National View Point

While The Crocodile Preys, Niger Delta Prayed

In one of the most celebrated media related trials in the United States of America (USA), the trial Judge, Justice Lewis Powell, of the United States Supreme Court remarked that ‘the inherent worth of speech in terms of its capacity for informing the public does not depend upon the identity of the source, whether corporation, association, union or individual’.

The above statement was made back in the days but I still consider relevant and held with reverence in my day to day activities as a media practitioner though with some levels of exception.

A very typical example of such exception is accentuated in the handling of information from a very disciplined institution like the armed forces and the reason is not farfetched. Such information in most cases is accompanied with serious connotations, threat as well as warnings, which if ignored, may leave in its trail sorrow, tears and blood on the part of the citizenries.

Correspondingly, the recent release by our nation’s armed forces announcing their planned military drill tagged ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’ in the south-south and south-western regions of the federation just shortly after a similar outing in the south-east region calls for serious concern.

 As envisaged, the information as released has enjoyed more moral burden than goodwill and outright condemnation. It has also generated conflicting opinions from different quarters which one could safely describe as a counter, cross, trans and to some extent intercalary opinions.

But in determining whether to or not be of such plan, the answer is very simple but audacious as it is perceived by the generality of the public as a project that is ill-advised, ill-timed, wanton in motive and unpalatable in taste. The reasons for these form of reaction as advertised by the people is barefaced and points to history. 

First, history is littered with great testimonies that force has never quelled any agitation that is internally generated and occasioned by injustice. That is if such agitation or hostilities exist in the first instance, as the majority of the people in the south-south region penciled down for drilling are not aware of such hostility and therefore ‘sing from a different hymn book’.

Again, it is an established fact that ‘’the military is the protector of states integrity, seeking victory rather than conquest’’. In the same token, if victory is what the federal government is seeking over these current sociopolitical impasses, then the military option should not be contemplated in the first instance as dialogue holds the key.

To support the above position as advanced, the federal government and our dear armed forces should remember that ‘’one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the most skillful but subduing the other ‘enemies’ without battle is the most skillful’’. This is the way the 21st-century leaders should go. It is time to preach and adopt non-violence. This time is obviously auspicious for all to become proponents of peace embodied with justice. Again, a sincere dialogue that will bring justice, equity, and fairness to all the amalgams shall bring a lasting peace to us as a nation.

Similarly, any nation that is preaching civility and is development focused should be well aware that ‘’conflict leads to further conflicts just as aggression brings devastation to all parties, including those who employed it.” Based on this fact, nations have devised means of achieving truce without going through conflict or full-blown aggression. 

In the same vein, a glance through some press statements resonating from different organizations in the Niger Delta region revealed that while the federal government is planning for the crocodile to smile, the people of the region are working tirelessly towards achieving a sustainable peace and at the same time considers the federal government as their partner in development.

Very recently also, the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), the umbrella body of all the groups in the Niger Delta stated in clear terms that hostility is not part of their cards. The group further stated that the region enjoys a cordial relationship with the government at the centre and have just recently submitted a ‘16-point development agenda’ which the federal government has adopted. The statement as released read in parts;

‘’It is very worthy of note that the various concessions reached with the then Mr. Acting President at the Inter-Ministerial Committee Meeting, to wit: the Commitment of the Federal Government to Dialogue with PANDEF; immediate take-off of the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko; the relocation of head and operational bases of oil companies to their areas of operation in the Niger Delta region; inclusion of PANDEF in Inter-Ministerial Committee on Niger Delta”.  

Others according to the group includes but not limited to; the establishment of modular refineries in the region; improved funding of intervention agencies such as the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Presidential Amnesty Programme; deliberate involvement and participation in the oil and gas industry; surveillance and protection of oil and gas pipelines and installations; the question of environmental remediation and Ogoni Clean-up; and the question of Bakassi People.

From the legion of concession listed above, it is crystal clear that the Niger Delta people have a singleness of purpose. That purpose to my mind is centred on attracting development to the region and not operation crocodile smile or violence.

Again, if the federal government is aware of these 16-points agenda which the group claimed has been adopted, what then could suddenly necessitate the launch of ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’?

Interestingly also, the Niger Delta women are not left out in this affirmation of peace, and unquenchable demand for the massive development of the region. The Delta Ijaw Women Initiative (DIWI), an umbrella body of women living in the riverine communities, also in a rally recently called on the Federal Government not to allow them this time around to be subjected to any ill-treatment as previously done by the military authorities whether directly or indirectly. The women group like their male counterparts stressed that what the region needs presently is massive development and not ‘’operation crocodile smile’’ as the military is proposing.

Going beyond south-south, and south-west, one will discover that the problems that necessitated this agitation in our nation in the first instance are more of manmade than natural. The deliberate demonstration of impunity, as well as superiority by one group or region, led to this burning agitation today.

We have forgotten as a people residing in an artificial creation called Nigeria and unfortunately made up of multicultural, multi-religious and multilingual formation that one should not be ‘so foolish to believe that you are stirring admiration by flaunting the qualities that raised you above others. By making others aware of their inferior positions, you are only stirring unhappy admiration or envy that will gnaw at them until they undermine you in ways that you may not foresee’. It is only the fools that dare the god of envy by flaunting his victory’.

Also, as stated in one of my earlier opinion articles is the round misrule and very high propensity for corrupt nepotistic practices on the part of our leaders. These leaders in question have allowed themselves to become the primary reality that the people worry about as a result of their nefarious actions and inactions.

 Again, what is playing out today in these regions and Nigeria as a nation is the result of the practical demonstration of the will of man as against the rule of law as practiced in the time past by our so-called leaders. Leaders without ‘disciplined thoughts and actions’ are the people holding forth in our political fronts and that informs the reason for our not having a disciplined political and socioeconomic culture as a nation.

However, history should not be repeated but must always be available for us to draw a lesson from. There is no need for ‘’the crocodile to prey while the good people of Niger Delta has prayed’’ by presenting their needs to the federal government.

The ‘’Operation Python Dance’’ as recently dramatized in the south-eastern part of Nigeria by the same military did not achieve any positive result but instead, got the whole crisis escalated. Similarly, we all know the solution to this situation and we should be shameless in seeking these solutions.

A decision to label any group as terrorists without first exhausting all the various internal dispute resolution mechanism via dialogue will be likened to treating the effects of an ailment without first, getting to the root cause of such ailment.   

While I urge the federal government to heed to the prayers of these regions by not allowing the crocodile to prey, I will also use this medium to encourage Mr. President to develop the Spartan force and respond to these clarion and ceaseless call for the restructuring of this political geography called Nigeria.

—By Jerome-Mario Utomi

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