clearly had the upper hand in virtually all theatres of war. All combatants accepted Presidential Amnesty when on 25th June 2009, citing Section 175 of the 1999 Constitution, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua declared it and were immediately disarmed thereby bringing the arms race to an end.

It is ironic that the hegemony ruling Nigeria rewarded members of the committee by stigmatizing them as security risk. The corrupt leaderships of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and APC, two fingers of the same budget-padding hand, are used in rigging them out in every election. The powers that be fear none could control these Ijaw nationalists if allowed to win elections into public offices. But by allowing unconscious elements to emerge in dubious party primaries, the hegemons are confident of controlling the rich resources of the region forever.

What to Do/Conclusion

All eyes are on the Ekiyors, Ekpebides, Tuodolos, Ogoribas, etc, of the Niger Delta to defeat the post-Amnesty arms race. Though respectable statesmen in their own rights, they must reenter the creeks for firsthand knowledge of what is really happening. Only then can they proffer solution as they did in 2009.

But to defeat the APC-owned apartheid that engendered it, we must relaunch the Niger Delta Congress, NDC, established by Biriye in 1959. Only this party can modernise the neglected Eastern Seaports and rail line. Above all, only the NDC can give these nationalists, elected or appointed their rightful place in the government of their motherland.

How long shall we stand in the rain begging ungodly fraudsters in PDP and APC for our rights? Does our citizenship of Nigeria supersede their membership of ephemeral political parties? Are we mummies that feel no injustice? Their violence, and threats of more violence, rather than strike fear into our hearts, only challenged our resolve. We must take the patriot oath and liberate One Nigeria intact by any means necessary.

Read also: Ex-Shell staff shows new way to accelerate Niger Delta development

Clarification of Terms

Arms Race is not synonymous with arms proliferation. You need rival armed groups amassing weapons with hostile intents to have arms race.

Private Military Company is euphemism for a mercenary group. The Asari Dokubo initiative, first of its kind, ushered Nigeria into the Age of Mercenaries.

Apartheid means separate but unequal developments for different demographic groups. It conforms with the Fanonian starved “native town” for blacks versus satisfied “settler town” for whites. The All Progressives Congress, APC, government of Muhammadu Buhari introduced apartheid; effectively creating Two-Nigeria: The favoured North East/Central/West and South West that voted for him versus the neglected South East and South-South that didn’t. The former was privileged in appointments and development to the exclusion of the latter. Apart from making unanimity of purpose impossible, apartheid violates Section 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as Amended) on Federal Character.

 

Eke: email:[email protected]; phone: 081 3515 9313, takes full responsibility for his own opinion.