A million heavily armed airmen, sailors and soldiers flying over, swimming in, and swarming through the swamps and creeks of the Niger Delta cannot be the most effective way of saving the goose that lays the golden eggs. This is unconnected with justifying criminality or insurgency; it is simply a matter of commonsense. Not mostly subterranean, oil installations constitute the handiest of soft targets for people praying fervently that the cataclysm foretold for tomorrow should happen this instant.
The fight against insurgency is not as straightforward as swatting a fly.
In the past week, I have snatched every free time that strayed into my schedules to critically look again at two invaluable books on Nigeria. Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN), one of Africa’s most renowned constitutional lawyers, authored both. The one book is How President Obasanjo Subverted Nigeria’s Federal System. The other is How President Obasanjo Subverted the Rule of Law and Democracy. Gold Press Limited, Ibadan, published the books simultaneously in 2007. These seminal works, each of 22 chapters, pack a combined pagination running to nearly a thousand pages. They demonstrate incontrovertibly that Nigeria’s primary political problem issues directly from the bastardization of its Federal constitution.
This indictment appears on the blurb of How President Obasanjo subverted the Rule of Law and Democracy: “This is an account of how President Obasanjo turned Nigeria from a law-governed state, a legal order, bequeathed to us by the British colonialists, into a lawless one; from an organization of power and coercive force limited and regulated by, and to be exercised in accordance with, law into a system of personal rule in which law was replaced more or less by arbitrary whims and personal political interests of one individual, and in which government actions were determined largely by might, by the application of organized coercive force in the exclusive monopoly of the state, altogether careless of legality.”
Anyone who reads these books will find detailed examples, page after page, of how a man elected to promote the development of his country’s nascent democracy behaved, by words and actions, like a bull in a china shop. Professor Nwabueze detailed how Obasanjo’s government wantonly bastardized the concept of the separation of powers, how, in illegality, it forced Governors Alamieyeseigha (Bayelsa State), and Ladoja (Oyo State) from office; how it illegally impeached Governors Dariye (Plateau State) and Fayose (Ekiti State); how that government compromised the judiciary; how it turned the Department of State Security (DSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) into Leviathans for the annihilation of perceived opposition; and how Obasanjo routinely violated Governors’ constitutional immunity. The books detail countless other anti-Federal acts and actions perpetrated under Obasanjo’s watch.
Two questions arise: 1) How did Obasanjo literally get away with murder? 2) Is today’s Nigeria a regression into a nightmarish replication of Obasanjo’s totalitarianism?
There is for every cause, a consequence. During Obasanjo’s despotism, Odi was flattened; Zaki Biam was pulverized. These resulted in the massacres of innocent thousands. Of course, the military expeditions were not altogether surprising, coming as they did from a man who, as military Head of State, had set up the Ita Oko Penal Island, where Nigerian citizens were banished into oblivion. Is Nigeria banished now to the avoidable and intractable consequences of despotism, at the hands of someone who, as military Head of State, condemned Nigerian citizens to death on the strength of a retroactive decree? These questions are apposite, given the volatile developments unfolding in the Niger Delta. All kinds of militant groups are emerging or re-emerging, destroying pipelines and oil installations. In their first incarnation, President Obasanjo failed to halt and reverse their threat and potentiality for knocking the country down to its knees. He thought the problem could be combatted and defeated by the brutish application of military force. He failed woefully.
By the time patriots like Senator Uche Chukwumerije thwarted Obasanjo’s third term bid and saved the country from his menace, oil production, the country’s economic mainstay, had plummeted to an all-time low. It was essentially thanks to President Umaru Yar’Adua and Vice President Goodluck Jonathan that the rot was cleared. Both statesmen were in agreement with Isabella in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, who told Angelo that, “O!, it is excellent To have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous To use it like a giant.” The towering inferno in the Niger Delta was extinguished. General amnesty was granted. Training programmes were instituted for the restive and the restless. Oil production returned to near normal, and the country got a new lease of life. This means that, with patience, tact and patriotism, it is possible to negotiate with protesters and attain a modus vivendi.
Today, however, it is being suggested that the deployment of warriors and weaponry is the panacea for all national ills. Those who venture to make the point that, although the temptation to utilize coercive force is often irresistible, the place of dialogue cannot rationally be altogether discounted, are branded haters of the Oga at the Top, or bashers of his administration. But this appalling attitude takes into no account the fact that, as Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States memorably stated, “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official…”
For various reasons that command enumeration, the peaceful option for the resolution of political crisis must never be placed at the back burner of national affairs. Nigeria is currently engaged in the war against Boko Haram, which is highly expensive in terms of lives and resources. The country is, assumedly, busily engaged in quenching the murderous wildness of Fulani herdsmen across all geopolitical zones. The government’s official spokesman has pronounced the country stone-broke. Poverty has assumed the characteristic of a wild elephant, throttling and trampling the masses, not marking any distinction between those who belong to the favoured 95 percent and others who constitute the miserable 5 percent! All these hardly point to the most auspicious time to celebrate the indispensability of the Aftomat Kalashnikova 1947 (AK47) or the high velocity “Let The Masses Govern” (LMG), or the anti-personnel explosive, or the armoured columns, or the metallic birds of prey. After all, conventional wisdom insists that a sensible man surrounded by enemies goes with good old palm wine, to make peace with some of them and, thus, obviate the contingency of personal extinction.
A million heavily armed airmen, sailors and soldiers flying over, swimming in, and swarming through the swamps and creeks of the Niger Delta cannot be the most effective way of saving the goose that lays the golden eggs. This is unconnected with justifying criminality or insurgency; it is simply a matter of commonsense. Not mostly subterranean, oil installations constitute the handiest of soft targets for people praying fervently that the cataclysm foretold for tomorrow should happen this instant. It leaves the rational staring at the disagreeable. Severe military reverses or wholesale devastation of the sources of the black gold will trigger new Odis and new Zaki Biams, which are incapable of foreclosing a total collapse of the economy. Babatunde Fashola, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, reportedly blamed saboteurs for his inability to deliver of the power supply front. This could sow the germ of an idea in the mind of someone who, tomorrow, may exhibit the shards of his shattered political agenda as evidence of the untoward hand of militancy.
Iloegbunam, a commentator on national affairs, sent this piece through email@example.com